A walk into Grupa 13’s history, artistic vision, and video production work with Behemoth.
Grupa 13 was formed in the year 2000 based in the city of Wroclaw, Poland; how did all of this begin, and who are the partners and what was their background?
We started with punk rock videos for some local bands and some shorts/independent movies. The first music video ever was the one for Darek’s punk rock band HURT. Later we started making hip-hop videos, and we become famous as a video production group in this genre.
What was the main concept behind forming Grupa 13, and how does the company’s artistic vision nowadays vary compared to how it was when formed?
(Darek): I always wanted to make music videos. That is why I decided to go to a local film school. Most of my school works – etude mostly – were in music video aesthetics.
What did Grupa 13 offer when started, and what does it offer now?
Early years were more like good fun. Back in the days, there wasn’t so much professional equipment, easy to get like it is nowadays. We were using analogue BetacamSP camcorders or DV handheld cameras with standard optics.
Nevertheless, we were always trying to achieve outstanding colours, image quality, and “film look.” The productions from the US always inspired us.
Now we can use the high-end equipment, rent big tv studios, we have a talented crew so we can design and create props, costumes, scenography, or complicated SFX on set.
Talk to us about the owners/partners and their artistic background.
Grupa13 is a Production House established in 2000 by two brothers Darek & Rafal Szermanowicz.
(Darek): I was studying in a local Film School (Master shot Film School in Wroclaw), so my first videos were shorts. I was shooting short storylines with music, for example, Beastie Boys. The very first music video was Hurt “Nienowoczesność” for a local punk band where I was a guitar player as well.
(Rafal): I joined Darek just after I graduated high school. I invested some savings and bought our first video editing PC. In early 2000, this was a pricey thing. And this is how it started.
Darek is responsible for all of the artistic things like scriptwriting, directing, and creation. I’m in charge of the production part: budgeting, production management, financials, etc.
How did you as individuals contribute to improving Grupa 13 reputation and brand all over the years?
(Darek): From the beginning, we always wanted to make the best video we can. Even without sophisticated equipment, big crew, or a decent budget, we tried to astonish the viewers with our creativity. The most rewarding is the fact that most of the bands are coming back for another music video, photoshoots, live DVD’s, for example, Amon Amarth, Kreator, Behemoth, to name a few.
(Rafal): Also, extremely rewarding is the fact you can work with such great bands, you can hang out with them, share some ideas and thoughts, and you have a visible contribution to their work. I guess we made it.
Grupa 13 has directed several official videos for artists signed up with giant record labels, such as Metal Blade USA, Century Media, Nuclear Blast among others. How did all of this take place?
(Darek): I would say hard work pays off. For over 20 years, we always do as much as we can to provide the best possible quality. I think this is the sum of elements: professionalism during the whole production process, the mood on the set, and the final result. That is why such great labels trust us, and they keep coming back with new artists.
How does the communication with the artist/label take place, and how did the operation improve throughout time since you started Grupa 13?
(Rafal): We usually communicate through the e-mails but everything depends on the artist. Some of them have their ideas, concepts, rough scripts. So we developed them together. Some of the artists give us a free hand, they trust us, so the whole idea comes from us.
The most important is the mood of the song; we are listening to it many times. First ideas and images come up. We are looking for the concept for the clip.
If you were to name labels that Grupa 13 would like to work with, what would these be and why?
Over the years, we have worked with the biggest music labels worldwide, but this is such a big industry that we would love to work with more and more. We can not give you specific names at this moment.
How did your roster of artists look like back in the year 2000 when Grupa 13 was found? And what services did you offer artists at that time?
The first collaborations were the one with hip-hop artists. Our videos in early 2000-2002 became very popular in Poland, so we started making more and more. We were very recognizable as hip-hop video makers, and we worked with almost every famous rap artist in Poland back in the days.
