2 Minutes With ... Mitchel Elsen, Founder & Executive Producer at Hype Empire

On 'McEnroe vs. McEnroe,' AT&T and Canvino

Mitchel Elsen is the founder and executive producer at Hype Empire, a global film production company with a focus on sports and lifestyle-driven commercials. 

Prior to founding Hype, Mitchel was a founder and executive producer at RAZR Industries in New York, an experiential content firm that merged with Photoplay in 2016. Earlier, he co-founded TRS in Brussels. Mitchel began his career as a copy intern at Saatchi & Saatchi.

We spent two minutes with Mitchel to learn more about his background, creative inspirations and some recent work he's admired.

Mitchel, tell us...

Where you grew up, and where you live now.

I grew up in Belgium, that tiny country tucked in between France and Holland. The land of beer, French fries (they're actually Belgian!), chocolates, waffles, some of the best soccer players in the world and, lest we forget, Jean-Claude Van DammeAudrey Hepburn was also born in Belgium, as well as NBA legend Tony Parker. I moved to New York about 12 years ago. And since the opening of our U.K. office I spend my time between London and NYC. 

How you first realized you were creative.

Probably in my early teens when all I wanted to do is draw. I remember one teacher not really appreciating me drawing the Guns N' Roses Appetite for Destruction album cover.

A person you idolized creatively early on.    

Pick any '90s skateboarder: Ed Templeton, Jason Lee, Rob Dyrdek, Mark Gonzales, Bob Burnquist—seamlessly blending boarding with art, music and filmmaking.

In my early twenties, I got my hands on the June 2004 edition of Ad Age's Creativity magazine with the "Top Directors Report" featuring the likes of Lance Acord, Brian Beletic, Fredrik Bond, Frank Budgen, Ivan Zacharias, Michel Gondry and a bunch more. I knew I wanted to be in advertising production. And I still have the magazine!

A moment from high school or college that changed your life.

The rise of hardcore punk and being part of that community. It was a mighty convergence of powerful music, friendship and clear minds.

A visual artist or band/musician you admire.

I've always been a big fan of the works of American artist Raymond Pettibon, who came to prominence in the late-'80s though the Californian punk rock scene. His work was featured on a lot of covers such as early Black Flag albums. Lately I've been into some rising African artists such as Sungi Mlengeya, Thameur Mejri and Nombuso Dowelani. But also rising African-American artists like Jammie Holmes and Marcus Brutus and established names such as Nina Chanel Abney, Derrick Adams and Kerry James Marshall.

Last year, we worked on a docu-series for Martell Cognac and one of the featured talents was Atlanta based artist Fahamu Pecou. Which was an honor as his work is truly inspiring.

A book, movie, TV show or podcast you recently found inspiring.    

An old client/friend of mine, Peter Ampe, currently CCO of Grey in Brussels, just released a book called Abnormaal Goed (Abnormally Good) on neurodiversity. It’s the first book in Dutch I've read in 10+ years. And as someone with a massive case of ADHD, I found it quite interesting.

Your favorite fictional character.

Not sure why but for some reason today it's going to be Joseph Cornelius aka Bruce Willis in The Last Boy Scout. Tomorrow likely Jerry Maguire.

Someone or something worth following in social media.

@hypempire and @mitchelelsen, obviously.

How Covid-19 changed your life, personally or professionally.  

I was able to connect and reconnect with a lot of people on all levels so I think I had more calls during that period than ever. I also rediscovered my wife.

One of your favorite creative projects you've ever worked on. 

Too many to mention but one that I believe still stands out was a TVC I produced many years ago when I was still in Belgium. For a rather controversial client that wanted to open a discussion about nuclear energy. The agency was Saatchi & Saatchi Brussels with the amazing Canadian directors Felix & Paul. Shot over two insanely long days in Montreal.

A recent project you're proud of.   

Last year we produced an anthemic campaign for AT&T with Wasserman, featuring many athletes and shot over a handful of days in various places across the U.S. Not only was it a fun project creatively, but from a collaborative POV I worked closely with former Wasserman ECD Joel Brendon. We became great friends throughout the process. But also from a production POV, given the nature of the campaign, we pushed to work with a female crew across the board—from director to producers, DPs and beyond. It is possible and it should happen a lot more!

Someone else's work that inspired you years ago.  

So many to mention! But I’ll go with 3 classics: Philips' "Carousel" by Adam Berg, Sony "Balls" by Nicolai Fuglsig and Canal+ ‘The Bear’ by Matthijs Van Heijningen.

Someone else's work you admired lately.

Again, quite a lot! But the Michelob Ultra "McEnroe vs. McEnroe" campaign by FCB N.Y. was different. Loved it.

Your main strength as a creative person.

Relentless enthusiasm and passionate excitement.

Your biggest weakness.    

Relentless enthusiasm and passionate excitement.

One thing that always makes you happy.

Good food, excellent red wine and great company. That's three things, but they belong together. 

One thing that always makes you sad.

Arrogance, ignorance and hypocrisy. Life's too short.

What you'd be doing if you weren't in advertising.

Either the shortest NBA basketball player in history or more likely trying to produce wine in Italy while eating pasta. I actually am a co-owner of Canvino, together with a handful of other folks like the great Chris Carrabba from Dashboard Confessional. Like the name says, it's bottle-quality Californian wine in a can.

2 Minutes With is our regular interview series where we chat with creatives about their backgrounds, creative inspirations, work they admire and more. For more about 2 Minutes With, or to be considered for the series, please get in touch.

Jessica MacAulay
Jessica MacAulay is a contributor for Muse by Clio. She's also a recent graduate of the University of Colorado Boulder's College of Media, Communication, and Information.

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