Tell us about Crowns and Owls – who are you what are you where are you and why haven’t you been on our radar before now?
So, Crowns & Owls is a directing collective made of three individuals, Thomas Harrison, James-Alexander Adair and Rory Martinez. We met through skateboarding while at university and that common interest lead us to start working on projects together. At the minute we’re based in Leeds. We studied up here and the city has been good to us, we’ve got a great little hub of contacts going on and the locations of rural Yorkshire on our doorstep.
How do you work as a collective?
We’re made up of a director (Thomas) a producer (Rory) and a DOP (James) although these roles are a little nebulous as we try to cover everything from preproduction through to delivery between the three of us. We’re all involved in the writing process, physically producing our own shoots, the shoot itself, edit, grade…everything. We tried to make ourselves a one-stop shop and It’s a pretty even division of effort. I guess we mainly adhere to those crew roles when we’re physically on set, but there’s still leeway here and there.
As we said earlier, we have a great crew of people up here who help us, particularly on set so that we don’t have complete meltdowns. We’ve come close a few times in the past. Last year, we were shooting a few miles off the East Yorkshire coast, in the North Sea in January… the water there was two degrees and we just looked at each other and thought “We’ve lost our shit!”. This was confirmed when an actor puked all over Tom because he was so cold. It was floating everywhere.
Tell us about your latest video, More Bad Celebrity Poetry for Jarbird.
So we shot this video on a sub 2k budget. It was written around the lead actor, Frank Ryan, we’d used him for a small part in a promo that we shot a year before and had been waiting to cast him as the lead in something. He has a great face!
The bedroom scene was shot in the band’s living room, which we worked on for a fortnight to pull around into a set that looked the part. We were pulling the carpets up, sanding the floors…real Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen style.
The three-day shoot was pretty smooth, albeit a few funny moments. Frank declined to mention that he suffered from immense vertigo until we had to shoot the final reveal (the extreme wide) on the edge of the cliff. He was adamant he wanted to do it. We had to tie a rope around his waist because we weren’t convinced, Tom’s actually lying down a few feet away in the shot holding that rope. Another fun fact – the feet in the final shot belong to Rory, pulling himself up on a scaffolding bar clamped between two C-stands.
The band are good friends of ours, and this was a completely open brief. The track changed several times during their recording process, so we were constantly shaping our concept to fit with the track. We actually only got the final mix the night before the shoot and it was very different from the previous. There was a section towards the end that was like 8 bars long, so we came up with the idea of the super long shot that we have before our reveal. We weren’t really sure if it was going to work, and that’s not a position we ever really find ourselves in. Funnily enough, it actually turned out to be one of our favourite shots in the promo. This was the first time we had tried to deal with an emotional narrative and we hope it’s a story people can ultimately relate to.
So are you repped in the UK now?
We are! We were signed to White Lodge and Colonel Blimp in March, through a funny little chain of events.
James: We stumbled on White Lodge’s site one lunch time in our studio and we really love some of the directors represented – Andrew Thomas Huang, Alex Turvey…these guys were doing stuff we’d watched in the past and we thought “that’s where we want to be!” So we sent them an email, we just wanted to let somebody know “we’re up here and we’re making stuff!” I sent White Lodge’s executive producer Stephen Whelan a link to a John Smedley piece we’re releasing at the end of this month then left the studio to go home. Between the door and my car I got a call from Stephen asking if I could come to London for a chat. I didn’t really know what to expect. We had our initial meeting later that week and a week later all three of us went back and signed there and then. Stephen told us that it’s the only time he’s ever called an unsigned director on the basis of an email, which is massively flattering!
If you’re with White Lodge for fashion projects then does that give some hint as to what’s to come next?
Well we’ve got two projects in the works at the minute. There’s a promo for John Smedley that we’re really happy with that’s been pending release for quite some time now, but is finally due out at the end of this month. We’ve also just shot a film campaign for Ted Baker for SS14 which is now in post.
How did you find working with a big fashion label like Ted Baker in comparison to the more intimate or self-initiated projects you’ve undertaken as a team to date?
It was such a fun project to work on. We were asked to design a concept based around the location that Ted Baker had picked for their stills campaign. There’s two really distinct divisions of the brand within their actual ranges, and so we had to essentially design two narratives and then work out a bridge between them. It was like a game of connect the dots.
The location was quite small, but the film had to have quite a kinetic flow in order to remain dynamic while the looks are perpetually changing, it was something really new and refreshing for us. In comparison to our previous endeavors, it felt amazing to operate within a fully functioning crew and really focus on what we wanted to capture without trying to juggle so many roles like we have in the past.
We were essentially sharing the set and the models with the stills photographer and her crew, so we had to ensure we were fairly invisible and were using the windows of time between the still shots to get our coverage.
What sorts of projects would you like to sink your teeth into next?
Fashion seems to be in a really interesting place at the minute. As skateboarders and being part of the culture that surrounds it, we can’t help but notice streetwear starting to fuse with high fashion and the surge of attention to menswear over the past few years. There seems to be a level of synonymy forming. Maybe that’s because skateboarding is just cool again? Either way, we’ve watched it develop and we’re very much a part of it and that world feels natural to us.
Music video is another massive part of our ambition, and has formed the main cornerstone in what we’ve made so far. We’re really keen to carry on exploring narrative elements. We have so many scripts and ideas, we’re just excited to see which artists would like to work with us on them!