Danny Sangra keeps it short and sweet on the About section of his website: “I make films and commercials. I draw, paint and design. I also take photos and write.” Such a concise explanation is indeed modest, but doesn’t quite do his flamboyant work justice.
Based in London, Danny is best known for his work as a film-maker. He’s directed commercials and short films for fashion houses including Burberry, Miu Miu, Louis Vuitton and Balenciaga; music videos for the likes of A$AP Rocky and Florence and the Machine; as well as creating an impressive catalogue of his own shorts. In November 2016, Danny launched his first feature-length film. Goldbricks in Bloom interweaves the story of a self-obsessed group of disenchanted young creatives with the rise and fall of a New York painter. A thread of dark humour runs throughout each and every one of his projects.
Having built up such a distinctive style – one that fuses artistic production techniques with his sharp and often unorthodox wit – Danny is typically given the creative indulgence of carte blanche by his collaborators. His film for Laboratory Perfumes was no different.
In the interview that follows Danny discusses how he approached the Laboratory Perfumes film, the importance of self-belief when it comes to creative approach, and the smell that drives him wild with desire.
LP: What was your starting point for the Laboratory Perfumes film?
DS: I just wanted to write something that could be set in one room and the viewer didn’t know where it was heading. My intention was to write something that had nothing to do with perfume. However, somehow, I ended up writing something that has everything to do with perfume.
The concept of fragrance is notoriously difficult to express visually without resorting to cliché – how much of an impact did this have on your thinking when you were coming up with the concept?
Yes, everyone thinks of diaphanous material floating around a model in slow motion, while some fustian dialogue plays over classical music. It was never something I even considered. I knew that Tim Renouf would play the room service guy before I even knew what the story was going to be. I think because I know how much of a physical actor he can be I ended up writing something that was based around that.
LP: What do you like about Laboratory Perfumes?
DS: I like its approach. There’s a simplicity to it and it’s very clear and precise, aesthetically speaking. I actually use the product so that makes doing a project like this more personal. I think there’s a mutual respect for each other’s work. I also love that Laboratory Perfumes let me do whatever I wanted. That’s always big compliment.
LP: Of the five fragrances available, you chose Tonka. Was that random or did you have reason for choosing it?
DS: Haha that was actually random. I just liked the shape of the lettering for the frame.
LP: How did you cast it? Have you worked with the actors before?
DS: I’ve worked with both actors the feature in the film before. I’ve worked with Tim Renouf since I creating my first short films many years ago. I’ve done a couple of films with Rory but he’s an old friend. Both actors reprise characters they have played in my previous films. Rory as Tobias and Time as Joe Twaites (if you look close he even has a name badge). I connect most of my films and this film has so many links to my other films. It even opens with my feature film Goldbricks In Bloom playing on the television, only it has a laugh track.
LP: Was it tightly scripted, or do you allow room for improvisation and the unexpected?
DS: I write in a way that often sounds improvisational: I like overlapping dialogue and people trying to get words out. I don’t like things to sound too scripted. We often only have a few hours of filming so there’s not a lot of room for improvising. However, as soon as I see and hear the actors in their roles, we all can hear what works and what doesn’t. I added two key moments while on set which I felt ended up as the strongest moments.
LP: What made you pick the Ace Hotel as the location?
DS: We have strong ties with them and it seemed like a place the main character would actually stay. It’s a very contemporary hotel and I feel there’s many similarities in their guests and the audience for this type of film.
LP: How long is the process from initial idea to final cut?
DS: I wrote it in an evening, filming was done in roughly 8 hours and I cut it in a few hours the following day. I plan everything out so when it comes to editing, it usually falls into place. Although the process itself was relatively quick, the whole process took months because of people’s schedules.
LP: Laboratory Perfumes’ previous collaborations have all focused on representing fragrance through art and design. Room Service is quite a departure from that, what led you towards humour?
DS: Laboratory Perfumes knew my previous film work and so by working with me they wanted comedy. Because I typically work in fashion, I think Laboratory Perfumes felt comfortable knowing my approach to humour. They just wanted me to write something I wanted to make. I’m always respectful of the people I work with, I just end up being the one creative that makes the film that isn’t what they would usually make. I’m actually quite proud of that.
I like them for being them and they like me for being me.
LP: What did you want the film to say about the Laboratory Perfumes brand?
DS: I wouldn’t say that anything in the film especially says anything about the brand. The film as an piece of work instead shows that the brand is open to different approaches. They want to connect with their audience in less obvious ways. They clearly respect their audience’s intelligence by putting their faith in new ideas.
LP: What smell drives you wild with desire?
DS: Fried chicken.