After having a brief encounter during their portfolio night, it was time to get to know the people behind the work. I sat down with Zaid & Fleur at the Pulitzer’s bar in Amsterdam.
Interview by Dyon J. Kaleuwee, photographs & styling by the juniors themselves.
As I’m sitting down in one of the many dark & moody corners of the bar, I’m preparing my last question. Truth be told I’ve never assumed the role of journalist before and it’s kind of a big deal. Not because I need to be perfect at everything I do, but simply because I think the people I’ll speak to deserve to have their minds picked with some dignity and it being reflected here in between these words, keeping my imagination on a leash while filling the gaps. As the waiter refills my water glass, I close my laptop, cross my legs (as a dignified journalist does) and take a minute to appreciate the cinematic charm of this place.
At that moment Zaid walks in, wearing a bright red beanie and what seems to be a comfortable sweater. He takes off his bag and sits down across from me.
D: ‘How’s it going man?’
Z: ‘Pretty good, what about you?’
D: ‘Good, good.’ I say as I uncross my legs to start sitting more like a writer.
At that moment we both receive a dm from Fleur saying she’s running a little late because of train trouble. Not very unusual here in the Netherlands, in contrary it’s to be expected. As I continue to make some small talk with Zaid about what he’s up to and how it’s going at HERC The Agency where he’s currently doing his internship. He tells me about a cool project they’ve just done in support of the situation in Ukraine and that he enjoys how spontaneously it came about. Not much later Fleur walks in, wearing all blue overalls. Even though she has arrived, she still seems in a hurry. As soon as she rids herself of her jacket she’s off again, this time to the toilet. Not much later she’s back and takes a seat next to Zaid.
F: ‘What even is this place?’
D: ‘Cool isn’t it?’
F: ‘Uhm, yeah. They must have wondered what I came in here for, dressed like this (haha)’
D: ‘Being purposely off the dresscode is also a dresscode.’
F: ‘Haha, yeah you’re probably right.’
As we’re looking through the menu to order our mocktails, I’m placing my phone down in the middle of the table. “You guys are cool with me recording right?”. “Oh, of course!”.
Just for the record, you’re on the record.
D: ‘So, being in a creative team myself and having told the story of ‘how we came to be’ more times than I can remember, I thought I might as well put you guys through the same.’
Z: ‘Yeah when did that happen?’
F: ‘Well, it was actually two moments.’
Fleur starts telling us about how she and Zaid initially started working together on a school project, but that they found themselves being more occupied with They couldn’t stop talking about what the assignment actually meant.
F: ‘You might think that that actually doesn’t make us a good team, haha’
But she continues saying that it makes them work well because they’re both great observers and can sense when someone needs something. From thereon, she nostalgically recalls a moment where she helped Zaid out with one of his projects. The project involved some risk-taking and where Zaid was more reserved, Fleur was more than happy to jump in, literally.
Z: ‘The project she helped me with was one of those things where I thought: No one has really done anything with this.’
It might be as convenient as ever to notice the different backgrounds from the two creatives. While Zaid is born and raised in the Bijlmer, an area of Amsterdam that’s rich in culture but slightly less rich when it comes to the general income. A place that’s often renowned for it’s ‘grimy’ image as a working-class neighbourhood. Fleur comes from a little village in Friesland called Harlingen. Which is pretty much the antagonist of the Bijlmer as she described it.
Why this is important? Well, while Zaid was very “cautious” & hesitant, Fleur was more than happy to (literally) jump in and help him out with his experiment, as she then followed up herself:
F: ‘Which in hindsight was completely reckless and irresponsible.’
As ‘A Change is Gonna Come’ by Sam Cooke subtly fills the backdrop of our conversation, we go further into their relationship as a creative team, which seems to be built on very mutual understanding of life.
F: ‘This guy, I thought, had a way of speaking and a way of talking that just seemed right to me.’
As Fleur helped Zaid out with his project, they continued their creative partnership into Fleur’s next project, which led them right into the pandemic. As they started working closer together, their conversations started to grow roots into much deeper subjects, subjects that Zaid previously would hesitate to speak about with someone. But with Fleur it was different.
Z: ‘We had these conversations where we could clearly see our opinions were very different, but we always understood each other regardless of that.’
F: ‘Yeah, we always kept the respect and that natural sense of openness.’
