2015 really was a banner year for director Ian Pons Jewell. His video for Vince Staples “Senorita” was nothing short of a masterpiece, ending up on many year-end lists, including our Top 20 Music Videos of 2015. He followed it up with videos for Nao “Bad Blood”, and Rejjie Snow “Blakkst Skn”, adding a double exclamation point to the announcement of his arrival as a top tier director. I asked him a few questions on the eve of his first video release of 2016, Valentino Khan’s “Deep Down Low” (which you can watch below).
Jeff Hamada: You’re getting to travel quite a bit these day, shooting videos in so many different countries! Japan for this one, US before that, and I remember you did a few in Bolivia. Are you back in London now?
Ian Pons Jewell: As I write this I’m in La Paz, Bolivia! But in a few days I’ll be in London for a project. Since the start of 2013 I’ve lived out of a suitcase pretty much. Well, actually I was moving from place to place with just one Royal Mail postman’s bag but I started to get a bad back from it so I swallowed my nostalgia and got a suitcase.
Director Ian Pons Jewell on set.
IPJ: I travel for projects though, yes, and this year I’ve shot and then stayed on in Los Angeles, Bolivia, Japan, Bulgaria and of course London, where I’ll now be going back to for a month or so.
JH: How did it feel to take home a UKMVA so early on in your career? I feel like that “Disappoint You” video was the moment when a lot of people first took notice of your work.
IPJ: It was a really incredible moment and you’re right about getting noticed from that one. I was really outside of it all when making my first videos independently and not signed to a company. But I also had no idea about production companies, I started to realise there was this whole world after some places contacted me after the “Disappoint You” video went up on Promo News. It was then a really enlightening journey all the way to the UKMVAs.
Jargon V.A. featuring Tinie Tempah “Disappoint You” directed by Ian Pons Jewell
IPJ: That award was my first ever, and it was actually temporarily stolen by a crackhead funnily enough. After the awards party I hung out with Saman Kesh and we got some beers whilst looking for a place to eat. This guy came over and walked with us a bit then tried to steal Saman’s phone. As I pushed him away from us he punched me in the lip and grabbed by carrier bag that had the beers we bought plus the UKMVA award. I chased after him and shouted to him to calm down and that I just wanted the bag back and how it didn’t have anything of value in it. He stopped, pulled out a little Smirnoff vodka bottle from his pocket that was empty and waved it around asking for money in return for the bag. I walked over and gave him 20 quid and got my beers and award back. As he ran off I called him a cunt, and he then turned around and shouted back “Sorry! I’m on drugs!”. It was like he was a character in an episode of Brass Eye.
JH: Anyone who saw that video will instantly be reminded of it when they see the eyeball effect in “Deep Down Low”. In terms of your process, what things have changed and what’s stayed the same for you over the past few years?
IPJ: Yes very true, also it has similarities to my Naughty Boy “Home” video, with the blank face effect, although the flesh covered face thing has been done a fair bit by others too. But I should point out that Brandon Hirzel at BEMO came up with that eye effect, of it getting larger and with a kaleidoscope moment. He played around and sent us back this test which we all fell in love with and it went from there. Originally it was all just meant to droop up and down. Another big difference are the budgets! The video for “Disappoint You” was shot on a budget of about 700 pounds. It’s amazing to think back to those days and see what we managed to do on such small amounts of money. Things that haven’t changed, my crew for the most part. I have worked with the same editor since day one for example, called Gaia Borretti. She’s incredible, and has been a really important part of my career.
Valentino Khan “Deep Down Low” directed by Ian Pons Jewell
IPJ: There’s an interesting story to how we met, too. I arrived to London and got a job working for an interactive comedy clip website where I had to use Avid. I pretended that I had started to learn it and in the meantime looked on Gumtree (UK version of Craigslist) at the “skillswap” section. I searched “avid” and it showed a posting that said “I teach you Avid you teach me English”. So I replied to it and met up with her, we chatted and she gave me a DVD of her work as she’d seen that I was just out of university and looking to make films. I was blown away by her work on the DVD and asked her to cut my first ever music video, and she’s cut almost everything since. A big change since those days are the scripts I’m writing. They have gotten darker over the years where as at the start I found comedy was a good way in with getting scripts signed off. The darker and more surreal stuff I have done recently wasn’t getting past the first pitching hurdle.
JH: I’m sure you have lots of bands trying to get you to shoot videos these days but early on were you reaching out to bands yourself? Like where you heard a song and just came up with an idea and tried to get them on board?