The 2nd step was our first video for Behemoth “At The Left Hand ov God”, this was the beginning of our metal adventure. Services haven’t changed so much. From the beginning, we were full-service production house: from the idea/development through the whole pre-production, production, and post-production processes till the final product.
Grupa 13 works with lots of musicians from everywhere in the world, mainly Poland and Europe – How did you Grupa 13 end up working with big names such as Behemoth, Decapitated, Kreator, Belphegor among others?
(Darek): I would say that the milestone video for us was “At The Left Hand ov God” for Behemoth. At the time, this video was a massive blast in the metal scene. After that, we started making more and more videos for such great bands like Amon Amarth, Kreator, Children of Bodom…
How does Grupa 13 team handle the production process, from artist meeting to onscreen broadcasting?
(Rafal): Two to four weeks for the development: script, scouting, production coordination.
One to two days for the shoot and about two to four weeks for the post-production. Usually, we are fixing everything via e-mails and meet the band on set.
It seems that Grupa 13 has a very long history working with the Polish giants Behemoth and Adam Darski, possibly since the birth of Grupa 13 – How did this relationship nurture through the years?
(Darek): After so many years and so many amazing productions we did together with Behemoth, we have some particular, unique relationship between us. But it took us a few years to get where we at now. It was a long but inspiring process, I think. Currently, this is not only a business relationship, but we became friends as well.
What is a Behemoth official video that has been directed by Grupa 13 and is so dear to the company’s working crew? And why?
Hard to pick only the one. There are videos like “O Father! O Satan! O Sun!“, “Bartzabel“, “Blow Your Trumpets Gabriel” which are very important for us because of mood and emotions. Maybe these videos are simple in terms of production: no complicated SFX or VFX, modest, but the meaning, impression, strong visuals make them so unique and essential to us.
On the other hand, there are epic Behemoth videos like “God=Dog“, “Ov Fire and The Void” (Check the making videos here 1 & 2, “At The Left Hand ov God“, “Sabbath Mather” – very cinematic, incredibly complex in the scale of the production, amount of actors, costumes, props, etc.
Each video is a bunch of good memories.
Has Grupa 13 ever been under fire for its daring production and explicitly provocative visuals by any type of media in Poland or internationally?
(Darek): I don’t think we ever had any problems because of our videos. Most of them are brutal, explicit, controversial, but in our opinion, it is still a piece of art.
(Rafal): It is not just a coarse, cheap sensation. If we decide to use such a visually strong content, it is always for a reason not only to get extra views.
How is it to work with Behemoth, Decapitated and possibly other Polish bands compared to non-polish bands that exist outside the country? What are possible obstacles you face while communication with bands in general?
We do not see any differences — the same level of professionalism during the whole production process. Of course, it is always more comfortable if you talk and think in the same language.
If you would write a wish-list for bands that Grupa 13 would like to work with, what bands would this list feature?
(Darek): It would be a long list. For sure, I’d love to have a chance to work with the legends, the bands I used to like, or I’m still a big fan: Carcass, Paradise Lost, Metallica, Megadeth.
What future artistic development is Grupa 13 considering to adopt in the future?
(Darek): We want to evolve regularly. Our biggest dream is to produce a full feature movie, a horror one to be precise. I don’t want to spoil too much, but we are currently developing a script. Of course, the whole idea includes everything we like: metal music and some famous heavy metal icons…
Would Grupa 13 consider growing to become a full music label at one point in the future?
I think we will stick with the video-film industry because we know how to do it. But, we are thinking about expanding our services into full-service, artists’ image creators.
What does it mean? We can design & produce the band’s or artist’s image from scratch. Three years ago, we did something like that with our business partners.
We’ve helped to create a neofolk band; Tulia – here in Poland. It turned out into success because of the group after two years went to the Eurovision contest in Israel. We were responsible for the band’s image, videos, photoshoot, artbook.
What production houses would you think might be your competitors in the near future?
Competition is always a good thing. At this moment, it is hard for me to pick any names. In my opinion, there is enough space for everyone in the market.