Danny Sangra On Working With Metallica For Brioni’s Enlivening New Campaign

Metallica is a quintessential American band. However, there is nothing American about Brioni (an Italian menswear brand founded in Rome in 1945) and there is nothing American about its new creative director Justin O’Shea (a former womenswear buyer who hails from Toowoomba, Australia). So, its interesting and very bold that O’Shea would ask the heavy metal band if they would be the new face of Brioni, a stale brand that he hopes to reinvigorate with a bit of American cool and muscle car masculinity, mixed with Brioni’s lineage of tailored Italian gentlemanliness.  Today – Independence Day – also happens to be the same day that O’Shea is showing the first collection under his direction during Paris Couture Week. Brioni has also released the first of a series of short films directed by a London-based filmmaker Danny Sangra. Most of the films star O’Shea as a caricature of himself, which Sangra has written to perfection. The character could be described as exigent, obtuse, out of touch, and self obsessed – everything that you may expect from someone so entrenched in the fashion world. In Brioni’s standout film – starring James, Lars, Kirk and Robert – O’Shea plays a ditz who has no idea who Metallic is. It’s silly and ridiculous, but fun and Sangra is too talented of a filmmaker to not pull it off. We got a chance to ask Sangra about the new Brioni campaign, collaborating with the brand’s new creative director and what the hell it was like to work with Metallica.

AUTRE: So how did this collaboration come about and what was your first reaction when you were told that you'd be working with Metallica? 

DANNY SANGRA: Actually, Justin asked me last minute. I was supposed to be shooting a Balenciaga project and then filming his other film project for Brioni the day after that in Europe. I wanted to do the Metallica job but felt it would be too crazy to try and fit in a three day shoot in San Francisco two days before I was due to shoot seven films in three days.

However I knew the ideas Justin had for the film were funny and I really wanted to write the script. It would have killed me not to be able to do it as we have made 5 films together already. But as luck should have it, my projects all got moved around. 

After I sent the script to Justin, I kept asking him ‘I don’t know man, do you really think they will do this?’

AUTRE: It looks like you've collaborated with Justin when he was a buyer for MyTheresa - how did you two first meet?

SANGRA: We met when Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week asked me to write a film with him as the main character. I wanted to meet him before I wrote a script but he’s always traveling and I’m hardly in one place all the time. Luckily I flew into London when he was staying at the Edition. We had a few drinks and once I got home I wrote a script immediately. 

AUTRE: What were your first impressions of him? 

SANGRA: I wasn’t sure what to expect, but he was actually really easy going. I thought there might be a wall at first, many people are worried that you will make them look bad. However, he straightaway said that he wanted to make fun of himself. That film turned out pretty successful.

On set I was really impressed at how well he remembers scripts. I wrote a pretty heavy amount of dialogue for him and he turned up with it memorized. I don’t remember him making a mistake - and there was a lot more dialogue than what’s in the final edit of that film.

AUTRE: Where did the concept of the short film with Metallica come about? 

SANGRA: Justin called me about shooting Metallica and that he wanted to do a ‘behind the scenes’ but make it funny. He wanted to be the guy that had no idea who Metallica are. He had a bunch of ideas about how he could interact with them. Then I wrote a script that could work as a series of films.

AUTRE: Was much of it improvised?

SANGRA: I’ve been writing Justin as a certain character lately. It’s not really him, I think it’s a hyper version of what many people think he might be like (It’s also a character he likes to play up to). We’ve spoken enough that it’s easy for him now to play around with his script. For Metallica, we only had a few takes to get it right, so there wasn’t much room for major improvising on set. We mainly came up with ideas before the shoot. I was also working out each band member on the day – trying to work them out before asking them to do things.

AUTRE: What were your initial thoughts about Brioni before making the film, because the brand is a little bit old fashioned?

SANGRA: To be honest, I didn’t know too much about them and what I did know about them, didn’t make me think we could make films like this for them. I thought I’d have to make something more serious. Justin and I developed two film projects once he became creative director, both of which are far from old fashioned. There was a moment when we were filming the second project in the Brioni head office and I couldn’t believe we were allowed to do it with no restrictions. Many of the brands that people believe are the coolest brands don’t have that much freedom. For me it’s about a brand that is open to new ways of doing things. Some things work and some don’t but it’s being open to new ideas is what counts for me.

AUTRE: What do you think about these major fashion labels bringing on maverick designers or anti-designers, do you think that it allows more room for filmmakers to have budgets to work on bigger projects?

SANGRA: It allows filmmakers to develop new ideas for brands. Ideas that might have been typically binned with previous designers. I’m not saying a new maverick designer makes it better than the previous, it just makes it new. Fashion always demands ‘new’. I’m not sure about the budgets side of things. They are getting bigger in some respects, but I think it mostly allows for filmmakers and creative people who aren’t as established, to get the jobs they couldn’t before. This is down to the new designers wanting to work with people they know and lesser-known creatives that are developing new things.  If anything, maverick designers and anti-designers allow for risk. The creative progress devours risk.

AUTRE: What was it like working with Metallica, what was the atmosphere like on set?

SANGRA: They’re actually pretty relaxed, I think by now they are pretty used to it all. The set was relaxed because my DP and my wife (who is often my producer) were working with me. We’ve all worked and hung out with Justin and Zack before (Zackery Michael - the campaign photographer) when we shot the Carolina Herrera film in LA.  I also used the sound guy who worked on the Some Kind of Monster documentary.

AUTRE: Was there anyone in the band that you got along with more? 

SANGRA: Not really, I had about an equal amount of time with each one. However I spent more time with Robert because I ended up putting him in more scenes. I started putting him in the background of James’s scene but I cut out the bit where you catch him trying to head bang side ways in the mirror. Plus I gave Robert the punchline scene of the film.

They did have a guy with them that thought Justin was serious. He kept telling the band ‘I don’t know if you’re doing what he needs’. None of the band told him that it wasn’t serious. The guy left the shoot thinking it was real.

AUTRE: What's on the horizon for you, Justin and Brioni?

SANGRA: I have another series of films I made with Justin. We shot some in Paris and some in Rome, at the Brioni head office. I think they have just come out today for his 4th of July show.

AUTRE: We featured one of your earlier projects, a more personal film, do you feel more of a responsibility when you are working with a big fashion brand? 

SANGRA: I guess I feel more responsibility to anyone that’s paying me to make something. Big fashion brand or small label just starting out. They are expecting something for their investment. When I make things for myself, I don’t expect much. I just have an idea and make it. It’s the time I get to experiment. I’m lucky that the majority of my films for brands allow me to make what I want. Most of the scripts I write, you can tell are mine. You know when it’s not really my film.

AUTRE: Anything else that you have on the horizon? 

SANGRA: I’m shooting another film with MyTheresa and Balenciaga, which I’m pretty excited about and I have just shot a series of shorts for The Standard Hotels. I’ve also just got word that people will be able to see my feature film, Goldbricks In Bloom, in October. There’s some other things but as usual I’m not allowed to say!

See the Brioni "Behind The Scenes" film below, starring Metallica, directed by Danny Sangra. text and interview by Oliver Maxwell Kupper. photos provided by Danny Sangra. Follow Autre on instagram: @AUTREMAGAZINE