We spoke with Greatcoat Films director Shan Phearon about quality music videos, celluloid GOATS and the future of the music promo industry.
What’s the best promo you’ve seen recently and why?
An unexpected recent piece was Baby Keem –Hooligan by director Jake Schreier. I love the minimalism, as it’s the polar opposite of visual maximalism I can sometimes find myself fixated on.
Stark lighting schemes, anti-conventional performance approach (for generically imposed Rap video expectations atleast) and confidence in every shot as the song rides over subtle screen atmosphere.
It’s so simple that it could have underwhelmed in lesser hands, yet the sheer vibe captured is singular, that’s often the hardest and least guaranteed magic trick with some promos.
What’s the first promo you remember being impressed by?
Compelled to pick something from the Hype Williams’ catalogue circa 1996 to 2000… so probably Missy Elliott – She’s A Bitch. That whole time period around Y2K, I remember being enamoured with the aesthetics, something I didn’t have a name or description for as a kid, but in retrospect it was pure futurism, an Afrofuturism turned up to it’s highest voltage.
And what’s your all-time favourite music video?
Amongst others, I’d say Jay-Z – 99 Problems by director Mark Romanek is up there: a visceral, monochromatic, ciné vérité lens into the decaying urban jungle and its myriad of lost inhabitants. I remember realising I didn’t know what ‘raw’ looked like up until that point in my cognitive visual development seeing it on MTV as a teen. Despite it being a portrait of New York dirt, it made me reframe the way I saw my own environment growing up at the time, a survivalist area of London where ‘the ends’ could be viewed with a touch of neorealism in all it’s beautiful filth.
What other directors/artists do you look to for inspiration?
All time celluloid GOATS include: Spike Lee, Gaspar Noé, Wong Kar-Wai, Jean-Pierre Jeunet, David Fincher, Paul Thomas Anderson and latter day saints must include Andrea Arnold, Edgar Wright, Chan Wook Park, Denis Villeneuve, Sean Baker, Ari Aster, The Safdie Bros and Jordan Peele.
Music promo heroes as essential reading:Dave Meyers, Hype Williams, Mark Romanek, Paul Hunter and also Khalil Joseph is probably one of my favourite newer school directors this past decade. Plus on the commercials as art tip. not forgetting formidable minds like Tony Kaye and Frank Budgen.
What are you listening to at the moment?
Recently emerged from a nostalgia wormhole revisiting random Nu Metal songs/videos like Slipknot and Limp Bizkit from my high school years, the era when Hip-Hop, Grime, Nu Metal were my three beloved musical extremities. In the last year… Headie One’s Gang EP was a solid reload affair for it’s forward thinking sonic approach to Drill textures.
I also thought Kanye West’s ignored Sunday Service Choir LP side project Jesus Is Born was one of the compositionally richest works of his career with out of this world instrumental arrangements… it’s gospel for even agnostics. I guess I’m just waiting for a new Kendrick Lamar LP right now to save us from an otherwise sub-par period for any really rule-breaking releases.
I predict from next year we’ll begin seeing some fresh trailblazers entering the zeitgeist, cyclically right on time to set the decade’s musical road map and new cultural conversations.
What’s your favourite bit of tech, whether for professional or personal use?
The internet. Been a fan since 56K dial-up. Still a firm favourite. Also, buy Bitcoin.
What artist(s) would you most like to work with and why?
Name checking some obvious world class tier ones… FKA Twigs, Frank Ocean, Billie Eilish, Kendrick Lamar, James Blake and on a legend tip probably Marilyn Manson. They’re crème de la crème for emphasis on impactful and defining visual output, all a little bit daring and all clearly dedicated to honouring the video craft and their visual collaborators.
I think that’s a dream scenario for most directors, to be paired to work closely and nurture creative direction with essentially ‘performance art willing’ type artists, or at the very least artists open to creative enlightenment and expanding their brand world.
How do you feel the promo industry has changed since you started in it?
Controversially I’d say it perhaps hasn’t enough and some might agree there’s still work to be done to better regulate aspects of the music video industry space in the way the commercial’s sector is a bit more modulated and sustainable with creative development processes. The flip side is that there’s occasionally a freewheeling live-wire energy to the promo’s circuit and that causes sparks for some interesting creative endeavours and encourages greater experimental freedoms sometimes.
On a progressive note there’s a few more diverse directors getting through the door (just about), gaining traction independently, finding audiences for esoteric work, that might only lead to a revolution soon enough right?
Where do you see the music video industry being in five years’ time?
Given the current Covid road bump, predicting anything in five years from now is a game, but if monetization for artists and revenue for the industry recuperates and continues to go from strength to strength (which stats suggested it was doing pre-Covid thanks to digital), then hopefully some day in the near future we may just see a close resurgence back to the ’90s golden era of investment in music video marketing.
Currently, we’re maybe still in the online hangover era of ‘art’ vs. ‘content creation’. Content creation is perhaps cheap, ephemeral and over-prescribed, but art is an event, it’s timeless. When art and commerce meet again, it’s gonna to be explosive.
Tell us one thing about yourself that most people won’t know…
No, but thank you for asking 🙂