by Christine Griswold
A few moments with R&D’s Raquel Elfassi
“Somebody who’s passionate about what they’re doing gets my passion going. So I love to help them find their dream.”
As the morning fog gives way to another golden day in Southern California, Raquel Elfassi enters the room with casual hipness and charm. After having worked with numerous production companies and ad agencies; representing filmmakers such as David Fincher, Mike Romanek and Michael Bay at Propaganda in the 90s; helping Roman Coppola and Mike Mills launch The Directors Bureau; and co-founding Resource LA (which expanded into Resource Paris); she now finds herself at the helm of her newest adventure, the LA-based international consultancy firm, R&D. They make the connections between production companies seeking out directors, and directors in search of those companies.
“It’s just like a matchmaker. I’m constantly trying to connect the dots for both the talent and the production companies.”
Working almost exclusively with short form filmmakers (short films, commercials, music videos) in various capacities for 20+ years, Raquel has identified and pioneered a new way for talent and production companies to connect. Instead of connecting ad agencies with talent and production companies, she’s helping the companies and talent find each other first, encouraging a way for them both to grow their business and creative potential. Her day consists of “a lot of phone…dialoguing with people about their needs and the talent they are looking for,” as well as approaching established talent and finding new artists to develop.
“I love finding talent that don’t have exactly what you’re looking for, then trying to find a way to bring them in…”
Raquel continues, “the best feeling in the world is to see all these brains colliding, making a connection where they can all invest in taking (each other) to the next place. Those little moments are exciting.” You never know who you’ll meet and what connections you’ll make. Raquel recently found two young filmmakers who were previously architects before completing film school at Columbia, and paired them with a more established director who coincidentally had previous training in architecture as well. They saw the world in such a unique yet similar visual shorthand, that they understood each other immediately. That was a great day.
“We are definitely looking for talent who excite us as artists. I want to be moved.”
A recent commercial that moved her (and was directed by one of the artists she works with) aired during the 2015 Oscars broadcast–Andreas Nilsson’s “Emily’s Oz” for Comcast. The spot features an 8 year-old blind girl’s “vision” of what the Wizard of Oz looks likes to her. Raquel says “I’m covered in chills just thinking about it. It’s mind-bogglingly beautiful.” The ad is for Comcast’s accessibility features on their X1 Entertainment Operating System, but Nilsson elevates the spot with breathtaking compassion and artistry. As Nilsson sees it, “I’m helping the director, Emily, to make her vision come alive.”
“Never stop producing…never be idle.”
As the industries of both film and advertising are constantly and quickly evolving, artists are well-served by evolving along with it. “A director’s career-it’ll last as long as they are paying attention…the key to having a career in this business is to constantly surprise the audience.” Part of this is continually thinking about / working on your own projects, and being aware of others’ work as well. Another part of this is trying new things and experimenting with new ideas, collaborations, technologies and formats.
These days, big-name feature directors, cinematographers, composers, etc., who may not have thought of working in this format are trying their hand in short form venues, not only for the creative challenge of telling a compelling story in 30 seconds, but also for the opportunity to try out new technologies, or establish new connections with other artists. Many who may have seen this short-form work more typically as an entry into the field are realizing it’s a great way to try people and technologies out, while growing as artists themselves.
But there’s room in this format for “all walks of life;” young filmmakers, established filmmakers, people transitioning from other careers or other corners of the industry. That’s part of what makes it so dynamic.
“Never say never and always keep an open mind.”
Raquel and her firm are looking for new talent at festivals, on blogs, on Vimeo, through previous connections, at film schools, and many other venues, but she also encourages those hoping to break into the industry to take internships and jobs as assistants in all aspects of production as well. “Come in at the bottom and learn the entire landscape, because it’s only going to strengthen their vocabulary and overall knowledge of the business. Interning is a great thing. PA-ing (being a production assistant) is a great thing…there are directors who have assistants that just literally sit next to them and have their eyes wide open, absorbing everything they possibly can in that moment.”
Having taken on these roles early in one’s career helps provide great insight, establish connections, and contributes to a better overall understanding of film making. Additionally, exposure to myriad aspects of the process may lead you down paths previously overlooked or uncharted. You may start out wanting to be a cinematographer, but find your true passion is set design. Or you might establish a new technology or process to fulfill the ever-evolving needs of an ever-evolving industry. Besides, exploring a myriad of film elements and working with different people also opens you up to many new opportunities. Instead of working only in your home town (or city), your internship could land you in some of the most well-known production houses in London or beyond!
“As long as you have an open mind, you may be surprised at what you’re good at.”
“I hope to keep evolving…I’ve moved into something else that I didn’t know existed-because it didn’t exist. But that’s the cool thing-you can just create something. We (at R&D) found a need. I’m sure the needs are going to keep changing, because it’s all changing so quickly. But that’s kind of fun.”