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Meet the new Mad Men

Sandy Rashty talks to the film makers moving from commercial ads to cinematic award-winners

    Adam Baroukh (left) and Eddie Sternberg: balancing real deals and meal tickets
    Adam Baroukh (left) and Eddie Sternberg: balancing real deals and meal tickets

    Picture this. Two Jewish film-makers sit down for a meal at boulangerie chain Le Pain Quotidien. It is Pesach, so Adam Baroukh and Eddie Sternberg are sifting through the menu for bread-free options.

    Then, comedian David Schneider walks into the west London branch. Schneider had just finished filming Channel 4's notorious Jewish Mum of the Year series; but in spite of that "horrific show", Sternberg thought he would be perfect for their latest project.

    "I went up to him," recalls Sternberg, 28. "I wanted to tell him that I thought he was a great comedian, a great British star who had appeared in so many classics.

    "But what came out was: 'I loved you in Jewish Mum of the Year!'"

    The compliment paid off. Schneider reworked the script and brought in actors David Schaal (The Office) and Alex Macqueen (The Inbetweeners) to star in their dark comedy Just Desserts, which is due to premier at BAFTA next month.

    It is one of many projects that have helped Baroukh and Sternberg - who first bonded over films as university students in Manchester - make the transition from working on low-budget projects to those that have been screened at festivals across the globe.

    The pair have spent the past four years building up Superplex Pictures, a film production company that has been trusted with budgets of up to £250,000 and boasts a range of high-profile commercial clients including Google, Skype, Nescafe and John Lewis. Out of Body, which was commissioned by Transport for London to raise awareness of drink driving, was selected for the 2015 London Short Film Festival.

    They say their success lies in an ability to make commercial films, creative; an ability to make big brand videos, "cinematic".

    Over drinks at the media-centric Hospital Club in Covent Garden, I ask what this actually means?

    "When we pitch to brands, we do have to explain a lot of terms like 'cinematic' or 'preditor' - which is a producer, director and editor," laughs Baroukh, 27.

    "We do not come from a brand background; we come from a filmmaking background. We tell brands: 'we are going to make you Avatar' and they are, like, 'please just get my product in'.

    "We specialise in making films that people want to watch in the cinema - but for brands. We give our films a narrative, a social dimension – that's the key.

    "We find ways of engaging with the brand without having to compromise our work."

    Sternberg, a writer and director, comes in. "It's about the story; making the characters relatable. The human condition interests us." He pauses: "Wait - that sounds pretentious. What I mean is, it's not gimmicky. We try to reach people on an emotional level."

    The bulk of the company's portfolio is made up of short films for big brands. And the majority of their clients, they say, have come from making use of connections - friends, family, their ex-classmates' girlfriends.

    Out of Body was selected for the London Short Film Festival this year
    Out of Body was selected for the London Short Film Festival this year

    "When it comes to cold calling, we haven't really had any success," says Sternberg. "The thing that brings in business is firstly, doing great work, and secondly, word of mouth."

    Baroukh, a producer and director, says film-makers often face a dilemma: "a tug of war between 'creative' and 'commercial' work.

    "There's this standard filmmaker phrase: 'One for the real and one for the meal'. It means, make a film for yourself, and make a film so you can eat. In reality, it's one for the real and five for the meal. Usually, the more interesting a project is, the less you are going to make for it.

    "But, slowly, we are getting hints of the creative and commercial streams converging."

    Our two-hour meet turns into what Sternberg terms a "therapy session" - an opportunity to explain what they do to Mrs Cohen, our phantom JC reader. They want to encourage the community to take an interest in creative careers.

    Sternberg says: "We are young guys in an industry that a lot of Jewish families are scared of.

    "A lot of people go on the doctor, lawyer or accountant route – but I don't think a lot of Jewish kids want to be lawyers. A lot of them do want to do creative things; be singers and artists - and it can be done."

    And Sternberg, who worked on a Cheryl Cole music video before setting up Superplex, admits: "It's a really risky and competitive industry but I just wanted to direct films.

    "When Adam came on board, our plan was just to get paid to make films. Our first job was making a film for the O2 arena, where I was working part-time."

    And what does the future entail for both of them?

    Sternberg, a member of Hampstead Garden Suburb Synagogue, who recalls watching Spartacus as a child with his father, says would like one day to direct big movies.

    A self-professed "film geek", Sternberg has received Film London funding for his short film I Used to be Famous which he is planning to turn into a feature next year.

    While for Baroukh, who is exhibiting part of his trilogy of Chinese culture and tradition at the Shard this month, "it's more about making art-inspired documentaries, feature drama."

    Baroukh, a member of Lauderdale Road synagogue, is now using his skills to make Judaism more accessible. After once filming around the prestigious Mir Yeshiva in Jerusalem, he is now in talks with Rabbi Joseph Dweck - senior rabbi of the Spanish and Portuguese Jews' Congregations - to make a series of videos "on chagim, or halachot".

    He continues: "It's sad, but people don't read as much as they watch videos.

    "So we are about to bring out a series of S&P videos to encourage young people to get involved."

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