How did you get into the industry of making music videos? Was it through university or something else?
I think it was actually something I’d always wanted to do since I was really young. When we got MTV and all the music channels it was quite a big deal for me. I was around 13 or 14 I think. I watched a lot of music videos, all day some days, got completely obsessed with that world. This show called ‘120 minutes’ was great, it was around 1 or 2 in the morning so I used to tape it regularly. It played really interesting alternative videos. Then I went on to university here in Bristol, i did a Fine Art degree and in fine art you’re kind of let loose do what you want, so I did lots of different things, I continued my painting for a while, then I realised that I enjoyed making video art and that film was what I really wanted to, and so I started making little short films (which didn’t go down that well with my tutor). After uni I started a band mainly just so i could make music videos for us, then a few more years on I started doing videos for friends, and from there I just kept going. I managed to go self-employed around 3 years ago now.
Who leads the creative ideas behind the music videos? You or the artist? Or is it a joint role?
It’s different every time. Saying that, I do usually prefer to come up with the original idea and see it through from beginning to end. I tend to start by living with the song for a few weeks and I’ll walk around with it and constantly be writing down notes of what images and characters pop in my head. Then once I’ve got loads of ideas I’ll try and figure out how it all fits together, that’s my favourite part I think. Sometimes it’s quite hard getting people to trust you, so that can sometimes be a bit of a challenge convincing them.
What is the most fulfilling part of your job? Meeting the artists? Releasing the music video?
They’re the two things that I love, I generally hate everything else. I don’t really hate it! Sometime i can get bogged down in it all and I’ll have those days where I’m like “I can’t do this anymore” like everyone who has a creative job. Yeah i love meeting up with the artists and discussing themes and stuff. When I’m living with the track and getting to know it, that’s quite exciting, especially if no one else has it. At that point there’s no great pressure with a deadline and nothing’s been decided, anything’s possible at that point, I can think of anything and potentially do anything. I like the brainstorming part after that too when I know roughly what I’m going to do. I hate organising and arranging the shoot and actors/extras, places, and props etc. If I was to pick a favourite moment, it’s probably the release day. Release day is fun because it’s over and then I can immediately switch my attention to what’s next.
Who is the most interesting person you’ve ever had chance to work with?
Hmm… maybe Mica Levi. I got to work with her over a weekend at the Cube Cinema a couple of years ago and I had to make 12 videos in 3 days with her and the band. It was a bit of a weird one because I was a fan of her and the band and had to contain my excitement while listening to the new album. It was interesting working alongside someone else who has a strong sense of how they want something to feel and look but isn’t exactly clear when they are explaining it, I think we’re quite similar like that. So it wasn’t a smooth process but I enjoyed it. She taught me a good lesson that weekend in how to approach different types of recordings in different ways. All the videos we filmed were really short with no effects or anything, first takes, often with bad lighting. She liked how rough it all looked, and by the end of the weekend I sort of got what she meant and understood why she wanted it like that.
Who are the biggest influences towards your work?
Like i said earlier I grew up with MTV and I think that was a massive influence on me. This was way before YouTube obviously, so you had to put in the hours waiting for the good videos to come around. I was a big Spike Jones fan (still am) and a fan of a lot of those directors working around the mid to late 90’s. i loved how unpredictable Spike Jonze was, he’s always out to surprise people, so that idea was a big influence on me. I’m mainly influenced by people with weird approaches to art/film. I like people with funny attitudes that don’t fit in. Celebrities and trashy culture used to interest me and inspire me (less so now), some like footballers too, Eric Cantona! I was quite obsessed with him, that attitude, the way he handled himself. People I don’t understand online interest me, things I don’t know influence me, anything new that I’ve not experienced before will get me excited and wanting to make stuff.
Have you got anything coming up soon that you’re particularly excited for?
Christmas. No, well… sort of, I want to get a hoover for Christmas! I’ve decided to take a bit of a break from music videos, which probably won’t last long, to be honest. I’ve started to make a series of sort of short films and short sketches. I don’t really know what they are; I’m just trying to work my way through the backlog of ideas I have stored away. Eventually want to make films, which will probably still be a long long way off. There’s no real plan, I like doing lots of random things.
James Hankins is a filmmaker working around Bristol. He came to Bristol around 15 years ago to study Fine Art at Bristol UWE. He predominantly makes music videos, but also make commercials, events filming and promotional videos. James has been working part time since 2013, but making films since around 2006, starting out creating the music videos for his band – OLO Worms. James has worked with various indie/alternative/folk bands; including Rozi Plain, Mikachu and Los Campesinos.