Unsigned: Fred Rowson

One of our favourite people in the business is James Studholme: md of Blink in London, partner of Furlined in the States and band member of Police Dog Hogan. So with a roster of the world’s top directors at his call, why does Studholme choose the virtually unknown, unsigned Fred Rowson to shoot PDH’s first music video, Shitty White Wine? First we asked Studholme about his choice and then we catch up with the new director himself.

Why did you choose very new director Fred Rowson to shoot PDH’s video Shitty White Wine?

James Studholme: Freds’ Dad the esteemed Martin Rowson, Guardian Cartoonist and man of parts, is a good friend of two members of the band and that’s how Fred came into our orbit. He seemed astonishingly bright and already a very accomplished film maker for one so young. Best of all he WANTED to make a video for us. He drove the production from start to finish and was deeply impressive. Through that he has come onto Colonel Blimps’ radar.

We are well underway on the next one with him which will be completely different. I rather see making videos for PDH as an opportunity to work with directors who are either just starting out or perhaps with established directors where it gives them an opportunity to do something completely different from the work they usually do. I like to help shape the idea and then leave them to get on with it. We’ve got quite a lot of ideas we want to do!

How long have you been directing? And could you tell us a wee bit about your background please.

Fred Rowson: I don’t have any formal background in filmmaking; I read English at University and in 2008, during the summer holiday of my first year, I directed a short film, King of Deptford Creek. It looked beautiful, but at the time I had no idea what I was doing. And the film was probably all the better for that. Despite a shoot on which I almost went insane, and the unpaid crew was forced to eat crisp sandwiches, I survived.

After graduating, I stuck to films, but held off on directing. I produced a couple of shorts, including The End – a big international, special effects drama, shot in London, then posted in LA, Boston and Melbourne. I also started working with Rushes Soho Shorts, where I networked like crazy, and went square-eyed watching a lot of incredible material by filmmakers far more talented than me. Which all meant that, by the time I came to pitch for Police Dog Hogan, I was more than ready to start directing again.

I’m a little curious about the connection too with James Studholme. He has a business built on music video film makers and yet has the insight and trust to choose you? How did this come about?

This happened in a rather roundabout way. I’ve built up a catalogue of films that I’ve worked on over the past five years, whether as director or producer. There’s another member of Police Dog Hogan, Peter Robinson, who might be the Paul to James’s John (though I don’t want to cause any in-band disputes…). He’s a family friend, who saw some of my work – including the short – and he got in touch to ask if I’d be interested in directing a music video. I was then presented to James, and Tim Dowling, who wrote the song, sight unseen.

I knew that I was effectively coming in off the street so, before we met up, I enlisted the services of Jaime Feliu-Torres who filmed King of Deptford Creek for me. He’s an enormously talented Director of Photography and, since 2008, he’d gone on to shoot promos for Rokkit, Stink and Academy+. I invited him along when we pitched the video, in an attempt to convince the band that I wanted to do it properly. Beyond that, all I can say is that James has clearly got a talent for seeing through bullshit, so I’m sure that his decision to let me direct the promo was a considered one.

What was the original brief?

The original request from the band was for me to do “whatever you like”. Which was very nice of them.

Did you work with the band on the narrative or did you come up with your own treatment?

I came up with three different ideas for the band to choose from. One was performance-based, one was a very literal narrative interpretation of the song, and one was the story that eventually became the video. Initially I thought that this idea was the most obvious, and therefore the dullest, of the three. But the band really went for this concept, and I learned an important lesson about music promos: once it’s been refined, your gut reaction to the song is often the best solution. The big selling point, however, was the horse. I put this in almost as an afterthought – the logical conclusion to the tale about the man who wakes up in Catford and decides to become a Cowboy – but everyone latched on to it and I realised, okay, now I actually have to go and find a horse.

Fabulously shot. Any major challenges on the shoot?

The shoot was both challenging, and straightforward. I’d planned every shot precisely, so 90% of what you see in the video was storyboarded. The big difficulty was fitting it all in – we were filming across 8 locations in two days, and so there was some grumbling when we found out we could only afford to spend three hours in the rockabilly scrapyard in New Cross; stashed in there was enough surreal Americana that we could have spent a week filming and not overshot.

There was also a problem with the tumbleweed, which soon became infamous – suffice to say that it tumbled a lot more in the original treatment, and nobody is quite sure whose fault it was that we didn’t have a leaf blower (it was probably my fault). Finally, we found out that horses have an even shorter attention span than people who watch music videos, so if you want to film a horse standing still, then slow motion is quickly going to become your best friend.

What is the wisest advice anyone has ever given you on about film making?

I’ve been given a lot of good advice, from a lot of different people. Some of it is practical, some of it is more theoretical, and a lot of it is contradictory. So: whilst concepting, writing and in pre-production, don’t try to second-guess the audience, just do what feels right. When filming, devote time to shooting one-off scenes in wild and interesting places, even if they only appear once. And during the edit, remember that everyone wants to be told a story, and nobody likes to be confused.

Anything else?

Only that I’m currently preparing for a new video for Police Dog Hogan which will, hopefully, blow Shitty White Wine out of the water in terms of concept and execution, and that I’ve now developed a taste for everything music promo related, so I’m very much looking forward to shooting more projects for more artists over the coming months.


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