Meet the Patrick Brothers

Patrick Brothers is Adam Leeman and Jonathan Augustavo. They’re brothers in filmmaking only. “Patrick” is the yeti gracing their website for The Huge, the production company they started in 2014. He stands as a symbol for the magical realism they love so much and seek out in their filmmaking.

Strange narratives and new realms

Adam and Jon met at graduate school of ArtCenter College of Design in Pasadena. There, they’d explore it all, take advantage of everything the school offered, like taking the Phantom home on the loaner program and shooting weird experimental stuff (as seen in an abstract video by hiphop duo Christian Rich).

Grad school was when they realized they were particularly drawn to narratives. “We’d set out to make whatever we were working on a narrative,” says Adam. He admits it’s not a revolutionary idea, but that narrative drive has informed everything they’ve worked on since. “Jon and I especially love narratives with strange creatures and fantastical elements,” says Adam. “Magical realism type stuff, which is part of the reason we loved making The Head and the Heart’s ‘Let’s Be Still’ video.”

From their weekly class assignments, they’ve since moved on to shooting and directing commercials and music videos with budgets of up to $300,000. Their favorite kind of project is one where they can explore a new realm. “When it comes to exploring those new realms, we’re motivated thematically,” Adam says. For example, their exploration of gender issues in the Macklemore and Ryan Lewis video for Same Love.

More recently, they shot the soon-to-be-released music video for “Into You” by Eric Nam. A Korean pop star, Eric is attempting to make a break into the U.S., releasing a Korean pop song, in English, for a U.S. audience. The challenge of that transition, and that visual translation, appealed to the Patrick Brothers.

Seeking and supporting creativity

As they’ve grown, Adam and Jon are drawn to projects offering greater creative freedom. They love the commercial work they do for big brands like Taco Bell, but where they find the greatest freedom is in “mid-range” music videos — they’re better able to push the envelope or try new things.

When they’re not making commercials or music videos, they like to create short films, most of which they fund themselves. So far, they’ve written the scripts themselves, but they’ve also bought the rights to others’ stories. “There are so many talented people and great stories out there,” says Adam. “We’d like to help tell those stories.” (Pro tip: One of their go-tos for new stories is the Selected Shorts podcast.) They’re hoping to do another later this summer. For now, they’re off to L.A., New Mexico, Detroit, and New Orleans to shoot a video for U.K. producer Souls.

The Souls video is their dream job. They have the budget and the time, and are mostly being left to their own devices to go out and make the video. They start by immersing themselves in the four songs being remixed for the video — and will listen to only those for the duration of filming. It’s not a terribly unique approach, concedes Adam. “But I do like the idea of adapting one art form to another.” Thankfully he also likes the songs — for now.

Lean and light

For the Souls project, they’re traveling light — with a three-person crew. That’s exactly how Adam and Jon like to roll. Adam believes that’s partly what accounts for the authenticity of their work. “We like to work with a smaller, less intimidating crew,” he says. “So rather than blitzing the streets of a location over two days with a 20-person crew, we’ll take two weeks, take the time to get real performances out of our models.”

The more people involved, the more watered down a story becomes, they believe. “We shy away from the feature where the credits roll for 15 minutes,” he says. “By keeping things as lean as possible, you get better performances. You get the truth.”

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That lightness in crew also translates into a certain agility on set. Their footage doesn’t feel staged because so much is not staged. “As much as we like to plan, we like to leave ourselves as much space as we can for inspiration.” So, when they’re on a shoot, they’ll carve out time that’s specifically not being used to capture one particular thing, preferring instead to be inspired by their surroundings.

How stock fits into the mix

Patrick Brothers is the result of Adam and Jon getting serious about stock. Adam figures that about half their stock right now comes from his fine art film and experimental background. “Weird stuff you won’t find elsewhere.”

They’ll also get stock by shooting simultaneously while on commercial projects (they have a clause). Now that they have the partnership with Dissolve, they’re more diligent about setting aside time on projects to shoot stock.

Then there are days where they set out solely to get stock. On those days, there’s zero pressure, no shot list, no stakeholders. “It really is just play.” So they tend to find inspiration in the location itself. “With fresh eyes on something, you see things that people who’ve lived there their whole lives don’t see,” says Adam.

They’re loving the Liftoff program. “We had so much footage we weren’t using. Just being able to drop it off and say check it out, sort it, organize it.” Adam finds that it saves them the guesswork of what they think would make a good clip. They can submit a 3-minute slo-mo clip and Dissolve will pull three 30-second clips from it. He also likes how it mimics their usual workflow, being able to leave the editing and color grading to someone else.

Plus, the extra income gives them more flexibility when budgets are tight, and affords the Patrick Brothers the opportunity to make short films. Someday, they’d like to make a feature. While that’s a ways off, “this partnership with Dissolve will allow us to do the things we’d like to do, without having to answer to anyone.” That’s a freedom they rarely get.

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Favorite project

The Head and the Heart’s video featured above is Adam and Jon’s favorite project so far — a six-person crew spent five days shooting in Seattle on a limited budget. Besides the lean crew, what appealed most was the “somewhat bizarre narrative,” plus the freedom. There were cranes with people floating with umbrellas, a hot air balloon, a helicopter shot. “There’s no way we would have been able to do it in L.A.”

Another factor was lead singer Jon Russell. “We had this great, authentic collaboration,” recalls Adam. “Jon came to us with a loose idea and we worked to develop it. There was no ego — it was a process stripped of all ulterior motives, which unfortunately is so present usually.” Finding someone who really wanted to work with them, and who respected their ability as filmmakers, just as they respected his as songwriter, was a rare treat.

(Least favorite might have been a shoot in LA, where a neighbor would turn his leaf blower on during shooting, offering to stop for $1,000.)

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Shoot essentials

  • Good food — “We aren’t able to pay people what we would love to, so we try to have good food on set. It’s especially a priority when the rates are little lower than we’d like.”
  • Anamorphic lenses
  • They’ve shot a lot with RED, but are transitioning more to ARRI Alexa, Alexa Mini, or Amira
  • Coca-Cola — “For whatever reason, our DPs always want Coca-Cola.”
  • Wheatgrass shots — The morning of a shoot, Jon and Adam will do a shot, even though they never do them otherwise. “We have these weird rituals.”

Crystal-balling

One of Patrick Brothers’ big goals is to create their own feature. For Jon, that means to direct. For Adam, it’s to produce and/or direct a feature-length film. “It’s such an awesomely huge investment, but it’s something we both want to do. To take our time to tell a story,” says Adam.

For inspiration, they look to Upstream Color, by Shane Carruth. With a budget of $50,000 (and a gross so far of $600,000), Carruth wrote, directed, scored, edited, and starred in it. While they don’t want to do all those roles, it’s a beautiful film produced on a lean budget — with that weird narrative they love so much. “I’ve probably watched it five times now, and I still can’t fully explain the narrative step-by-step.” Just how the Patrick Brothers like it.

See all Patrick Brothers footage — it’s exclusive to Dissolve and part of the Liftoff collection. Visit The Huge or follow Adam and Jon on Vimeo.