What’s the most creative advertising idea you’ve seen recently?
Westin: Before the pandemic, back when corona just meant beer, the charity Parley for the Oceans teamed up with Corona Beer to highlight World Oceans Day. A massive 'Wave of Waste' eco-sculpture of marine plastic pollution was built to rise up from the sidewalk. This creative 3D installation was paired with a billboard of a surfer on a wave to bring attention to the littering of our oceans. It was incredibly impactful to see a brand synonymous with pristine beaches stepping up to partner with a charity whose aim is to protect that exact image.
Austin: This past year, everyone has seen photos of doctors and nurses with PPE face mask imprints on their skin. Ad agency McCann Belgrade presented these iconic images with a twist by depicting frontline workers with the imprint of superhero masks of Iron Man, Batman, and Spiderman.
What website(s) do you use most regularly?
Austin: Surfline.com to check the beach webcams for wave conditions. I like knowing how my local break is looking, and if I should try to steal away for a 'board meeting' in the ocean.
Westin: We’ve been stalking filmfreeway.com because we’re in the process of submitting our latest short to film festivals. I bet our fellow filmmakers would agree that keeping track of all their deadlines can feel like a part-time job.
What’s the most recent piece of tech that you’ve bought?
Austin: I tend to compose music for the pieces that Westin and I direct, so I’m excited about my new Pickaso Guitar Bow. It acts like a shortened cello bow but is designed for a guitar. I’m always searching for new ways to create unusual and interesting sounds for my scores.
Westin: This is such a filmmaker answer but a Kodak pocket projector to cast movies on the wall. This was a lockdown-in-London purchase to mix up the number of indoor activities one can do in a three-room flat.
What product could you not live without?
Westin: My sleep mask. I’m a light sleeper who requires total darkness and silence to fall asleep. I’ve been known to remove clocks off the walls of Airbnbs because they tick too loudly. Austin has had to explain to the hosts why their missing clock might be hiding under the kitchen sink. Also, I drink tea non-stop while working, so I’m obsessed with this clear glass electric teapot that glows neon blue as it boils — cheap thrills!
Austin: Four Thieves hand sanitizer from the LA-based gin company AMASS. Yes, it’s probably too posh, but the smell of cinnamon, clove, eucalyptus, and allspice has gotten me through the year — plus, their gin isn’t bad either.
What’s the best film you’ve seen over the last year?
Austin: Another Round (Druk) completely surprised me. I didn’t expect a tale of middle-aged men day-drinking through their mid-life crises to be engaging, but the direction, casting, and cinematography was a perfect balance of tragedy and comedy. The actors’ prep for acting drunk while sober is a masterclass on its own!
Westin: I have a soft spot for the sweeping vistas of westerns and unexplored historical stories, so News of the World hooked me in. The film is about a man who travels from town to town to read the news and crosses paths with a 10-year-old German girl who was raised by a Kiowa tribe. I was moved by its empathetic message of stepping up to the plate to help a child, regardless of blood relation. Also, Tom Hanks is a national treasure.
What film do you think everyone should have seen?
Austin: The Intouchables, a French comedy-drama, will always have my admiration for having such a humorous, humane take on not judging a book by its cover and living life to its fullest.
Westin: All In: The Fight for Democracy documentary with Stacey Abrams truly sheds light on the insidious effects of voter suppression. The Jim Crow era stirs up images of segregated drinking fountains and sit-in protests. However, voter suppression is just as destructive and even more long-lasting. What blew my mind while watching the doc is that only five years after the Civil War ended, Mississippi elected its first Black senator in 1870, and its last one in 1874. It took nearly 100 more years for another Black senator to be elected, and that was in Massachusetts! Yet Mississippi, a heavily Black-populated state, has never had another to this day. Voter suppression is obviously alive and well if it was easier to elect a Black man in 1870s Mississippi than present day. It’s a crystal clear reminder to Americans to vigilantly protect the right to vote for all citizens.
What’s your preferred social media platform?
Austin: Instagram. We share an Instagram work account, so our time on social media is streamlined. Admittedly, it’s the most effective way to stay in touch with people we’ve met on the job and at film festivals. Some wonderfully random collaborations have come out of people we connected and stayed in touch with on the platform.
What’s your favourite TV show?
Austin: Ahhhhh, there is so much such superb television out there. True Detective: Season 1: Cary Fukunaga is a badass along with the DP Adam Arkapaw. The performances were mesmerizing; the swamps of the South seeped into your bones — although the level of intrigue may have given me an ulcer. Happy Valley: for the writing, realness, and a gripping role for an older woman. A Discovery of Witches: this series has us captivated. The production value, cinematography and color grading (we notice the small things) of Oxford, Venice and the French countryside ooze off the screen. It’s magical yet practical, and the historical storylines swirl together to make a delicious cup of tea.