IPJ: At the start I had to reach out for sure. I went to a festival in France and saw Otto Von Schirach play and was really amazed by his whole sound and image. I then got to meet him backstage as my friends ran the festival. We got on well and chatted there and I said I would love to make a music video for him, which I would cover the expenses of. He then sent me about 6 tracks and let me pick, but what I did was fuse two of them together and it sounded like a crazy short film soundtrack. It’s called “Aliens Visiting Me”, and the main character in it is called Christopher Prior, who’ve I’ve gone on to cast on numerous occasions. After that video came out, I did get some interest from friends of friends, and specifically my mate Teef who I’ve known since I was 11. I went on to make a couple videos for him which went down really well and then I got more stuff sent to me and it all really grew from there. My collaboration with Teef was a big part of the start of making music videos, the first time I was working directly with the artist bouncing ideas around, which has been strangely rare ever since.
Nao “Bad Blood” directed by Ian Pons Jewell
JH: When someone wants an Ian Pons Jewell video what do you think they think that means? Or maybe a better question is what do you want it to mean?
IPJ: I think it’s something I try to forget as much as possible. The idea of my work and what it means should be formed in the heads of others. If I were able to tell you exactly what it means to others it would risk me being a caricature of myself. But of course you get an idea from comments and so on. What’s interesting is seeing very different reactions from different people. My short film “Angels” has been the most dividing in reaction for example. Some find it hilarious, others incredibly sad. So I think one thing I do a lot is walk a very fine line; one that if i slipped too far to the left it would be an all out comedy, too far to the right and it becomes very dark.
JH: Often directors work with the same DP for several videos but you switch it up on each project (at least the recent ones). Is that just based on the projects being shot in different places or you just like keeping it fresh?
IPJ: I have always worked with Doug Walshe, who is absolutely incredible. He shot “Disappoint You”, and nearly every video since then. He’s one of a kind and has been a huge part of my growth as a director and the cinematic language I’ve developed due to us working so much with steadycam. Recently I have worked with others, and yes, in part due to the location. I’ve recently done a few collaborations with Ben Fordesman who is amazing, the videos for Nao “Bad Blood” and Rejjie Snow “Blakkst Skn”.
JH: Is it ever hard for you to write ideas freely without thinking about budget and other things that might hamper the creative process? I know your original story for “Senorita” was much more ambitious, and I personally find it hard to resist editing out things just because I think I can’t afford to make them happen.
Vince Staples “Senorita” directed by Ian Pons Jewell
IPJ: I think there’s a middle ground. You shouldn’t start to cut at the writing stage, but at the same time you don’t want to fall in love with a baby that you’re never going to give birth to. I think you can write without too much worry, and it’s important to do so to get the tone of the piece down and then think on how to make it work for the budget. After years of making music videos though, I think you end up automatically writing stuff that will work on that budget without thinking about it too much.
JH: Who is a director coming up that people should be more aware of?
IPJ: Alan Masferrer. I had the pleasure of meeting him a few years back, and have followed his work since. He has a very special sensitivity that I find to be quite rare; his work can be so full of heart that it genuinely moves me when I watch it. In particular his video for George Fitzgerald. Another of his videos I loved in this way, wasn’t actually released by the label, but was so special. I’m excited to see the work he does this year, check him out. There there is Anton Tammi, he’s gonna be killing it this year!
JH: I hadn’t seen that George Fitzgerald video, really amazing. What were your 3 favourite videos of 2015?
IPJ: Autre Ne Veut “World War Part 2” by Allie Avital – I rarely feel genuinely terrified watching anything, this one got me. An absolute masterpiece. Kendrick Lamar “Alright” by Colin Tilley – Goes without saying that it’s a stunner of a video, hairs on end throughout. Spoon “Inside Out” by Scott Cudmore – I always seem to come back to this video, I play it a lot. It fills me with warmth, the visuals are so perfect with the music. I love this video.
JH: I also really loved that other video for Spoon’s “Inside Out” by Mau Morgo from the year before. It was a bunch of photos by Todd Baxter with a trippy effect on them. Really haunting. I wish more bands would release multiple videos for songs. What’s next for you?
IPJ: I’ve got a commercial shoot coming up which I’m excited about, a really great script. I’m waiting on a couple pitches and writing on another couple too. I plan to go in hard this year again on music videos, then get my feature hat on for 2017, hopefully. Should also see some stuff with our new company in Tokyo too, which we’re really excited about. I’ve been co-writing more recently too, with Dobi Manolova, who also produces for me. She co-wrote and produced Nao “Bad Blood”, and also co-wrote Paolo Nutini “One Day”, so I’m excited for more collaboration with her in 2016!
JH: Look forward to seeing all those things come to fruition. Okay, last question! If I forced you to get a tattoo across your belly, and it had to be a song lyric, what would it be?
IPJ: “Walking under palm trees that give me no shade.”