Rugby, architecture and social work aren't your classic 'film-school' breeding grounds for great directorial talent, but the real-life background of Merman directing duo (and brothers) Michel + Nico has paved the way to a unique style.

Breaking through with self-funded documentaries based around various sport, the pair work as a one-stop-shop, able to film, light, edit, post, and animate their own work - i.e. the perfect lockdown creators.

We spoke to them about some of the things they keep around them that keeps them inspired, including a deliciously geeky mug, a handy home set-up and a duo who provide endless inspiration.

The Graphics Tablet

Michel: I love animation, whether it be the anime classics or some of the newer contemporary stuff. If you need recommendations just ask!

To me, there is nothing more creative, nor epic and dark than animation. The potential is endless.

When it boils down to it my favourite TV shows are anime, and you should all check out Attack On Titans, Hunter X hunter, Demon Slayer… they are gems! 

Sadly, though, I truly suck at drawing but luckily for me I have Nico by my side. We’re quite the team. I’ve got the references, he’s got the skills!

Nico: I love drawing. I will never claim to be a professional illustrator but it’s something I am truly passionate about. The again, it took us some time to admit to ourselves we were directors… maybe one day I can admit to myself that I am half decent with a digital pencil! 

Michel is a master editor and I am his accompanying illustrator. Together we can bring our skills together on a high level on prestigious future projects

Michel is always encouraging me to use my strengths to my advantage - and me his - as we know together our differences compliment each other and have helped establish ourselves as a well-known directing duo. We started directing sport documentaries - playing off of our backgrounds as rugby players in France - but we’ve always felt we had potential beyond that. It was a fantastic starting point but we always wanted more.

Michel is a master editor and I am his accompanying illustrator. Together we can bring our skills together on a high level on prestigious future projects. We know we have what it takes, we just need to show it. That’s why I invested in my XPen Pro 22’ Graphic Tablet, moving away from Wacom for a change. Not sure about you guys but I found limitless opportunities with this brand. Cheaper, sleeker and Japanese. Ticks all the boxes. I simply adore it.

Michel and I are looking to use it on a personal post-lockdown project using illustration and animation techniques. It’s just the beginning but hopefully we can explore this arena further and develop our techniques to the extent we compete with the leading animators out there. To be able to sit with the animation and illustrations kings out there would be unreal.

We recognise their talent and have always wanted to have a stab at their craft. What have we got to lose?!

The Canon 24-70 Lens Coffee Mug

Nico: I am a massive coffee drinker. I know that’s not exactly unusual for directors far and wide but Michel actually doesn’t drink it! So naturally I have to drink enough for the two of us and it’s very much a part of my routine. It keeps me ticking and gets me started everyday.

My nephew Sacha is fully aware of this and bought me a proper nerdy mug for my birthday: Nico loves coffee and stills, this is a perfect one from him. 

Really touching, witty and clever - kids logic at its finest, so yes, this mug is my partner every single day. 

Black and strong. No milk, no sugar. Simple.

Michel: Contrary to popular belief (cough cough Nico) I used to drink coffee too just like everybody else. But one day I woke up and realised it just wasn’t for me anymore. How did I not realise I never liked the taste!? Clearly stuck in my old ways for too long. Creature of habit. 

It’s great but now I’m just 'that guy' who can’t decide what to get at the cafe every morning. Was so much easier when I drank coffee!

The Pocket Cinema

Michel: This camera [the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema 4K] has been a real game changer for our personal projects. For us, a personal project means it's ours and ours alone. We do everything! We don’t ask for production support, commission, help or money. If we do, it turns into something else and the personal attachment we have to it is gone. For us, personal projects allow us to be free. There aren’t many projects where you can truly express yourselves, but personal projects enable us to do just that.

We’re basically self taught and so started to film stuff with cheap camcorders, then classic DSLR - which made us believing our picture quality was great, but never as good as professional cameras. 

 This camera is the one we dreamt about when we started.

It was frustrating (the kind of frustration every wannabe director knows) because we believed image quality is the most important - which is not, story is - but this camera is the one we dreamt about when we started. It makes our personal stories more beautiful. Vintage look, great skin tones. We even used it in some commissioned films, mixed with professional camera footage. Nobody can notice the difference with good colour correction - easy to use even if battery life is awful - it’s my favourite piece of tech, I use it for film and stills, so I had to feature this here. 

Nico: We finally bought two, as it was so good, and I needed my own to be ready to shoot anything. There is a 6K model now but this 4K one, with cheap 20mm micro 4/3 lenses, works perfectly for us. 

The Editing Space

Michel: To me, this place does not represent a thing, but a universe -  my universe - the one I spend 70% of my time in! 

I LOVE editing. As Nico said, it took time to consider ourselves as directors, but I always told everyone I was a brilliant editor :) - I know I am. Now that we are directors today, it helps us to really focus on the end result from the start, even if we’re not editing all films we shoot.

Mastering post production is why we succeeded starting out with nothing (Nico is an amazing sound designer). I spent SO MUCH time in that space, editing documentaries without such great footage, struggling with storytelling, learning new techniques… this computer is not even connected to the internet and I only have two pieces of software on it: Premiere Pro and After Effects

Editing is not just cutting, it’s putting your heart and soul on the timeline.

This is just about work, no distractions. 

On the other hand, we love collaborating with great editors. In an advertising process, time is precious and usually we need to have a beady eye and fresh perspective. Our good friend Matt Newman at Trim is our favourite edit partner in London; we share a lot in common with him, not just the pubs (especially the love of perfect tempo!).

It wasn’t easy to find someone able to edit our footage, it’s like giving away your baby, but being an editor myself helps us be good collaborators with Matt.

Struggling yourself allows you to appreciate the talent and skills involved - editing is not just cutting, it’s putting your heart and soul on the timeline and this dude has tons of heart, like us.

The Dog

Nico: This is Marco, my everyday partner at the office. I named him Marco because he is a cute boy, just like our good friend Marco Mori, who is an excellent stills photographer in London. 

Marco the dog is the third kid in the family! 

I would love to teach him how to make coffee but, for now, he just spends hours watching me working, which means i am working for hours :) 

The Perfect Team

Michel: This is a painting our father did last year, copying a still from a personal film we did with our kids [Anything for love]. For us creative collaboration is a family thing.

Our sons Sacha and Robinson are part of our creative world and are always around us, so they need to feature here - our biggest inspirations probably come from these two little guys. Sometimes we just observe them playing , and you can be sure we get some ideas, quotes… something we can’t write or imagine as adults. They are definitely some of the best creatives we know. 

NB to agencies : you can sign them soon!

We did not wait to be forced in lockdown this year to grab a cheap camera and tell home stories.

I think Nico and I are a great team because we understand each other without speaking, but Sacha, Robinson, Nico represent, to me, the perfect team. With them, our creative potential is limitless. We cannot cheat, they don’t accept this, and we all admire one another.

Do I think about one day, building a team of four instead of only two of us? Absolutely. Hopefully they will have their own journey we will encourage, but I would love to always have this creative connection with them. 

To me, it’s an obvious thing, because they help us be inspired, to get fresh ideas and to be able to create together because we enjoy it. That’s how we started, picking cheap cameras and filming around us. Thanks to Sacha and Rob, we’re able to never forget where we are from.

We did not wait to be forced in lockdown this year to grab a cheap camera and tell home stories - we always did that. It’s how we built our signature and they are the perfect reflection of our identity.