Filmmaker in LA

Jeff Desom: collaborating with some extremely talented folk

Jeff Desom currently resides and does most of his work in Los Angeles, though he still “keeps a leg” in Luxembourg. Photo: Jeff Desom

Jeff Desom currently resides and does most of his work in Los Angeles, though he still “keeps a leg” in Luxembourg. Photo: Jeff Desom

Luxembourg filmmaker Jeff Desom was part of the small team that did the VFX for Everything Everywhere All at Once, which has just won the Best Feature category at the Gotham Awards for independent film in New York.

Anyone who has seen sci-fi adventure film Everything Everywhere All at Once can’t help but be impressed by the visual effects. The fact that a team of just five, including Luxembourger Jeff Desom, created all the VFX is astonishing. The film has been supremely successful, raking in worldwide box office receipts of over $103 million (on a budget of just $25m) and on 29 November it won the top prize for best feature at the Gotham Awards for independent film in New York just this week. That as helped raise the profile of Desom, who currently resides and does most of his work in Los Angeles.

Desom studied film at the Arts Institute at Bournemouth in the UK. His local breakthrough came when The Plot Spoiler won Best Short at the 2007 Luxembourg Film Prize (for which, I should point out for the sake of transparency, I was on the jury). He followed that up with another short in 2009, X on a Map, which starred a young Vicky Krieps in only her second film role.

But he has long been interested in other forms of expression through moving pictures. He made music videos for German pianist Hauschka--his 2009 promo for the track Morgenrot won him plenty of plaudits--and also an award-winning, meticulously assembled Rear Window Timelapse that gives viewers a different insight into the goings on in that film’s iconic courtyard.

He is also the director of two of Luxembourg’s best cinema adverts of the last decade--the Hitchcock spot for the Cinémathèque and the Source of Life wild horse ad for Rosport.

Taking a leap

His move to the States happened very gradually over the years, Desom explains. “I was invited to film festivals and won a few awards, meeting a lot of like-minded people along the way and collaborating with them. In 2014 I received the Edward Steichen artist residence to spend a few months in New York. During that time a lot of opportunities presented themselves to work on projects in the States. So I decided to take the leap. I still keep a leg in Luxembourg and continue to develop European projects.”

Duncan Roberts: What are the main differences between working as an independent creative in the States, London and Luxembourg?

Jeff Desom: I can’t talk for all freelancers. Everyone has different skills and needs. In my work as a director I take great risks by investing a lot of free time upfront to get my personal projects off the ground. Chances are that something doesn’t materialise and I need a different source of income at a moment’s notice. For me that’s commercials, music videos and visual effects. In my personal experience the biggest difference is that Luxembourg doesn’t offer those alternatives at a rate that is consistent enough while being just as expensive as Los Angeles or London.

Everyone imagines LA being this ultra-competitive city. Does that give you extra drive?

The LA industry is very competitive indeed. It took some time to get a foot in the door. It’s a city that has always attracted the very best in the film industry. But on the upside, you find yourself collaborating with some extremely talented folk. Few things inspire me more than seeing first-hand how other artists exert their craft and learn from that.

How do people in your métier react when you say you are from Luxembourg, or is that something that is not even raised in work conversation?

It does come up on occasions because of my accent. It usually sparks curiosity because a lot of people don’t even have a preconceived notion of what Luxembourg is. So you get to paint that picture for them. It’s tempting to just make up stuff but I try to stick to the facts.

You managed to get directing credits on videos by the likes of Mitski and Father John Misty. Has that put your name on the map, so to speak?

Millions of people watched those videos, so it certainly helps to get some traction and reel in new projects. Along with every video I also try to release a few short clips that demonstrate my process. Especially industry people seem to appreciate the glimpse behind the curtain. I’ve made a lot of connections that way. In terms of reach and networking I’ve come consider those clips as essential companion pieces.

Are there any music artists on your wish list to work with?

When I started out, I kept a vague list in my head. I think Father John Misty would have been on that list, so I got to check that off.

Are there any upcoming projects you can tell us about?

Since the success of Everything Everywhere All At Once, we got together as the visual effects team to form a collective. The fact that a team of only 5 artists created all those VFX has brought a lot of attention to us. We’ve since done a few very exciting projects that are still under wraps.