Ones to Watch: Paul Herrmann
Skater-boy turned model turned filmmaker–Paul Herrmann has built his reputation off the latter but infuses influences from the former two into his art. The young Berlin-based filmmaker who spent the formative years of his adolescence skate-boarding credits his hobby as what introduced him to the world of filmmaking. Herrmann has worked with the likes of Fendi and MCM, creating stunning yet relatable video pieces that capture the authentic moments just before the glossy, editorial covers previously prized by high-fashion houses. His style is noted for it’s ‘in-the-moment’ honesty, borrowed from the gritty nature of skate-filmmaking.
Milk spoke with Herrmann on the development of his style, his most recent personal project, ‘I Thought I Was You,’ and why his move to Berlin was fundamental in his development as an artist.
So how are you? Are you in Berlin?
I’m good, Thank you! Yes, I’m in Berlin. I just got back last week from Milan [Fashion week]. I didn’t go to Paris [fashion week] this year. I wanted to but I ended up going back to Berlin because I had to shoot this other thing last week.
No Paris Fashion Week this year?
No Paris for me, sadly. Maybe next year. I think I’m gonna go in the summer just to hang out. Summers are more fun anyways–definitely also in Berlin.
I think I’m gonna come to Berlin in the summer!
You should! Berlin is the best city in the summer and the worst in winter. It’s really depressing and the sun sets super early. If you don’t leave the house, by 11 am the latest, you’re like, might as well just stay in–it’s going to be dark in like two hours anyways. It’s still the best though. Every time I go on a trip, I’m very happy to come back here after a couple of days.
So where are you originally from then, because I remember Berlin isn’t your hometown?
Originally, I’m from a small town next to Frankfurt, like a village, called Hofheim. It’s just super small, nothing really going on–super slow pace. And I moved to Berlin like two and a half years ago.
Did you move there for school or what made you move to Berlin?
Yeah, so what I did was I did 11 years of school and then I wouldn’t do my A-Levels the typical way. Our school had this program where you could do 11 years of regular school and then the last year, you could volunteer, intern, or, I think there were a few other options, but I chose to do an internship. So that’s why I moved originally. I wanted to go anyways to Berlin, but that was the final reason.
What was the internship you did for? Was it film-related?
It was for film production. It was actually for a pretty classic German film production company. They would do a lot of TV commercials. I did that for a year or so.
Were you already into film at that point?
Yeah, so I was into film already. And I knew that it was something I wanted to do and go more into detail with. But I was interning at the post-production studio really, so it was more about editing and a lot of After Effects, color grading and all of that. But after a year, I realized that that’s not something I wanted to do. I mean, I edit a lot and I love to edit but all this After Effects stuff is just not for me. So afterward I was kind of like, okay, I want to get into production more.
Would you say that moving to Berlin has in some ways impacted, the direction of your career path or your artistic vision?
I think moving to Berlin was just the key or one of the keys to progress as fast as I did. Because every time something happens in Germany, it’s more or less in Berlin. All the people who work in this industry, here, live in Berlin. So every time I would go somewhere, I meet someone new. And then I go back to Frankfurt and I’m like, shoot, I really want to go back to Berlin because I think that’s the only place where I can progress. I think moving to Berlin was sort of the key to finding my style in a way. When I look back on my older videos, I feel like I’m still editing the same way I used to. But I think Berlin changed what and who I was shooting. It’s a good place to meet people and everyone really wants to give opportunities to young filmmakers, like me.
You have this dual identity as someone that is both a filmmaker and a skater. How did that progression take place?
Yeah, so I still film skateboarding a lot. That’s sort of how I get to still be connected to skateboarding. That’s also how I first came up with the idea to start filming because basically it was me and my two best friends at the time and we were all kind of like, oh, well, why don’t we just start skateboarding. Then the one kid who always had the camera started to film us. I think it’s just natural that as soon as you start to learn new tricks or the first tricks you ever learn, that you want to capture them and then show them to your other friends. And then at some point, I was like well, this is super fun, I’m going to get my own camera. And for my 14th birthday, I got my first actual, proper camera setup with a fisheye and small Canon DSLR camera. Ever since then it kind of took off I think.
Who gave you that camera?
My mom did. I think my mom and my dad. My mom gave me the camera and my dad gave me the lens and the microphone or whatever. I think the whole family chipped in to buy the camera for me.
That’s so sweet! How would you say you developed your style of filmmaking–like the specific aesthetics you have or things that make your films personalized to you?
