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8th November 2012
New wave
Title of film: Dark side of the Lens
Director: Mickey Smith
Mickey Smith talks about the lure of the sea in his powerful music videos for Ben Howard

The sea plays a key part in your films, please tell us where your strong relationship with the ocean stems from?

Well there’s a sprinkle of salt in my blood and bones that could play a part, but growing up in West Cornwall it’s really just natural to be influenced by the elements and especially the ocean. I guess it’s the most exciting immediate environment you have to engage with and find adventure amongst.

What kind of landscape do you live in now?

I now live on the West coast of Ireland, in County Clare. It’s a stunning, bleak, rugged, powerful place, full of raw energy and inspiration. I love it, feel so lucky to wake up and exist there.

You have an ongoing creative relationship with Ben Howard. Where is the starting point for your videos? How closely do you collaborate with the band or do they give you complete creative freedom?

Ben and the whole crew are a tight family unit. It’s been a real blessing getting to hang out with them these last few years as their wild ride continues to unfold.

With the visuals, originally, we were just good mates having good fun and getting a little creative. Myself, Ben, Owain Davies, Allan Wilson and Owen Tozer worked together a lot with Rivie Verran and the whole crew from Astray Films, such good times.

As things have escalated with Ben’s music, our role with the visuals has become more about bringing his ideas to life as best we can, keeping the vibe right and making sure Ben feels solid in anything created for him. We all work closely together and collaborate in different ways as a result. It can be a challenge, like anything, but it’s always positive.

Ben is an inspiring cat, so many great ideas buzzing round his head. I guess I just try to find one that resonates, and then go about creating the best possible film / photograph / tour visual we can within whatever wild constraints we find ourselves currently facing. There’s usually a lot of insane last minute scrambling, but always a lot of laughs at the end of the day.

You experiment with different camera techniques and have a beautiful eye for framing. Do you operate the camera yourself or do you collaborate with a cinematographer?

Thank you. I am essentially a cameraperson through and through, always have been. I run a camera myself on each job and I still enjoy every minute of it. I love to collaborate with Allan Wilson as much as I can; he has such an incredible eye. I can’t sing his praises highly enough.

We tend to split the DOP role together on jobs and it works well, as one can handle the necessaries while the other can be tripping out on more abstract work. I also try and work with Richard Stewart as much as I can, what an inspiration he’s been, amazing.

We have also built up a tight unit of camera assistants who are all incredible operators in their own right, so it’s definitely a solid team effort on each film.

What’s your favourite camera and lens for filming the sea?

Ah, it’s tough to call that one, there are so many different moods and looks for the endless sea. If I had to though the most frustrating, yet equally the most satisfying, and fun is my old Milliken Super 16 rig. An absolute nightmare to load, it burns through a roll at 400fps in the blink of an eye and you essentially have to shoot blind, but there’s always something quirky and special when you get those rolls back.

When did you first realise you wanted to direct?

I think maybe it just happened naturally to be honest. I’ve been through hard times and also times where I’ve enjoyed a lot of luck in my life. Through all that I learnt to work hard, enjoy it, never take anything for granted, and I guess that’s inevitably made me stronger in my convictions. Most things in my life have been brought about through instinct more than from fixed plans.

As a DOP, I’m well used to getting stuck in and adapting as things unfold to bring projects to life, so perhaps it’s developed from there. Either way, as a person I love the challenge of running with ideas and bringing them to life. Whether it’s with visuals, words or music, getting to go full circle and visualise the journey ahead is something that lights me up.

Are you self-taught or did you go to film school?

I’m completely self-taught as far as a classroom environment goes, but I’ve been lucky enough to learn from some great characters over the years.