Moshe Brakha arrived in Hollywood from Israel in 1969 and spent the next three decades photographing rock ‘n’ roll legends and Hollywood A-listers. After launching Commercial Head Films in 1985, he shot and directed his way through countless commercials and print ads for top-tier clients like Motorola, Best Buy, Toyota, and became infamous for his work on Skyy Vokda and Martini & Rossi. In 2002 the production house and studio became a family affair, with sons Buddy Joe and Eddie joining the ranks. First, Buddy came in 2002 as an Executive Producer. Then Eddie stepped in to become Co-Creative Director a year later, eventually teaming up with Moshe to photograph under the Brakha x2 label. Their work is sexy, flashy, colorful and always arresting, much like their Hollywood influences. Over a recent conference call, the Brakhas chatted with Resource about their hometown, the importance of publicity, and the thinking behind “Silent Pictures,” a series of still life images with a social critique agenda.
What was the decision-making process behind joining forces to create Brakha x2?
Moshe Brakha: It started with a dream that became a reality. Eddie always wanted to do commercials and be on the creative side. When he graduated, he was assisting me doing commercials and photo shoots, day in and day out. He blossomed and he discovered himself and I discovered him as well.
Buddy Joe Brakha: It really started out as an apprenticeship, but from the first day it was with the intention of graduating to the status he’s at now.
Eddie Brakha: It’s a complete collaboration on everything we do; we walk hand-in-hand.
Your studio and production house are very prolific, from Martini ads to MTV-owned show promos. And you’ve worked with everyone who’s anyone in Hollywood. When brands approach Commercial Head Films, what is it they’re looking for?
EB: We really hone in on a world that we establish, that we sincerely believe in. It really becomes something tangible that people see when they come to us and it comes across every aspect of the work. We get caught up in living in the world and creating that world for people. That’s what we believe in—to have people walk in that world with us.
Being a father-and-sons team, how do the three of you collaborate?
BJB: I serve as Executive Producer. We get a call from an agency or a client,and I’ll gauge Moshe and Eddie’s interest in the project. They’ll listen to the creative and go back to the lab and spend a couple days, literally 50/50 collaborating on how they would treat the project.
MB: It’s the love affair of creating. We’ve been doing this project, a series of still life shots, for a few years titled “Silent Pictures,” that it’s really laid the foundation, brick after brick, on how we do the rest of our work.
EB: That was our playground, if you will.
Soon after we did the first few pieces, we understood what we were trying to go after. When you look at the past, at the old social criticisms, commentaries, cartoons, and things that would poke at people—you got to today’s age and you lost that. I think with “Silent Pictures” what we really want to come across is the silent truth in people, in emotions. You look at it, it may take a second, you may laugh, you may not get it, you may love it, but there’s a silent truth to all of it. “Silent Pictures” is about sincerity. There’s no B.S. about it. We only speak from what we know.
What was the inspiration behind some of the Silent Picture images?
EB: Moshe is the original punk and he’ll tell you that for himself. I looked through old pictures he had from back in the day and looked at the lifestyle they lived. They wore their emotions on their sleeves. You just looked at their faces, the culture, the people, and everything screamed at you. They gave this aura about themselves that transcended the still picture.
MB: There was no BS, so to speak.
EB: The idea of the series is you don’t have a single person in the shot. Theoretically, when you’re shooting it, there’s no one around. You have no publicists, no managers, no responses, no one’s talking back to you. But when the image is finally done, it’s screaming at you.
BJB: “Silent Pictures” was Moshe and Eddie’s opportunity to shoot something without the input of the publicists, of the models, of the celebrity, and just do their art. They can do whatever they want to do.
MB: That was the idea behind the ‘Fuck Cheese’ image. I didn’t have to tell anybody to cheese out, or say or do anything. It’s a celebration of our freedom, in other words. For myself, being around for some many years, I just wanted to do what I wanted to do and be proud of it. I used to say working in advertising is like being a hooker, but don’t get me wrong, I still enjoy being a hooker!
Moshe, how’d your celebrity portraiture series “Occupation Dreamer” come about? Did it begin as a series?
