Though he studied biology in college and he says he was always a math and science wiz, Bermann's heart led him to film. After briefly ghostwriting screenplays, he went into the production business and he was drawn to the then new medium of music videos. In 1986, Bermann founded Partizan specifically as a music video shop, when clips were largely uncharted territory in France. From the outset, he was concerned with bringing great creative, as well as high-production values to the fore, even when the budgets didn't seem to allow it. He forged relationships with young directors who sparked his interest (early hires included Sebastien Chanterel, a phenom from the early European clips scene, and Mark Caro, one of the minds behind the landmark French effects film Delicatessen) and he made connections with upstart vendors who had the same desire to do innovative work. Two of those boutiques eventually became current effects powerhouses Buf and Dubois.
Several generations of MTV later, Bermann is now widely recognized for his talent-spotting skills, but "I still don't know how I pick directors," he insists. "I just look at a reel and I say, 'Wow, that's great, I love it.' That's it. There's no recipe. It's very intuitive and personal." Moreover, "I'm not crazy about trying to poach directors," he says. "I'd rather have young creative talents join the company, and I can help to develop them." But building careers means taking risks, no matter how talented a director is. In the case of even Michel Gondry, who came knocking on his door with an extraordinary reel, "I didn't recoup the money the first year," Bermann recalls. "Nobody was interested. It seems to be so long, the time it took to get him moving." But persistence paid off. Each subsequent job, Bermann says, showed increasing creative and production innovation. Eventually, Gondry directed the bizarrely charming Bjork clip "Human Behaviour," which finally secured his place on the map, and helped to lock Partizan firmly on the radar of other talents looking for a home. "Partizan very quickly became very cool, and suddenly, instead of finding it difficult to sign a director, I had directors visit me out of interest," Bermann says.
Today, Partizan remains a promising launching pad for newcomers. "I was so proud last year, you can't imagine," Bermann notes, referring to Mathias Hoene, who earned Cannes Gold in 2002 for his first commercial, the controversial "Doggie Style" spot for Club 18-30. "This is exactly what I love, a young guy on his first commercial." In fact, Bermann notes in the last eight years the shop's young directors have garnered Lions on their first or second spots. Those include Quentin Dupieux, who earned Gold helping to launch Levi's Flat Eric phenomenon in Europe, and Antoine Bardou-Jacquet, director of the much heralded 2003 Gold-winning Honda "Cog," who also won Silver in 2002 for Vodafone.
In terms of expanding the company globally, "the history is very simple," Bermann says. "I just had one idea - to open up opportunities for the directors and to be always one step ahead of what the directors were expecting in terms of opportunities." London was the place to be for clips, so that led to the opening of a U.K. office in 1991. For commercials, the U.S., in 1999, was the next logical step. In the process, Bermann has established a well-balanced triumvirate of leadership between himself, Steve Dickstein in the States and Madeleine Sanderson in London.
As for his own role, "I hope I'm giving a little inspiration for the company, setting the culture." Yet however far his creative wanderlust takes him, Bermann also remains firmly entrenched in the nitty-gritty of running a business. "I really love to keep my hands on the doing of things. So when I talk to Dickstein or [executive producer] Sheila Stepanek it's not about the abstract. It's about how to close a job, ideas about how to present treatments, how to structure a company on an everyday basis. I'm not working from a holding company. I enjoy doing things myself."