For a certain generation, many of our first memories of music are through their accompanying visuals. These strange bohemian faces that pop up on the television doing zombie dances or looking like a Rembrandt rendering are riveted onto our sensibilities and open the curtain to peer at the world of music that swirls beyond the visuals.
In recent years, Andrew Donoho has been at the forefront of the music video world, crafting a creative oeuvre as varied as any artist with his stunning sonic accompaniments. Most recently, he caused a stir with the pioneering new video for Paul McCartney’s ‘Find My Way’ featuring Beck. The video saw the legendary musician wind the clock back to 1964 through innovative technology that thrilled and bemused in equal measure, providing a captivating short film.
Now, Donoho is set to rekindle his creative relationship with Bella Poarch for ‘Inferno’ following their success with ‘Build a B*tch’ that already sits on 268 million views after only a matter of months on YouTube. We asked him about all of this and more as we caught up with him ahead of the launch (13th of August) of his latest enthralling effort.
An interview with Andrew Donoho:
How did you first get into filmmaking?
Like a lot of us, the filmmaking spark began with a VHS camera at home. As a teenager, I scoured the internet for every form of visual effects software to try and spice up DIY home movies and school projects. I entered film school creating visual effects for friends and classmates, which quickly blossomed into a full-time career.
I left college before my last semester to supervise effects on a handful of TV shows in Atlanta but ended up never going back. Before I knew it, I worked daily alongside veteran directors on some of the largest projects in the city. I absorbed every perspective, technique, and nuance possible so that I could carry the experience into my own work.
The last job I supervised VFX on was on Atlanta season 1 with Donald Glover, where we created an invisible car smashing through a crowd of people: I couldn’t have asked for a better final VFX job!
What encouraged you to get into the realm of Music Videos?
Music always inspires and enhances my own ideas to a massive degree. As early as my first short film, I would listen to playlists while writing, edit scenes to music, and directly marry characters or performances to songs.
I felt comfortable starting in music videos because those habits directly correlated to a workflow that artists loved. I remember how excited I was about my first music video because it was like I got to create a short film where the actors and soundtrack were already perfect, and I just needed to focus on the storytelling and imagery.
What is your creative process when it comes to each new song?
Occasionally a concept will come to mind right off the bat, but more often than not, I have to plant the seed of an idea and cultivate it. In the same way, I will often listen to specific songs while visualizing a script; I love to scan image libraries while brainstorming for a music video.
As I loop the song, I’ll see certain colours, frames or textures that feel distinctly parallel to what I’m hearing. I’ll do this for hours, stringing together stills from movies, photographers, and designers. When I start to pick up on the patterns and how all these images connect to the core of the song, lightning usually strikes: I will have a world my video can exist within, so the details start falling into place.
What is it like to work with stars who are not necessarily actors? Have you had any ego problems on this front?
A huge part of my job is getting inside the head of an artist. I’ll listen to albums, watch interviews, and try to get a feel for what they are all about. I generally get to ask a few questions to the artist before pitching my idea, which really helps me read the room.
If you ask the right questions, it’s easier to predict what concepts or approaches will gel with the artists’ personalities. Some artists will allow me to rehearse with them, break down character/performance notes, explain the process, and shoot for 14 hours a day until everything is perfect. Others might see the video as purely a marketing tool and won’t meet you until the day of the shoot or want to perform the song exactly as they do live and only give you a few hours of their time.
I’ve only ever had big problems when I let my own agenda for a project clash with the artist’s expectations. These days, I just try my best to only work with musicians that put the story and the execution of the video above everything else.
How was Paul McCartney to work with on his latest ground-breaking video?
Oh my god, so great. Whoever said “Don’t meet your heroes” has never met Paul McCartney. The guy was a bubbling ball of energy, creativity and life. He cracked more jokes than I could keep up with. I got to spend a few hours with him during the 3D scan of his face, and then the entire shoot day: both have become prized memories.
He embraced the ideas I presented and brought many of his own to the table. He arrived at the shoot with a bouquet of flowers because he wanted his five-second cameo to have a background story. Paul thinks about the details. The collaboration was honestly a dream come true in every capacity.
Your video for Bella Poarch’s ‘Inferno’ is your second time working with the artist – How do you approach a follow-up video coming off something as massive as ‘Build A B**ch’?
Oof, this was a tough one. I’m ecstatic with how the video turned out, but there was definitely some turmoil along the way. I work very closely with Sub Urban, Bella’s creative director / the other artist on the track, and we based the concept on a dream he had involving a Hellish Hotel in the centre of a desert.
We combined the dream with inspiration from Dante’s inferno, then housed it all within Bella’s desire for a fantastical revenge story based on her own experiences. Initially, while trying to make something bigger and better than the last video, we wrote an impossible project: the story involved ten different time periods, ten different looks, a living / moving hotel hallway, 25 cameos, millions of dollars in practical effects, and would shoot in an Eastern European hotel outside of the country.
After a few drafts and some deep thinking, we shifted our motivation from the large spectacle to tell the strongest story that connects to the song. There are definitely some cameos and insane practical effects, but now the video stands on its own feet without relying on being “bigger” than the last.
Is there any artist that you haven’t already worked with that you’d love to collaborate with?
I’d offer up my future firstborn child to direct a video for Radiohead or any Thom Yorke project. Almost everyone has that artist that “changed their life”, and I can honestly say I wouldn’t be where I am without Radiohead.
I found them when I was 12 years old on a friend’s iPod at a church camp and listened to ‘Hail to Thief’ on loop the entire night. That crystallized moment ignited a deep dive into new musicians, music videos, and even my favourite directors.
I was lucky enough to direct for Ed O’Brien of Radiohead on his video for ‘Brazil’, but that taste only made me want more. There are a few dozen other artists that I would love to work with, but none of them even touch the warm, fuzzy feelings that I have for Radiohead.
What is next for you?
I proudly joined a new commercial production company called Tomorrow, and we have a few exciting projects underway. I have a movie in the works that we want to shoot in Spring 2022.
I’m also writing a script that I’m quite fond of. Then, of course, there are new music videos on the calendar that I’m dying to share. “Inferno” for Bella and Sub Urban is the first to come out, and the others will, hopefully, be equally exciting. Aside from that, I’m hoping to take a long weekend at a beach house before the next shoot ramps up.