Walk the Creative Tightrope with BRTHR
As any artist will tell you, creativity isn’t a tap that can be turned on and off as needed. It’s a process—a slow one, at times—filled with experimentation, frustration, and all-too-fleeting moments of inspiration. But when there’s a paying client at the other end of that process, often with their own vision and deadline, finding a balance between your creative process and the customer’s expectations can feel like a tightrope act.
As the directing duo behind BRTHR, Alex Lee and Kyle Wightman regularly find themselves balancing their own frenetic visual style with the needs of a diverse clientele, which has included the likes of Miley Cyrus, Travis Scott, Lil Pump, Yves Saint Laurent, and Adidas.
“In music videos, the base idea comes from us usually,” says Lee. “With ads, agencies have base ideas they want us to bring our style/ideas to.” But while corporate clients require more collaboration and flexibility, the creative process is driven by the same impulse. “To create something that genuinely excites us, something different from the usual,” says Lee. “We always ask ourselves how we can elevate something.”
Lee and Wightman launched BRTHR in 2013 after dropping out of film school together. A short film Lee had made using a Canon T3i, entitled “Tokyo Slo-Mode,” had attracted enough attention online to bring in new work. “Some small jobs started to roll in, each getting bigger and bigger,” says Wightman. “Eventually we did music videos for household names, then ads for known brands.”
Most recently, BRTHR was hired by Adobe to make a video celebrating the creative process, including the inevitable frustration and setbacks. The spot shows a handful of college students plugging away at the editing process, experimenting and starting over, trying to get all their visions into their work. As with many of their films, BRTHR used Creative Cloud products to make the spot, demonstrating their own process in the finished product: the constant revising required to make art. “We wanted to bring the feeling of making a creative breakthrough with visual ideas that match that drive and energy,” Lee says.
It’s a feeling the two filmmakers know all too well. Lee and Wightman have earned a reputation for taking a very hands-on approach to their work and are often involved in every step of production. “Our projects have a lot of elements that need to come together, and it’s a much smoother process—as we’ve found out the hard way—when we chime in and keep track of how things are going.”
While directing music videos and pairing with other creative types give Lee and Wightman room to engage their own creativity and concepts, working on the commercial side of things is a different experience. Post-production tends to involve more back-and-forth and compromise with the client. Still, their main objective is to keep things flowing, to keep the creative process moving forward.
“It can be tough,” says Wightman. “But ultimately we open ourselves up to collaboration as much as possible and work with it. We present and support our ideas as clearly as possible. We know how to pick our battles.”
The pair finds that working as a team helps alleviate some of the normal pressures for production. “We’ve got two brains and two bodies to do more aspects of production at once,” Wightman says. “This has become more and more advantageous as we grow.”
Putting so much energy into a passion can be draining, though, and part of the creative process is learning how to replenish oneself. Even for a pair that work as closely as Lee and Wightman, their approaches to creative renewal are quite different. “I usually go back to Japan where I grew up,” Lee says. “It just helps me ground myself a bit, and reinspires me creatively.” For times when a plane ride isn’t feasible, good TV, film, or music videos will also do the trick, he adds.
Wightman’s ritual for creative renewal is a bit simpler. “I love to fish and spend time with my wife and two cats,” he says.
Neither filmmaker takes their success for granted, knowing just how difficult it can be for new visual artists to get noticed. “It’s getting harder and harder to stand out,” Wightman says. “But we’d always say, 'Believe in originality.’” Lee echoes that sentiment. “Try your best to present ideas that you feel are different, original, fresh,” he says to young people looking to work in a creative field. “Put yourself out there and see what happens.”