Martin De Thurah is a Danish filmmaker with a brilliant mind for creating striking, dreamy visuals. He arrived on the music video scene a few years back with a video for Carpark North in which angst ridden adolescents are seen spastically dancing, tussling, and flying through the rooms of their school. His work is often characterized by moody lighting, seamless special FX, and a painters eye for detail. In addition to videos, he has spent the last several years working on a handful of film projects. In this interview, Martin De Thurah discusses his video work and cinema endeavors. His reel can be seen here. Be sure to check out his latest video for Glasvegas.  Additionally, he talks a bit about that project here.

Some people were born to do very practical things like solve mathematical equations or to put out fires and enforce the law. And then there are the others, the right brained folk. This is an on-going series of interviews with people who have chosen to spend their lives creating.

DAN SULLY is a UK-based music video director. He has become one of Europe’s most unique young voices creating promos for the likes of Elbow, Starsailor, and The Courteeners. His work recently earned top honors at the European Promax and World BDA Awards. He is represented by Flynn Productions.


Can you tell us a little about your filmmaking background. Did you have any sort of formal training?

I studied film at the University of Bournemouth, where I made a few shorts and one music video. I chose the course because it seemed to be heavy on the practical side of things - actually going out there and making stuff.  I’m pretty skeptical about formal trainings in general. I only learnt about filmmaking by making films, and obviously still learn loads with every project I do.  When I left Uni, I wanted to make films as soon as possible - I was really eager and impatient. I love music and at that time the only realistic avenue for getting any kind of budget as a young filmmaker was through record labels, so it seemed like the perfect kind of filmmaking for me to give a go. I emailed loads of labels, but eventually got a project by approaching an artist after a show. I made my first video for a record label at 21 and couldn’t believe it when it got played on MTV - that was for a UK hip hop artist called Jehst. That really spurred me on.

Are you drawn towards making visuals for particular kinds of music or acts?

Definitely. Music video directors always want to make music for their favourite bands, but it is sometimes more complicated than that. You may love an artist but may not be the best person to make them a video. I think every good director has a sensibility which can obviously match or mis-match the sensibility of an artist. I think you get the best videos when those sensibilities are in synch. I was lucky when I made the video for Howling Bells, as I consider their aesthetic to be similar to the kind of stuff I’m into. Whenever I write a treatment, I’m always trying to satisfy my own aesthetic tastes, so it can be an uphill struggle if the band’s aesthetic sensibilities rub me up the wrong way. But sometimes, if the track is right and it all clicks, I tend to drift off and have an idea of what I want to do pretty much straight away. I would love to make a video for Deftones or Interpol.  But I think I’m pretty easy to please. As long as the music has some sort of cinematic or visceral edge, I’m happy.

How did you initially come to work with Simon Raymonde’s label, Bella Union Records?

This was a fluke if I am honest. A friend of mine, David who works at MTV (where I have also worked for the past 5 years) was in touch with Simon Raymonde who explained that he was trying to look for a director to take on a low budget video for Howling Bells. David put him in touch with me and it all went from there. I was in the right place at the right time. That was my bit of luck I suppose. Making videos for Bella Union was a real privilege for me. I really respect Simon and love the label. I was so happy to be able to go on and make four videos in total for them.

What are some of the biggest influences on your creative process?

The kind of film I enjoy watching is when you can tell that it’s a talented crew - a good director and DP just bowling around shooting beautiful images in great locations with great art direction and well chosen cast etc…  I’m not as much into graphic or tricksy stuff, although I can appreciate that too. So, naturally I try to shoot the kind of videos that I like - rooted in strong art direction and good photography. I like taking an aesthetic and pushing it a little so that the film has its own identity - usually an extension of the art direction and sensibility of the band or artist. Some directors come from a graphics background, or a post background, or theatre or whatever - but I just locked myself away for years and watched films obsessively - so my first love is cinema and that has influenced what I like and how I approach videos I guess. Right now I love Roy Andersson and lots of Swedish directors actually, but recently I was also blown away by the film, The Beat That My Heart Skipped. I’d call that film a master-class in direction.

At what point did you start working with Flynn Productions and how has that changed the way you’ve been able to make videos?

Flynn got in contact after seeing the videos I did for Bella Union. At that point I was still unsigned. It was around June/July 2007. They were like ‘ok, we’ll give you a go’. It was incredibly exciting for me. I had been waiting for that moment for about five years, chugging away producing and directing low budget videos in my spare time whilst holding down a day job. Producing the videos myself around my day job was starting to turn my hair grey (literally!). I must mention that I did have some help in that time - people like Verity Wilcocks and Jules Powell stepped in and helped me when I needed it. But working with Flynn was exciting because it gave me that freedom to concentrate more of the creative side of things and I knew that Flynn was a good company. It seemed like it could be the beginnings of me starting a career making films professionally. The truth is that I started to make videos just as budgets have plummeted so it hasn’t been a walk in the park, but I am still positive for the future.

