AG Rojas won the Best New Director award at last year’s UK Music Video Awards. As the shortlists for this year’s awards are released, we talk to Rojas about his year, which has included launching a film programme, and experiencing some crazy-sounding times in the world of advertising…
Rojas is based in LA, and by the time he picked up the new director award last year, he already had an impressive body of work under his belt, including music videos for Spiritualized and Jack White, a number of short films, and also ads, including the one below for O2. His work has a distinctive cinematic style, with a poetic edge.
CR: How did you first get into directing?
AGR: First, I wanted to be a musician so I learned a few instruments. Then I wanted to be an illustrator so I started copying Quentin Blake. Finally when I was 14, I settled on directing. I got into Art Center College of Design [in Pasadena] when I was 17 off the back of a few weird films I had made with my brother. I dropped out soon after.
When I was 20, I started working at Streetgang Films, which was an amazing, boutique music video production company with a tight roster. That’s where I met, befriended, and learned from some really influential people. Specifically Vincent Haycock, Andreas Nilsson, and Paul Minor.
CR: How were your first experiences of making videos – what did you learn?
AGR: It took me a few years to realise what kind of music videos I wanted to make. I got lost for a little while making performance videos for friends and friends-of-friends in my late teens, but soon came back to narrative videos.
CR: What piece of work are you most proud of?
AGR: I don’t really like to dwell too much on past work, but I would say my first video for Spiritualized [below] is the most complete and satisfying narrative I’ve directed. At the moment, the work I’m doing with Mainline, a company I founded with Vincent, is what I’m most proud of.
CR: How would describe your filmmaking style?
AGR: Not precious.
CR: Do you enjoy working on ads? Is it very different to doing music videos?
AGR: It’s without a doubt one of the most rewarding, fun, adventurous and stress-inducing careers that exists. One minute you’re trespassing a warehouse in Berlin, the next minute you’re the victim of an attempted pick-pocketing in Cape Town, and the next you’re in a seven hour pre-PPM meeting in a hot room in Beirut. That sounds like a good commercial actually.
CR: What’s your favourite music video of all time?
AGR: Easy answer. Rabbit in Your Headlights. [For Unkle, by Jonathan Glazer, shown below.]
CR: What are you working on at the moment?
AGR: I’ve just finished production on a World Cup campaign for Powerade with Wieden + Kennedy Amsterdam. It was a five week shoot around the world, and we were able to create six documentaries which I’m very excited about.
CR: What’s the best thing about being a filmmaker now? And the worst?
AGR: The best thing is that (somewhat rare) moment on set when you realise you’re creating something truly special and you’re surrounded by friends. Per diem is also cool. The worst thing is when you are impeded by politics and other people’s fear.
CR: What piece of advice would you give to someone trying to get into filmmaking now?
AGR: Find an artist you think is amazing and has a chance of becoming popular and do a really smart music video for them.
CR: Tell me about your film programme, Tribute, why did you set that up? How’s it going?
AGR: Tribute was born out of short documentaries I used to make years ago. I’ve never really been obsessed with being a prolific filmmaker, but the lulls between jobs can get really boring. As a reaction to those lulls, I would go out with a friend, find a teenager, and film them for a day.
My good friend Matt Lambert runs the video portion of a collective called Bare Bones, of which I was involved. Matt inspired and influenced me to reach out to the large network of young directors I’ve built up over the past five years, and Tribute was born. The ultimate goal is to create an indefinite visual archive of global youth. I can imagine a retrospective ten years from now of a hundred films. I think it’s a unique thing to create a portrait of a young person which is unattached to a brand.
AG Rojas is represented by Caviar. The winners of this year’s UK MVA Awards will be announced at an event at the Southbank Centre in London on October 28. To view all the shortists, including this year’s Best New Director nominees, visit ukmva.com.