If you watched the latest music video for Spiritualized’s “Hey Jane” – the first single from their new album “Light Sweet Sweet Heart” – you would surely wonder who is the director behind this 10 minutes masterpiece, whose almost half consists of one of the most beautiful sequence shot ever seen in a music video. Well, the answer to this question is: AG Rojas.
This young LA-based director worked also for Jack Withe, Gil Scott-Heron, Earl SWEATSHIRT, Emeli Sande, Chase & Status, Jeremy Enigk, Rocky Votolato and William Fitzsimmons and he directed some experimental films.
The streets of Los Angeles, run by kids on skateboards or by cars driven by a transvestite, the dirty streets of poor neighborhoods and the groomed ones of rich areas: this is not only the milieu in which AG Rojas lives but it’s his poetic universe.
We reached him via mail, we asked a few questions and this is the result: then, no more talk and have a good reading!
Hi, could you introduce yourself, please?
My name is AG Rojas, I’m a 24 year-old filmmaker living in Los Angeles, but born in Barcelona. I’ve been directing music videos since I dropped out of art school when I was 19. Up until I was 22, I worked at various different production companies and was surrounded by a lot of great music video directors. They inspired me to really focus on directing. My relationship to Los Angeles is something that was very important to me when I first started directing. I spent a few years cultivating relationships with teenage skate kids in Venice and Downtown LA. I put them in a lot of music videos and short documentaries, and that was how my producer and I discovered and made the video for Earl Sweatshirt, which got a lot of recognition and opened the doors to a lot of directing opportunities.
Let’s talk about your new video, “Hey, Jane” – for the legendary British rock band Spiritualized – we soon fell in love with. Explain us the birth of this great jewel.
Juliette Larthe, the commissioner of the film, had been shown some of my work by Somesuch & Co. She believed my aesthetic would match up with the first single from Spiritualized’s new album. I listened to the track, wrote the treatment in a couple days, had a call with Juliette and Jason Pierce, and they gave me complete creative control to bring my vision to life.
It’s very hard to classify your works: they’re not just music videos, their soul belongs much more to art films. How do we get out from that?
I believe that music videos can be more than just marketing tools for musicians. Since the music industry has been on a decline for quite some time, I am always pushing labels and artists to take risks with their videos and not play it safe – especially since they are not investing a ton of money on videos. My interest lies firmly on narrative filmmaking, and music videos are a great place for young directors like myself to learn to tell stories. This is only possible though if you have a label and artist who trust you 100% which is incredibly rare.
Your work is very distinctive compared to a general tendency made up of dozens of recent videos where you can see a greater attention to the aesthetic side than to the narrative and emotional ones. How can you explain this trend?
I think a lot of directors feel they need to cater to the labels and fans by pitching ideas which are familiar and easy to sell. That’s fine for some directors, but I never wanted to get stuck in a rut as someone who directs performance videos. There are merits to both styles though. It takes a certain refined skill to direct a compelling performance video.
You’re very young but you have already achieved important goals. What do you expect from the future?
My goal is to direct feature films. Sooner rather than much later hopefully. I’m patient though, and at the moment I’m enjoying making the kinds of videos I want to make.
You are often associated with important artists and filmmakers like Harmony Korine, for example. What are your artistic and cultural references?
Korine, Cronenberg, Malick, Gordon Green, etc. I like directors who don’t do over-the-shoulder dialogue shots.
The following are some of your works. Could do you tell us something about them, please?
- Mind Idea
I had been making shitty music videos for a couple years and was not enjoying the process or the results. One day I made a conscious decision to only direct videos for artists I respected. The music of Sunny Day Real Estate (of which Jeremy Enigk was the vocalist) was a major influence on me growing up. On a whim I decided to email his manager about doing a video, telling them I would pay for it. A couple months later, this was the result.
Every year I go out for a day and shoot a short experimental documentary about a teenager I’ve met. This was the first one. “Quinn” is the second one. Hopefully part of an ongoing series.
Similar story as “Mind Idea.” The difference is this one took 6 months to compile all the vignettes across California, so I had to shoot it by myself in most cases.
This is an experimental short film I directed for my friend Matt Lambert’s traveling group of films entitled BARE BONES. We shot for a couple hours in an abandoned warehouse that we broke into. My friend Jesse Doland did the special effects (he also did the special effects for EARL).
- I’ll Take Care of You
Jamie-James Medina, a photographer who I had connected with Odd Future, reached out for me to direct a video for Gil Scott-Heron and Jamie XX. I flew out to the South Bronx for a week and followed our lead character, Nisa Rodriguez, for 3 days. The crew was literally me, James, producer Ben Pobjoy and our DP Michael Ragen. Michael pulled focus and AC’d the entire thing himself, which was worth it because he was nominated for best cinematography at Camerimage. This is my director’s cut which uses Gil Scott’s original track that I always preferred.
My EP at the time, Tim Nash, called me while I was on a plane waiting to fly to New York for my brother’s graduation. He said if I was interested, Chase & Status would be in New York in a couple days and it was the only time Tinie Tempah would be available to shoot the video. I wrote the treatment on my phone, and we prepped a 3 day shoot in one and a half days. One of the most stressful but fun videos I’ve done.
For “Daddy” I wanted to make the least-”Vegas” Vegas video possible. There is only one shot where you see the Vegas lights, and they’re reflected on a windshield. I wanted to show a side of the city no one really explores.