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Like many music video or commercial directors Romain Chassaing has a burning ambition to direct a feature film. And he looks better equipped than many to make that jump as his hugely entertaining promos already feel a lot like movies.

Chassaing is a fine exponent of a distinctive type of narrative which combines a fast-paced action-thriller with a screwball comedy in one effervescent package.

Take Dizzee Rascal’s video for Bop N Keep It Dippin’, in which the UK grime legend plays a ruthless criminal kingpin, ripped-off by his young accountant, who then goes on the run across the globe with Dizzee’s henchmen in hot pursuit, evading capture by changing his identity, via ever-more grisly face-changing surgery.

Dizzee Rascal – Bop N Keep It Dippin

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Above: Dizzee Rascal’s video for Bop N Keep It Dippin’.


Or in Paris rock band Naïve New Beaters’ Words Hurt, where Chassaing anticipated Black Mirror’s interactive episode Bandersnatch, by providing the viewer with options to select NNB frontman David Boring’s career path. Will he proceed from college failure to dead-end job, or use every cheeky trick and con to become a highly unprincipled President of the USA? The choice is yours.

Chassaing is a fine exponent of a distinctive type of narrative which combines a fast-paced action-thriller with a screwball comedy in one effervescent package. With a penchant for pacy plots, shady characters and cartoonish violence, it has been a popular formula for the aforementioned Naïve New Beaters and Dizzee Rascal, and has brought acclaim and awards at the UK Music Video Awards and elsewhere. 

Recent ads for Huawei, Replay and Winamax have raised his profile with an astute combination of action, comedy and big-name footballers.

Now that distinctive style has started to emerge in his commercial work. His recent ads for Huawei, Replay and Winamax have raised his profile with an astute combination of action, comedy and, in the case of Huawei and Replay, big-name footballers (Antoine Griezmann for Huawei, and Neymar Jr for his Replay ad, which also features actress/model Emily Ratajkowski).

Above, right: Romain Chaissaing on set.


His most recent ad for the bank Boursorama also exploits the iconic status of top football stars as four players of France’s top team, Paris Saint Germain, which is sponsored by the bank, try to attract the attention of a too-busy regular guy to cajole him to attend matches at the stadium, through a charming mix of comedy-drama and VFX trickery.

“It’s a simple idea and the challenge was to craft the idea really well,” says Chassaing. “It’s always a challenge with footballers – you usually only get three or four takes – so I’m always looking to put them into some situation that exists. For me it has to look and feel real.”

Critical recognition arrived in 2010 with an ambitious stop-frame animation video for Wax Tailor’s I Own You.

And his achievements are not limited to directing. The Boursorama ad is the latest to be produced by Solab, the production company he founded with producer-partners Nicolas Tiry and Edouard Chassaing (also his cousin) in the late Noughties, initially make lo-fi music videos for the small independent music labels where he had worked, firstly as a graphic designer. Now Solab represents over 20 directors in France, and Chassaing is represented by Bold in London for the UK, and Eagle Media in China.  

Boursorama Bank – PSG

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Above: Chassaing's most recent piece of commercial work, for Boursorama.


Having grown up in Montpellier in southern France, he studied at Olivier de Serres art school in Paris in the mid-Noughties and was already creating album artwork for French indie record labels before he graduated. “My goal as a graphic designer was to work in the music industry, where all the cool designers worked,” he recalls. 

His multi-disciplinary approach to album cover design – he would do the photography, graphic design and Photoshop work all himself – led to those labels asking him to also make their music videos. “Nico, Ed and I were sharing a flat which we used like a creative studio. We were happy to shoot stuff on a 5D camera [and] everything was simple.”

I was testing different types of project, and I was shooting what was good for Solab as a company rather than what I actually wanted to do.

Over the next couple of years they began to figure out how to become professional filmmakers. “We learned at the same time, and Nico and Ed really learned how to produce. We were close, and we’re still close today.”

Critical recognition arrived in 2010 with an ambitious stop-frame animation video for Wax Tailor’s I Own You, which involved building a mini-city from paper cut-outs, Scalextric and Brio tracks. It took more than two weeks to shoot, but the video won an award at the prestigious Annecy animation festival.

The publicity from that win led to their first commercial job, promoting Louis Vuitton’s City Guides. That project required the small team to visit numerous cities around the world - but only for a few hours each, to shoot a sequence, and then move on to the next stop on their global tour. It would prove to be a formative experience. 

Wax Tailor ft. Charlie Winston – I Own You

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Above: Wax Tailor's I Own You.