I feel like a lot just comes from the moment. It’s something people can relate to because I feel like it doesn’t really matter what I shoot. It’s more or less the same approach. So it’s like, we’re going to shoot this commercial, and my friends are the people I work with. I shoot it the same way I would shoot my friends doing whatever. I feel like people can just relate to it.
Were there any filmmakers that you watched, when you started to get interested in film, who really kind of changed your direction?
I think the first guy or the first commercial was the Dexter Navy’s Stussy Converse one. I think it came out in 2017 or something and that was the point where I was like, wow, he really did it. The idea is so simple. He just captured his friends or the models doing what his friends would do. I really loved the idea of how he did it, and how the approach was. So Dexter Navy was a huge inspiration for me at the time. And now a lot of my inspiration comes from the people I hang out with. For example, my best friend Steffen is very into photography. Every time we hang out or even do a project together, it’s so much of just chatting about certain things and how he has his view on things. Where I get a lot of inspiration from in general is just a lot of chatting and talking to friends about certain things to get the right angle.
Do you often collaborate with your friends, like you mentioned Steffen?
Yeah, I tried to collaborate as much as I can. For example, the DP I work with a lot is called Moritz and he’s just one of my best friends. So if something comes up, he’s more or less the first person I speak to. I think it’s just really important to have a group of people you like to spend your time with. If you shoot something, you spend hours and hours on set, talking through the whole thing, and I think it just makes it way easier and fun to shoot with friends or people you like to spend your time with because you spend a huge amount of time with them on these days.
Let’s talk about your latest project “I thought I was You”. Can you talk about the development of the idea for the video?
Yes, basically the idea was that before I went to America I knew I was going to stay three months. So I started to come up with certain ideas. I really love the ideas because I had never been to each of the cities for so long and we were a huge group of people going–at least to New York. I knew I was going to shoot super 8, so then I went there with this basic idea of, I’m going to shoot New York in black and white and LA in color. These are the people I like to work with, who were mainly my friends at the beginning, but after two weeks, they left and then every day, something new came up to my mind, and everywhere I went I was like, damn, I really want to come back to this place and shoot this and that. So I just started meeting people and asking them to be in my film because I wrote everything in my notebook.
At one point, I was like, okay, well, I need to find certain types of people. So I did that. And then after I left New York, I was going through the notebook and I was like, shit, I missed so much of the stuff I wrote down. I tried to catch up in LA, but…even three months or like, a month in each city is just not enough to do everything I wanted to. So I had shot maybe nine rolls of super eight, which was huge for me. At the time, I had never shot so many rolls before. When I got back to Berlin I was looking at all this stuff. And I was still super hyped, but I never really got to finish the edit. I got back late 2018 and the video came out late 2019–so almost a year later. I never wanted to finish it and then even a year later, I still like to look back at this stuff, which is a good sign I believe. So yeah, basically there was not much left of my first idea. The only thing that stayed the same is the black and white and color thing.
Would you say that’s a common trend with your work–to start out with the skeleton of an idea and then the end product has gone through so many revisions that it no longer resembles the first idea?
I try to stick to ideas. I always try to be as prepared as possible when on shoots. But it happens so many times that we write this huge, long shot list and then after the shoot, we go through the list and don’t have everything. I always try to check after every shot we do. But at some point, I forget or I lose my notebook and then find it again. And then after the shoot, we go through the whole thing and we’re like, we missed 10 shots again. So I think it’s important to be prepared but also prepared for it to not turn out exactly how you imagined. There has to be freedom to create something on the spot. I feel like sometimes something changes so fast and then you start shooting it differently just because it just looks better or makes more sense. For me, it works that way best. I like to have as many shots as possible prepared but also leave space to freestyle around. And then if you make three-quarters of it. I think it’s pretty good, right?
Agreed. So what projects do you have coming up in the near future that you’re excited about? I know you’ve been doing a lot of fashion shoots. How did you get into those?
So I’ve been working in fashion a lot since last year. I did my first directing job for MCM actually. So ever since, it took off in the fashion direction. And now we shot our first commercial on 35 millimeter, which I’m super excited about. We shot it in Miami for Fendi actually. And it’s coming out in March, so I’m super excited about that. And then actually last week, we shot this Beats by Dre commercial.
What do you mean ‘we’? Like your team of friends that work together?
Well, it’s me as a person. But like Moritz and I, we shot Fendi. So I always say we but it’s because I speak of us as a team. But yeah, I directed the Fendi campaign and then I directed this beats Beats by Dre thing which is coming out I don’t know when.
How did you get into the fashion world? I know a lot of young aspiring filmmakers want to get their foot in the door there. So how did you stumble into it?
