Career Story – Damien Stein

Career Story

Career Story – Damien Stein started working in the cinema industry during his studies and quickly decided to make his own projects as a director. His first short film, A ride toward the sea, was shot in stop motion and released in 2013. It was selected in more than a hundred festivals and won twelve international awards. At the same time, he starts directing music videos and documentaries for French TV. He teaches direction and cinema history in a cinema school since 2015. He wrote his first short story collection in 2020. He lives and works in France.

Career Story

I was born in Corsica, a small island in the south of France, where there’s not much to do when you have acting dreams as I did. My family eventually moved to a bigger city in France, and after realizing I did not want to be an actor but a rock star instead, I started composing grunge music. Then I started writing fictional stuff, randomly and just for myself. Not a diary, more of a mix of thoughts, beginnings of bad stories, terrible drawings… and I never stopped writing since then. But never became a rock star.

Once in university, cinema department, two things got my whole attention: watching 2 to 3 films a day, learning everything I could about movie theory and movie history + I took advantage of university doing lots of internships, working on every job possible in the movie industry: gaffer, boom operator, production assistant, assistant director… I knew I’d direct videos someday, and I thought I should know every job in the industry before trying to make my own films. This was actually a good way to participate in every technical discussion on my own productions afterward or deal with producers.

Then I was asked to direct music videos for hip hop artists. But that wasn’t a culture I knew enough to deal with properly. A rapper named Doc Brrown had so much talent I decided to make a slightly experimental documentary about him. When he started singing, every sound in the streets became the music of what happened to be an experimental music video. This film is called Les mots à leur place.

Watch this film here :

It was after this experience I started making music videos for a living. The music industry is a strange world where you don’t have much space to express yourself, and most of the time, you’re supposed to do the same kind of video that was done before. But I was lucky enough to make my first two music videos for free, asking for absolute freedom in exchange. Thus I could work on my own narrative form (which was close to genre films – the very first music video I made was a remake of Texas Chainsaw Massacre, with a vinyl throwing character. The artist was DJ Netik, a 4 times DMC world champion (vinyl scratching)).

Those two videos were successful enough to bring more proposals, so I made another one. Then I started being paid for directing videos, following my own tastes in video making. At the very same moment, I directed my first stop motion short film called A ride toward the sea, which was also kind of experimental: I decided to paste a fragment of sound to each image shot, and since we shot the film outdoors – “a horrible idea” as we were told at that time (it was actually tough because animating a character on the sidewalk is full of issues) – the sound went crazy. The film has been shown in many festivals and won a few awards. The experience was hard but marvelous in the end.

Watch this film here :

This was when I started getting confident in video making, but I also discovered I really did not enjoy the whole financing process. Not everyone working in this industry does that for the beauty of the arts, and for me, making music videos oscillated between good and bad experiences. I obviously understood it was all a matter of advertisement, selling a musical product… but that was not for me at all. I worked for major companies for a while and quickly decided I’d only make music videos when I would be able to do what I wanted, with artists I enjoyed. Meaning very little money but total freedom. And out of the system.

It got inevitably hard to make a living. This is why I also made many documentary portraits for TV. Luckily always about artists, from France to South America, long and short length. Wonderful experiences, wonderful encounters. And eventually, I was proposed to become a teacher in a cinema school. I tend to enjoy this more and more, and sometimes I feel like I could stop everything else and teach cinema history and help students writing their own stuff.

In general, I believe making any art is based on keeping an open mind to encounters and building a community. That’s specifically relevant concerning cinema, but also true in music, writing… Otherwise, even the best ideas will end up not being seen or read or heard. And let’s face it, we create (write, compose, draw…) to show others what’s on our minds – probably not everyone, but that’s true to me.

Meanwhile, I never stopped writing, whether for screenplays or short stories. I need to put everything on paper because it might be tomorrow even though it’s not useful today. And if I like what I read afterward, and if I think other people could find those writings useful, then why not try and make something out of it. What’s very important for me remembers my creation is probably not that good and was probably made before…, and I start again. I try to find what’s in between those stories we already know. I suppose that’s the best place to find new characters or situations: in between (les herbes folles as we say in French).

My latest experience in writing stories is the release of my first book. I usually start writing short stories even before I plan to write a screenplay. This way, in the end, if the film won’t exist (most films are never shot, and they remain screenplays), the story has an existence in itself. This book is a compilation of stories I might adapt in films at some point (two short stories from the book already became short films).

I just finished writing my first novel. Hopefully, it will be released next year. I’ve always had the opportunity to work in the fields I enjoyed, and even though there are other fields I’m interested in, I’m absolutely grateful to people that have helped me do all those things I love. What I’ll say is pretty obvious, but we don’t always get to do what we like, so one has to enjoy every bit of pleasant things.

Thanks for reading!

Also read How I Became an Affiliate Marketer & Freelance Writer

Career Story – Damien Stein

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