H5 Builds the World of Logorama

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Tonight at the British Film Institute and the One Dot Zero festival in London, French directing collective H5 will be showing a retrospective of their decade-plus oeuvre of graphic art and film, along with the U.K. premier of Logorama, their first short film. Logorama is 17 minutes of Hollywood blockbuster action, rife with car chases, natural disasters, and hostage-taking, but created entirely out of real world logotypes and brand characters. In it, you'll see the Michelin Man, the Haribo kid, Bob's Big Boy, Mr. Pringle and Ronald McDonald, but in some very unfamiliar roles playing the classic movie archetypes of good guys, bad guys and foils.

H5, repped out of RSA's Little Minx, first conceived the idea as part of a treatment for an unrealized George Harrison video before it was expanded into a longer film produced by Autour de Minuit. Four years in the making, the effort is a culmination of H5's evolution as directors. In France, the directors started out as graphic designers, creating album covers and artwork for labels big and small. Their imagery went on to become the visual counterpart to the emerging French electronic music scene. The directors continued their career path with design-driven, animated music videos for Alex Gopher, Royksopp and more, eventually moving into live action. Logorama brings H5 back to its animation roots but also calls upon the collective's skills in live action and storytelling.

The film originally debuted at the Cannes Film Festival, where it earned the Best Short Film honor in the Cannes Critics' Week Competition. Logorama will also be shown in Los Angeles next week on Tuesday, September 15 at the Hammer Museum as part of the Flux Screening Series. Next month, it will have a special screening at Musee des Arts Decoratifs in Paris on the 29th and will appear at the Chicago Film Festival. Canal + will also broadcast the film on October 23.

Creativity spoke with H5's Francois Alaux, Herv� de Cr�cy, two thirds of H5 (along with Ludovic Houplain) about the making of the film.

So how did the process of making the film begin?
Herve: It was the same process as any other film. It was just the story first. We knew at the beginning we would use logotypes, but we just wanted to build a story. We didn't want to do a piece of art or some annoying, beautiful graphic design thing. We wanted to do something that anyone could watch and enjoy. When we screened it in Cannes during critics week, we had so many old people and they enjoyed the film so much. It was really a good reaction because we didn't want to do some kind of elitist film. We wanted it to be not an artsy piece but much more something entertaining.

Francois: We chose to do the classic approach of a classic blockbuster Hollywood film. That's why we choose all the good clich�s of using the camera. The people have to follow the story and forget the logotypes. The Michelin guy, for example�like in casting you're looking for a fat guy for the undercover cop. And plus with the very strong and powerful logotypes, you have to fight to push the story as the first thing to follow.

But once you cast the certain logos into their roles, the brands add a whole new layer of meaning to everything.
Herve: Absolutely. And it was so much fun to make it for that. Also, when people see the film, they have very different versions of the film depending on their knowledge of the logotypes. For example, in a teaser we did, there was a scene when someone switches on a car and you have the key going in the hole. The key is the key of the Swiss bank UBS, and it goes into the Dutch bank logo. It's funny we showed it to Swiss people and they said, "Does that mean there's going to be a fusion between the banks?" Another example, the logo of the sun is the logo of Sun Microsystems. Everyone looking at the logo knows it's Sun and it was really funny to play with that. When you travel in space, we have a big Pepsi planet, and all the satellites around the planet are all the satellites of Pepsi.

Francois: Also, when you make a blockbuster film, you're always choosing a German actor and a French actor because it's a good thing when you screen the film in France and Germany. So we did the same thing with the Michelin guy, or Haribo. But it's not French or German, at the end it's like a very famous actor all over the world. We didn't choose to do it for all the logos, though. The story is the main thing. So when we choose for example the Bic guy [as a school kid], it was much more he looked like a very calm child, at a private school. It started with the idea that the two bad teenagers were Big Boy and Haribo� that helped us to contrast and design the characters.

Why did you decide to cast Ronald McDonald as the bad guy?
Francois: He's a very, very strong character. Like Mr. Nicholson in Batman. It's very important to have a strong bad guy. I remember we had found a picture of a real guy working for McDonald's arrested, in the back seat of a police car. For us, that was like a sign.

Herve: There are so many films where there are bad clowns. They're always bank robbers, and then when you think of the Joker, he's so mean and to have a smile on his face is a good contrast. Also, there's nothing linked to the company itself. We just wanted to use the character in his extra time. I think he's been working for McDonald's less and less, and I think McDonald's the company just wants to communicate less and less through him. I think that's why we used him. Because he has time.

How many logos did you use in all?
At least two thousand. It was huge. That's why the project took so much time. When we started doing the film, we were writing the story, and at the same time we were doing the casting, browsing all the existing logotypes, almost every one. And we made a catalog of the logos and their shapes. We had a folder of nature, with mountains, with various logo and each time we needed an object to build, we browsed the catalog. It took us a year and a half to have all the logos we needed.

It's funny, a lot of the logos aren't as prominent in the film as they are in the real world. I expected Nike, for example to have a bigger "role."
Herve: We didn't want to use companies as they'd expect to be used. For example, Louis Vuitton is just lattice work. Also, you take big American company like Merck, and in the film it's only used as a strap.

I understand Rhea Scott at Little Minx had a huge role in getting the film off the ground?
Herve: Yes, she wanted to show the work in progress to two producers of Scott Free who were very kind and explained to us that it would be interesting to push the dialog. They called Elia Infascelli at Endeavor, who put us in touch with screenwriters Andrew Kevin Walker and Gregory Pruss, two friends of David Fincher. The day after we had a meeting, and in three weeks they wrote dialogue. They respected the original scenario, and with animation film you can't change the scenes. They followed the story as it was and they wrote very funny and cynical dialogue. Micros (in France, who did the animation) was really advanced in the project. They'd wait for the dialogue and recording sessions. Even Mr. Fincher played Mr. Pringle. He played Pringle original and Walker played Hot and Spicy.

There is one thing in America that is great. If people love the project, they don't need you to be the brother or aunt of anyone. In America, if they love the project, they want to make something, they will work with you.

Francois: Something for us about this is really important. We made a short movie as a little blockbuster film. What we did about using the camera, the edit and the sound. [Human] did incredible work with that. We didn't want it to be a French film trying to look like an American film. If you close your eyes we tried to do something like Die Hard, because it keeps you in the real world. We worked on shape of city, sound ambiance, sound of the street and the diner. You have to push to show that it's real.

Herve: What we think is it's the kind of film that we want to show in cultural places. We think it's an entertaining piece, but it's not just a short film. It's a strange object and we want to keep it as a strange object. It's not our job to say it's apiece of art but I think it has to be shown like that. We can not sell it. We want to show it in the best condition possible.

Have you heard from the brands?
Herve: We just received a very funny email from Cash Converter. The main manager of PR of Cash Converter sent an email, "Thank you, I just read an article in Dazed and Confused. We saw our logotype in some pictures and we appreciate you used the logotype in the middle of all the big brands. It matches perfectly with our strategy that you put Cash Converter on the main street, in the heart of the city, thank you so much!"

Check out some of H5's Logorama sketches, logo collection and storyboard art below:

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