DAVID reviews

4 January 2018

Dark Energy's Lenny Dorfman's love affair with England.

by Jason Stone

 
 

One of Lenny Dorfman's first experiences of the UK came in 1999 when he shot a Coca Cola commercial in Motherwell. He remembers fearfully asking a few members of the crew whether the glum North Lanarkshire town was representative of the UK. Thankfully for both Dorfman and the UK, they were able to truthfully tell him that it's not.

The director - who recently joined the roster at Matt Brown's Dark Energy - was relieved: "I had thought Britain would be a little more refined."

The place may have felt alien but he immediately took to the sensibilities of its residents and he laughs as he recalls the football fans who had taken possession of the abandoned terraces when Motherwell's football ground was converted into an all-seater stadium: "One guy brought his truck down to the stadium and basically picked up what he could and set them up in his backyard which overlooked a school football pitch. His wife would bring him sandwiches while he spent his time in the backyard watching the kids play football." Innocent times.

This peculiar British irreverence struck a real chord with the then young and relatively inexperienced director and he grabbed every opportunity he could to work on this side of the Atlantic: "The British sensibility is definitely very particular and - for an American - it can be very strange but in some weird way, I feel very akin to it. More at home with it."



Dorfman's ability to tune in to British culture was evident right from the get go... there can be a real wariness about trusting outsiders to portray our flawed nuances. It's vital, for example, that any outsider understands the subtle difference between deprecation and self-deprecation.

When it's put to Dorfman that the British are very fond of Americans, like him, who grasp this, he's extremely flattered: "Is that true? That's so cool."

Lenny Dorfman has always pursued projects outside of advertising and in 2005 he directed the pilot episode of a documentary TV series called Iconoclast. Broadcast on Sundance, the programme was a celebration of creativity built around a really simple premise: "We asked a series of 'iconoclasts' to identify their hero and then helped them to create an homage to that person.


The British sensibility is definitely very particular and - for an American - it can be very strange but in some weird way, I feel very akin to it. More at home with it.

Lenny Dorfman   

 


"We got really some wonderful and very eclectic pairings of people who you'd never put together." In one of the first episodes fashion designer turned film director Tom Ford surprised Dorfman with his choice: "I said: 'Who is your hero? Would you love to do a piece on?" And he says: "Jeff Koons is the guy for me. I just think he's amazing.'"

It then fell to Dorfman and his team to figure out a way of turning Tom Ford's admiration for the balloon animal artist into a story.

There were too many demands on Dorfman's time for him to stay as involved in 'Iconoclast' as he would have liked and when you hear him talk about this, it's clearly a source of frustration but he watched the programme bloom and the legacy of his simple idea is the thirty-six episodes filmed over the next six years.



Dorfman's involvement with 'Iconoclast' fed into his skill set as a director and now that 'authenticity' is such an attractive proposition in the advertising world, he's able to reap the benefits of the experience.

He also feels that the current vogue for documentaries has been fed by the availability of inexpensive technology. He observes that this has hugely lowered the barriers to entry for young filmmakers, and in spite of the increased competition, it's something he welcomes:


One of things that drew me to UK advertising was how clever the writing was. How brilliant the dialogue was.

Lenny Dorfman   

 


"There's been a paradigm shift. When I first started out, it was a real slog to get something shot. There weren't any cameras that you can just pick up and shoot with. Everything was expensive. You'd have to rent the equipment you needed and then you'd discover that you couldn't even do that because you couldn't afford the insurance. And if you could, the fucking equipment weighed so much that you needed a big van. You needed all this stuff. And then you needed to buy film, as well as the money to get the film out of the lab. You needed an edit bay. It's great that all of that stuff has just fallen away."


But there are dangers too and Dorfman is convinced that as we become awash with more and more content, excellent writing is going to become an increasingly prized commodity: "It's become a lost art. One of things that drew me to UK advertising was how clever the writing was. How brilliant the dialogue was. How great the concepts were. You don't necessarily get that on paper anymore. It's sort of becoming a lost art, which I think is going to come back around. It's got to because it's the thing you don't see so much any more."


The writing aspect of it is blood, sweat and tears. It's very difficult, to just to nail it on the page. The filming of it is exciting but there's nothing more all encompassing as when you're in the edit room with your editor.

Lenny Dorfman   

 


Warming to his theme, he expresses a lot of love for British commercials: "The UK advertising community was built on that strength. That's why they're a global entity. They not only came up with great ideas, they also provided the craftsmanship. The dialogue was just amazing. Witty and idiosyncratic. Smart. There weren't too many markets in the world where you find that and that for me was what the UK market was about, and still - to this day - is about."

Dorfman also much prefers the British working methodology that sees the director involved from start to finish. He describes how each piece of work is 'written' three times... once on the page, once with the cameras and finally in the edit suite.

This last stage is his favourite part of the process: "The writing aspect of it is blood, sweat and tears. It's very difficult, to just to nail it on the page. The filming of it is exciting but there's nothing more all encompassing as when you're in the edit room with your editor."



In the continuing bid to satisfy his creative appetite, Dorfman wrote and directed 'Bring Back the Cat' in 2016. It's a further illustration of his sharp understanding of what makes the British tick and it's to his enormous credit that it looks and feels like something that could only have been made by someone who was born and raised here.

If you want to draw on the wisdom, skill and experience of Lenny Dorfman, contact Matt Brown at Dark Energy on 07976 257431 or via email at mattbrown@darkenergyfilms.com.


David Reviews is hand-crafted by Lovely Lenzie Ltd, 7 Seven Sisters, Lenzie, Glasgow, G66 3AW. Editor: Jason Stone. Phone: 0141 776 7766. E-mail: jason@davidreviews.com.