12 years later and he now churns out documentaries, short films, music videos and more under his own production company ‘V.OGraphics’ alongside business partner Tim Campbell (The Apprentice Winner)
Fabien’s a cheeky charming chappy who's not averse to throwing on a suit and gate-crashing an industry shindig in order to get face-time with the gatekeepers, and as a result he’s built up an impressive client roster which includes the likes of Donaeo, Eddie Kadi and mega brands such as MTV & NIKE.
Fabien recently won a BEFFTA Award for ‘Best Director’ (alongside fellow nominees Noel Clark, Julius Amedume & Steven McQueen) But don’t be mistaken, this is no overnight success story he’s been honing his craft for years - observing the big dogs in the biz and now he’s reaping the benefits.
I met up with Fabien in a South London coffee shop where his colleague Pierre Bekrou & friend (comedian/MC) 'Simply Andy' also joined us. Long after we wrapped up (and much to the annoyance of the staff) the talking & laughing continued on. I found out that aside from his French/British background Fabien’s actual ethic make-up is an exotic combination of Spanish & Madagascan, he speaks Japanese and practices Capoeira (I KNOW RIGHT!) So anyhoo as the convo flowed the poor barista tried to move us along (a fruitless effort indeed) we ended up shutting the place down, but of course I saved the best bits for you. Read on...
Now Fabien, you started working in film production at a very young age. I did, and as a young person from South London all I had when I started out was a T-Mobile chip with no credit (laughs) I basically freelanced for about 3 years and ended up working for companies like Nike, BBC & MTV…up until now I still don’t have a business card.
So exactly how old were you when you started out?
I was 16. I had my first taste of film making at a South London youth club were I got really passionate about a short film project, which I subsequently ended up directing, producing, script writing and starring in. When it was all over we wanted to celebrate our achievement so we took the discs and just knocked on everyone’s doors and we managed to secure 2 screenings and a TV Ad to promote the film...I haven’t had a break since.
I watched your documentary on the French Dance Craze' Tektonik Electro which you filmed with comedian Eddie Kadi? Tell me how that came about?
I came across Tektonik Electro dance whilst filming an event in France. The last time I checked, inner city French kids were listening to hard core hip hop, dressing all baggy and looking really hard, they were the ones who’d tell you to empty your pockets (laughs)
But as at the time of the documentary, they were listening lato Electro music, dressing slightly camp and dancing in front of everyone which was unusual to me…my first thought was, what the hell is this? (laughs) but when I saw their energy & enthusiasm I was intrigued and thought this was perhaps something worth talking about.
How did you go about getting the documentary commissioned?
Someone told me about Current TV [A democratic TV platform set up by Al Gore] I did some research and found out that Lina Prestwood would be the best person to collaborate with. So I put on my James Bond hat and found out she was going to attend a pitch event...so I blagged my way into the event and delivered a fake pitch (because I didn’t want them to steal my ideas) and afterwards I very casually approached Lina and she ended up asking me to meet her the following week.
And you hired Comedian Eddie Kadi to walk the viewers through the Tektonik Electro documentary…what was his reaction to the French youths?
Before we started shooting in France, I told 'T' (Eddie’s Manager) that I didn’t want Eddie to know the details of the documentary as I wanted to capture his true reaction. We ended up shooting some funny stuff. Eddie didn’t know he’d be dressed up, he didn’t know he’d be dancing, it was all literally revealed to him as we went along . I actually shot the pilot with my brother Arnold doing all the dancing so that was jokes. Then we all took a day off and went to Disneyland and shot some really funny stuff there too…which nobody is ever going to see…
…Not even me?
Okay just you (laughs)
You’re now quite closely affiliated with the BlackGrape collective (T, Eddi Kadi, Guvna B etc) Yeah they’re my boys, to put a long story short I basically lived with T & Eddie for 2 months solid because of the amount of work they were getting me to do. It was just easier to camp on their sofa (laughs) I shoot a lot of Eddie’s behind the scenes stuff like Donaeo’s party hard footage.
Check out the backstage footage HERE
Now before we get into Tim Campbell and your production company V.Ographics, I want to talk about your involvement with ‘CUT THE CHAT’ which has been loosely described as ‘Loose Women’ for men.
Oh 'Cut The Chat' derived from another documentary I was involved with alongside Actor Femi Oyeniran (Kidulthood, Adulthood) and Darwood Grace (Actor/Director/Artist) the documentary was all about Black Barbers. David Lammy, Spike Lee & Trevor Mcdonald were also a part of it and that’s also how I met Damon Elleston (moderator/creator of Cut The Chat) Damon had always wanted to do a chat show where guys could talk freely about any subject matter and where celebrity guest could also join these no holds bar conversations.
Watch the latest episode of Cut the Chat HERE
Tim Campbell, V.OGRAPHICS and the 'Bright Ideas Trust'...