Westin: Big Little Lies: for hitting a fantastic balance between the high and lows in life. You can still have humor, brunches and beach walks alongside pain in family dynamics. Meryl Streep’s character in Season 2 is also such a vibe. I’ve met that complicated character many times in real life but have rarely seen her on-screen. The Queen’s Gambit for its fresh filmmaking approach — and if you didn’t order a chess set after watching it, did you really watch it? Ted Lasso: this show is a gem. We all need some laughter and heart in our lives. Having spent lots of time in London as an American, this show hit close to home. I may have spit out my drink when Jason Sudeikis’s character dropped a single massive wheat clump from a British cereal box into his bowl.
What’s your favourite podcast?
Austin: The only time I listen to podcasts is on a long drive. You’re more likely to find me listening to Franklin Leonard on Clubhouse. He’s the brilliant founder of The Black List, the database of the industry’s best unproduced scripts. If you haven’t yet heard his words, seek him out.
Westin: I am not cool enough to listen to podcasts. I love the concept of them, but I prefer being present and would much rather chat with whomever is around me. Classic Gemini here. I am also not a fan of wearing headphones in public spaces, while running, or in trains or taxis. It really cuts down your awareness of your surroundings. To quote “Mad-Eye” Moody, I was raised to have “constant vigilance.”
What show/exhibition has most inspired you recently?
Austin: James Turrell’s Breathing Light installation will forever and always inspire me. I could’ve been in the endless room for ten minutes or ten hours — not sure how long.
Westin: Any appearance by Tika the Iggy [below], a Greyhound fashionista. Kudos to ZARA for recognizing the icon that she is and putting her on its web homepage.
What’s the most significant change you’ve witnessed in the industry since you started working in it?
Westin: Hands down, the #MeToo movement. To anyone who says that protests or movements won’t change the status quo, our careers as sister co-directors are tangible proof that it does. We went to film school and spent our early years working before it hit; you could almost immediately feel the shift in the air after it landed. Since then, we’ve felt more encouraged to work in film, and companies seemed more open to taking chances on us.
It’s also sparking a change in the culture. What used to be whisperings among women are now commonplace knowledge due to a new awareness. If someone is being sexist or predatory on set, it’s now easier to mention it without fear of being fired or not re-hired. The battle is not won yet, but we are extremely excited to see what the future holds when this imbalance of power is corrected. My dream is that we are the last generation of women to have to kick down the bolted door, and that the next generation can easily walk through as filmmakers without it mattering whether they are female or not.
Austin: Amen, sister.
If there was one thing you could change about the advertising industry, what would it be?
Westin: Limits on edit revisions by clients. I think one of the downsides of going digital is that clients can say forty times over, “Just send me a link with the changes, it’s easy”, without realizing how much work it still entails, for production and agency alike.
Austin: I love Free the Work’s positive impact on the pitching process, and I hope this snowballs into an industry-standard pitch fee for creating treatments.
Who or what has most influenced your career?
Austin: No one person has reached down and handed us a career, and everyone’s path in film is so unique that it’s hard to model your own career after someone else’s. So, there is not a specific 'who' as much as there are many 'whos' (like a chorus of owls) who are all helping and encouraging us in small but mighty ways.
Westin: I think what influenced us most was telling stories at the dinner table. Every Thursday night, our whole family gathered and shared stories in great detail. Filmmaking and storytelling are so intertwined that telling a story verbally first helps you to do it visually later. Having that dinner table audience and a creative mom really shaped who we’ve become.
Beginning film students often ask me what they can do to prepare for a career as a director or screenwriter. They don’t realize that I’m simultaneously watching to see if they can tell the story of their own life or simply an interaction from that day. If you don’t have that skill, film or advertising is not going to come easy to you. You need to be in love with language and the art of translating what you’re thinking to whomever is listening or watching!
Tell us one thing about yourself that most people won’t know.
Westin: I once won a Harry Potter look-alike and trivia contest. As an enthusiastic 10-year-old, my entire costume was homemade — including round glasses created out of black pipe cleaners. I was in a lineup with all boys, many of whom were wearing expensive costumes with fake owls on their arms. After my win was announced, I walked to the podium and ripped off my wig to reveal my long blonde hair, much to the shock of the room.
Austin: I’ve been known to play grand pianos in airports and train stations. Yes, I’m that person.