Music Video Directors On The Rise

A swirling mass of fecund testosterone is brewing inside the
music video industry. Led by a pack of talented up-and-coming directors, the impetuous creativity of youthful exuberance is again on full display. It’s always interesting to watch, these brazen directors confide in MVwire about their recent concoctions.

The Exit “Let’s Go To Haiti” director Major Lightner

Major Lightner is a New Yorker. And the gritty, unrelenting Let’s go to Haiti is testament to his Big Apple mentality. Major is on first name basis with The Exit. In fact, Major also directed their first music video. The friendliness between the band and the director made things tres facile. Before the shoot, Major and fellow Exits watched that classic Goddard flick Sympathy for the Devil. “We wanted to capture that Vietnam era vibe,” Major remembered. And thus Let’s go to Haiti was conceived. Seven hours later Major gave birth to a rambunctious bundle of joy with gorilla complexion and guerilla complex. The editing took a week. “We took the white channel down to almost zero and blurred the red channel to get the look.”

DOD’s Higher director Morocco Vaughn

Chicago is Morocco Vaughn’s kind of town. With the explosion of Kanye, Twista, and R. Kelley onto the Hip Hop scene, the world is turning to Chicago for a breathe of fresh air. Morocco is Chicago born and bred, and he is ready for the big time. “I know [Chicago] and I hope it’s one of the things that defines me as a director.” Morocco needs only to take a whiff of that mineral air to hear the beat of the urban hymn, to smell the grime of the crime ridden back alleys, and to understand with a knowing nod the awful truth behind the awesome rhymes.

When most rap videos are manufactured snap-fits of obligatory ass shots in fancy cars dribbled with jewelry against a backdrop of excessive real estate, Morocco is alone in his quest to challenge the standard. “I try to throw a little bit of story line in my videos,” Morocco interjected matter of factly. As a matter of fact, his recent video—DOD’s Higher—was of a band that hit it big almost overnight and dropped off the Hip Hop radar just as quickly. “I basically tried to show the loosing and reclaiming of one’s status [in the video].” Kanye dropped in for the shoot and two takes was all it took to capture the rapper for posterity. “It’s my biggest video to date, and I got to admit, I was super nervous. But I got into the groove and we worked well with one another.” The future is bright for Morocco, and knowing when to turn, the windy city might just be the boost he needs.

California “Never” director CJ Roy

A video made for only a couple of hundred bucks, a narrative storyline involving rape, violence, and revenge, and no shooting permit to bout. This sounds like a recipe for disaster. But CJ Roy revels in this kind of apparent chaos. CJ shot California “Never” in West Oakland and West Berkley, a crime infested area a few save the crazy would venture into. “There was one scene involving a spinning car that we shot in a residential intersection…we didn’t have a permit and the cops showed up minutes later,” CJ reminisced fondly. CJ sought refuge in a friend’s house and narrowly escaped the eyes of the law.

The video was shot with digital cameras, a risky move since digital video has very little patience for post-production antics. “We had to get things right during the shoot—the light set up, the composition, everything.” This opportunist attitude has afforded CJ’s work a great quality of spontaneity. CJ is a huge fan of Chris Cunningham and Spike Jonze, however he admits that he is not in tune with the music video circle. “I don’t have cable television,” CJ confessed. In fact, he gets his music video feed from the Internet. Maybe that’s a good thing. Maybe the best way to get inspired is not to find inspiration, but to let it find you.

Scatter the Ashes “Caesura” director Lex Halaby

It is no secret that black and white films still hold a special place in our collective cinematic consciousness. Director Lex Halaby adds his latest moving opus to this venerated tradition. With a dash of experimental fortitude and a set of split screens a la Woodstock (the documentary), “Caesura” emerges from Halaby’s lens stringed together by a narrative thread, and broiled in an undercurrent of suburban alienation.

Daryl, the lead singer of Scatter the Ashes, also happens to be a film school graduate. So, from the start, the director and the band were on equal footing and were talking in a common visual vocabulary. Lex consulted with the band and it was clear that the subject matter needed to be dark. In order to convey this noir-ish atmosphere, Lex took the theme of a dysfunctional family unit and the POV of a teenage daughter. “We drew inspiration from many of Anton Corbijn’s black and white photographs. Brett Juskalian, my DP, brought those images to life during the course of shooting,” Lex said. “The choice to shoot black and white came naturally when discussing the subject matter,” he added.

Lex’s true indie spirit seeps through as he experimented with different types of visual dimensions. But the use of split screen effect might have been the most daring. “Split screen is a funny thing,” Lex explained. “ It is mostly used to show two people in two different locations interacting in some form, like talking on the phone. We decided to do the opposite. We used the split screen to show the same location at the same time, yet displaying two different realities (instead of locations).” Upon closer examination, the right frame almost always seems to depict the nightmarish reality while the left frame shows the Botox version of the same reality. Lex is very grateful for the band’s willingness to put their reputation on the line by doing an experimental video. And we are grateful for the continuation of the spirit of independent filmmaking.

Bad Religion “Los Angeles is Burning” directors Lightborne

“Los Angeles is Burning” is a song about tabloid journalism and how it perpetuates evil in this world by preaching false truth and sensationalizing true lies. Like books, journalism chronicles life with the boring parts dutifully omitted. Burning’s philosophical heaviness weighed down on directors Lightborne. Lightborne wanted to simulate a burning Los Angeles, but at the same time make it unique. Because let’s face it – borrowing a quote from ex-Python Graham Chapman – who hasn’t at one time or another considered setting fire to a public building! Some people work best under pressure, especially if it’s from a major label. And before too long, ideas were spewing all over the canvas. “Two books in particular inspired me,” Lightborne’s Ben Nicholson said, “City of courts by Mike Willrich and Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury.” On the set, the cityscape backdrop was made out of aluminum and glass, materials that aren’t flammable under high temperature. The moving images in the foreground were cutouts animating at 15 frames per second. The final product was a composite of traditional stop motion and after effects. A burning Los Angeles does not make for pleasant thought, but what a sight!


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