Shanghai-based French-Australian filmmaker Sebastien Guy sounds neither French nor Australian. He grew up as an expat, living in New Caledonia, Bahrain, Malaysia, and Singapore. “Growing up as an expat taught me to be open and flexible toward different cultures,” he says. “Nowadays, when I work in different markets, I get it. Different cultures have different approaches. You don’t just dig your heels in and think your way is the right way.”
法澳混血，现居上海的导演Sebastien Guy，看上去既不像法国人也不像澳洲人。从小他便辗转多国，在新喀里多尼亚、巴林、马来西亚和新加坡都曾居住过。在异国他乡长大的他认为:“作为一名异乡人的成长经历，教会了我要对不同的文化保持开放与灵活的态度。” 他说：“现在，当我在不同的市场工作时，我完全可以理解。不同的文化有不同的做事方式。你不能固执己见，认为自己的方法才是正确的。”
Guy is one of the few foreign directors currently based and working in China since travel restrictions have locked out many others. This contributes to him getting his foot in the door and pitch on projects that otherwise would have been highly competitive. Still, Guy admits he is still pitching against all the hyper-talented Chinese directors available and at home, and when push comes to shove, it’s his unique talent that gets him the job.
With countless spots for brands in the likes of Volvo，Audi, Mercedes-Benz, Porsche, BMW, HongQi, HengChi and Volkswagen, Guy is often sought after for filming high-end car commercials. He definitely masters the qualities they usually require—premium with an impact, speed, dynamism. But that’s not to say that his films aren’t also profound and human. Guy is, above all, drawn to evoking emotions from his work.
While growing up in developing countries, access to television and films wasn’t always easy. Hence, Guy’s genuine appreciation for cinema and storytelling came late in life, when he moved to LA in his twenties. He went there to try a career as an actor, but he also went to Film School. The latter only taught him the basics about the film industry. More than anything, it was on set, working as an actor for commercial films – Sebastien has appeared in over 50 commercial worldwide – that Guy truly understood the essence of directing a film.
Years later, when he moved to Sydney, Guy was mentored by Richard Gibson, one of Australia’s most respected commercial directors. It was here when he launched his career as a commercial film director. Coincidentally, it was the time of the global financial crisis. Budgets were limited, and prominent directors were struggling to work out how shoot jobs on a more streamlined production. For Guy, it was an excellent chance to jump into exciting projects. “Small budgets was all I knew anyway,” he says. “I learned how to move fast and lean. Because there was no money for big production toys and multiple shoot days, I learned to focus more on the human, emotive side of a script”. So he began quickly building a strong portfolio, and he even directed a feature film, the psychological thriller Nerve which screened at the Shanghai International Film Festival in 2014.
One of the commercial films he directed in 2017 was for Volvo, whose commercials are known for being touching, authentic, and visually beautiful, and Guy captured the Volvo tone perfectly making it with a distinct nordic feel despite being shot in the very non-nordic landscape of Australia.
Guy’s ability to render such a feel caught the eye of Volvo China and landed him his first project in the country in March 2018. It was a six-day shoot that included Taiwanese superstar Eddie Peng. While China was still pretty much into heavily stylized car commercials, this one feels very different. It’s more about the beauty and emotion of being in the moment.
This authenticity in his films kept bringing work to Guy from all around the world, shooting various style of ads from kids, lifestyle, performance and storytelling as well as tourism and attraction spots for USA, Singapore, Australia, Poland, Sweden and Abu Dhabi. One project that stays with you is a film about Facebook’s Share button. Based on a true story involving book donations, it shows how social media can also play a positive role. “We shot it in less than eight hours and the boy had never acted before. We chose him because he was so similar to the real boy in the story. Apparently, people still get emotional when they show it in Facebook meetings.”
Children are a recurrent aspect in many of Guy’s films, helping to add that extra layer of authenticity. “I always try to create an environment where people can be in the moment, and this works very well with kids. You can’t tell kids what to do, anyway. You just let them be.”
When in 2018, Volkswagen Germany changed their approach and created more authentic feel to their New Brand Design, they hired Sebastien to direct an international campaign for one of their new electric ID concept cars. That relationship has proven to be very successful as Sebastien went on to direct five other VW spots in China alone, including their first XR Stage/Unreal Engine for the ID.6 Launch. Guy says he takes pride in understanding a brand and ensuring that regardless of the concept, it’s important a film feels “on brand”.
2018年，大众德国进行了战略改革，为他们的全新品牌设计加入了更真实的感觉，他们聘请了Sebastien来指导他们的一款新电动ID概念车的国际宣传活动。这个项目最后合作得非常成功，Sebastien也因此受邀为他们又拍摄了多部影片，仅在中国就有5部，包括大众为ID.6发布所准备的的首个XR舞台/虚拟引擎。Guy告诉我们，他为能够理解一个品牌而感到自豪，并确保不论概念是什么，影片最重要的是要有 “正确的品牌感” 。
VW ID Crozz
In 2020, Chinese car brand HongQi chose Sebastien to direct their commercial starring the national women’s volleyball team. “This team is China’s pride and joy. It was important to the client and agency that I understood how symbolic they are for their hard work and commitment in conquering all the odds,” he says. “The team, in essence, was a representation of what HongQi means to China”. However, because of the pandemic, it was far too risky for them to shoot in person. Guy devised a solution to work with the silhouettes of doubles and juxtaposed these images with actual footage of the team in action. The result is a dynamic sequence in which the team members interplay with the five different HongQi car models.
A similar, tradition&culture-based, yet very different project Guy worked on this year was a Chinese New Year short film for Syngenta Group, a global leader in agricultural technology. In a little over six minutes, the Chinese dialogue film shows how an immigrant worker in Shanghai stayed connected with her family in the Chinese countryside during the holiday, despite internal travel restrictions. The film is filled with emotions and extremely rich in details, especially in the nuances of the beautiful settings. It also excels in capturing the meaning of Chinese New Year for families all across the country. Above all, it’s a delicate and heartwarming portrayal of a family’s bond.
To some, it may come as a surprise that films that are so locally meaningful are given to a foreigner to direct, especially when there is dialogue involved. Still, Sebastien looks at it from a universal perspective. “It doesn’t matter that much If you don’t speak the language fluently. There are many people on the set that can help you with that. When you’re a good storyteller, capturing impactful and genuine moments is an intuitive thing.”
Because of how Guy’s career unfolded, he developed a unique style that combines strong performances with art storytelling to deliver simple yet powerful messages regardless of the purpose. “No matter what the brand or what the style is, I want to make sure that they feel authentic and have an emotional impact while being beautiful and cinematic,” he says. “Emotions are universal,” he adds.