Big shot directors are making indie films for Prada

Jason Schwartzman and Giada Colagrande star in a short film directed by Wes Anderson, and made for Prada.   

Lauren Wolkstein has her eyes glued to YouTube, watching the latest Wes Anderson movie. She gives a startled laugh as Jason Schwartzman's character's car crashes into a wall.

This seven minute film is not for theaters. It's for Prada, the fashion label.

“This is actually very entertaining,” Wolkstein says. She's an indie film director herself. She's had three films at Sundance. And like Wes Anderson, she's also made a short film for a fashion label, Gucci.

In fact, just about every major fashion house now has a short indie film. Prada commissioned Wes Anderson. Yves Saint Laurent used Darren Aronofsky. Dior got Sofia Coppola to make its movies.

Which begs the question: Why are these famous directors selling out? 

“To me,” Wolkstein says of her experience working for Gucci, “it was like, 'Oh, I don't have to worry about dressing the actors, I don't have to worry about the location, they gave me everything to play with, and I was able to tell a story, with these amazing clothes!''

Wolkstein says it can take years to raise enough money to finance a film, even for established indie directors. Commissions from big brands take that problem away.

"They're saying 'I love your work, here's some money, pretty much take this money and run with it and tell your stories.' And the only requirement, if any, is to put their name and the brand on the film."

She says having a fashion brand as your patron, giving you free rein, it actually raises a filmmaker's street cred.

But what's in it for the brand?

“I think fashion brands for a long time struggled to go online,” says Quynh Mai, founder of the agency Moving Image and Content, which helps fashion companies with digital marketing. “They sell exclusivity, aspiration. And for a long time the online space was the antithesis of that.”

Mai says having a web film with a fancy director gives fashion houses the exclusivity they're aiming for.

“When brands like Prada spend exorbitant amount of moneys on their films online,” Mai says, “they're trying to create a halo effect for their brand – that crosses not only their target consumer but maybe the consumer who buys their sunglasses, or buys their nail polish.”

Although, Mai says, when brands hire big name directors to make their films, it can take away attention from the brand.

“All people say is, 'Have you seen that Wes Anderson short?'” she says. “I’m not sure that that was a Prada piece.”

But director Lauren Wolkstein says hiring an indie director can actually save a brand money, because they're used to making films on a smaller budget than most commercial crews.

About the author

Audrey Quinn is a reporter in New York City.

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