Originally published in The Irish Times Magazine on Saturday, October 16th 2010
EVER HEARD OF Meiert Avis? Didn’t think so. How about Steve Barron? No? Well, jot those names down for your next pub quiz, because there may just be a question about Irish-born music-video directors. Avis is the man behind U2’s early videos ( I Will Follow, The Unforgettable Fire, With Or Without You ) as well as videos by some of the biggest names in music, Bruce Springsteen and Bob Dylan included. Barron directed two of the most famous music videos of the 1980s – the revolutionary animation/live-action crossover Take On Me , and Michael Jackson’s Billie Jean – as well as videos by The Human League, Whitney Houston and David Bowie.
Yet Avis and Barron aside, there has never really been a tradition of innovative music video-making in Ireland. Now, however, thanks to the internet and the easy availability of high-end equipment, there are a group of young Irish filmmakers starting to make a splash.
Dublin-based team D.A.D.D.Y. were among the first to spearhead the new Irish music video-making movement in the mid-noughties, directing videos for international acts such as Bloc Party, We Are Scientists and Super Furry Animals. They were also the creators (along with design team ME) behind Jape’s Floating video, in which the protagonist is pelted with various fruits. The video has clocked up more than 1.5 million YouTube views to date.
But D.A.D.D.Y.’s work is just the tip of the iceberg. The Irish music scene is currently in the throes of a full-on renaissance, thanks to the wealth of diversity and creativity among our young musicians and bands. What’s not so celebrated, however, are the people behind the cameras who provide a visual accompaniment to their songs – although the foundation of both the Bray Music Video Festival and the IMTV Video Awards in 2009 is indicative of the changes transpiring. Here, we talk to four of the brightest rising stars of music video-making in Ireland.
Originally a member of animation collective Delicious 9, Eoghan Kidney (31, above) has since moved into live-action music videos and short films, establishing himself as one of the most visionary young directors in the country.
Kidney studied animation in Dún Laoghaire Institute of Art, Design and Technology (IADT) and followed it with a post-grad in film. His first foray into the world of music visuals came about when a group of college friends were approached by Dublin band The Jimmy Cake to create a video for their song. The ensuing Delicious 9 project was deemed a success, screened on RTÉ’s now-defunct music show No Disco in the pre-internet days, and gave Kidney a taste for directing. Many of the collective’s videos were also shown on MTV, and they collaborated with Canadian electronica musician Caribou on a number of videos that were compiled on DVD as Caribou: Marino , named after their place of abode at the time.
Since then, Kidney has directed highly-praised videos for Irish acts Fight Like Apes, Delorentos and Valerie Francis (Kanye West famously championed Frances’s video, Punches), and he has just returned from a shoot for fellow Dubliner and DFA Records artist Shit Robot in New York. This year, he won a place on Werner Herzog’s four-day Rogue Film School seminar in Los Angeles, where he discussed his work with the director and made a number of international contacts, one of whom is illustrator Robyn O’Neil. Their collaborative short is about to go into production, and Kidney makes no bones about his desire to eventually make the move into feature-length films.
“Any director will tell you that music videos are where you get the chance to experiment and learn your craft,” he says. “I’m still pretty young and inexperienced when it comes to drama. I might go and see if I can make tea for a theatre company for a year, and just watch how actors work.”
Simon Eustace (28, above) is in something of a special position; as a film-making musician, he’s got one foot planted firmly in both worlds.
During the day, Eustace works in the production office of not-for-profit filmmaking resource centre Filmbase in Temple Bar, Dublin. By night, he plays guitar with The Chapters. Yet his first love, and the occupation he pursued academically, was film. After completing an arts degree (“to keep my mum happy”), he did a year-long diploma in media techniques in Griffith College.
“I was always gonna do a masters in film or something related to film, but when I looked into the courses, they were all very theoretical – which is kind of pointless,” he says. “When you wanna make films, you want to be out there learning how to work cameras and equipment.”
So far, Eustace has shot a number of videos for his own band as well as Irish acts The Coronas and Miracle Bell. His distinctive style often means that his videos take on a narrative slant – something that he wants to develop in his aim to make commercials, and eventually films. He credits the internet as a key factor in the rebirth of the music video.
“You can’t just make a bog-standard video and put it online and expect people to share it on Twitter and Facebook – it has to be interesting,” he nods. “That has pushed bands and directors to make videos that will hit people. Now you have videos that go viral, like OK Go’s, and it’s become a really cool artform. If there was no internet, there’d probably be no point for Irish bands to make videos.
“I’m happy enough building up experience, but I don’t see myself in Ireland forever. In terms of making the best things that you can make, you need to be in London, or New York. I definitely see myself making that leap at some point. I’d love to make videos for massive bands.”
Although he has shot a number of band promos and even a 64-minute-long feature over the past couple of years, Belfast-based Will McConnell (27, above) is best known for his work filming live sessions. He founded Bandwidth Films in 2008, when a chance to film a BBC Radio session by American band The National fell into his lap. The unavailability of equipment on that particular day meant that the session was shot on a basic home-video camera in a lo-fi fashion. “I ended up doing this wandering around the set thing. I sent it to a friend afterwards, and he said ‘Wow, that’s just like the Blogotheque sessions’ – this massive Paris-based session site where they do that sort of thing. So I thought, right, maybe I’ve hit on something here.”
A graduate of film studies at Queen’s University, McConnell worked in an arthouse cinema until he decided to follow bands into various chip shops, parks and sitting rooms, camera in tow. Although he grudgingly admits he’s something of a music fan, McConnell’s creative heart pumps pure celluloid, and he describes himself as more of a documentarian than a filmmaker. His work shooting gigs and sessions by rising stars such as And So I Watch You From Afar have seen him come in for praise. He claims that happening upon the right bands at the right point of their careers have been happy accidents.
“I’m quite naive – I just film anybody that asks me,” he laughs. “The good thing about this sort of live-session filming is that you can film musicians wherever, you take them out of their comfort zone, you take away that backline of fancy amps and gear, and test their true mettle. You get to see whether they’re the great musicians that they say they are. Nine times out of 10, they are. Sometimes they’re not, but that’s also fun to see. I like the gamble. And I’ll still put it online.”
Sean Smith (28) and Brian O’Brien (30) set up Souljacker Films just over two years ago. The duo met at college, where they studied film production and operations at Ballyfermot College of Further Education before moving on to IADT.
“We’d always talked about doing something together, and I think we did one music video,” says Smith. “We’d worked on a lot of other people’s projects, which was good for experience – but it sort of came to a point where we wanted to make something ourselves, instead of standing in the rain at the end of a lane for 12 hours a day, holding a walkie-talkie and not getting paid.”
Souljacker have dabbled in shooting live footage and even have a TV advert to their name, but it’s their music videos that have gained the most plaudits over the past year, particularly their work with Adrian Crowley and a remarkable creation for The Ambience Affair, which they assembled using 15,000 still photos.
“Making videos is much more do-able now than it was 10 years ago, because of digital-SLR – you’re not shooting rolls and rolls of film,” says O’Brien, who holds down a day-job as a freelance camera operator and editor. “You can buy a stills camera now that can shoot high-definition video for under a thousand euro, which is nuts. You can cut a music video on your laptop these days, if you want to.”
Like most of their peers, the pair’s ultimate goal is to move into full-length features. They’ve already lined up grants from the “very supportive” Arts Council to make more shorts, but will continue to work with bands – as long as they like their songs. “Most of the time when we make money from a music video, it goes straight back into production,” smiles O’Brien resignedly. “It’s a bit of a labour of love for us.”