You’ve mentioned that budgets are falling. Yet in the last year, you’ve worked with some of the biggest acts on your reel, including Elbow and Starsailor. Perhaps you can take us through one of these projects. How did it come about? What was production like etc?

The Starsailor job was enjoyable because the idea came very automatically after listening to the track just a couple of times. Also, Carole the commissioner was very organized and gave me plenty of time to pre-produce and post produce the job. The only stressful aspect of it was the shoot, where I literally binned my shot-list after we started running over about four hours into the shoot. I pretty much busked the whole video from there on in, which was very stressful. But everyone involved in the shoot was great, including the band and it all came together in the edit.

Some directors are very hands on in the post process and even cut their own work. Can you tell us a little about your experience in this phase. Do you edit your own projects? How do you like the process to go? Is it a phase in which you like to discover or do you prefer to put the pieces together?

At this stage in my career I really love cutting my own videos. I tend to have a very exact idea of how each sequence in the video is going to be cut before I shoot the video, so a lot of the offline is just piecing those bits of the jigsaw back together. So far, I have cut all of my own videos apart from the video for Joe Lean and The Jing Jang Jong on which I worked really closely with Matt Nee at Flynn Post. That was a really positive experience and Matt did a great job. I recognize that there will come a time whereby, I will regularly collaborate with editors but at the moment I love that intense offline experience where you just shut yourself off in a small room for a few days and cut away until you’re happy. 

If budgets are shrinking, it must be hard to sustain a living on just videos. Are you involved in commercials or any other creative discipline?

I think nine out of every ten directors making videos today are involved in some other creative discipline. I don’t think that there is anything wrong with that per se, and it’s not impossible to make a living from videos, but you would have to be making at least one 20k video every month in order to survive in London and that kind of work rate is pretty rare. I’ve balanced making videos with working for MTV; I produce a music show called Gonzo for MTV TWO and direct some multi-camera shows and live music for MTV too (for Duffy, Glasvegas, Primal Scream etc…).  Commercial-wise, there have been a few initial rumblings about a few projects through Flynn and that is something I want to pursue.

What are some of the biggest challenges you face as a young director making videos in the UK?

Lack of time really… because whilst you try and establish yourself, you will always have to balance making videos with other work. But if you are passionate enough and hungry enough, then you will always make it work. I mean, I dedicate a lot of weekends and evenings to music videos at the moment, but I’m happy to keep grafting away for the time being. Also, low budgets mean that you have to be really creative in order to keep delivering fresh ideas.

What is your dream project to direct?

I would like to direct some raw, run-and-gun British features shot on film in London - on the streets that I see every day, featuring people like the people I know. I want to make a trilogy about Love, Work and Death… You know, nothing too big! I want to write the stories, workshop the scenes with actors and then take a small, tight crew and bowl around London shooting them. That would be my dream project right now.

Any advice or words of wisdom to other young filmmakers wanting to make video promos?

If you want to be a filmmaker just go out and make films. I know that sounds flippant, but it’s true. If you want to make videos, just go out there and shoot some music videos for anyone. Don’t worry if you don’t have any money - time is just as valuable.


View Dan Sully’s newest video for Starsailor’s single Tell Me It’s Not Over. See his other works here.

(interview continued from part 1)



Though SGF is located in LA and the roster of directors are all American, a great deal of the productions are for UK based artists and labels. How did this come to be?

When we first started the company Paul and I went to London to meet with labels and to look for a partner company or a rep. We met Alexa Haywood who was one of the first independent reps in the UK. She was repping FM Rocks, Stink. Another story that cracks me up - just before I went to London, I called Craig Fanning at FM Rocks to see if he would recommend Alexa. He basically told me that the UK market is a money pit and not to bother, again, cut to … 

Alexa is an amazing rep, she helped me build my company from nothing. Our first video was for a band named, The Glitterati. After that one British job followed the next, before we knew it we were big in Britain. For the first few years we were basically a UK music video production company in Los Angeles. USA / UK video markets are pretty different, it was difficult to crossover to American videos with UK bands on the reels. There were certain videos that we did that have worked well in both markets and we’ve used those over the years to make the transition. I’m really pleased now with the spread we have in both markets, I can’t imagine relying on just one. 