Your production company V.OGRAPHICS was Tim Campbell’s first investment under the ‘Bright Ideas Trust’
Yes, before V.OGRAPHICS was a business, it was a youth group at the SouthBank Centre. Then Livity, a client of mine put me forward for a meeting with Tim, I only had 1 week to devise a business plan. I didn’t even have a business idea but I knew what I wanted to achieve so I sat with a few friends who set-up their own successful businesses and put together a plan. There're so many people who’ve helped me achieve the success I’ve seen thus far.
"My initial meeting with Tim was only supposed to last 15 mins...it lasted 2 hours. Tim is not only a business partner but also a mentor, he’s always only a phone call away and he really gets involved; when we first met he didn’t know anything about film and I’ve watched him learn a tremendous amount…he’s genuinely interested"
So what was the deal-clincher for Tim?
Well I’d calibrated 3 years worth of invoices which showed Tim how I’d been able to make money from the business over the last 3 years. I also did my research on him, I watched every Youtube clip of him and tried to pick up some of his dialogue, so in our meeting I was throwing his words back at him.
You’ve really got the psychological element down lol?
Yeah (laughs) My older sister Cleo used to be the Editor of Live Magazine and I used to deliver the mag. I took the job seriously and won the respect of a lot of the business guys over there. I just used to watch their behaviours and pick-up on the small things i.e. they listened more than they spoke and that’s really helped me.
The Man Behind The Lens...
So you’re originally from Paris
Yes. But in terms of my actual heritage my Dad’s from Spain and my mother’s from Madagascar. So I’m truly a minority, no one knows where Madagascar is and nobody knows who we are…we’re the silent country (laughs)
How many languages do you speak?
I speak some Portuguese and Japanese.
Japanese? Yeah I watched a lot of Japanese cartoons when I was younger, I almost envisioned myself as one of the characters, I wanted to be as powerful as Goku (laughs) I would read the subtitles which helped improve my English and also taught me to understand Japanese.
That’s impressive. So what was it like growing up in Paris?
Growing up in Paris you don’t really see things like racism because they house everyone together in the same communities, so you think it’s a wonderful world. But after you graduate and try to break out of your district that’s when you start to see the friction and the cracks in the community…
...break out of your district?
Yeah if you’re from a particular area code it makes it all the harder for you to get a job, if your last name sounds a bit foreign, then that can also work against you. Coming to the UK I’ve realised the level of opportunity we have. If I'd tried to follow this career path in France, it would’ve been especially hard.
Yeah, the country is governed in a very bureaucratic manner. My sister Zary (spoken word artist) works for the Mayor in France and even she has a lot of difficulty in trying to secure money for her projects.
Any interesting comparisons between Parisian & London Youth? I’m actually doing a documentary on that at the moment. I’ve found in Britain there’re many opportunities, facilities & platforms to help young people achieve. There’s almost an over-saturation of opportunity in Britain so the youth here don’t feel the urgency to work hard or be creative because they know they can fall back on other things. Plus in the UK we have a system which almost rewards bad behaviour.
…but in Paris it’s the reverse. It’s almost like Paris is 5 years behind in terms of opportunity, but in saying that, it’s created a hunger in the youth. So the ones who do make it have spent a lot of time honing their craft and trying to make it work.
Fabien’s sister Cleo makes a similar comparison in this 2005 Observer article entitled ‘Ghetto Fabulous’
Are the school’s in Paris as unruly as the ones in London?
In France the education I received was very strict & disciplined, so you did your homework and you didn’t talk back to the teachers. But when I came over here at 11 years of age, I realised that the kids got away with murder and as a curious young person wanting attention from the adults I experimented with that myself. I found myself in a position where I didn’t take education seriously I didn’t feel I was in an environment where I could learn. My learning began when I left school, I spent about 2 years at home and not in education.
So what were you doing for 2 years?
I isolated myself and taught myself different things, I used the internet a lot, I read a lot, watched a lot of films; which I believe subconsciously taught me how to make films, as when I was given the opportunity to put my skills to use it all came so naturally.
Did you have a job during the 2 years? Yes I was working at McDonald’s…I actually had a Mc-Job (laughs) and I learnt a lot. My Mum made me stay there a whole year, she said if you stay in a job for a whole year it looks good on your CV, it shows dedication even though it’s a crap job. So with that advice I started to feel like the pillar of civilisation – I had thoughts in my mind like…what would happen if I stopped serving the food? The lunchtime rush wouldn’t get served, they’d be hungry & upset and cause a riot…I concocted a whole chain of reactions…I might make a film about that (laughs)
LOL Aside from filmmaking what else do you do?
I do Capoeira (Afro-Brazilian Martial Arts) The music is acoustic and very loud.
What’s your proudest moment to date?
My proudest moment is yet to come, I’m planning a feature film so I’m working towards that, but until I accomplish that I can’t answer the question. But I’d just like to say that one of my life ambitions has always been to put on weight.
(Laugh) Well as it turns out I have some to give away, so I’ll dash you some…
I’ll take it oh! Listen. in my country that is a sign of wealth (major laughs break out) If I went back to Madagascar with more weight they’d say ‘Yeah this one is doing well’ (Laughs)