In Conversation with Alex Browning, Director, Lioness and the Hunter

London-based director Alex Browning returns with Lioness and the Hunter, a new campaign that plays on the role of women working in the fashion industry. A collaborative short film and photography project, the campaign reflects on the way that women, in particular female models, have a shelf-life and are, in a way, hunted for their skin. We speak to Browning about his progression into the realms of fashion and advertising, and hear about his latest work since his music video ¡OYE! When I’m Small screened at the Aesthetica Short Film Festival in 2012.

ASFF: Your latest film Lioness and the Hunter looks at the role that women play in the fashion industry. Where did the inspiration and motivation for this piece come from, and what message does it seek to convey?
AB: The point I was trying to make, and I don’t know if I’ve succeeded or that it’s entirely clear, is that in the fashion industry women (more so than men) have a shelf-life and are ‘hunted’ for their ‘skin’ until they are deemed not good enough. I deliberately had the hunter as an androgynous female rather than a male, so it was women hunting other women.

ASFF: How did the overall look and feel of the film develop? Are there any filmmakers, artists or designers in particular that have influenced the piece?
AB: I wrote the idea for the piece (in my head) in 2014, and I mentioned it to a photographer friend of mine Sam Pyatt, who said we should collaborate. That idea was left there, in my head, for a while. Until a stylist came to me and wanted to collaborate. Then things started moving. I sat down and wrote the treatment there and then in a day and pulled in a crew of talents such as Aaron Rogers the DoP and Mario Brooksbank the films’ make-up artist. The setting and the world I created lives in the fantastical, and is influenced by magic realism and directors like Guillermo Del Toro.

ASFF: Lioness and the Hunter plays with the stereotypical roles of men and women in the fashion industry and beyond. In your opinion, why is short film, particularly fashion film, a suitable medium for this?
AB: The reason I chose to do a fashion film, rather than a straight traditional narrative film was that I could experiment with the world I wanted to create, in a short and punchy way. But also highlight, albeit loosely, the social issues. I’ve done this in an abstract way – which may or may not be easy to ‘get’ right away. But historically I’ve found this more engaging and interesting, rather than doing a ‘talking heads’ documentary piece.

ASFF: As a writer and director, how does this new work differ from previous projects?
AB: This work differs from my previous projects as it’s my first real ‘push’ into the fashion film medium. A medium that really hasn’t found itself yet, unlike music videos, TV commercials or traditional film. I’m used to making branded content and short films. I wanted to do something in between – using fashion to shape the idea, but still using the fantasy setting that I’ve used so often in my short dramas. I’d like to do something like this again, on a much bigger scale and with actors. I’m looking for brands and platforms to collaborate with.

ASFF: Your work previously screened in ASFF’s Music Video category. Can you talk about how your work has developed since then?
AB: Since my music video ¡OYE! When I’m Small (remix) was screened at ASFF, I’ve not really made another music video! I ended up doing around 12 no-to-low budget music videos at uni. Some won a few awards and got me some unexpected recognition. But I ended up working in production in advertising after graduating and that led me to direct commercials and branded content. I’ve made six short films since 2012. My latest, Scarecrow, was developed with Creative England. I have another short in pre-production Night To The Road in collaboration with actor and filmmaker Femi Oyeniran. My first feature in development too. So in terms of development practically; bigger production values, budgets and stronger stories.

ASFF: Lioness and the Hunter draws upon the talents of numerous creatives. How did you find the process of collaboration, and why is this important to fashion films such as this?
AB: The process of collaboration can be testing at times. So it was a process of patience and trusting each other. We had a real honest transparency that meant we all knew to some degree where some strengths and weaknesses were. But it was still very fun and a great learning experience for us all. For a piece like this, a self-made project, collaboration is so important. I’ve said it before, it may sound cliched, but I’m not necessarily an ‘independent filmmaker’ even when making a project like this, without a commissioner. The success of the film is so reliant on the cohesiveness of the team and their talents. It’s not all about me. I had a great editor Benjamin Leach who just ‘got’ it, a really talented composer Tom Ryan, the best sound designers I could ask for in George Castle and Rob Furnell, and a slick grade from Joseph Bicknell that made the piece more polished than I could have hoped for. A film like this, has given us all the opportunity to work on something to a high level and elevate our respective practice. I’m looking forward to the next one!

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1. Lioness and the Hunter, 2016.