Looking through your reel of films your style becomes more graphic and minimal – perhaps shot in a studio rather than on location. How do you see your own style changing?
I definitely have gone through a phase of doing a lot of studio based work. Part of the reason is that when I’m in the middle of one job, I often discover something I want to try out or develop on the next one. I’m quite laid back about one project linking to the next like this. So A to B might be a straightforward progression, so long as by the time you get to E you’re somewhere totally different.
So there were a few things I was interested in exploring that were suited to certain types of shoots, but now I’ve found my interests leading me out of the studio again.
You do your own VFX – did you work in this field or are you self-taught?
I’m self taught and still self-teaching. I originally studied architecture – after I realised that wasn’t for me, I set about trying to learn to become a ‘filmmaker’ by making some very low-budget short films and music videos, one-man-band style. I started learning VFX so that I could be more ambitious and imaginative with the kind of ideas I was able to make, but before long I found that a lot of new ideas came out of the learning itself.
So I’m making a conscious effort to step up my VFX skills again at the moment – I’m excited to see what new ideas it will open up.
How would you describe your creative process?
There are usually a few technical ideas swirling around in the back of mind, but whenever I approach a new music video, I try to put that aside, and start off with a feeling – some kind of response to the track. This isn’t necessarily emotional – sometimes it’s more like: “gentle waggling movement, with sincerity.” Then more solid ideas and images form out of this vague feeling.
Because I have a very DIY background, I always think about how I will achieve my ideas practically, but I find more and more that it’s best not to put the practical hat on too soon, or the good ideas will run away.
So I start with very fuzzy feeling based thinking. Then actual ideas that could be music videos. Then I think practically about how I could potentially achieve these ideas (this is where VFX can come in), which inevitably involves changing them. As I change my ideas, I refer back to the initial fuzzy thinking, to see if the new thing still fits the feeling.
(This is a best case scenario. Worst case involves Pinterest.)
We particularly love your latest for Belle & Sebastien – what were the main challenges of making this?
That one was a collaboration between myself and Oscar Sansom – hopefully the first of many happy and harmonious co-directions!
We both were looking for a project where we could combine DIY graft with polished craft. The band put a lot of trust in us, and we worked like dogs. The shoot was very fun – the post was less fun.
In answer to your question the biggest challenge was the post workflow. The building is a 18000×18000 pixel photomerge. I was already quite far along the process before I realised that this makes After Effects shit the bed.
You’ve been focussing on music videos – would you like to move into commercials and branded content?
I have done the odd commercial, but nothing major. I would definitely enjoy the freedoms of working with bigger budgets, and being able to realise more ambitious ideas. Ultimately though, I want to tell my own stories, so figuring out how to do that is a priority right now.
What are you currently working on?
I’m finishing post on a short film I made last year with some friends. It has taken me faaaar too long to finish. It’s called Mould, and it’s about a teenage boy who develops a psychic connection with the mould he secretly cultivates in his bedroom. We totally destroyed a house with expandable-foam based practical effects while making it.
Please describe your childhood – was it particularly a creative environment?
I grew up in a small town near Edinburgh. I don’t think either of my parents would describe themselves as particularly creative, but they’ve always been very supportive and encouraging. They’re Irish. My brother is a musical virtuoso. Neither of us have ever had a proper job.
Belle & Sebastian, Poor Boy
Co-directed by Ciaran Lyons and Oscar Sansom
Produced by Beth Allan, Forest of Black.
Director of Photography – David Liddell
Art Director – Cara Roxburgh
Make-Up – Debbie Black
Costume – Flore De Hoog
Lighting Electrician – Dan Filmer
Art Department Assist – Kirstin Rodger
Runners – Marie Lidén & Ansley Bowman