Even as I have them across form me, Zaid & Fleur seem to be balancing each other out well. On the one hand (my left) there sits a guy who seems to be more of a natural introvert while on my right, I see a woman who clearly enjoys being present or is at least very skilled in making it seem so. As Sam Cooke ends his classic, I move on to the next subject.
‘Isn’t it true that the biggest part of your creativity lays in having conversations?’
D: ‘Now the world would like to know, how does one think of a great idea?’
Fully realising the agonising extent of this question, I had to ask because I think that’s where we’ll find a lot of personality. Zaid and Fleur both look at each other, and through eye contact seem to decide who’s gonna grab the mic here. As Zaid tells me how him and Fleur regularly checked up on each other during the pandemic, especially since he wasn’t really sure about continuing with his studies, Fleur was there to put things back in perspective for him, his perspective.
Z: ‘So during one of our conversations Fleur said to me: Isn’t it true that the biggest part of your creativity lays in having conversations?’
Z: ‘I said, well, yeah maybe.’
Z: ‘Then she continued: because what I noticed is that those conversations get you excited. And from your excitement an idea often presents itself.’
Z: ‘She then advised me to just call people whenever I feel stuck, or to think about topics that are new to me, that turned out to be a very fruitful period for me in terms of ideas.’
As scales do, they would once again even out. This happened when Fleur was the one who felt like quitting her study and Zaid managed to convince her to stay on. While our mocktails were slowly evaporating I thought it was time to fire some of those questions I had thought of beforehand. I mean, you can’t write for a publication called Junior and not ask the obvious questions, right?
D: ‘What are your feelings towards the word junior?’
Z: ‘I used to think it was kind of a stupid title, if I work here I work here right? What’s the difference. But once I started working somewhere I really noticed the difference. A senior for example was able to oversee situations much quicker and was able to pinpoint the problems so quickly, while I couldn’t and that was a big difference. I took that perspective with me to HERC and also here I keep seeing the difference where seniors take on a more responsible role.’
‘I just hope that in the future creative directors will let creatives take more responsibility over their ideas without trying to comp it into a specific form or shape.‘
D: ‘What are you looking for in a creative director?’
Z: ‘Decisiveness. They really need this ability to cut through the bullshit and make decisions on the spot, to move things forward. And directing of course, knowing what to appoint to who. They just seem to think on such a high speed, I really appreciate learning from that, because most of those traits I currently don’t possess myself yet. I just hope that in the future creative directors will take ideas of individuals even more seriously without trying to comp it into a specific form or shape. I think something really cool can come from that.’
While Zaid’s answer was pretty straightforward, Fleur took us with her on an experience that she had had that very day while shooting for a new project that she is doing.
F: ‘Today I was doing a shoot for some products and in the middle of that shoot I felt so much indecisiveness from the people around me. A kind of passive attitude. After we finished, I asked them to help me with my own project, to help with the camera and lighting and such. After explaining my vision for it, I was kind of disappointed because that same passive behavior caused me to take on all of the roles on set myself at that moment. And the real lesson of course is: hire a model. But all the while I couldn’t help but think “where are the directors”? I couldn’t see any choices. I think in the future I’m just looking for people I work with to make clear and direct choices.’
By this time all of us were pretty much wiggling out of our seats to go to the toilet, apparently those evaporated mocktails find their way into your system one way or the other. While they went, I checked on my recordings and thought of the things I still wanted to ask them. I realised we still hadn’t come to the actual work part yet, a very common phenomenon if you’re in the industry and have a lot of talks with other creatives. I guess this industry must really thrive on personality, but maybe that’s also its weakness. So far Z & F seemed to have a healthy distance to their work, but it was about time to hold it a little closer against them.
D: Let’s talk about work guys. Let’s say if I were to feature one of your works in this article, which one should it be and why?’
F: ‘We talked about this yesterday, haha. I think one of them has to be a videoclip we shot for a friend of ours not so long ago. It was the process we really enjoyed most. We were really happy with the pre-production. Another one is a documentary we shot last summer about a youth hero of mine, but we didn’t succeed in editing it yet.’
Z: ‘It’s kind of funny if you think about it. Those two projects, that we really enjoyed working on, are both works that are not out into the world yet.’
‘She really pushed me to come up with like 30 sketches of 30 ideas in one night.’
