It’s 11am on a crisp spring morning and I am making my way through London’s East End to the creative studio of Root to meet Creative Director and Svengali film Producer Martin Root.
On my way I can’t help but think how surreal this is. I first stumbled across Svengali at last year’s Latitude Festival. A mere punter seeking shelter from the rain and ending up in the film tent. But like many at that screening, I fell for the film’s charm and off-beat humour almost instantaneously. I couldn’t get the story out of my mind. Hooked.
Who would have thought that nine months later I’d be making my way to meet Root Films Producer Martin Root to discuss his vision for the project and the film’s creative process.
The studio is minimalist, high octane white walls serving as a blank canvas for the creative team that busily work at Root’s design hub. Music plays in the background as I am warmly greeted by his people. It’s pretty damn cool if I’ll be honest.
‘It’s all about collaboration’, says Root, as we grab a coffee. ‘John Hardwick (Svengali’s director) was brilliant, and we had a great crew - fantastic in fact - they really put their heart and soul into the film’.
Svengali tells the story of Dixie, a Welsh postman come music manager, who uproots his life, convincing his girlfriend to move with him to London, to get his prodigy band ‘The Prems’ a record deal.
‘I like real-life films that have humour’, says Root, taking a gulp of coffee. He lights up as he references Rob Sitch’s The Castle and Clayton Jacobson’s Kenny. ‘Svengali (referring to the initial YouTube series) had a pace that just kept you entertained. It got my attention’.
Looking around at his impeccable studio, I’m intrigued to know what made Root want to produce films. But the answer is simple. ‘It (Svengali) was an exciting project! Eddie Piller from Acid Jazz sent me the YouTube virals. And soon after, introduced me to Jonny (Owen)’, Writer of Svengali and lead character ‘Dixie’.
‘Jonny had a real warmth of character. Something people could relate to. And I knew straight off, Svengali would work as a film. I raised the finance from a private investor and we went from there’.
Root’s early vision was the spark that ignited Svengali’s transition from online virals to the big screen. From the off-set, his mission was clear: ‘We wanted to make a credible, commercial, contemporary movie that everyone could enjoy’.
The film’s undeniably cool soundtrack has gained notable recognition, and Root accredits the film’s music supervisor Ian Neil for bringing to the table, what is now being rated by fans, the greatest rock and roll soundtrack ever.
It’s easy for audiences to think of Svengali as a music genre film, especially with such a buzz surrounding the film’s music selection, but Root is resolute: ‘It’s a love story - Dixie’s love of music, his love for Shell and how he juggles his life’.
The universal themes of following your dreams, holding on to love and striving for success seem at the forefront of the film’s commercial appeal.
And what about London? ‘Of course, that played a part. There are so many special places I know that feature in the film’.
As we chat, it becomes clear that Root is very much a producer that leads with creative instinct and passion. But underpinning this, you get the picture that this is the man not only responsible for launching Svengali as a film, but creating a brand that challenges the way commercial films are marketed to mass audiences.
This meticulous attention to detail reveals an acute understanding of the power of creative identity. And unlike so many commercial films, Svengali’s branding seeks to reach out to audiences and engage them. ‘We wanted to create a brand that translated across multi-platforms.
‘My great team at Root handled every element of the design and art direction for the campaign, creating the brand identity, the integrated print, advertising and digital campaign.' The creative even extended to the films memorable opening title sequence.
Root’s previous high-profile creative collaborations, in the world of art, fashion and music, gives him an edge as a film producer. He is selective about the projects he chooses to get behind. ‘You have to feel passionate about the project and then fully commit to it’.
His past unveils an eclectic mix of high calibre lifestyle clients including David Beckham, Hollywood’s Salon Benjamin and the SnubNose art book with New York’s iconic Brooklynite Gallery.
When asked about the difference between working in the UK and US, Root is candidly honest. ‘In the UK people will always come up with reasons things can’t be done. But in the US they look for energy - they look for a reason to do something’. He is definitely more aligned to the latter approach.
‘Producing is about having a vision, finding the right people, putting them in the right place and then letting them get on with it’. On Svengali, Root is self-assured: ‘I now know how to make a movie’.
There is something magnetic about this faithful attitude towards film-making. An emphasis on creative collaboration. On evolving ideas and nurturing talent. On serving the story and engaging the audience. I’ll admit, I’m feeling inspired.
Glancing at the clock, I realise I’m almost out of time. One last question. What’s next for Root? ‘I’m always interested in exciting projects’. Emphasis on exciting. I have the sneaky suspicion that this is only the beginning of Root Films.
As I head back to the station, the whole interview feels unreal. I can’t help but reflect on my own journey with Svengali: from festival field to big city. I guess that’s the beauty of film, you never really know where it’s going to take you.
Interviewed by Yazmin Joy Vigus
Twitter : @aliljoy