“It was a great exercise for me,” Chassaing recalls. “We’d have about an hour to find a place to shoot, and then do it. I think at that moment Solab started to become a real production company.” But, he says in retrospect, this breakthrough moment also had its downside in terms of his subsequent commercial work. “I was testing different types of project, and I was shooting what was good for Solab as a company rather than what I actually wanted to do.”

Just to move the camera with a Steadicam, and shoot in slow-motion, changed everything in terms of telling a story.

It was different in music videos, where he found his feet and his particular style with his 2013 video for French dance act Vitalic’s Fade Away. This was a big leap from his animation-based work to hard-boiled episodic narrative, which depicted a chain of killings – hitmen and women kill and are then themselves killed – for a briefcase and its mysterious contents.

Naïve New Beaters – Words Hurt

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Above: Naïve New Beater's Words Hurt.


Shot in Le Touquet on the northern French coast, Chassaing says this was the moment when he began to acknowledge his cinematic influences, rather than graphic ones. “Before that, everything was limited by the photographic frame. But just to move the camera with a Steadicam, and shoot in slow-motion, changed everything in terms of telling a story.”

In Le Touquet it was a five-minute drive to the bank, five minutes to the airport, or the harbour. So, we could do six moves in a day to create completely different scenes.

The video also provided an object lesson in maximising production value through the use of a location, which has become a notable feature of his work since then. “Obviously, you usually want to avoid doing big [crew] moves on a shoot – you don’t want to waste time,” he says. “But in Le Touquet it was a five-minute drive to the bank, five minutes to the airport, or the harbour. So, we could do six moves in a day to create completely different scenes.”

Vitalic – Fade Away

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Above: Vitalic’s Fade Away.


Chassaing worked with Naïve New Beaters for the first time for their track Run Away, in which the band played unlikely but successful bank robbers. Lightening the mood of his Vitalic video, Chassaing perfected his trademark blend of comedy and action, with frontman Boring as his inspiration. “David is a good actor, but he can’t be a serious one,” Chassaing reflects. “He has to be a comic loser. I love to play with him like that, so he’s funny in otherwise serious moments. And Dizzee has the same quality.”

It turns out that Chassaing is a big fan of Guy Ritchie’s early Brit-gangster movies, Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch, for what he describes as “the seriousness of the situation and the stupidity of the characters”. Run Away – shot in Buenos Aires in 2015 – hits a similar tone as Boring’s witless office drone and his fellow band members, are haplessly drawn into a world of crime.

Naive New Beaters – Run Away

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Above: Naïve New Beaters' Run Away.


That was followed by two more Naïve New Beaters: the 360˚ video for Heal Tomorrow, and the fully interactive video for Words Hurt. Then, for his second Dizzee Rascal video Chassaing wrote a script featuring Dizzee and co-performer Skepta, but then the track changed days before the shoot, prompting a quick rewrite. Since then, he has been concentrating on commercials, and is now focussed on developing his own signature style. He says his ad for Huawei, where he creates a cartoon-like world around Antoine Griezmann, was a breakthrough moment. 

Chassaing gives this simple, somewhat bizarre idea an off-kilter gravitas, thanks to the interesting casting.

“Griezmann is like Dizzee Rascal – he knows how to play with the camera,” he says. “Due to his schedule we had to shoot over two days several weeks apart. On the first day he was very tired after a big game, but on the second he was great. Very excited and suggesting a lot.”

However, his favourite experience so far in advertising was his commercial for French online poker site Winamax. In The New King, a young winner of one of their games is picked up by a ‘gentle giant’, carried through his busy high-rise home to the top, and presented to watching crowds below. Chassaing gives this simple, somewhat bizarre idea an off-kilter gravitas, thanks to the interesting casting – the ad was mostly cast in London, where Chassaing says he finds greater variety of talent not previously seen in French ads – and deadpan storytelling.

Winamax – The New King

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Above: Winamax, The New King.


Consequently, he feels his commercials career is now finally moving on the right lines. But he would also like to return to music videos this year, with a collaborator of similar adventurous disposition to Dizzee Rascal and David Boring. “It’s hard to find a good project seeing that every time I write a concept it’s like a small movie. But I really want to make that happen.”

At the same time, he is increasingly hopeful about making a real, proper-length movie, and currently working on a new screenplay. Can we expect another combination of crime and comedy, a clash of the serious and the ridiculous? “Well, I’ve always loved those Guy Ritchie gangster movies – those characters, and all those accents. And the script I’m writing now is set between Paris and London.” 

Sounds like it could be the first great post-Brexit caper movie.

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