I could clearly see where this was going, the worst of all is that I could relate so well. It’s true that the work that a creative is most ‘proud of’ is usually that which hasn’t even been seen yet, or probably those that will never be seen. I had to persist though, especially since I happened to know one of their projects because I stumbled upon it earlier at a portfolio evening, where me and Zaid first met. As I started to bring the project up, it was like rolling a rock of a hill, as if I had reminded them of its existence.
F: ‘That’s definitely one that we looked at as a feature. Although I helped with the project, it’s officially Zaid’s because he did it with another creative.
Z: ‘Yeah, I must admit that during most of the key-moments, where I thought the project started to become what it is now, was due to conversations I had with Fleur. Otis Fulst, with whom I worked, is a really creative guy, but he was always kind of doing his own thing. During those moments where you hit that creative wall while you’re working on your project, it was not him but Fleur who helped me break through that. She really pushed me to come up with like 30 sketches of 30 ideas in one night.’
Zaid continues explaining how Fleur creative directed him into a space where he not only became more confident with the project, but also refueled his motivation to finish it. I subtly hinted that between the three of us we might have found a jr. creative director, which made them laugh, yet agree. Fleur seems to have a decisiveness about her that is not so much linked to owning an idea or trying to always be involved, but more that of a helpful “here let’s carry that load together” kind of mentality, which is not all too common.
Z: ‘We ended up going out together and film. Out of all that footage, we finally found the idea as it was supposed to look like. From there on I had the teacher on my side, while my partner felt like dropping the idea altogether. But because the idea was already there in some very early form, the teacher decided for us that that’s what was going to be made.’
D: ‘Looking back at the project now, in hindsight. Does it still excite you? Do you still feel content with the way it looks and what it says?’
Z: ‘I received like 6 or 7 rounds of feedback altogether right now. So, I kind of have an idea about where it stands. And although I really value the feedback, I see how my project lacks attention in many areas. I feel like there are unanswered questions about it, like, “why does it exist?” or “How can we apply this idea?”. For now, it remains a very academic project to me. I really need some more time to make it work for other people instead of just for me as a student. I think that has always been the purpose.’
Click here to take a look at the project
While Zaid was very busy working on his dilemma of purpose within advertising, Fleur was nodding along. But there’s something I have been itching to bring up this whole conversation, and this was something I had picked up about Fleur earlier. As you know by now, Fleur does not hold back when it comes to doing crazy things to get a project or mind moving. But when I found out she voluntarily stood before an audience as an amateur comedian, I was severely impressed. So, I decided to bring it up.
D: ‘I have a question for you Fleur: How was it to do stand-up comedy? I mean we all have those days where we are among our friends and feel the funniest in the room, flirting with the idea. But you really did it. I am kind of in awe to be honest.’
F: ’Okay well, “so because I’m a depressed anxious fuck”…’
D: ‘We will quote that.’
F: ’That’s fine. The long story short is that I went through a hard time in my private life and the only true way for me to cope with that was to create the most ridiculous visualizations around me. At that time stand-up was a way to relax, watching it that is.
D: ‘Who’s your favorite comedian?’
F: ’Has to be Louie Anderson. He’s very story based, and I love that. He’s not only a comedian though, he also acted and presented a bunch of stuff. And also, I’m sorry, but Louis C.K.’
After thoroughly explaining and somewhat justifying her comedic preferences, she continued on how she herself got to be the one on stage.
F: ’So anyway, I went to an open mic, just to look around. I thought it was so cool. I talked to one of the women who organized it and she immediately put me on the spot asking me if I wanted to perform. So, while I could come up with all the reasons not to, I decided to make it part of a school assignment and went ahead with it.
D: ‘How did it go?’
F: ‘Surprisingly well, I prepared very well, and a lot of my friends were there that night. Writing comedy very much felt like copywriting but like with a lot of punchlines. In the end people started clapping and seemed to be really laughing. You should try it too!
D: ‘That sounds terrifyingly appealing to me. I just might.’
As I took a glance at my watch I realised it was time to wrap up and my time with the team was over. We briefly chatted about the bathroom’s deliciously smelling handsoap and about what’s to come. If you want to know more about that too, I’d suggest following them here & here, because I’m quite sure that whatever’s coming, will be worth another insightful conversation.