Conversation

with cinematographer

about a commercial for Lamborghini 

JENS MAASBOEL

Cinematographer Jens Maasbøl and director Tibor Glage collaborate again in this commercial for Lamborghini. This very fruitful partnership has delivered very successful car commercials, one of the most iconic is the Dodge commercial they shot in Alaska. Once more they pursue that nerve and authenticity that characterized their previous works.

Jens is definitely not the DP you could find sitting down by the DIT station, away from the action. When Jens steps on set with his fisherman jumpsuit you realize that he is not there to take it easy. In order to keep the fresh and fast paced vibe that distinguishes his style, he likes to have ready countless cameras, so he can jump from one to another action without losing the rhythm.

We had this conversation on a bank of the Guadalquivir river. We were in an extensive irrigated cultivation area called Isla minima, the middle of nowhere, the South Deep of Spain.

still from the commercial

Mario Oliva: For those who doesn´t know you. Could you please introduce yourself? How did you start in this business? 

Jens Maasbøl: My name is Jens Maasbøl and I am fifty years old now. I started out more than thirty years ago. Right after school, I heard about this new still photographer in Copenhagen. I contacted this guy and he was about to make a studio. I was supposed just to go there to paint the studio, hang out and see what was going on. So I took a backpack, my sleeping bag and I left my home city, which looks a little bit like where we are now. I took the train to Copenhagen and never came back. That was the beginning. I was eighteen years old.

I started been a still photographer assistant for a year or two, meaning that I was mopping the floor basically. Then I went to a video workshop, I moved to another city and I got the chance to do a trial in a production company as videographer. They liked what they saw and asked me to come back the next day. And that is how the story began. So I have not been a real assistant any time in my career. I started with the camera.

After that came music videos, commercials, television… I did a lot of steadicam for many years too. I was independent DP since I was twenty years old. I was so young back then that when my boss introduced me to the clients he had to lie about my age. He was afraid of them thinking that I could be a little too young for the job. He used to say that I just looked young but that I was much older and that I was experienced. It was a complete lie.

So I have been freelance since then, I have done all kind of commercials. At the moment I am doing mostly car commercials but I have been doing a lot of beauty, feature films, TV series, kids programs, documentaries… everything, even football matches. 

Back then, were you shooting mostly on film?

First of all, we started shooting with video cameras and we went through all the revolution of video cameras. But still, at that time, shooting on film was much better, on 16mm and 35mm. We have been shooting in 35mm for many years, I still have 35mm cameras and film equipment. I think the 35mm has a special look that is not comparable to video. And the curious thing is that it is coming back. Young cinematographers, especially in Scandinavia, they are actually going back to shoot in 35mm and 16mm. The old cinematographers are not the people who are bringing back the film, but the new generation. Because I think they want to make it different, they want to make it look different. All the people is shooting now in Alexa, Red, Blackmagic cameras… whatever. It is all about making the difference, so they are picking up 16mm and 35mm cameras nowadays. It is quite funny because 35mm film is our background.

So my work today is about traveling the world doing this kind of car commercials. I have about a hundred or hundred twenty days of work per year. The rest of the time I am a father for my two kids and a husband for my wife at home. So that is my life.

Lamborghini commercial

Lamborghini commercial

How did you get involved in this project? It is not your first time working with this director. How is your creative relationship with him? Does he get involve in the visual aspect of the project or he gives you more freedom?

I met Tibor Glage, the director, three years ago in San Francisco I think. We met while I was shooting a car commercial with another guy, during lunch break. And then we shoot a Lexus commercial in the desert, somewhere in California. After that we went to Alaska to shoot a Dodge commercial. Actually, that commercial is a reference for this project we are shooting now.

And then we did a handful of jobs. We went to China, Dubai… In this industry is about chemistry so if you have a mutual understanding, you can learn from each other. Then you can give and get freedom. It is like a ping pong game, back and forth. If you are just imposing yourself, you are going nowhere.  We have a good chemistry, Tibor and I. I suggest stuff or sometimes I just do stuff and I hope that he likes it. Other times he is more specific about what he wants.

Obviously, getting a job from the same director again only happens if you deliver a good job the first time. Or at least the chemistry is good. It happens that you do a job with a director and you do not understand each other, it happens all the time. Almost every job I am on, I am with a new director, and within a very short time I have to understand him. Where he comes from, what his goals are, and I have to adapt myself because I am doing his film, I am not doing my film.