MB: The title existed from day one. [My subjects] were dreamers and I was a dreamer. Everybody lives in one big dream. Day in and day out, it was a celebration of being a punk and self-expression. I always compare myself to musicians; music is a big driving force, culture-wise.
When did you realize you were no longer a dreamer and that you had become successful?
MB: I was always successful. I never saw it as less than successful. There was happiness from day one. I came to America and was reborn here. Eddie, on the other hand, was born into this. I was reborn into this lifestyle.
Moshe, you likely have a very different view of Hollywood than Eddie has, who was born into it. How have your differing views shown up in your work and your art?
MB: I say Eddie is Eddie ‘Hollywood’ Brakha and I’m Moshe ‘Hollywood’ Brakha.
EB: Our work is always inspired by Hollywood. Hollywood is always ever-present.
MB: Everything comes from this life, living the Hollywood life.
Eddie, how is Hollywood different now than when you were growing up in it?
EB: As much as Hollywood has changed, it still has that aura about it, that persona that it will always have. When people come here, it’s for that dream that everyone’s chasing. There’s something cultural about this place. When we think of the culture here and how much it has inspired our work, we go beyond the image and aspire to make cultural images. That’s what Hollywood is; it’s all culture. As much as people want to talk about the beauty and the B.S. that surrounds it, Hollywood is the epicenter of culture—people feed off it.
What are you building towards?
EB: Smiles on people’s faces. We sign everything, “Smile and Style.” We want people, from day one, to live in our world. We want people to come with us; we don’t want to meet them halfway. We want them to run in our world, dream in our world, and you can’t do that unless you build them the fantasy, build them the dream. Work or no work, there’s no such thing. When we walk around, grab lunch, do just about anything, we’re still living the dream. You still are your vision: twenty-four hours a day, however many days a week you want—you are your dream.
With all of your years of experience combined, is there anything you wish you’d have known before hand, in terms of starting up the company?
EB: You enter into the world of entertainment, and you find out that the product or the art aren’t paramount. It’s more about the network, the publicity and so forth. You have this game aspect, but you take everything for what it is. Never hate on it, appreciate it. You just have to work within the confines. That’s something you can never prepare yourself for. Your art has to be everything: it has to be the publicity, it has to be the network. That transcends everything.
BJB: The one weakness that collectively we’ve had, and Moshe’s had for a long time, is we’re very quiet, very to ourselves, and never do a big run of publicity on big projects. That’s something that in this day and age you can’t miss out on. We really are starting to make a concerted effort to make sure people know about the work we are doing, to put the spotlight back on these guys, make sure their work is really appreciated. We never wanted to push ourselves publicly, but now it’s a necessity.
MB: I’m my own hooker now. All this feels like a celebration of my life’s work. I didn’t give a fuck about it before.
What made you change your mind?
MB: It’s the new energy. A new wave, a new tsunami. P.R. and all of this becomes part of it. It’s no less than making the art; it’s putting it upfront.
Obviously, retouching is a big part of today’s art and commercial work, Commercial Head Films included. Any thoughts on the art of retouching?
MB: One word: Huge. To me, retouched means finished.
EB: It’s more horsepower. You can make the picture crazier and crazier; like going from a Model T to a Lamborghini.
MB: And there’s no end to it. You can make things better and better.
Do you think it will, in the future, affect or diminish the value of the artwork?
MB: That’s irrelevant. That’s how people today want to do it. That’s an art in itself.
EB: The technical side of it only brings you closer to getting your emotion across. But the strength of the work has to come from the concept.
One of your pieces from the “Silent Pictures” series is called ‘Fix it in post.’ Is this satire or propaganda?
EB: ‘Fix it in post’ is a phrase we hear thrown around all the time. Where is it going to stop? People are going to try to bring it to their life, maybe? If you have a broken heart, you can fix it in post.
MB: It’s about plastic surgery. The terminology comes from everyday terms we hear: make the logo bigger, move the head over, fix it in post. It’s an industry joke. But, really, the image touches on plastic surgery.
With the move from stills to motion, and seeing how Commercial Head already works with motion, do you prepare or work differently when dealing with one medium over the other?
EB: A frame’s a frame. Coming from the photographic world and going into the motion picture world, it just makes you realize how important each frame is and you take advantage of each.
MB: Photo and motion are the same pair of shoes.
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