Is it a viable expectation for a director to make videos for a living?

Well, I guess that depends on how you want your DVD retrospective to look. It’s near impossible to make a living if your not willing to bend to market pressures every once in awhile. There are a handful of directors out there that can do less than hip, big budget acts and still bring some level of sophistication and artistic integrity to the project. I think Paul and Charles have been pretty successful walking that line. I would say that if your goal is to get into commercials you shouldn’t expect to make a living in videos first. With a few exceptions, I think career music video directors have a much harder time getting into commercials. To give you a better idea - I have one director out of five that makes his living off videos. 

Do you currently have any plans for feature film work or any other creative endeavors in the pipeline?

Sure, I’m actually developing a feature comedy about daytime TV actors. I’ll keep ya updated.

What projects are you most proud of and why?

I’m notoriously critical of the work that comes out of SGF. It’s really hard to make a great video, I can only count on a single hand the videos we’ve done that I think measure up. I’ve always been proud of Charles’ Duncan James video. That was a super cheesy song / artist (no offense Virgin) that was made into something much greater by the video.  Josh & Xander’s Jakob Dylan video was definitely a highlight last year. Paul’s first FFAF and Skye videos have always been dear to my heart. I was proud of Vince’s Editors video and Keith’s video for BPA wasn’t too shabby either. I have been fortunate to work with such amazing directors,  beats the hell out of rolling burritos. 

 

 

Some people were born to do very practical things like solve mathematical equations or to put out fires and enforce the law. And then there are the others, the right brained folk. This is an on-going series of interviews with people who have chosen to spend their lives creating.

JASON BOTKIN is the founder and Executive Producer of Streetgang Films, a premier music video production company that has produced work for celebrated artists ranging from Muse and Queens of the Stone Age to Jakob Dylan and Editors . He has been kind enough to take the time to discuss the business of making music promos with me as the first subject of the Creator Series.



Can you tell us a little bit about your background as a filmmaker and how you came to eventually open SGF?

Without going too far back I went to film school at Cal State Long Beach, with a concentration on directing. My senior film was in a few festivals including the Maryland Film Festival. Right after I graduated, I was offered the chance to partner with a good friend on a successful chain of Mexican restaurants in Seattle. It was just a two year commitment and I had some sizable student loans to take care of so I agreed to do it. I really enjoyed running my own business so when I returned to Los Angeles, I decided that I wanted to open up my own production company. I was attracted to the business model of commercial production - quick turnarounds on production, low office overhead and freelance labor. I got an office PA position with a commercial company named Cucoloris Films in Venice Beach. I quickly became head of production, working directly under stalwart executive producers, Linda Stewart and Bernie Wesson. After 4 years I moved out on my own and started Streetgang Films. Paul Minor was the first director, we both graduated from the same class at CSULB and had already done two videos together. It’s funny looking back at that time. I remember asking Paul just before we decided to quit our jobs if he wanted to do commercials or music videos, cut to…

How long has the company been around and what has changed since it’s inception?

The company started in 2003. The first few years were a wild ride for sure. Coming from a directing background I tended to EP more for the art and less for the business. We were eager to build the reels and to get noticed by commissioners. I don’t think we made our fees on a single job for the first year. I tried to keep my overhead low by doing all the office / accounting / vault work myself in my living room. We certainly had some rough spots, but somehow we always managed to squeak by. Eventually, it just started getting easier. I think production is really about longevity, it’s about being around long enough to prove to everyone that you’ve learned your lessons. We eventually passed a threshold a couple of years ago where the business was sustainable. Once I was able to secure the business financially it enabled me to find that balance as an executive producer between art & commerce. An EP from another company told me last year that my roster is known in the industry as a group of artists. As we were talking about money, he didn’t intend that as a compliment. I certainly could be rolling deeper but I’m proud that I’ve kept the doors open without the support of a commercial division while maintaining that kind brand identity.

How has the music video industry changed since you’ve been involved with it and where do you see it going?

Streetgang started in the salad days of music videos. I’ve never known the gilded age that everyone talks about. My whole business plan was about being a smaller, scrappier company that can survive in this type of environment. Admittedly, I have said a few times that things can’t get any worse, only to find that they most certainly can. However, I do think we’ve found a nice market niche. Most of my directors are influenced heavily by feature work so there is always an emphasis on production value regardless of the budget. I think there will always be a place for that type of work as there are artists that simply can’t be done on the cheap. I am learning however that there is more to life than lens flares. Keith Schofield is a director that is much more idea driven and I think he rounds out the roster nicely. Where do I see the industry going? It can’t get any worse than this, happy days are coming! 

