The best way to understand a person’s career is to look at the work that made them. Their first campaign. The campaign that someone else created and that made them jealous. The campaign that taught them some painful but useful lessons. The work that they’re proudest of.
The word illustrious doesn’t begin to cover Mike Hasinoff’s career. As Droga5’s executive producer, he’s had a hand in some of the biggest projects the industry has seen for the likes of Meta, EQUINOX, Nordstrom, and working with acclaimed directors like Floria Sigismundi, Melina Matsoukas, and Martin de Thurah.
Mike is known for his impeccable attention to detail and he’s often called on for projects of great complexity where this ability is both tested and needed most.
Beyond delivering high-calibre work, Mike’s creative approach also includes the crew’s experience behind the lens. Working on the Tokyo Summer Olympics campaign for Facebook (now Meta) – which he calls “the biggest, most intricately complicated campaign I’d worked on thus far” - taught him that film craft is more than the result on screen. The experience of everyone involved in the production matters just as much and it leads to better work too. Mike also considers the pursuit of fair and equal representation to be one of his career-defining passions.
Today, Mike tells LBB about finding his inspiration at the cinema and at live music shows; why Madonna’s ‘Rain’ video reigns supreme 30 years on, and how navigating production uncertainty with the help of his soft skills led to the creation of “probably the single best film that I’ve made.”
LBB> What was your path on the road to production? How did you first start in the industry?
Mike> I started university as a pre-med student. A few months into my first semester, I realised it wasn’t for me. In my mind, university was meant to be about learning subjects you were interested in, and I wasn’t vibing with chemistry, biology and the like. So in my second year, I stayed in the Faculty of Science to maintain my scholarship but filled my course load with anything that interested me, from film studies to Buddhism and Hinduism. I loved watching multiple movies a week for homework and learning everything about film history, theory and analysis, but I had no idea how I could translate that into a career.
When I graduated, I moved to Vancouver to pursue a commerce marketing degree and, as part of my co-op program, I got an unpaid internship at TBWA\Vancouver. I owe my entire career to Sara Lamb, who was head of that Account Service Department at the time. She saw my film background and thought I dressed a little weird for an account person and suggested I meet with Catharine Chesterman, the agency’s senior film producer. Catharine and I hit it off immediately, and that was it. Within about two years, I was producing all the film content coming out of the agency.
LBB> Where do you look for inspiration? Do you have any creative heroes?
Mike> I subscribe to the newsletters for Little Black Book, Shots, Director’s Library and other industry creative/craft publications and have made it part of my routine each morning to review the latest work. And if I get busy for a few days, I save the emails and spend an hour whenever my schedule lightens, catching up on what I missed. As a producer, your knowledge of what’s going on and who’s doing what is your currency, and your edge is the unique insight you can bring to creatives when curating a project.
But I probably draw the most inspiration from movies, television and music. I love the experience of sitting in a movie theatre with no distractions, just letting myself be transported into a character’s world. And there’s nothing better for me than experiencing music live at a great concert. Lykke Li’s show at the Apollo Theater this fall was one of my highlights from last year. It was performance art, dance and theatre mixed with the most emotional music. There was a level of craft in all the details of the show—everything from her performance to the lighting design—that had me transfixed for the entire concert. Ultimately, it’s experiences like this that inspire me the most and, at some level, there’s a degree of that sweating of all the details that I look for when considering work in our industry.
LBB> The ad/music video from my childhood that stays with me…
Mike> The ’90s music videos of Mark Romanek for Madonna and Janet Jackson stand out to me as some of the best of all time in terms of the convergence of music and incredible visuals.
Looking back today at Madonna's “Rain” video, which came out 30 years ago, it’s better than almost anything I can think of from the past year. As a kid, I was fascinated by Japanese culture and loved Japanese ninja movies (so much so that I got into gymnastics to learn to do flips like a ninja). So I immediately loved that this video featured an all-Japanese cast, apart from Madonna. Add the exquisite cinematography, sets, costume design and all the other highly cinematic parts of the video, and you have a timeless piece that still stands up today.
And Janet Jackson’s “Got ’Til It’s Gone” video, which draws inspiration from the work of photographer Malick Sidibe and features images of pre-apartheid South Africa, showed me as a kid how you could push things further and more explicitly merge politics with film craft and music.
It’s interesting to look back at these videos now in the context of how representation has become a career-defining passion for me in all the work I’ve been part of at Droga5, because that element existed in those two music videos that spoke to me so many years ago.
