Nathalie Canguilhem Speaks with Free the Bid

Award-winning creative agency Droga5 recently announced its support for Free the Bid. In celebration of this commitment, the agency’s Chief Creation Officer, Sally-Anne Dale, sat down with director Nathalie Canguilhem, who stood out among the rest of those considered for Under Armour’s new “Will Finds a Way” campaign. Enjoy the read!

Sally-Ann Dale: What can you share about the bidding process for this new Under Armour work, “Will Finds a Way”?

Nathalie Canguilhem: Straightaway, I loved the “Will Finds a Way” brief from the agency that totally suited my universe. In France, everybody admires Droga5, so I felt really excited and inspired. I’d never shot athletes before, and my brain was overflowing with artistic ideas.

Sally-Ann Dale: What perspectives or ideas did you want to bring to life in the collaboration?

Nathalie Canguilhem: I was really happy to be able to integrate the idea of a TV report within the film, as well as the graphic element, in which we matched a color with an athlete.

Sally-Ann Dale: Can you talk about the athletes profiled in the pieces?

Nathalie Canguilhem: It’s impressive to realize how ambitious and determined these Under Armour athletes are and how what they have been through has forged them. It is truly admirable to see the intense hard work and perseverance they put into their craft every single day.

Dennis [Smith Jr., NBA Point Guard] kicked off the shoot by knocking down the Steadicam with a slam dunk, and every time I saw him in the edit, I couldn’t help but recall the moment. And for Natasha [Hastings, World Champion Sprinter], it’s all about her music: it’s both an obsession and a motivation. She was such a treat to watch; she has such groove and power when she runs. I have to admit that Teddy Riner [World Champion Judoka] was a delight—and he’s also a fellow French obliges! When I met Teddy, he was like a funny, sweet giant and, as Adrienne Lofton, Under Armour’s Senior Vice President of Brand Marketing, would say: he’s “the French Michael Phelps.”

Sally-Ann Dale: What was the most exciting/challenging part of working with such varied subjects?

Nathalie Canguilhem: Advertising is a game, but it is not my unique goal. When you are lucky enough to work with a crew like the one at Droga5, it’s so stimulating and rewarding. The creatives—Ray SmilingPatrick Horton and Stephen Shocket—always pushed to be better, artistically. Personally, I can be a bit wild sometimes. But I always fight for the artistic approach, and I like to mix the street and art universes as well as the fashion and documentary worlds. That’s how I’ve always rolled, even if it’s not easy. The Droga5 team were great supporters in that.

Sally-Ann Dale: The new work is centered on the idea that “Will Finds a Way.” How did you find and express your brand of “will” in the advertising and film industry?

Nathalie Canguilhem: I’m always afraid of getting bored, so I never stop creating. But I always have a goal in mind.

Sally-Ann Dale: What other kinds of projects are you working on?

Nathalie Canguilhem: I’m working on a music video in Africa for a French rapper, a music video for Charlotte Gainsbourg that includes people falling in slow-motion, a new commercial for Amnesty International, a commercial for Saint Laurent for kids as well as a documentary about homeless kids.

Sally-Ann Dale: What draws you to a job, a project or a brand? What do you wish more brands would do or say?

Nathalie Canguilhem: I’m very interested in brands and their images. I like working on completely different projects in which I can elaborate the artistic ideas I want to develop. That’s what drives me.

Sally-Ann Dale: What do US-centric brands have to learn from production in Europe?

Nathalie Canguilhem: In France, it’s more about my desire to highlight and stage the urban, street universe. I think they are starting to finally get it, but it has been a long ride! I have struggled so that people can understand that I wanted to show an urban universe. I find it easier to work in the USA; people are so much more motivated. Nothing can stop them—except a few safety concerns. In France, we are wilder; we cheat the rules more easily! We’re also sharper when it comes to art direction; personally, I like to mix universes and personalities.

Sally-Ann Dale: Whose work do you admire and why?

Nathalie Canguilhem: As for movies, I love Terrence Malick for his energy, his frames and his approach to characters. I also love the wild side of Harmony Korine. When it comes to contemporary art, I really love Doug Aitken. His vision and ideas, to me, are pure art. As far as photography or shorter film work, I like Tyrone Lebon. I’m really happy we’re represented by the same production company.

Sally-Ann Dale: Your work can be described as youthful and is known for its visceral imagery and bright, colorful visuals. What informs that? Did you want those stylistic notes to come through in the Under Armour work?

Nathalie Canguilhem: I had the idea of shooting as much footage as possible, to mix the universes, the cameras, and merge different worlds to capture a behind-the-scenes look at Under Armour athletes and what they do to ignite their best selves. That is the core of the “Will Finds a Way” campaign, and it was rewarding to celebrate this vision with Under Armour.

Sally-Ann Dale: What’s one lesson you wish you had learned earlier in your career?

Nathalie Canguilhem: I think to never lose hope, to always hold my convictions even if it’s not always simple to go for it. Also, it’s important to work with people you respect and who support you.

Sally-Ann Dale: What is one piece of advice you would give to women who want to be future directors?

Nathalie Canguilhem: Even if I thought I would never have to say it: it sucks to be a woman in this industry. But things are changing, and I really like the idea of establishing myself among all the guys. And of course the fun and joy that comes with the job—that’s what really matters: having fun!

Watch Nathalie’s reel here.