Q&A with Producer Stephan Whelan, Fashion Film: Connecting Brands and Consumers

Producer Stephen Whelan joins the ASFF 2016 Masterclass series to dispense industry tips to audiences surrounding the topic of fashion film. Having worked with brands such as Ted Baker, Issey Miyake, Moncler, River Island and Diesel, Whelan will examine the ever-shifting boundaries of fashion film and look at the ways in which the growth of social media platforms have shaped and driven the evolution of recent brand communication within the market. We speak to Whelan ahead of his talk to find out more about the way in which online communication between brands and audiences is changing.

ASFF: With the rise in the number of social media platforms available today, what changes are we expected to see in the future with the online presence of companies?
SW: There are two angles to come at this from. One – what impact will the presence of brands have in online / social media spaces? Two – how will the specific nature of digital social spaces impact the ways brands behave online? The first answer is an unavoidable shift towards brand incursions into photo sharing apps and video messaging platforms. It’s always the same. Commerce-free space appears. Audience arrives. Space begins to be privatised by interruptive advertising. Function of space changes.

The second question has a more interesting answer as it’s the one where brands are expected to shift towards communicating in the language of the space they’re inhabiting. You can’t just turn up at a party part way through, walk in to the middle of the room while other people are talking and demand to be heard by dint of the size of your wallet. You wouldn’t do it in the real world. Why would you do it online? It’s funny – on an individual level it seems like we’re learning to reconnect the subjective experience of our identities with the way we behave in digital spaces. We’re recovering from a state of psycho-social mental fragmentation driven by social media, digital dating apps, the obsession with being followed, liked, reposted. We’re learning how to be human online. Brands need to do the same.

ASFF: When a brand comes to you, what are the initial processes you go through to establish the sort of film that will suit their brand ethics and values?
SW: It’s generally a completely collaborative process. There’s no linear approach sadly – if only! Every project is its own configuration of challenges, possible solutions and routes to achieving those solutions. I usually find listening is the best start. The more we can understand the brand’s perspective the better we can position ourselves within their mindset. Again, massive generalisation, but often the best place to start is to figure out what the brand’s personality is, what their audience’s is and how we can make them get along better. Just like you would when you introduce two of your friends who haven’t met. You’d highlight areas of mutuality to help them get along.

ASFF: Has there been a particular favourite with the brands you’ve worked with so far?
SW: That opportunity has yet to arise. My favourite brand is Britney Spears. I’d love to work with her and her team. It’s a product that’s lasted 20 years, survived a temporary implosion of brand identity and yet has managed to retain a following while refining its position.

ASFF: This year’s festival is showcasing a huge variety of films from leading fashion designers – is there anything in particular you will be looking out for?
SW: Not really, I’d like to see what trends are emerging not only in fashion film but within global short film more broadly. It’s very easy to sit in the UK, more specifically London, and believe your viewpoint is indicative of where the collective creative consciousness is heading. It’s nice to take a break from that rather suffocating position and just approach a festival programme with an open mind.

My assumption would be that we’re going to see a lot of films that deal with women’s issues (which are everyone’s issues and finally being meaningfully debated), gender identity, political malaise following Brexit, possibly sport prompted by the Olympics. I’m sure there will also be some rare insights and unexpected cultural access points within the screenings.

Fashion: Connecting Brands and Consumers with Stephen Whelan, ASFF 2016, Saturday 5 November, 13:30 – 14:30, Temple Hall, York St John University.

 To book your place, visit www.asff.co.uk/asff2016/masterclasses

1. Christopher Cunniff, Hustler, Fashion category ASFF 2016.