I’m from northern California and went to high school in Monterey. My aunt was a teacher at Cal Arts and then took over a graduate school called Cranbrook with my Uncle. They often worked out of there. So, when I was 13 I visited and was shocked at how cool it was. My aunt invited me for a summer between my junior and senior year of high school, and that’s when they were working on Fight Club. I go to go to LA, go on set, and go to Digital Domain. I was like “This is what I want to do.” I didn’t know that I wanted to be a director. I really loved the idea of graphic design, photography, and typography. So, I worked there for a little while, and that opened my world to all kinds of crazy shit. Then I went back to San Francisco and went to school at CCAC. I got into print; I was the art director of Juxtapoz Magazine and worked on a bunch of other magazines. That led to the motion graphics boom, and I started learning with After Effects.
Because of my design background I ended up becoming a creative director at Digital Kitchen when they first opened. Right when I started they were in the middle of shooting the show Six Feet Under at a time when designers were becoming directors. I shot the title sequence to the show Nip Tuck, and that was the first time I was in charge of all the creative – I was on set, I was the director, I came up with the concept, and it was my first directing gig. Somebody liked it, and I did another title sequence and then a music video. W
The very first music video that I shot was for the band Mellowdrone. We were experimenting with a prototype of the Phantom camera at Digital Kitchen, shooting beer splashes and details of drips in super super slow motion for a Budweiser commercial. I asked if I could shoot a music video with the camera, and they said “Sure, nobody has ever shot anything besides bullets with it.” So, we went out to the desert and shot a music video. I shot it myself since it was super low budget.
Some of the people at Digital Kitchen were really influential. They really embraced the young designer turned director concept. My aunt and uncle were also super influential and pushed me into getting into the business.
Street Gang Films. That was where I did all my initial music video work. Street Gang was a really cool company that only did music videos. Jason Botkin, the EP, had a good eye for picking really great, young talent. I had only done that Mellowdrone video, and that was it. He signed me and then helped me develop and do other videos.
I try and find something in the real world, like a real story or situation or something that feels like it comes from reality, and I just go from there. One of my recent videos was this black and white video for Raffertie. It’s about three brothers from the ghetto, and the video chronicled their lives. I met the brothers when I was street casting. I wrote the idea about them, because I was inspired by how they look and how charismatic they are. I get inspired by things around me.
Most of my work is all street casted or borderline documentary that we turn into fictional stories. I did a video for Florence and the Machine recently with Ben Mendelsohn in it. Seeing someone take such simple direction was amazing. You don’t really get the full scope of how good he was on set when you watch the video. Seeing somebody provide so much detail in their character made me realize how good movies are made. Seeing what the character brings versus what’s in the script was a really big aha moment for me. That was one of the most exciting experiences I’ve ever had. I always thought it was my job to come up with those character nuances. It really enlightened me. The ability to understand that was a major breakthrough.
Don’t let people change your mind. You might regret it for the rest of the project, every time you see it, or your whole life. I just shot a video for Rihanna, and I really didn’t want to do it even though she’s this huge pop star. It was one of her most expensive videos. I went into it trying to be positive, embrace it, and just do what I do. We were at odds the whole time, creatively. I did this big pop video to see what it was like, and it backfired on me so hard. The shoot was miserable. I had Dion Beebe shooting it, and Rhianna was fifteen hours late. We went through all this crazy stuff that’s still in edit a month later, because they can’t decide what they want to do. They totally dismantled my vision. Everything about it had been what I feared and why I should have stuck to my guns, because now I’m regretting it.
The Killing of a Chinese Bookie was a movie that I really fell in love with at a young age. A friend had bought me a John Casavettes box set, and I didn’t know who he was. It was really early on in my film school knowledge. I was like “This is an amazing director!” Early Scorsese, like Mean Streets and Taxi Driver are the movies that I really liked, because they were harsh and gritty, and the cinematography was really raw. Something about it grabbed me. So, as I got more educated and older, I got into guys like Alfonso Cuaron and those type of directors and the way their movies resonate with me. Jonathan Glazer is probably the number one influence when I started doing videos, because he was always prolific, and he always felt sort of new and had rad stories, amazing characters, and the visuals were cool. He summed up everything that I wanted to do when I started directing.
When I did the video for Mellowdrone, friends of mine were the guys doing the half million dollar music videos and getting paid ridiculous fees like $100,00 to direct a music video. My whole process in all the videos I’ve done is always about telling a story. It wasn’t pop star videos until recently. I was able to get away with doing the lower budget stuff but making them feel bigger, because we would just get rid of all the bullshit, like the trailers and all that shit, and we would go out and make the video like we were a student film crew and shoot for five days, instead of two big ridiculous days of all that pomp and circumstance.
Up until this year, this is the first year where I made any money doing this. I always invested my fee back into the project. Before my time, like when Spike and Romanek started, if you did a cool music video, you might get a shot at a feature, or get a commercial, because the industry was more respected back then. Like, you get a big video on MTV and then all of a sudden you’re a famous director. Then I think the industry went through a long period of invisible pop acts where the labels were trying to salvage every penny they could instead of taking a risk and defining the whole genre like Sam Bayer did with Smells Like Teen Spirit. It died for a while and became really shitty. If the video wasn’t for Britney Spears, the labels would spend five thousand dollars on it or they would want to just show the band the whole time. Now, I think it has turned around completely where it’s all about views. It’s all about getting people to watch the video, and now the labels are desperate to create interesting content. Right now is the coolest time for videos. I just met with Beyoncé and her whole management team, and they want to do videos more like my videos and push the boundaries of the medium.
I have been there for just under a year, and in the first week or two we landed a Modelo commercial that was fun.
I’ve been doing this for ten years. My career has been very up and down, but I’m very content with who I am right now. There is a lot of work on my reel that I’m proud of, but there’s a lot of stuff that I’ve done that is super embarrassing. You have to refine your skills until you find the place where you’re comfortable working. That’s when I think you start creating your best work.
A lot of kids are so desperate to just make something. A lot of times they make things that they’re not happy with, or it wasn’t something that they really wanted to make, and they just shot it because they are desperate to make anything. I think the key is to find the music you like the best, and take your time to write an idea. Study other directors you like and study other videos and figure out what makes them good. Take that time to make something that represents who you are or what story you want to tell.
The thing that I’m most excited about is this new entity AG Rojas and I are calling Mainline. On Dazed Digital, we have our own dedicated web page, and we’re producing and curating a series of films on youth. We have a set of guidelines, so the films all fall into a similar format. We’re trying to inspire people to go out and create something completely unmotivated by money, or any other reason than just doing it. So Mainline is an umbrella for us to do these collective projects and work with other directors. For me it’s inspiring. I’ve been in the commercial grind all year, it’s just been one commercial after another, and Mainline has been a pleasure more than anything.
The Thin Red Line.
I really liked Holy Motors. The Netflix show Top of the Lake is great, too.
Director - Park Pictures