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12th March 2014
Girls, grime and pop
Title of film: Dot Rotten, TBRA
Director: Carly Cussen
Park Village / Able & Baker's Carly Cussen talks about her career from Pinewood Studios runner to star director of cool music videos

Your work has progressively moved from low-budget grime videos to slick pop promos. How would you describe your music video evolution as a director and what were the key moments?

I think that a lot of my Grime videos represent my surrealism side. I really wanted to flip the stereotype on its head, or in some cases, take it too its extreme. I explored ideas that don’t usually marry with “Grime”, for example turning rap artists into aliens, or soldiers, or even into the four elements. A lot of my previous work was very heavily story led or themed. 
But inside somewhere I’m still a girl so I have a side that wants to create things that are pink and pretty haha.

When the Little Mix opportunity came up, I was in my element. Girls, make-up, clothes, dancing… and most of all creating something that represented more the videos I grew up watching. The 90′s lol…that was my turning point.

Taking what I suppose is a considerably low budget in pop and creating something really cool. The budget then slowly gave me freedom to design and create my own sets. Working with a genre that feels a little more light hearted and fun. But believe it or not some of my favourite work is when I have no money and a clean palette to go wild. I enjoy doing things that people don’t expect me to be able to do.

You began work as a 16 year old runner at Pinewood Studios. How did you learn the ropes to direct your own films?

I was that annoying runner who asks every question under the sun haha. But I think my story of self teaching started way before. Unfortunately I don’t come from a particularly privileged background. I went to a school where being a film director was a fantasy and back ten years ago there were no media or film courses.

I was told to look at options like nursing, but I wasn’t going to be Peter Jackson learning first aid, so I took myself off to W H Smith and bought a book similar to the knowledge. I wrote to every company I could find and asked to make tea. Finally ‘Pagan’ came back with a job down at Pinewood. I knew there was nothing I could learn in school so I took a little gamble and left. I had I think three GCSE’s and knew that if I didn’t teach myself and succeed I would have nothing to fall back on. So I worked, and worked hard.
At 17 my Nan bought me a camera and I taught myself to edit. Creating was my escapism so I threw myself in head first…. it’s amazing where passion can take you.

Has your creative process changed much over the years? Mind you that makes it sound as if you’ve been around forever but you’re still in your 20s aren’t you?

I am yes, 26.
I don’t think that it’s changed, it’s more learning to adapt with the brief. You create something based on the style of artist. Some artists suit simple but effective performances, some suit subliminal story lines. I think at the moment I’m creating for the label rather than heading off on a “but I want to make this” idea. Sometimes it’s important to creatively cater for your clients, and then when you build the relationships and trust, you can begin to expand on your own ideas.

Do you work with bands on the narratives or do they tend to leave you to devise scripts?

I think you can judge the direction they want to take with the brief. I like working with people, you can bounce off other ideas and build as a team. I think it all boils down to the cliche saying… there’s no “I” in team. But then sometimes an artist wants you to take their song and go wild. I shot a video for Dot Rotten called TBRA, and he didn’t even know what I was shooting until he arrived on the day ahaha, and he now says it’s his best video. 
A lot of your work is performance driven. Does creating a narrative-led film interest you?

Most definitely. I think my big ideas are all stories in their own ways. I love to revisit childhood, the fears, the dreams and aspirations you have as a child are so much more raw. Sometimes it takes going back 20 years to realise what’s effective now. Even as an adult our most significant memories are always childhood. I think I even wrote my best stories when I was ten ahahha, I’m sure one day it will be those ones that I’ll end up telling.

Would you like to shoot commercials or other genres other than music videos?

Of course. I’m big into fantasy and surrealism, but these ideas don’t always marry well with the modern world of music, particularly pop, but there are millions of commercials that have the scope to run free on imagination. I also love the idea of playing with shock factor and experimenting with extreme beauty. There are so many genres inside of commercials it’s like a directors playground, you have the license to push the ultimate boundaries.