How has the internet changed the way music videos are made?

As far as I’m concerned, it hasn’t changed much of anything. Label briefs have always asked for conceptual ideas that create “water cooler moments” while making sure that their artist looks great. We’re still filmmakers in the end, it doesn’t matter if it’s on your TV, internet, phone or Sundance - it still has to be cool.


(continued…)

 

I first took notice of Kris Moye’s film work when he created a video that felt like the work of Stefan Sagmeister set in motion. There was clearly something remarkable about this video for the track Heart Made of Sound by The Softlightes. In the year or so since Moyes shot the video, he has signed on for representation with The Directors Bureau and has continued to expand on his quirky vision with videos for the likes of Sia and Beck. Here, Moyes talks a bit about his process and the absurdity to be found sometimes when pitching on music video projects.

( via videos.antville)

Here is the third and final installment for the playlist of music videos made by cinema directors. Be warned; not all but certainly some of these videos are a bit embarassing, so I’ve made the list a little longer than usual. Now that I’ve posted 42 of these videos, I can’t help but to wonder what it says about filmmaking in general that I could only find two notable women who have made both features and videos. Here are parts 1 & 2.



Director: Bennett Miller
Artist: Bob Dylan
Song: When the Deal Goes Down

Director: Tim Burton
Artist: The Killers
Song: Bones

Director: Abel Ferrara
Artist: Ben Folds Five
Song: Don’t Change Your Plans

Director: Jared Hess
Artist: The Postal Service
Song: We Will Become Silhouettes

Director: Hughes Brothers
Artist: Korn
Song: Thoughtless

Director: Sam Peckinpah
Artist: Julian Lennon
Song: Too Late for Goodbyes

Director: Tony Kaye
Artist: Soul Asylum
Song: Runaway Train

Director: D.A. Pennebaker
Artist: Bob Dylan
Song: Subterranean Homesick Blues

Director: David Lynch
Artist: Michael Jackson
Album: Dangerous
Note: More of a promo than music video but worth including.

Director: Bill Plympton
Artist: Kanye West
Song: Heard ‘Em Say

Director: Alex Proyas
Artist: Sting
Song: All This Time

Director: Tony Scott
Artist: George Michael
Song: One More Try

Director: John Singleton
Artist: Michael Jackson
Song: Remember the Time

Director: Spike Lee
Artist: Public Enemy
Song: Fight the Power

Director: Michael Moore
Artist: Rage Against the Machine
Song: Sleep Now In the Fire
Note: This one holds a special place in my heart. I did the extras casting. It was such a fun project to work on and everyone was so gracious.

Director: Danny Boyle
Artist: Iggy Pop
Song: Lust For Life
Note: I’ve abstained from including film tie-in music videos. This is the exception simply because Iggy Pop is so weird and great.

Director: William Friedkin
Artist: Laura Branigan
Song: Self Control

Director: Michelangelo Antonioni
Artist: Gianna Nannini
Song: Fotoromanza

 

 

 

 

A few weeks ago, I posted a playlist of music videos that were made by director’s who are primarily known for their work in cinema. It’s fascinating to see the varying degrees of success and how each uses the medium. Here is the second installment of three on that theme.



Director: E. Elias Merhige
Artist: Marilyn Manson
Song: Cryptorchild

Director: The Brothers Quay
Artists: Tom Waits
Song: Sparkle Horse

Director: Harmony Korine
Artist: Sonic Youth
Song: Sunday

Director: Vincent Gallo
Artist: John Frusciante
Song: Going Inside

Director: Len Wiseman
Artist: Rufus Wainwright
Song: Across the Universe

Director: Paul Thomas Anderson
Artist: Michael Penn
Song: Try

Director: Rian Johnson
Artist: The Mountain Goats
Song: Woke Up New

Director: Thomas Vinterberg
Artist: Metallica
Song: The Day That Never Comes

Director: Derek Jarman
Artist: The Smiths
Song: Ask

Director: Gore Verbinski
Artist: Monster Magnet
Song: Negasonic Teenage Warhead

Director: George A. Romero
Artist: Misfits
Song: Scream

Director: John Landis
Artist: Michael Jackson
Song: Thriller (Long Version)

 

Here is a playlist of music videos that were created by directors who are most known for their feature film accomplishments.



