You’ve just recently starting shooting music videos having shot commercials for some time. Usually it’s music video directors cutting their teeth on clips before they break into commercials. What was behind your decision? And what have the implications on creativity been? Is it a completely different mindset to shooting spots?
I did not go to film school, I never PA’d on sets and was never mentored by any famous directors. When I quit my job as a programmer and went to design school (Art Center in Los Angeles), my goal was to jump into the new, exciting world of motion graphics. I moved straight into commercials by designing and animating crazy worlds for companies like Motion Theory, Brand New School and Stardust. As that industry evolved over the years, I found myself in the director’s seat and realized it was were I needed to be all along.
I recently decided to try to get into directing music videos after the experience I had making a short film last year. It was the first time I had ever worked on a film project that wasn’t driven by an advertising agency and it really opened my eyes to a whole other world. In commercials, it is the director’s job to give the agency and client what they want with a script they already have, hopefully being given enough creative freedom to improve upon it and give it your own point of view. Outside of advertising, however, I discovered that I was free to write my own stories and create work that has more meaningful implications, both personally and to others. It has made me mature as a filmmaker one thousand percent. I’m sure this is obvious to everyone who did go to film school, but it was something I had never known.
I have only just shot my second music video this last weekend, and it is extremely different to me from commercials. There is no money, you have to beg and plead for favors and everyone has to do the job of a dozen people – but at the same time, everyone helping out believes in it and finds it both refreshing and rewarding. I am very fortunate to have met a lot of talented people in the commercial world who have been excited to donate their talents to these projects.
I still feel like I am cutting my teeth. I think I will feel that way my whole life. Everything is a new challenge; a chance to experiment, learn and try something I have never done before. I think if I didn’t feel this way, I would force myself to quit the industry and find somewhere else where I could have it.
Love your video Finally for Lorenzo Digrasso. How did this come about and what was the connection with Radar?
I have never had a music video rep and had no way to reach out to labels. At first, I tried to connect with some local bands through a friend who was working as a scheduler at the Brooklyn Bowl – but nothing came of it. Almost by accident I stumbled onto Radar, which gave me the access I was looking for. With 30 minutes to go until the treatment deadline, I submitted an idea and “Finally” became my first music video.
Was shooting a dance video with youngsters always an idea – do you have a notebook of concepts – or was it your reaction to the lyrics?
This particular video happened to be both. I strongly believe in having a reason behind every choice I make as a director, even if it is just a gut instinct – so I don’t apply random styles or ideas to anything. I think work like that can be beautiful, but I oftentimes find it shallow and I can’t connect with it. I looked at the core ideas underneath the lyrics – what they meant to me – and thought they married perfectly to a story I had about a girl who finds strength in just being herself.
Please tell us all about the production and shoot – what did you shoot it on, where was the location, what were the main challenges, any nightmares, how was it shooting a video when you’re use to commercial budgets?
I shot this in one extremely cold winter day in New York with a very talented DP I work with a lot on commercials. He brought his Red Epic with him along with his experience shooting videos for artists like Beyonce and Springsteen. He was fantastic. We definitely had our share of challenges. Having such a small budget meant stealing locations, having an almost nonexistent crew and no time. We ended up having to just reference my shot list and get all the coverage we could get in a small window of time – racing against the sun setting at 4:30pm and any security guards who might kick us out of the park at any second. I do admit, it would be nice to work on music videos with commercial budgets – but there is also something fun about guerrilla filmmaking too.
The casting is so spot on, where did you find the girl?
Oona had come into a casting session that I had for a series of commercials I was directing where I needed a young girl to dance. She came in with thick glasses, messy hair and a knit rainbow dress. She looked pretty nerdy, but she came in and danced her heart out. I instantly fell in love with how confident and free she was. She reminded me of a tiny Susan Boyle. I fought for her to get the commercial job, but the client didn’t think she had the right look for their brand. I held on to her audition tape anyway, vowing to work with her on something in the future. This video was perfect. I was scared at first when speaking with her manager, as she had just been cast as the lead in the Broadway musical, Matilda – but Oona and her parents loved the video concept and decided to go for it.
This quote from Joseph Campbell is resonant. Was this the driving influence behind your short film, Poetica?(See film in Related Content
“People say that what we’re all seeking is a meaning for life. I don’t think that’s what we’re really seeking. I think that what we’re seeking is an experience of being alive, so that our life experiences on the purely physical plane will have resonances within our own innermost being and reality, so that we actually feel the rapture of being alive.” – Joseph Campbell
I had gathered a few friends and we wrote five short film screenplays in the course of two months. We had some fun stories, but nothing really felt right to produce at the time. I had just recently moved to New York and, to me, I really feel a sense of community here that I didn’t feel when I was living in Los Angeles. I feel connected and wanted to find a way to tell the story of that connection. I had originally set out to tell this story of human connection through a short documentary about the passion that all “artists” seem to share – but after finding this quote from the brilliant Mr. Campbell, I realized that it was so much more. It really made me look at everything from a completely different perspective.
You’ve recently set up a collective called Poetica too. Please tell us about that. Are you currently signed to any production companies?
I had stopped directing with 1stAveMachine right when I was moving to New York and was looking for a new place to hang my hat. jumP, a fantastic editorial company here asked me to come in and help transform a vfx company they own into a full production-through-completion studio. I renamed the company, Poetica, as I felt that name carried the essence of what I am interested in as a director and my vision of what I wanted the company to be – In ancient Greek it literally means, “making.” As artists, this is what we do. It also happens to be the title of a book written by Aristotle which is the earliest surviving work of dramatic theory – it explains how to tell a story.
I am currently repped by Poetica in the US for commercials. If anyone out there is reading, I would love to find a production company here for music videos as well as a prod co. overseas to work with on vids, spots, etc.