In this business is all about making things easier to whoever you are working for. You, for example, as camera assistant, have to make things easier for me. The gaffer job is as well to make it easier for me.  I do not need to think about cables and stuff like that. I just tell them what I like and he makes it work. I do not mess around checking how he does it. He can do that, by himself. I do not have to tell them, I can tell them if I need to, but I prefer rather not to do that.

It is about insurance of delivery of the content. It is also Tibor´s job to make sure that the creatives from the agency are not thinking about how we are doing everything. That is the director business, and the director does not need necessarily to know what lenses we are using. He can get involved but that is my job, so he can relax and he can focus on directing. So that is how it works in all departments actually. It makes it easier for everybody.

still from the commercial

Then now, we could say that you are focused in car commercials?

No, I am not in love with car commercials. Actually, it is quite funny because cars do not mean anything to me. I am not like a car freak. I have nice cars, but for me is more a visual thing than something else. It is not like I have car posters in my garage. I never had a dream about having a Ferrari or a Porsche. For me it is not about that, it is about telling stories and making whatever object I am shooting being presented in the best way according to the story.

It is actually curious, because it is easier for me to shoot something beautiful than a teaspoon or a tea cup. If you have to shoot a tea cup it is really difficult because it is basically nothing. It is just a cup. It is like: “ok, good luck, try to make that interesting”. Having a supermodel or a Lamborghini make things pretty easy because they look spectacular. So the simpler the work the more difficult it is for us.

For me, shooting car commercials was a convenient change from beauty commercials. I did a lot of beauty commercials. Girls, bikinis and beaches around the world. It is hard to use that in your showreel because it is all about products: shampoo, cream... They are nice commercials but they are not especially interesting to watch in a showreel, so I made the change to car commercials. This kind of commercials tend to be more technical and they have bigger budgets so you play with more toys, and you can have more freedom. A lot of the commercials we used to do were getting budgets so small and ridiculous that it was not worthy anymore.

Jens Maasboel over his more than 30 years of professional career

Is there any other reference for this project apart from the Dodge commercial you were talking about? How was the preproduction?

The Dodge commercial we did in Alaska has the roughness, a not so polished look that it is hard to find in this kind of car commercials. It is more authentic. We are mixing different styles. We mixed all the cameras we are using on purpose. It is more a back to the roots vibe, back to basics about cars, about its performance. Independence and being spiritual, and mystic and stuff like that. So this kind of references instead of just having a polished look.

Trailer de la película Detroit

Dodge commercial, main reference for the project

Is that the idea behind why you chose to shoot with all these cameras? It is about freedom I guess.

In the scene we are doing now, at the river with the car on the boat and the character throwing away his briefcase, it is like a rebellion thing. Getting rid of whatever you are supposed to do in life. Because we presented the bag at the beginning of the film. He is packing the bag and he is going somewhere. And at a certain point, he is on a boat in the middle of this river and he is throwing the bag to get rid of something. I do not know what it is, but it is about going back to get control over your life. That it is what this little scene is about.

still from the commercial

Is there any element that you consider essential to keep the coherence of the cinematography you do?

The way I work is something I learned early in my career and it is about trusting my instincts. I did a few jobs in the beginning where I listened too much to people around me, and they were trying to copy something they had seen before. If you try to copy something you are going to fail. The way that makes you go forward in this business as a DP is to follow your instincts, to go where your first thoughts lead you, to trust your eye, and everything will come to place. I do plan a lot and I have backups and options, but when it comes to shooting I do not like to be square, I do not like to do too many rehearsals. Sometimes I just prefer to get on set when everybody is ready and to pick up the camera without knowing anything about what we are going to shoot. And I shoot one long take without been aware of what is going on, because if I know too much it is going to be too perfect, and the result is going to be too fake.

By getting surprises while shooting it is more interesting. Maybe I am not standing in the right place but that just makes the picture more interesting because you are creating a new picture you have never seen before. If you do what the book says and you do the proper framing and the proper setup you are going probably to do something that everybody has seen thousand times before. So for me it is about getting surprises.

You have to do a good performance to get the best from improvising.

Yes, that take years. Of course you need to have experienced a lot of good moments to believe in that. If you only have failures, then of course it is hard to believe that you have a good taste.

Thank you, that is very inspiring.

Thank you and good luck.

Lamborghini commercial frame

still from the commercial