So you want to be a… director

The director behind Janelle Monae’s striking PYNK video, Emma Westenberg, discusses the importance of always making, how unpaid work can be a good opportunity, and why no-one should hold themselves to a timeline of achievement

Dutch director Emma Westenberg is perhaps best known for her work on Janelle Monae’s PYNK video, but she’s also made pieces for ASOS and Vogue, as well as several short films and other music videos. But although PYNK might have catalysed her career – it was included in pretty much every end of year music video round up, including CR’s – Westenberg is well acquainted with the struggle it took to get there.

She spoke with CR about how she got through the disheartening times, the dilemma of accepting unpaid or low budget work, and why directors need to be committed to a constant process of making.

Keep on making I think one of the most important things is to keep making stuff. Even if you have no money, it’s no excuse. You can make a video with your iPhone, or borrow a camera. I think it’s important, especially when you just start, to make a lot of things so you can understand what you’re good and not good at. You don’t have to show people unless you make something you’re happy with, but as with any job, you have to do a lot to become good at it. You learn by trial and error what you’re missing in the edit, and why, and you learn before you get on set what you need in order to make a movie or a clip that works. After trying a few times you know what ingredients you need.

Find others to work with Look at videos you like and see who worked on it, and try to meet up with them for a coffee and to talk about what you want to make. I think it really helps to do that, and to look at other makers that you would like to collaborate with, or that do work you’d like to do. Then go back to their earlier films, see how they started out and who they worked with.