Keith Schofield: What I wish I’d known when I was 18… and much more

Stop what ever you’re doing and rally around. We’ve got director Keith Schofield on the end of the line ready to share a few tips on how he got to make some of THE most original music videos ever. Compulsive repeat viewing is highly likely.

What do you wish you’d known when you were 18?
How to have sex with girls.

Can you remember the first time you picked up a film camera? Was your directing career something that developed quite organically or did you have a plan?
My family got a Video8 camera when I was in 8th grade. Pursuing a directing career slowly evolved from those first home videos.

[Vimeo 9096297]

We counted 50 set changes for Charlotte Gainsbourg and Beck’s Heaven Can Wait. All of them are fabulously surreal, yet hang together as a plot. Where do you get your ideas from?
That video was inspired by found photos. Online, found photos have evolved to cover all sorts of imagery: scanned photos, digital photos, photoshops, video stills, advertisements, art projects. But it’s the same appeal – there is no context, and thus the viewer is left to imagine his own backstory.

How did the video evolve and what were the challenges on it?
The pitch was basically “every few seconds we cut to something completely different, and never repeat.” I had some references, but the shoot evolved as we found our locations, our actors; and the props we had access to. The challenge was coming up with as many different ideas for scenes in a single location

Tell us about your methodology – how do you prepare for shoots? Do you storyboard in detail? Or is there room for spontaneity?
I usually go to the location before the shoot, and together with my DP we take photos of all the camera angles we want to get, with stand-ins. Afterwards, those often work in the same capacity as storyboards. On a commercial, storyboards are usually required for the pre-pro.

On the Charlotte video; there was a decent amount of spontaneity. With no continuity or storyline, it’s one of the few times where it can work on the fly.

We like the way you credited William Hundley for two visual ideas. Who else is inspiring you at the moment?
I just saw one of the most amazing movies I’ve ever seen – HAUSU – directed by Nobuhiko Obayashi http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0643171/. It’s a 1977 Japanese fantasy horror film that uses a lot of unique film & video tricks.

Let Love Rule is more filmic than your other work, but with a hilarious twist – a simple brilliant idea fantastically filmed – how did that come about?
It was one of those ideas I’ve had for a while, and when I heard this song – which sounded like the end music to a cheesy 80s film – it all fell into place.

In fact most of your work has us chuckling with laughter – we’re particularly thinking of Diesel here – but they are all very different styles. Are you purposely following a plan never ever to repeat something?
Not really no. But it has happened that way, sort of.

Do you only take on work where you have considerable creative freedom?
Nah – but you probably only have seen the work where I was given a certain amount of freedom.


Outside of filming what are you into?

I just went to Sequoia National Park to go see General Sherman, the world’s largest tree. So, at the moment, I would say trees.

Any advice to new directors hoping to break into commercials or music videos?
I have very specific advice!! I send it to everyone who contacts me. Here it is:

Find an upbeat band who wants to do a music video, and do it on spec (i.e., you front the costs). Do something fun, funny, provocative or R-rated. Before you come up with a concept (and do come up with one!) ask yourself: what would make anyone want to email this clip to a friend? No one knows who this band is, but what will make them say “holy shit, this no name band did this totally (choose one: funny/crazy/explicit/pop-culture-referencing) video, you HAVE to see this.” Take advantage of the fact that this won’t be playing on MTV – have stuff like nudity, violence, trademarked brands, etc.

Don’t let the band hijack your concept. If you’re paying for it, they can go along with your idea. If they don’t want to compromise, find another band. There are a million of them. Also, make sure your band has a decent quality sounding recording. It doesn’t have to be a mind blowing song, but it should at least sound as good as an average band.

Although I did it later in my career, my E.T. video for Wintergreen took a no-name band, with no label promotion, and got about a million hits online (pre-youtube); press articles, etc. I actually landed my first commercial because the agency loved it so much. We did a similar thing for the ‘how to make meth’ video, which directly lead to my Supergrass video. Budgets were $1200 & $200.

Mistakes people often make on their first videos (myself included) is that they make something that is only enjoyed by fans of the band. Or they do something dark, serious or dramatic. Or they choose their friend’s boring acoustic song, where a fun video seems out of place.


Do you think it’s easier or more difficult for new directors trying to get themselves established in the industry now? Why?
Definitely easier, with the youtubes and the twitters and whatnot. Exceptional work with an amazing, original idea will get noticed.

For viewing more fabulous work go to http://www.keithschofield.com


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