Rainier Rubin on fearless scripts, and being passionate about human storytelling.
Rainier’s journey started with the keys to Cameron Indoor Stadium, where he documented Coach K’s championship storylines. What has followed is ten years of sports filmmaking with leading brands such as UNINTERRUPTED, ESPN Films, Jordan Brand, NFL, Reebok, and more. Rainier's style blends elements of magical realism and deep human storytelling to create a form that is strikingly visual. Matched with a drive to find the stories beyond the stat sheet. That being said, he could use some help with his jumper.
LBB > What elements of a script sets one apart from the other and what sort of scripts get you excited to shoot them?
Rainier> I love when a script has a distinct point of view and fearless messaging. Especially with today’s saturated advertising climate, I think it’s more important than ever to find your 'why' and run with it. These unique points of view are invaluable for crafting our cinematic look and storytelling engine. I also love any script that has elements of intrigue. It’s always fun to hook audiences with narrative elements.
LBB > How do you approach creating a treatment for a spot?
Rainier> My treatment process starts with pen and paper - reflecting on the central themes of the script and how we can lean into the humanity. I then like to bring a couple ideas to initial agency and brand discussions as we hone in on a collective foundation. Then, I build outwards, as ideas and images bubble up from references spanning commercial to film. Whenever possible I love to bring elements of magical realism to the cinematography and performances.
LBB > If the script is for a brand that you're not familiar with/ don’t have a big affinity with or a market you're new to, how important is it for you to do research and understand that strategic and contextual side of the ad? If it’s important to you, how do you do it?
Rainier> Research is a big part of my process. Having started in documentary, I source a lot of insight from watching interviews and imagining the lives of target consumers. Additionally, I’ve lived in many places - Woodside, Palo Alto, Durham, New York, and Los Angeles. With each of my new environments I encountered new lifestyles and friendships. And, I love to ask questions. If I weren’t a filmmaker, I’d be working with psychology.
'Acewolf' - Champs Sports / Jordan
LBB > For you, what is the most important working relationship for a director to have with another person in making an ad? And why?
Rainier> I’d say the creative director. It helps a great deal to have shared trust around development and an effective line of communication. All great collaborations come from calculated risk, and a close relationship with the CD is essential in finding that balance. I’ll leave it at that for brevity sake. However, there are so many essential artists on each project.
LBB > What type of work are you most passionate about - is there a particular genre or subject matter or style you are most drawn to?
Rainier> I’m most passionate about human storytelling and real environments. Much of this comes from my background in documentary, but I find the lens of truth to be a core anchor for all creative work. On a thematic level, much of my work interweaves threads of perseverance and motivation. These threads are central in sports storytelling, however they extend far beyond the lines of the court. From young parents starting a family to a student pushing for a brighter future. I love to share a passion for life and the potential of tomorrow. The hero’s journey is all around us.
LBB > What misconception about you or your work do you most often encounter and why is it wrong?
Rainier> Much of my reel is built upon basketball, thus I find misconceptions that my passion is solely for sports. While a windmill dunk will always look good in slow motion, I deeply enjoy expanding my horizons and exploring new environments. Additionally, these past two years have given me time to develop new skillsets around screenwriting. Thus generating new ideas and approaches for the commercial landscape.
'Trust' - Aura / Timberwolves
LBB > What’s the craziest problem you’ve come across in the course of a production – and how did you solve it?
Rainier> As a by product of working with athletes and musicians, I’ve had a couple of occasions where they brought their pets to set. This has led to surprise events such as… a pet rabbit in the corner of the frame, a dog treating our gear room like a bathroom, etc. Our best solve was on the Aura x Timberwolves spot. If Ant Jr (the bulldog) wants to show up to set then he’d better be ready to be cast as a co-star.
LBB > How do you strike the balance between being open/collaborative with the agency and brand client while also protecting the idea?
Rainier> This all comes down to being on the same page through trust and open communication. Early on, my top priority is being an effective communicator so that I can get my best ideas on the table and then sift through with the agency and brand. That being said, I do like to provide a few ideas which are way out there. Especially around cinematography.
LBB > Your work is now presented in so many different formats - to what extent do you keep each in mind while you're working (and, equally, to what degree is it possible to do so)?
Rainier> As long as we’ve collectively defined the priorities then the various formats and deliverables all become more manageable. Each project brings its own unique challenges and hurdles, and I approach directing as equal parts planning and adapting. A lot of these strengths carry over from my experience in documentary, where many things unfold on a moment-by-moment basis.
'Born for More' - Art of Sport
LBB > Which pieces of work do you feel really show off what you do best – and why?
The Jordan Acewolf spot holds a special place in my heart because it was such a remarkable labour of love. The entire project was shot on 16mm film and we truly had the key to the city with our Jordan Brand leads. Beautiful cinematography from my long time collaborator, Kuba Bojsza. Also our go-to steadicam operator agreed to fly his rig in a blizzard, that was cool.
I loved working on the Aura x Timberwolves spot. Despite the fact that it was rather last minute. The brand called us on a Friday afternoon, having parted ways with their previous production partner. Three days later we were in Minnesota. My documentary approach was invaluable for creative storytelling on this one, and we were also fortunate to have the incredible screen presence of Anthony Edwards. I asked him where he developed such a connection with the camera - 'just wrapped a month on a Sandler movie…' That’ll do it.
The Art of Sport spot is another favourite of mine because it evolved so much as the project went on. The athlete’s (Troy Williams) mom had a box full of old VHS tapes, which turned out to be a treasure chest of youth football clips and family moments. Editor Nick Rondeau did an incredible job of blending the footage and crafted some awesome match cuts along the way.