How did it all start, and how have you got to where you are today?
Dan and I met when I moved to New Jersey from Israel, we became friends and somehow fairly quickly we decided to start making films together. One thing led to another and suddenly trusting clients, who didn’t know any better, were hiring us, 18 year old kids, to design, produce and craft VFX for their significant projects.
Our very first film together was an animated fantasy game trailer with a bunch of knights and goblins hacking at each other; created for a mysterious PDA based video game.
We were given just a little over a thousand dollars (!!), but when you are just out of high-school that feels like a lot of money and a serious creative responsibility, so we eagerly approached it like a full scale movie production – we drew boards, designed the characters, recorded voiceovers, composed and recorded the music, animated and rendered scene after scene in 3D Studio Max, designed the games’ logo and the title card…
At the time Dan was studying anthropology at Rutgers University, and was renting this really crappy apartment above a pizza joint. What made his flat particularly shitty, was that for some reason it had no heating and the only way to get warm was to wait for someone to order a pizza downstairs, which would then translate into the oven getting activated, and finally, as a by product, would heat our apartment for a few hours…
When temperatures dropped bellow freezing, we would continue 3D modelling and animating while hugging our warm computers with our knees (a known trick that allows animators to survive in extreme climates) “that’s some aggressive animation!” I would yell in moments like this and we’d both laugh.
Sometimes Dan would run downstairs and order a large pie just to get the oven working again. “That’s pretty aggressive” he would proclaim climbing back up the stairs… and just like that “Aggressive” stuck, and became our attitude towards ourselves, our work and subsequently the name of our studio.
I’m not sure if anyone ended up emerging themselves in this world of dungeons and dragons on their “Personal Digital Assistant”, but if they ever saw the trailer, they must have thought that it was a pretty aggressive production for a PDA based game.
Fairly quickly, we started getting hired to work on site by a slew of VFX houses around NYC – we did pretty much every type of VFX job there was, with projects ranging from music videos for the likes of Eminem and The Roots, to commercials for Adidas, V8, Bud Light, Coke Zero and many others…
The more we worked in post production, the more I was getting the feeling that we are doing all the heavy lifting while the directors that hired us were getting most of the credit. There is nothing more unpleasant for a talented compositor, or animator to get some senseless comments at the end of a 24-hour marathon shift from a director who happens to be away on a boating vacation.
So two years later, and driven mostly by rage and a punk rock “we can do this ourselves” attitude, we decided to start directing our own work and launched as filmmakers. Needless to say it wasn’t a very easy transition. We cold called and e-mailed every production company in the book, got taken advantage of by a slew of shady independent reps and producers, did a few “no-budget” jobs financed by pure willpower and red bulls, got desperate… and then suddenly landed in a roster of a real-deal production company who was willing to give us a shot at directing real projects – the now defunct “Refused TV”.
From that point on things sped up dramatically; we successfully directed one commercial and music video after another, quickly advancing up the ladder in the industry and making a name for ourselves. Ad agencies, labels and clients loved us, and our soup to nuts approach to production, and when the owner of Refused TV suddenly decided to close the company to focus on her music label, we decided to launch our own production company… and so Aggressive was born.
The rest is history.
Now many years later, after winning awards and crafting dozens of prestigious commercials, music videos and films, we always try to be as “Aggressive” and unforgiving towards ourselves, as we were throughout the first steps of our journey; making sure that every frame of our work is painstakingly “Aggressive”.
Which projects that you’ve been involved with, are you most proud of?
We directed and created many pieces that we can be proud of, from Grammy award wining music videos to visually striking work for a long list of advertisement clients.
But what really makes a project successful for us is when we keep getting fan mail about it years and years after completion. That means that we did something right.
Occasionally we’d get an email that says, “your music video for Kerli ‘Walking on Air’ is one of my favorite videos of all times… etc.” or “Just wanted to say thank you for making such an amazing Michael Jackson tribute film”… these really hit the spot.
It’s humbling to see that your work really resonated with someone.
What are the biggest challenges you’re faced with in your work at the moment and how do you overcome them?
I think that every creative person’s biggest challenge is to achieve a productive balance between projects taken on for the sake of their artistic value and running a successful business. Unfortunately (or fortunately), our appetite for outstanding creative, and a visual challenge usually tends to take the upper hand.
What’s been your biggest learning throughout your career so far?
The effect a good idea has on everyone involved – when the idea works, it’s as if a creative bubble emerges around the production team. Suddenly it’s not work anymore: everyone gives their all, people happily stay overnight, suddenly there is a feeling of magic in the air, and everyone on set and back in the studio is genuinely excited to be a part of the team – after all that’s why we all got into this, to make magic.
What’s the most interesting thing you’ve seen recently?
I really liked Alexander Payne’s “Nebraska” a lot, good films are somewhat rare today.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
That commercials and music videos are occasionally just about selling Jell-O, and sometimes the client just wants to see the Jell-O on the screen. For a while.
Where do you do your best thinking?
Thinking or developing a concept is a lot like training to run for distance. It’s all about pacing, knowing your brain and planning ahead.
In a good case scenario, when we have a few days it goes something like this:
We usually spend a day analysing the project and getting deeply immersed in it, that’s when you come up with all your worst ideas, and get them out of the way. Then the next day, I don’t think about it at all, trying to actively distract myself, by reading fiction, going out to art museums or shows, or re-watching classics. It’s during this, passive state that an unexpected, worthwhile idea usually emerges. If you remember, Sherlock Holmes would always head to the opera house after studying his cases. The following morning I hop in the shower, and finalize my thoughts, then rush to the office, and without talking to anyone write it down as fast as possible.
If you could travel in time, where would you go and what would you do?
I’d love to go back in time and watch Bob Fosse create “All That Jazz”, it’s a movie that continuously amazes me.
Tell us something about yourself that not many people know?
Dan and I once drove down to Texas on a bet. We had four days, in which we drove from NYC down to Austin, TX and back. It was fun.
Who or what have had the biggest influences on your work?
Writers like Bulgakov, Gogol, O. Henry, Edgar Allan Poe, Chekov, Mark Twain, Hemingway, brothers Strugatsky, Stanislaw Lem, Ilf and Petrov; artists like Brueghel, Hockeny, Dali, Kokoschka, Gaudi etc… the list really goes on and on, but first and foremost, probably our parents. Alex’s father is a prominent theater director and talk show host, while Dan’s mother is an established expressionist painter, so its only natural that our process starts by crafting a bullet-proof narrative, no matter how simple or abstract the story is, and only then carefully converting it into shapes and colours, ultimately crafting a visual aesthetic that is a natural extension of the story we are going to tell.
Can you share important creative tips to keep in mind when conceptualising a music video and working with mercurial artists?
Every mercurial artist is first and foremost a person and a professional whose music career is directly affected by your ideas and your level of professionalism.
Can you talk to a filmmakers point of view on what is trending in the commercials realm and what big brands can do in the storytelling world that hasn’t been done before?
This might sound surprising, especially coming from Aggressive, but it could be really great if our industry’s focus shifted towards telling exciting stories, that reach beyond slick design and amped up visuals.
I think there is a real chance to venture outside all the touchy feely and happy clappy, one size fits all narratives, and craft exciting, distinctive, smart content that really engages the viewer while exploiting cutting edge design as a tool rather than the concept itself.
To date, we have produced pretty much every style of VFX, design and animation out there, as well as all of that combined with live, so for us, technique is always a secondary consideration. Moving forward, we’d like to be known as a “technique agnostic”, live-action and design studio, that believes in story before style. We are also working on a few long form, feature and television projects.