Your films, especially Run This for Thugli and The Gates for Young Empires, are epic in their multi-layered narratives and visual attention to detail. What is your process for evolving ideas – do you sketch or write words? Do you keep notebooks or work on a computer?
The story for Thugli ‘Run This’ was originally written by Ohji Inoue, and I thought it was cool. These days we were hustling and submitting multiple grants at a time and crossing our fingers that something would land. It was originally a simple story of police corruption, but it evolved once we received the grant. I knew we had to make it special. After about three days of walking around Toronto and listening to the song over and over again, the unique part of it hit me very suddenly. I called Ohji immediately and told him “the main police officer has to be black” and we went from there. I searched through YouTube videos of things like, Police peddling their rap album, and cops partaking in a freestyle battle… And the persona of the main character grew from there.
You not only direct but also edit your work – were you trained as an editor or self-taught? What is your background that led you to directing?
I guess I made my first steps into film-making at a very early age. As a kid around 10 years-old, I loved to edit skate videos with my friends and I would film local bands… I would rent out all my schools cameras to get multi-angle live performances. As a teenager I spent A LOT of time skating, filming shows, and editing at school or at home. By 21, I had worked on hundreds of projects, everything from production assistant to cinematographer while also occasionally attending class at Sheridan College for Media Arts. After graduating at 22, I focused on becoming a full time director.
Why was it important for you to re-cut The Gates for the Young Empires?
There is the addition of the Intro, now including a transcribed bible scripture in Italian, and in the original we were only able to capture time lapses for four days without much variation in weather conditions. The next cut included a large variation, captured over eight months. That was really important to me, it’s hard to walk away from something when you know it could be improved even just a little bit.
You seem comfortable shooting underwater scenes. Do you have a natural affinity with water?
I actually have a fear of open water. I’m completely fine shooting in pools, but for The Gates we had to go about six miles out in Key Largo in Florida to a reef that had this Christ of the Abyss replica statue (the original is in the Mediterranean near Italy). I didn’t plan on actually getting in the water, but the boat had to anchor about 80ft from the statue. So in the end I had to get in and we then shot for about five hours.
Your locations are very distinctive. Do you write your narratives with a clear idea where they are set – are the characters born out of worlds you already know – or do you write and then go location scouting?
For Thugli, the character in mind was an American cop. We shot in Ontario in Hamilton and Toronto in places we thought looked like American suburbia. For the Gates I actually pitched one idea and then changed it completely due to my surroundings, which was California at the time. Which of course is experiencing extreme drought.
Exploring religious faiths is a theme that runs through some of your work. What is it that intrigues you about this?
It isn’t faith that intrigues me, but people and their environment. With The Gates in particular, the people affected most are rural farmers and the Texas religion plays an extremely strong role in their lives, including when it comes to drought.
The performances in all of your films feel very natural – do you cast non-actors or professionals? And what is your directing method for working with the cast?
Thank you! I have worked with both non-actors and and professional actors and my relationship with them doesn’t change much. My expectations are different for professional actors, you can expect that they are able to take notes and deliver a convincing performance. For street talent characters, I you can just hope they bring to set what inspired you to cast them in the first place, what they naturally possess.
What’s your personal criteria for deciding to direct a music video – time, budget, creative freedom?
I try to come up with the best creative regardless of the budget, which definitely becomes a huge hurdle when the time comes to to shoot. The only criteria is it cannot be boring.
To what extent do you collaborate with the bands in making the films?
I’ve only collaborated with Autoerotique. I gave them a couple of ideas I thought were smart, and after being shut down, I finally suggested “How about sexy dodge ball?” And they said “genius”!
Looks like you enjoyed making Autoerotique! Or was it a challenge?
As one of my very first videos, it was a huge challenge and budget stretch. It was like casting the Spice Girls, but some had to be able to do gymnastic flips. I held casting sessions over four weeks before we finally assembled the teams. I learned a lot on that set, like where to place my priorities, the value of time on set, and to have flexibility in the original vision that will benefit the end result.
Now that you have signed globally to The Sweet Shop how do you see your directing career evolving?
I’m looking forward to writing in commercial markets other than North America, right now I’m shooting a campaign across Asia, in countries and cities I’ve never even been to. Thats exciting. And I’m grateful to be working with some incredible artists on music videos that I have in the works.