Word Is Cheap: How did you get into commissioning?
Caroline Clayton: I was working at Ministry of Sound and over time found the video process was my favourite part of the campaign – I was drawn to the unpredictable, exciting nature of it. I began commissioning some of the lower budget videos in-house and eventually badgered them into letting me commission all the videos for the label.
Why did you decide to go freelance as a commissioner? What are the pros and cons to being a freelance commissioner in your eyes?
My passion had always been electronic music and I saw that there was a gap in the market for a good freelance music video commissioner who specialised in that area. It was hard to leave the safety and stability of a full time role, especially at such a great independant lable like MoS, it’s like leaving your family – I spent the best part of my 20’s growing up there!
The pros are defintely variety – every day is different! The freedom to work on music you feel 100% passionate about, being able to work from different countries instead of being tied to an office. Also, the abililty to expand into other non-traditional areas, taking on projects like the YTMAs.
The main con is you aren’t ever able to switch off, you will have to take calls in the middle of the night sometimes if you’re in a different time zone to the artist or director. You can’t really take a proper holiday and you will have to cancel plans at the drop of a hat if a shoot date moves. Also obviously your earnings are unpredictable month by month, but for me at the moment, the pros outweigh the cons!
You’ve commissioned a lot of WIC favourites, how do you pick your projects or do they pick you?
It’s a bit of both. I have well established clients I work with for whom I’ll commission most of their artists’ videos. Often labels and management teams will reach out to me about a specific artist they feel I’d be suited to. I also love new music and discover a lot of artists online and will reach out direct if there is someone I think is extremely talented – I’ll often try to start working with smaller artists early on if I really believe in their music.
The first video you commissioned, DJ Fresh’s ‘Gold Dust’ (another favourite all the way back from 2010!), was it a smooth process at the time?
Gold Dust is still to this day one of my favourite commissions. Ben Newman the director had wanted to go out to NYC and shoot these amazing jump ropers for a while and when he heard the track we both agreed their incredible skills fitted perfectly with the fast paced energy of the music. It was a bit of a leap of faith for the label as we didnt have a proper treatment, we just sent Ben and Steve Annis (the DOP) out there with a Red Cam to shoot in a seriously rough area of Brooklyn.
It was a surprisingly smooth process for my first video commission, the edit looks quite different to the original one, we changed it from something that felt a lot more documentry in style to something that focused more around the jump ropers and their moves, but aside from that, yeah it was smooth!
How did you get involved in the YTMAs? Did the project fill you with nerves or excitement?
Laura Tunstall (Head of Music Video at Pulse LA) reached out to me about it last summer. It’s funny, that very same week I was saying to a friend I felt like I’d just got to a place as a freelance commissioner where I felt secure and had a steady flow of work coming in. Standardly in life as soon as you feel like that something comes along to shake it all up!! To put everything on hold for 6 months was scary, I was definitely worried I’d worked hard to build up my clients and would then struggle to get back the projects I loved working on. It also meant moving out to America within a few weeks of taking the job which was a pretty sudden change.
Was the process different for commissioning for the YTMAs as opposed to a label?
It’s very similar aside from the fact there are a lot more people involved. There was YouTube, Vice, the artist, the artist’s management, the record label, the director, director’s rep and director’s production company, as well as Pulse Films who in this instance acted as the production company across the entire awards show. In some ways it was fantasitc to have so many creative ideas and solutions but at other times it can be tricky to navigate all of the teams involved and ensure everyone is totally aligned and happy.
Did you have an idea of the directors you wanted to approach to pitch before you knew which tracks you would be commissioning?
Yes, the creative team at Vice, Laura, Inga and I all came up with our dream lists of directors and creatives that we wanted to approach to work on the YTMAs.
Ray Liotta. Need we say more? Tell us everything!
He was a total LEGEND. Exactly how you’d imagine him to be in real life – Chatting away to everyone, trying to get Emil to break his teetotal January to share a glass of wine with him, he was just chilling on the sunlounger like ‘Ey ey Blondie so you’re the suit, the suit in a skirt right?’ it was pretty surreal, he even started crying at one point. Emil and Ray were a brilliant duo on set, it was a pretty special shoot!
How did you find the process of co-commissioning Ed Sheeran and Charli XCX with Dan Curwin?
Dan is also a total legend! I’ve always really respected his commissioning work, he’s made some of my favourtie videos so it was fantastic to work alongside him on this. I’ve never worked with another commissioner on a project before, it’s actually really great to have someone to chat to / bounce ideas with / comiserate when curveballs are thrown.
With Eric actually absent from the shoot, what are your thoughts on directing through Skype on an iPad?
It’s the future!! It worked very well, it was funny having this voice on a screen running the show. To be fair it wouldn’t work for a lot of shoots but as the London portion of our shoot was all green screen it worked nicely. I’d do it again to save time and costs if it’s a video in Eric’s style with greenscreen and lots of post production.
Not everyone knows, but this is intact a double video with a boy and girl version. What did that do to the production process? Were you for or against it?
It was actually fine, we shot over two days, just pulling the boy and girl into each set up shooting one after the other. If we’d shot with a director that hadn’t thoroughly thought it through we could have run into difficulty but Petros storyboarded the idea out meticulously. We had giant boards on set laying out all of the shots for everyone to ensure each was perfectly aligned across the two videos.
I was totally down with the idea, I thought it was a really charming way to tell the story twice from each perspective.
We still can’t get our head around the motion sense forwards backwards trickery, with Greg Jardin not directing a lot of music videos, how did you know he could pull off what we imagine was an incredibly ambitious treatment?
Greg is one of the smartest people I think I’ve ever met. One of the things that the YTMAs strongly wanted to push was innovation and strong creative ideas. I initially reached out to Greg for a treatment after watching his Joey Ramone ‘New York City’ music video (If you havent watched it, watch it) and was totally mind bended by that, I then saw his short film ‘Floating’ which he created himself on a shoestring budget. Even though he hadn’t ever worked on a video of this budget level before I strongly believed he had the talent to pull it off. When I saw his treatment for Max I knew he’d totally nailed the innovation angle, it was a tough one to explain to people though when they were asking how we were actually going to do it. It was basically the most insanely technical motion control shoot I’ve ever seen. Massive props to Greg & his team for pulling that one off!