Peer Review: Ron Brodie
1stAveMachine director Ron Brodie tells us how representation from Spike Lee and Hype Williams made filmcraft seem attainable, and how skating, editing and directing have led to commercials, music videos, TV and Fun With Ron or Don.
Who are three contemporaries that you admire, and why?
This is a really hard question to answer. Right now, I’d say Storm Saulter, a filmmaker and a photographer from Jamaica. I admire and can relate to his work ethic and creative drive, not only because he makes excellent commercials, but because he has also been writing and directing feature films since 2010. Most importantly, his work shows that he embraces his culture and champions the creative community he’s from.
Next would be Rohan Blair-Mangat, a friend and fellow director who has always served as a sounding board and whose career trajectory has been nothing short of a textbook for creatives who have sought to break into the business. I love the work he has amassed along his journey and his efforts to increase diversity in the advertising industry by co-founding Change The Lens.
I've always admired the work [my brother, Don Brodie, has] produced, and as a photographer, his images manage to capture the mode of the films I seek to create.
Lastly would be my brother Don Brodie. I've always admired the work he’s produced, and as a photographer, his images manage to capture the mode of the films I seek to create. When Don and I collaborate, it’s under the moniker 'FWRD'. Similar to the Spanish expression ‘vamos’, in Jamaica when we say 'Forward,' we mean 'let's go', and as a duo, Don and I say 'FWRD,' short for 'Fun With Ron or Don,' which perfectly exemplifies our spirit towards creation.
Above: Work Brodie admires
Please share 3-4 pieces of work that exemplify great direction, and explain why?
Burberry’s It’s about that fearless spirit and imagination when pushing boundaries [Festive]. This piece is part of a series where Burberry puts its product on display through movement. The perfect combination of fashion meets dance & culture. I especially love the choreography and how it was coordinated to tie in with the visual effects.
Waves Not Cycles for Nike Sportswear, directed by Mahaneela. What strikes me in this piece is the docu-style which perfectly meshes with the poetic voiceover. The cinematography transforms a seemingly mundane task into a beautiful depiction of culture and community. Despite its style, the candid narrative quality suggests that the director did a great job of allowing the subjects to either perform in a way that felt authentic, or even forget altogether that the camera was there.
Nike's Just Be Better, Mamba Forever reminds me of the work I use to assemble as an editor.
Nike Just Be Better, Mamba Forever, directed by Melina Matsoukas. Reminds me of the work I use to assemble as an editor. It takes a lot of work to thread a story using a mixture of archival and shot material. You need to track assets from the start and keep the edit in mind before, during, and after shooting. There is such an emotional arch, and only the greats and great stories receive this sort of immortalization. When I watch films like these, it makes me miss my editing days. I'm really looking forward to utilizing the blade again very soon.
Above: Spike Lee and Hype Williams, two influences on Brodie's career.
What do you like most about the work that you do?
In my opinion, one of the most compelling aspects of my work is that it always originates from a personal story. When others have asked about my work, there is always a back story, and I think that enriches the product. No matter the objective, I hope that others see a piece they can draw their own meaning from, similar to artwork hanging on a wall. If others can identify what they like, they can probably relate to that story making the work resonate personally.
Representation from Spike Lee and Hype Williams made the craft seem attainable and led me to study film at Howard University.
It’s an approach I’m still working on perfecting, but a quality that I love in the work I create. Through the eyes of others, I hope they enjoy it; for me, it makes the work more meaningful.
What was your journey to becoming a director?
I used to skate (although I was never that good), but in Burtonsville, the town I grew up in, getting clips was always super competitive. I grew tired of not being included in my crew's films, so I started creating my own. I was inspired by several skate films, which led me to discover Spike Jones and later the Palm Pictures directors. I learned early how to splice analog tape, and directors like Jones and Gondry inspired creativity and experimentation in camera.
Representation from Spike Lee and Hype Williams made the craft seem attainable and led me to study film at Howard University. I got a job in TV as an Editor, which bridged a path from DC to New York City. After freelance editing for various studios, I ventured into producing my own spec projects and short films. It wasn't long before I discovered the advertising community, which exposed me to commercial filmmaking.
From then on, it took about ten years to develop the skills necessary to seek commercial representation. From college till now, there have been several films and collaborations which I've used to continue honing my perspective and approach to telling stories.
What is one thing all directors need?
I guess I'd suggest a healthy curiosity. It sounds cliche, but I find inspiration in everything I consume; therefore, everyday life becomes part of the job, and I'd be lying if I said things that happened yesterday aren't an influence on my ideas today.
I'd really attribute that to my creative process. It's just the way it works for me.
Above: Steven Spielberg. The master.
Who was the greatest director of all time? Why?
Steven Spielberg, straight up. He revolutionized the modern-day movie experience.
Did you have a mentor? Who was it?
Over the years, I’ve had several.
I’m still in contact with a few, and there are others who are unknowably still providing advice and leading by example. I still believe in the old adage, “if you skate with better skaters, you will become better at skating.” If I had to name a few, I’d say a talented Executive Producer/Showrunner named David Casey. David and I have been friends for years, and he is one of the earliest mentors to give me a shot in the business. After serving as a client, he’s been a first call of mine regarding many of the moves or challenges I’ve had to overcome throughout my career.
Others are made up of working directors who I may have or will be competing with for my next meal (shhhhh 🤫).
What’s changing in the industry that all directors need to keep up with?
I think audiences want to feel more immersed in the storytelling; therefore, authenticity is crucial. I also believe that the industry is trending more and more towards representation in front of and behind the lens, so telling the stories we know firsthand will enable a more enriched experience for viewers.
I still believe in the old adage, “if you skate with better skaters, you will become better at skating”
If there is something that you don’t know about, pay it forward to someone who deserves a shot and has a stake in doing the story justice.
This industry is so competitive, so at the end of the day, we should give each other chances and flowers for the opportunities we are fortunate to secure.