Sync Music Video Fest’s Featured Directors Share Their Influences and Origins

Tonight some of the Northwest’s best new music videos will move from the little screen (on which you are most likely reading this) to the big screen at SIFF Cinema Uptown for the first-ever Sync Music Video Festival.

I will be on hand as host for the evening, guiding you (hopefully) through a collection of outstanding videos from the past year (or so) and then introducing exemplary work from the evening’s four featured directors. Each of those directors will be on hand to answers questions from you and from me about the differing approaches to this underappreciated craft. To get us all warmed up, I asked a few questions in advance. Read on and if you want to hear and see more from these folks—which, really, you should—head over here to buy your tickets.

Stephan Gray

A 30-year-old father of two who works out of Seattle’s SoDo neighborhood, this director has worked with Kingdom Crumbs, Iska Dhaaf, Dont Talk to the Cops, Champagne Champagne, Dark Time Sunshine, OC Notes, Fresh Espresso, Metal Chocolates, Raz Simone, Macklemore, Sol, The Physics and many more.

How did you get your start in music videos? What was your first video? My “start” in music videos was honestly just reaching out to a group and asking them if I could make a video for them. The group was Fresh Espresso, and we did a vid for a song called “Black or White.” Great learning experience, and a lot of fun, a bunch of the town came out to support.

What is the greatest challenge you’ve encountered in creating music videos? At first, probably just accepting the fact that I’ll never make a dollar doing it. But after accepting that, an even bigger challenge unfortunately remained ... which was the ability to execute a particular vision within the means of an inherently small budget.

Who are your favorite music video directors? What are some videos that have influenced you, if any? There’s so many talented directors out there right now in the music video world. Isaiah Seret, Vincent Haycock, Hiro Murai, Emily Kai Bock, BRTHR, Aoiffe McCardle. So many others. Every dope video I see, influences me in some way. Not just music videos either. I feel like anything I watch, influences me via osmosis or some shit.

What does 2014 hold for you? Ha, who knows.

Jordan Albertsen

Currently living in Hollywood, this director originally hails from Whidbey Island and has created videos for Indians, Cumulus, and The West, as well as a video for Little Hurricane that will be coming out next month.

Your start? Well I actually started in movies. When I was 21 I wrote and directed a feature called The Standard. There was such a long break while trying to secure money for my next feature and I needed something to do. I felt like I was getting creativly stale. And a friend of mine sent me a demo for his bands first single. It was Indians’ “sink into you.” I fell in love with the song and told him I wanted to make a music video for him. The reaction for the finished product was strong enough that it led to more.

Biggest challenge? The biggest challenge is always money. The videos I tend to write are always more ambitious then the band is able to afford. I’ve actually put money into the last couple videos I’ve made.

Favorite directors? Videos? Mark Romanek and Spike Jonze were always my favorite music video directors. Smashing Pumpkins’ “1979” and Prodigy’s “Smack My Bitch Up” continue to blow my mind.

2014? Looks like my next feature “Headlands” will finally get off the ground. There’s a couple other features that I’m attached to that could go this year too. I have a documentary about Tacoma band The Sonics that we’re trying to finance. And hopefully some more music videos.

Emily Denton

A life-long Seattleite, this 33-year-old director makes videos in the time between playing drums in the band Stickers and training to be a yoga teacher. She has made videos for Pony Time, Haunted Horses, K-Holes, MTNS, King Dude, Stickers, Monogamy Party, Footwork, Grave Babies and more.

Your start? I got started just cause I wanted to check out the IMovie software that came on my laptop, this was like 4 years ago. I had a shitty digital camera and my smart phone and just started shooting and editing with that. My first video was for King Dude and the song is “My Beloved Ghost.” It didn’t really have any thought or direction behind it, it just seemed like a fun thing to do on that particular afternoon and after that I was hooked. I’ve done over 60 videos since then.

Biggest challenge? The greatest challenge mostly comes from trying to relay the bands ideas to the video. I am self taught and am still learning probably really basic things when it comes to editing and effects and whatnot. Its hard enough trying to relay my own weird ideas to the screen let alone someone else’s- sometimes it works out but mostly I find its best to just do my thing. And of course working within realistic means, when it comes to costuming and budget, locations. I have to put my own time and money into this and that creates some limitations. Someday I would love to have a soundstage, or be able to get a permit to film wherever my imagination wants me to. Just got a green screen though and having a lot of fun with the ideas that I can now do with that. :)

Favorite directors? Videos? I don’t really have any favorite directors. I don’t so much pay attention to that kind of stuff. I like the things that I see my friends do, anyone with a smart phone can make a video, and sometimes it turns out super awesome. Stacy Peck (of Pony Time) made a video for So Pitted, I think with her phone, and it’s brilliant. My favorite videos I would say though are the Sonic Youth “Goo” videos—simple, punk, cool. Reminds me of being a kid.

2014? 2014 is already awesome and I do have a lot planned. I am working to make an entire movie for the Haunted Horses record Watcher and one of the videos from it is being screened at the festival. Its my favorite work I’ve done so far. I am also working to make more short films and experiment with acting and scoring audio. I really wanna do a video for Lady Krishna—and there are so many great bands out there that I haven’t gotten to work with, Health Problems and So Pitted, Wimps, are on my list.

Ryan McMackin

This 31-year-old director keeps his art close to home, working with many of his Ballard neighbors, having made videos for Sera Cahoone, Widower, Quiet Life, The Head And The Heart, Jack Wilson and Virgin Islands.

Your start? Making music videos was a natural combination of my interest in music, and video production. I was shooting and editing a lot of skateboarding videos throughout Jr. High and High School. That’s how I met Sera Cahoone and came to make my first music video. Sera managed a skate shop that I shot videos for. Years later, she came to me and asked if I wanted to make a music video with her and we did for her song, “Couch Song.”

Biggest challenge? The greatest challenge I’ve consistently encountered applies not solely to music videos but most of my creative endeavors. That challenge is understanding and managing my expectations and those of whomever I am working with. By far, the videos that I am most satisfied with are those in which the concept was simple, the stakes low, and where communication throughout the process was straightforward—or at least some combination of those things. I find it funny that this applies to all of my videos that were selected for this showcase.

Favorite directors? Videos? There are definitely some videos etched in my memory from the days of watching MTV after school—what would music videos be if not for that?—but I wouldn’t credit any specific one as an influence. As far as directors go, Spike Jonze and Mark Romanek are favorites thanks to Palm Pictures’ “Directors Label Series”. More than anything else, I think my biggest influences are the music and videos made by my Seattle peers, as well as, the countless great videos I see on the Web every day.

2014? I’ve been traveling a lot lately and I hope that trend continues. I often daydream of making videos with artists in other countries and of making a video for a Seattle band in an entirely foreign setting ...

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