Director: Gus Van Sant
Artist: Red Hot Chili Peppers
Song: Under the Bridge

Director: Wong Kar Wai
Artist: DJ Shadow
Song: Six Days

Director: Marc Caro
Artist: Indochine
Song: Savoure le Rouge

Director: Jean-Pierre Jeunet
Artist: Jean Michel Jarre
Song: Zoolook

Director: Todd Haynes
Artist: Sonic Youth
Song: Disappearer

Director: Jim Jarmusch
Artist: The Raconteurs
Song: Steady As She Goes

Director: Gaspar Noe
Artist: Placebo
Song: Protege-Moi (Banned X Rated Video)

Director: Sofia Coppola
Artist: The White Stripes
Song: I Just Don’t Know What to Do With Myself (Starring Kate Moss)

Director: Lynne Ramsay
Artist: Doves
Song: Black and White Town

Director: John Sayles
Artist: Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band
Song: I’m On Fire

Director: Martin Scorsese
Artist: Michael Jackson
Song: Bad (Full Short Film Version)

Director: Wim Wenders
Artist: U2
Song: Far Away, So Close

For some time now, I’ve been fascinated by the transformation of the body undergone by female bodybuilders. There is something about the change to the form that many of us find grotesque or even perverse. For several years now, I’ve toyed with the idea of doing a documentary on the subject. And today, I came across this photo series of women who are competitive body builders.

It would seem appropriate to share this music video directed by Thomas Hilland for the Ralph Myers track Nikita. The video focuses on the day in the life of a female bodybuilder, leading up to a competition.

(via kottke)

 

 

 

Chris Cunninham performed an exorcism of sorts on a resurrected Grace Jones. Film and music video auteur, Chris Cunningham fell off the creative map several years back. He had given up on promos and slowly turned out a few experimental films that seemed to be an arduous task. Rumors that he would make a feature film proved to be just rumors. And then he resurfaced with a tease; Cunningham shot his first music video in seven years for the breakout act The Horror’s - “Sheena is a Parasite”. Since then, Cunningham hasn’t released anything else. Although the buzz is that he has been working with The Horrors again; only this time in a different capacity as record producer. And now while we wait to see the results, Cunningham has teased us again with a rather disturbing photo spread that he shot for Dazed & Confused Magazine of none other than Grace Jones.

Parkour is a sort of sport that combines spirituality and the body in a physical challenge to overcome our made environments. Parkour originated in France about 20 years ago and has now grown in popularity in the US, especially among woman. I first had seen the sport on display in the following commercials and music video; I just didn’t know it had a name.

Nike “Angry Chicken

Nike “Young Love

Nike “The Scary Cat

Madonna “Jump


(via Kottke)

I’ve always believed that the great power that artists carry with them is the ability to evoke an emotional reaction from a stranger without even stepping foot in the same room. Nagi Noda’s whimsical work makes people feel good; it reminds us to use our imaginations no matter how wild they may be. As a young female artist she has truly defied obstacles and traditions while fully embodying the title “creative director.” With a vision all her own Nagi Noda has seamlessly slipped from one medium to another charming us along the way. So it is with a profound sadness that I share the work of Nagi Noda, whose life was cut way too short just a week ago at the age of 35.


Nagi Nada’s official website

Nagi Noda’s Music Video Work

 

After seeing Muse perform live several years ago, they became one of my favorite contemporary rock acts. With each album, the band moves into new territory experimenting with sound and genre. I have great appreciation for ambitious performers who refuse to stand still creatively speaking and take risks. Muse have consistently taken huge risks in the types of music videos they have chosen to commission.

Here is a collection of music videos for Muse alongside a behind the scenes peek of each.

Watch: Supermassive Black Hole
Director: Floria Sigismondi
Making Of: Part 1 / Part 2

Watch: Knights of Cydonia
Director: Joseph Kahn
Making Of: Part 1 / Part 2

Watch: Time is Running Out
Director: John Hillcoat
Making Of

Watch: Starlight
Director: Paul Minor
Making Of: Part 1 / Part 2

Not since Chris Cunningham’s arrival onto the music video landscape has anyone raised the creative bar so high and challenged the medium altogether. Videos over the last several years have suffered from dwindling budgets, often mediocre concepts and cheap imitations of what others have already done. Though there certainly have been some very memorable promos of late, I’ve yet to see any that I believe to be “ground breaking.” Until now.

To promote their most recent album, The Arcade Fire created interactive-web-based music videos. The first video is for the album’s title track Neon Bible. While I have seen plenty of interesting web-interactive projects, I have never seen anything like this before, and certainly not to promote music. A few months later, the band released another interactive video for The Black Mirror that completely knocked me on my ass. The second video contains six individual tracks of audio that allow the viewer to mix the song on the fly to their liking creating their own version of a score for a rather surreal silent film.

watch Neon Bible


watch Black Mirror