A Conversation with Mate Steinforth

Recently we’ve seen more and more of Sehsucht, and with good reason: they’ve steadily been building steam through the years, and it’s culminating in some brilliant work.

A few of us at Motionographer were curious about how Sehsucht’s Berlin office came about. So we struck up a conversation with Mate Steinforth to learn about his experience moving back to Germany to get Sehsucht Berlin up and running after years of living in New York working as a director at PSYOP.

Tell us about how Sehsucht Berlin first came about.

When I was still in New York, a couple of things started to develop. First and foremost, my wife wanted to move back to Germany, secondly I wanted to be closer to my family again, and last but not least I started talking to Sehsucht.

When they contacted me, I told them that I loved working at PSYOP and that if I would come back to Germany I’d much prefer Berlin over Hamburg, where they were solely based at the time. I jumped at the occasion when they said that Berlin was an interesting option for them.

So I moved back to Germany and started working with them in Hamburg to get to know everyone, immerse myself in the culture of the studio and also the culture of the German advertising industry.

Can you tell us about your experience setting up Sehsucht Berlin?

After about half a year working at Sehsucht Hamburg and quite some time searching for an office, we were able to set up shop in Berlin in the end of 2009.

We really hit the ground running beginning in 2010 with a couple of pretty big projects, which was great from a financial point of view. Usually, you would expect at least a couple of months time until a new business venture turns a profit. Because we were still very small in the beginning and because we could win some decent projects we were able to work very effectively from an economic standpoint from the start.

What was it like to get a new office rolling whilst producing great work?

Although Sehsucht has a great name in Germany and hopefully internationally, there was a bit of a difference in terms of the day to day projects happening compared to PSYOP. Most of the projects we did in 2010 were technically solid but not as creatively fulfilling as I would’ve liked them to be.

Luckily, in the end of 2010 we did a project for the German launch of Google Streetview, which turned out nice. It started out as an internet film for Germany viewers only, but because people liked it, it started running in cinemas and on TV in a few different countries, if I’m not mistaken.

In 2011, we were able to work on several very interesting projects, including Red Bull, Vorwerk and MTV Close & Caring. There really does seem to be a balance between money and creativity. The more interesting projects usually have less budget than the more technical ones. From a studio’s perspective the challenge is to strike a balance between the two to keep things running.

Tell us a bit about your work/life balance.

We have been extremely lucky to be able to keep the work/life balance in check, more or less. Especially compared to the US, we have very reasonable working hours. That isn’t to say that we don’t have that stretch a week or two before a delivery when we work late hours or weekends. Just not as frequently and especially not as taken for granted. We really try to keep hours reasonable as much as possible.

You’ve recently become a father. Can you talk a little bit about how this has affected your professional life?

Becoming a parent is probably one of the most drastic changes someone can have in their lives. I personally can’t even answer what it changes, as things are just so immediate with little babies — every day is different.

It does take a lot of time, of course, so you hardly have any free time anymore to just relax and zone out. Nowadays, I try to get away from work early to support my wife and take care of our daughter at least a couple of hours every day. Then I fall into bed around 10pm pretty much dead. That repeats daily.

What I’ve heard a lot is that having kids makes you structure your time a lot better and makes you use it a lot better. I think this is probably true. You just don’t have any time to procrastinate.

Is there anything you miss about being in New York?

What I really liked about living and working in New York was the vast amount of opportunities to meet fellow artists. Every day there’s an open studio, a gallery opening, some DVD screenings, some rooftop film festivals and what have you.

This always had a great effect for me. Even working at the perfect place, which PSYOP was for me at that time, work will get on your nerves eventually. All the daily routine, annoying changes and late hours will wear you down. Talking to someone from another studio who shared the same experiences helped me put that into perspective. On the other hand, if I talked to someone who just had a great project going on, it gave me something to aspire to.

Coming back to Berlin, I realized that the city needs something like this, at least for our field. There are a lot of really talented and inspiring artists in Berlin but unfortunately they’re not very connected. I wanted to establish a regular meet & greet style event just like James & Thiago’s great See No Evil in London.

Unfortunately, this didn’t happen for the whole first year in Berlin, because I was too busy. So on a very informal pub crawl I met Andreas Fischer who had the same idea of a Motion Graphics Meeting in mind. We teamed up, and out came FAUX IMAGES.

Over the period of the first year that shot up to over 200 attendees for the last two events. It was much more successful than we expected; apparently the time was ripe for the idea.

Don’t forget to check out the Making-of video