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The journey from L.A. to Berlin: A view from behind the lens

Four days, two countries, seven crew members and a cast in excess of 55.

That was the challenge and resources behind Formation Films’ recent shoot with Majestic Athletic – a European tribute to the jerseys of the Detroit Tigers and Los Angeles Dodgers. Abridging the films to simply that, however, would be an injustice and the whole project is testament to how those aforementioned jerseys have become much more than sports fashion.

Working alongside Majestic Europe, Paris and Berlin were chosen as the two cities to represent LA and Detroit on the other side of the pond.

A shared love of electronic dance music created a natural, cultural link between Berlin and Detroit, while Paris’ close mix of urban and suburban life made it the perfect representative of LA across the Atlantic. They would, after all, prove the beating heart of the shoot and the stage on which the jerseys could shine.

“What we strived to put out there was what the Dodgers and Tigers mean. What is it about those teams that are so different?” Paul Coldham, Formation’s Executive Creative Director, mused as he reflected on the project’s aim.

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Just as the two capitals – as well as their American counterparts – are melting pots of sports, music and fashion, the Majestic project also traverses interests with its place in wider culture. It is for that reason that the films captured far more than just sport, encapsulating the jerseys without a single swing of a baseball bat.

From ballet dancers to football freestylers to DJs, the film showcases the Tigers and Dodgers jerseys in unexpected settings, yet with unquestionably familiar themes and undertones.

Achieving this ambience was no easy task, however. Locations were hand-picked, cast members were meticulously chosen and the jerseys specially stylised for each and every model appearing before the cameras. And integral to these decisions were Jack Retallack, Beatrix Blaise and Réda Ait.

Retallack, of One Tribe Films, served as director on the shoot, venturing into his latest narrative film with a determination to transplant the auras of Detroit and LA onto European shores. Pre-recorded tracks for each city proved the directorial blueprint for the shoot with Retallack striving to capture the essence of the jerseys on film.

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That mission ranged from capturing stylistic links to 1990s hip hop music videos, to checking the weather ‘every ten seconds’ for a window of LA-like sunshine. Aptly, the ‘City of Light’ did offer a passing glimpse of Californian weather before the shoot concluded.

Blaise, meanwhile, worked closely with the cast and the Majestic product as co-director. Ever the creative spirit, she ensured the Tigers and Dodgers jerseys expressed their variety of cultural influences and jumped into the Berlin party scene herself to create a raw and unique segment for the film.

Between 35 and 45 Berliners made a warehouse their night club with a flare of the city’s all-encompassing music culture, a trait it shares with Detroit.

The city’s love affair with EDM also transferred effortlessly into a ballet performance that, for many, proved one of many highlights on the shoot. With traditional ballet dress stripped for dungarees and a Tigers jersey, Blaise recalled: “Every time she danced, I got shivers. She moved with the music like she’d heard it a hundred-million times.”

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Similarly, in Paris, a troop of break-dancers turned the iconic Pont de Bir-Hakeim into their own dance studio under the watchful eye of the Eiffel Tower and beneath passing Metro carriages.

Yet, amidst all the famous sights and eye-catching talent, the project strived to capture a uniquely authentic view of the cities and the Majestic product. It’s a notion championed by Ait who called upon his network and knowledge to influence the casting and locations.

As someone with a network of links in both Paris and Berlin, he was able to not only provide a raw insight into the cities but inject the personalities of their US counterparts. Throughout his work on the project, he always focused on the jersey’s representation of its city, music and wider culture, not only baseball.

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DJ and vocalist Stella Zekri felt the connection between her jersey and home town on a very personal level during her time on the shoot. She recalled taking pride in sporting a Detroit Tigers jersey in Berlin given the cities’ musical connection and even collected a few compliments for her choice along the way.

Zekri’s role perfectly demonstrated the vision of authenticity within the film. Despite having never featured as a model before, she was able to showcase her city’s colourful music culture alongside the now art-laden concrete of the Berlin wall.

There couldn’t have been a clearer and more seamless demonstration of sporting jerseys’ place in music and fashion. That isn’t to say, however, that the product has completely turned its back on sport and the roots of the Majestic product were still present in the Paris and Berlin shoots.

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As Coldham noted: “It doesn’t matter what sport it is, it all comes down to the style.” Basketball players and skateboarders displayed the sporting significance of the jerseys, while football freestyler René Mathussek showed off his wide range of skills in Berlin.

Despite having performed in 35 countries and five continents, the German capital remained a captivating stage for Mathussek on which to display his freestyle and street-style ability. He later reflected: “It’s always nice to be here, experience new things and bring the Berlin vibe into my freestyling art.”

Using his knowledge of the project’s tracks and the presence of jerseys in wider fashion, Mathussek perfectly exhibited the lifestyle reaches of the Majestic product.

Present from the recollections of both performers and crew was the feeling of having accomplished something unique and tantalisingly exact. It was, after all, no easy task to represent US cities in their European neighbours and jerseys involved in so many corners of culture.

It is credit to Majestic’s LA and Detroit MLB jerseys that they are so smoothly integrated into a European theatre and from a baseball pitch to the streets, dance studios and behind turntables. If there is any vindication of the jerseys’ significance and influence, it is that.

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And Formation Films have collaborated to show exactly this with their campaign videos – moving from the jerseys to the cities to the performers and eventually the end product. With the alterations of editing in post-production and aligning the music with the footage, the campaign videos will go live over the course of July.

It turns out four days, two countries, seven crew members and a cast in excess of 55 can be quite the combination.

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