LBB> The ad/music video/game/web platform that made me want to get into the industry…
Mike> As a teen, I would spend hours and hours watching MuchMusic, the Canadian equivalent to MTV. I’ve been a huge fan of music for as long as I can remember, and music videos were the best combination of music and short-form storytelling, or perhaps the last vestiges of experimental cinema.
More than features or commercials directors, music-video directors were my entry point to studying craft and the great artists of our time. When I was an intern at TBWA, Floria Sigismondi, also a Canadian, was the top director I hoped to work with at some point in my career. I had all the agency’s director reels in my first office, and I used to sit and watch her reel over and over. So getting to work with her on two really fun projects—Equinox’s “The Most Selfless Act of All
” and Meta’s “A (Slightly) Life-Changing Story
”—both of which couldn’t have been a more perfect professional fit for her, was a dream come true. (For Meta, we also collaborated on the music with Peaches, one of the greatest live entertainers of our time, so that project was a double-whammy career milestone of working with two of my early favourite artists at the same time.)
LBB> The creative work (film/album/game/ad/album/book/poem etc) that I keep revisiting…
Mike> I find myself looking forward more than looking back.
I love movies, but I’m not huge on watching movies more than once. Of course, there are films that I’ve watched multiple times to dissect their construction with almost surgical precision. But there are so many great movies, both current and old, that I haven’t yet seen, so my natural inclination is usually to see something new rather than watch something again. (Of course, I’ll never turn off The Goonies or Elf if I stumble across them on TV, but I wouldn’t say these are reflective of my artistic taste and sensibilities.)
With music, however, there are albums I’ll keep going back to for the rest of my life. But I also make an effort to remain engaged with what’s current. When I first discover an album, I listen to it over and over again until I know every word and beat to every song, so I love rediscovering an album years later and that still being fresh in my mind.
LBB> My first professional project…
Mike> The first full-up commercial I produced myself was with Sophie Gateau, and I believe it was her first commercial, too. At the time, she was being mentored by Francois Vogel and had just released the “BOA
” music video for Eglantine Gouzy, a French artist. I’ve always done a ridiculous amount of director research when starting any project, and I stumbled across this video somewhere (no idea where), and it was so similar to our concept of a Rubik’s Cube-like device to transition between different scenes. This was my first taste of the stars aligning with discovering the perfect creative partner to bring an idea to life. Sophie stayed with us through the edit, then we sent her every single VFX posting to review and comment on each night. This project set the foundation for how I still love to work so closely with directors.
LBB> The piece of work (ad/music video/ platform…) that made me so angry that I vowed to never make anything like *that*…
Mike> That’s not really something I’ve ever thought about. Every project is a learning opportunity and, even now, there’s something I learn on every job that I vow to myself to never do again.
LBB> The piece of work (ad/music video/ platform…) that still makes me jealous…
Mike> M.I.A.’s 2012 video for “Bad Girls” is one of my absolute top music videos, another video by a female artist from an underrepresented ethnicity (who’s also a refugee) and featuring an entirely non-white cast. This video is the perfect combination of a banger track and effortlessly cool visuals. There is nothing better than the shot of M.I.A. sitting on top of the car in motion, on its side, while she effortlessly files her nails.
This video is also years ahead of its time in terms of the gender and cultural politics it portrays with female drivers in the Middle East. In some countries in that part of the world, it was illegal for women to drive until recently. I love that the video shows people from that part of the world living joyful lives on their own terms, despite the strict regulations often imposed. Until recently, mainstream media also tended to fall on negative tropes or tired stereotypes when depicting people from the Middle East. That needed to change. I think about this kind of representation with everything I now make.
LBB> The creative project that changed my career…
Mike> Without a doubt, the project that set my career and life on a deeper path is the Tokyo Summer Olympics campaign that we produced for Facebook (now Meta). We shot four films with four directors and production companies across four continents within a three-week period: “Skate Nation Ghana
” with Love Song’s Bafic, Justyna Obasi and Elliott Power; “No Comply
” with Reset’s Yann Demange; “Once Upon a Time Everywhere
” with MJZ’s Juan Cabral and “Longboard Family
” with Object & Animal’s FKA twigs. All four launched on the same day ahead of the Olympics’ opening ceremony, and it felt like a mic drop.That was the biggest, most intricately complicated campaign I’d worked on thus far, and it was the first production I’d seen through to completion with absolutely no regrets.
The campaign also cemented my creative partnership with executive creative director Thom Glover, which has been the most fulfilling of my career. And, on a personal level, my work with Thom on “Skate Nation Ghana” in particular—with what Daniel Wolfe and Kelly Bayett have set up with Love Song, Daniel’s new role as creative executive producer and the intense mentorship he offers his young directors—has given us added purpose to how we bring work to life. We saw first-hand how one person at the top of his game could use his knowledge and experience to support the next generation of talent, providing a safe space for them to grow and learn. This is something that we both now think about with everything we’re doing, too: how can we be a part of pushing the industry forward and supporting real change?
