How Farm League has carved a space in commercial film for authenticity and storytelling
For over a decade, Farm League has been creating a different kind of commercial film – capturing subcultures and spaces often co-opted, but rarely represented.
- Sponsored Content
- 11 May 2023
When we ask the founder of Farm League Tim Lynch (TL) to sum up its creative approach in a sentence (no small feat, considering the company’s 12 years in the game), TL points to an analogy from America’s pastime, “No junk, just high-90s fastballs with lots of movement.” He adds: “That’s another way of saying, we don’t like to mess around. We come after each project with a fiery passion and a wild enthusiasm.”
But “no junk” says it all – Farm League is a creative film company that champions authenticity in every project, particularly in its commercial work, a space that is prone to clutter and to stories that generalise. Since 2011, it has carved out a client list that includes the likes of Patagonia, Google and Ralph Lauren by infusing that passion with a story-first approach, and going straight to the source of those stories.
Take Blue Heart, a 45-minute film the company developed and produced for Patagonia. While the project is technically brand-funded entertainment, it could be better described as an environmental documentary film, with Patagonia serving as the studio. Blue Heart was created to “draw conviction from those on the sidelines of an important environmental battle, and to bolster awareness of the devastating impact of the dams and hydro-power in the Balkan Region’s ecosystem”, explains TL. It began when an activist in Albania, fighting to protect the Vjosa River, reached out to Patagonia. “Our goal as filmmakers was to capture the voice and stories of the locals in an artful way. It had to be honest and representative of the people on the ground with such a complex issue.” The documentary, its accompanying event tour and PR campaign contributed to a groundswell in the region. This year, the company received the update that the Vjosa River will be permanently protected as a National Park.
The film marked Farm League’s third project highlighting environmental victories, with the first two being 2011’s 180° South and 2015’s The Fisherman’s Son. While “the real change was done by the hard work of the people on the ground; the people in Chile, Argentina, the Balkan region, the NGOs and the conservationists”, TL says, Farm League’s films prove that impactful change can be possible through provocative storytelling.
Like most creative endeavours with a rallying cause, Farm League can be traced back to an igniting spark. For founder TL, it was the zealous feeling he got from watching a piece of film that was tied to a cause or movement – first in the form of music videos, then from films born out of the subcultures of music, skateboarding and surfing. “Growing up in Houston, Texas, in what was a small scene for punk, skate and surf. you had to look hard and be intentional. My friends and I were hyper-aware when a band or brand tried to be something they weren’t,” says TL.
TL saw music videos as a powerful format, for their “hyper-visual” nature, but also as a vehicle to tell a story. “Within just a few minutes, artists could ask questions, they could inspire people, they could even incite an audience,” TL reflects. “Punk rock videos of the time and skate/surf films were merging and creating new filmmakers.” Thus, Farm League was created as a way of bringing “that spirit” into independent docs, branded films and commercial projects. The founder shares: “With so many generalisations within branding and marketing, there was this incredible opportunity for outsiders to come in and put their fingerprints in the storytelling. To bring forward the artist or athlete’s true voice and experience.”
One of those generalisations is how subcultures are often represented in these spaces, from skating and surfing to music communities – “even with the best intentions, nuanced worlds that had for many years been appropriated or sometimes reduced down to cliches by brands,” says TL. “They need experts, impassioned people who understand the nuance and the line that can’t be crossed.” Farm League’s portfolio is full of stories that engage with spaces like this, but only because its team and talent roster engage too. Within its line-up of directors, including former skate pro Greg Hunt, photographer and American West scholar Britton Caillouette, former collegiate football player and ultramarathon runner Janssen Powers, former competitive skier and journalist Taimi Arvidson, and former pro surfer Chris Malloy, there lives a genuine understanding of these communities and a desire to do them justice.
You can see the fruits of this labour in Farm League’s range of stories that centre around sport, a theme Farm League returns to again and again, drawn to the deeper narratives they present. “An athlete’s story, with all their successes and failures, is often the most powerful hero’s journey case study we can find in this modern age,” says TL. “There are incredible natural arcs that come from the internal and external forces that constantly push and test athletes. If you can find an artful way into those stories, it’s magic.”
In Tokyo Athletes, a film made with Ralph Lauren following the lives of athletes on their journey to becoming Olympians, directors Britton Caillouette and Janssen Powers manage to create space for these unplumbed internal experiences and processes, while also capturing punctuating moments of sporting minutiae and action. “We collaborated with the athletes and keyed off what they’re doing naturally, and then brought that to life rather than using staged moments,” says Tim.
The ability to unpick knotty themes, even in a short runtime, has become somewhat of a signature for Farm League. For example, a recent campaign film, The Making of Material You, exploring the design process behind the Google Pixel’s UI, functions as an explanation film but goes further – it is also a manifesto on design, questioning the root of creative inspiration with Mexico City artists, designers and chefs. Director Britton Cailloutte works with Seed Studio on the project, with the partners bottling the creativity of the design process with a poetic approach to filmmaking, layering interlinking images and ideas to create a composite whole.
Ultimately, after 12 years, you can look across Farm League’s portfolio and find one theme – a company looking to propel branding beyond surface level. TL sums it up best: “We will always push for what we believe is honest, for what will resonate in the most genuine way. We aim to leave the audience with a feeling, and hopefully that’s the inspiration to seek out, to get involved, and to participate in whatever it is that truly excites them.”
Founded in 2011 by executive producer Tim Lynch, Farm League are experts in unscripted stories and real-world characters because they understand the value of listening to people and giving them the space to speak. They create immersive narrative and scripted stories by building believable worlds anchored in grounded performances. Their films come with a feeling that can’t be manufactured – it’s the compassion, empathy, and heart that come from the character of their creators.
Farm League / Ralph Lauren: Tokyo Athletes (Copyright © Farm League)