I was signed with a modeling agency actually, and the owner of it knew that I was interested in film. I never shot any sort of commercial or fashion thing before but she knew that I was into film. So once she just asked me if I want to go to Paris with all the models and capture them doing whatever–doing what models do between shows, I guess. So I went and she actually bought me my first VHS camera, which I’m still using till this day. I went there and then basically just captured my friends or like the people who became my friends. I just kind of cruised through Paris and then the whole thing came out as an interview in a magazine. And ever since then it kind of took off. I feel like it’s hard to plan stuff like this. So as you said, a lot of people maybe want to go into fashion. But I don’t think it’s something you can plan. Basically what I did was what I always did while filming skateboarding and catch these moments in between. I think it’s just important to do whatever you want to do. If you want to do a feature film with your friends, do it–just try things out. And then at one point, somebody is going to stumble up across your work and is going to like it and is going to ask you to do the exact same thing for their brand or their magazine or whatever. It’s just natural. First, you try out certain things and see what’s fun for you and what’s not and at some point, people are going to like it.
So Okay, what is your dream director to work with?
Do you see yourself going more into feature filmmaking in the future?
I think, for now, basically what I’m doing right now is perfect for me. And I have enough freedom to try out certain things. And I mean everything I’m doing right now is a huge process of learning. So every time I’m shooting, I’m learning all the time. I work with new people. I work with a new production company. I learn so much. I think I’m just not ready for a bigger project yet. If I see the bigger picture of a feature film that comes with 100 days of shooting or like 50 days of shooting back to back. And I see myself after a three-day shoot fully dead and not able to move–I think I’m just not ready for that yet. But that’s something I definitely want to go into. For now, this whole fashion/ commercial thing is just super fun to experience and learn from and then go deeper into advertising and then hopefully at some point, I’m able to do to feature films.
What’s your dream brand to work?
I think the ultimate goal is to shoot a Gucci campaign. The Gucci campaigns were actually, after Dexter Navy, they were the campaigns that stood out the most to me. I think it was the Petra Collins one with the sunglasses. Amazing. So to this day, all their campaigns–they come up with something new every time.
Definitely. So when you work with these brands, do you also concept the whole idea for the shoot? Or do they give you a treatment and then you are just the director?
Yeah, it depends. Sometimes I have this idea or, people come up to me and they’re like, okay, well, this is what we sort of want to do. What’s your idea? And then I write the whole thing down. And then sometimes it’s just like, well, this is what we’re going to do. Do you want to be the guy who directs this?
Well, it’s cool that brands are reaching into younger audiences and getting them to be a part of the creative vision.
Definitely. I think it’s great that people like me or people my age, get the opportunities to even work for these huge brands who’ve been involved since ages ago. I mean, I don’t know when they first started, but it’s amazing that young people can get into it and then sort of take it on from there.
So we both grew up in the era when social media started mixing with professional work. Like now when I apply for jobs people ask for my Instagram. How do you think that has affected your work? Has it helped you advance in the industry or does it have any negative effects?
I feel like it just makes it a lot easier. Now, after maybe three years of actually doing this, or two years, I don’t know, I got my own website, half a year ago. Before that everything came through Instagram. So I would post something and people got more and more into it. A lot of things came through Instagram. A lot of people just DM me on Instagram. And we’re like, yeah, well, we have this thing coming up, I’m working for a brand, whatever, do you want to shoot it? I think social media is something you can take advantage of when it comes to work and spreading your word. Nowadays, it’s not about how long you’ve been doing it. If you shoot your first still photo of your best friend who’s eating ice cream and put it on Instagram, maybe someone will come across it and be like, oh, this is super good. I want you to shoot for the brand I’m working for. It makes things a lot easier for people my age or even people who are younger than me. Even a 13-year-old can post stuff on Instagram, there is no limit.
Do you have anything that you would like to manifest for 2020?
My biggest hope is that I can keep doing what I love doing. All my friends and family stay healthy. To keep on progressing, keep on traveling to new places, keep on shooting, keep on skating, keep on learning new things, getting to know new people. And basically I just want to keep progressing for myself and progressing in everything that comes with this whole world of film and skateboarding and all of that.
Also, I have to ask, can we see any of your earlier skate film work?
Yes, some of it may still be online, maybe on Youtube.
We’ll link that right here.
Yeah, seven years ago, I think we premiered our first full-length scale video of my mom’s house.
Amazing. Alright, I think we’ve hit all the points. I’ll have to visit Berlin soon!
Ya, you have to come. I’d say the past few days were quite sunny, but it’s still super cold and today was awful. Rainy, very Berlin weather, cold, windy…If you come in May you’ll be on the safe side.
Stay tuned to Milk for more Ones to Watch.