As a production, this film was massively creatively satisfying to be part of, and it was so invigorating to collaborate in such a deeply meaningful way with our directors and creative partners. But beyond that, we’re also witnessing how the success of that specific production model shifted conversations about the ways in which we work with young talent within the walls of Droga5 and beyond. The experience also showed us that film craft now extends beyond concept and construction. Team building and the overall experience for everyone involved improves the quality of the work. And it’s so gratifying to see these principles start to spread to other creatives, producers and production companies.
LBB> The work that I’m proudest of…
Mike> “An Open Mind Is the Best Look
” for Nordstrom, directed by Martin de Thurah, is probably the single best film that I’ve made. It’s the piece I produced that’s probably closest to transcending advertising and making a bigger statement about humanity. Watching it again after three years away from the project, it still moves me.
This wasn’t the easiest production, but it was so unbelievably inspiring to witness Martin, cinematographer Kasper Tuxen and editor Peter Brandt in action. Martin is a genius and a very spontaneous, intuitive filmmaker. While everything about the production was carefully planned in close collaboration with our team and clients, we also created space for Martin to be freer with his inspiration than might be the norm with other directors. And everything that makes the film special can be traced back to an instinct of his—which even I didn’t always know where it would go or what it would lead to.
Part of the soft skill of being a producer is navigating these uncertain production waters and ensuring the job stays on course but also creating a safe barrier around the project to allow the expertise of your collaborators to rise to the surface and flourish.
LBB> I was involved in this and it makes me cringe…
Mike> I get so passionate and emotionally invested in every project I’m involved with that there isn’t really anything I’ve been part of that makes me cringe. I can look back at the trajectory of my career, trace the path of learning from one project to the next and see how each set the foundation for me to grow into what was to come later.
LBB> The recent project I was involved in that excited me the most…
Mike> I’m currently working on a very exciting series of films with Melina Matsoukas and Martin de Thurah directing, which will launch during the Grammys, and it’s a pretty fantastic project to begin the year with. Melina is one of those wish-list directors I’ve been longing to work with for most of my career, and the experience with her has been everything I hoped it would be and more.
Early last year, I also spent a month in Kenya, Uganda and South Africa, shooting “Amani
” with ILLIMITEWORLD of Love Song for Meta. It was one of those once-in-a-lifetime jobs during which we were all reminding ourselves and each other to be grateful, even when the days were long and gruelling and we were surviving on just a few hours of sleep.
As someone who loves to travel and experience new cultures, there was that obvious thrill. But there’s an extra gravitas that comes with bringing the story of a very real and inspiring team like Team Amani to life. As much as we were producing a commercial for Meta to highlight the future potential of what the metaverse might open up for people in terms of breaking down physical barriers, it was just as important for us to create a film that Team Amani would love and be proud of.
With this film, Thom and I also wanted to take the learnings from our experience with Love Song on “Skate Nation Ghana” and push the new production approach to the next level. Not only did we have directors Aus Taylor and Marleaux Desire, Executive Producer Daniel Wolfe and The Mill’s Dan Williams on location for all the prep and shoot days (along with cinematographers Diego Garcia and Shawn Peters), we also created a space for three younger director’s assistants to get on-set experience. On most shoot days, we had as many as three different units capturing footage at any given time. Some days we had as many as seven different cameras capturing footage. Assistants were thoroughly briefed by ILLIMITE on what was needed, then each director and assistant owned their own shots and setups. I’m pretty sure our final film brings in shots from everyone.
There was a degree of continuity from previous jobs we’ve done with Love Song (“Skate Nation Ghana,” lululemon) and a lot of brilliant new people, but the overarching spirit of collaboration between the agency, our production partners and talent felt really unique. For our team, it meant more work, more involvement and being held to a higher standard by our production partners and clients, but that also made it so much more rewarding. There is a real collegiate atmosphere on productions like this that I haven’t experienced elsewhere, and I think you can feel it in where the work ends up.
Beyond that, on a purely human level, our team on the ground had the best time together. Thom (Glover, ECD), Ben (Muckensturm, senior art director) and I were constantly making each other laugh, even when things were tough and stressful and we were completely exhausted. This project was like being at a summer camp for adults with people you really connect with and just want to spend time with and look forward to seeing the next day. That level of trust, support and camaraderie (plus fun) set a new level of what I aspire to create with every project I’m now involved with. I’ll be forever grateful for the experience.