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Director duo MOM - "There's a lot of ying and yang going on with us."

Director duo MOM - "There's a lot of ying and yang going on with us."

David Knight - 27th Nov 2023

LA-based husband and wife directing team known as MOM were in London recently. We caught up with them to find out more about their backstory, their work, their distinctive directing style - and working with Beyoncé’s horse.

MOM are Matt Plaxco and Ray (or Rachel) Larkin. Both originally from the Seattle area, in the Pacific Northwest, they met while at film school in Los Angeles in the Noughties. But although they worked on the same film shoots, then became a couple and then parents (to their daughter Ushu, now 10), their evolution into a fully-fledged directing team was more gradual.

Ray, who is of Native American descent, also has a background in fine art and photography. Meanwhile, Matt, is an accomplished cinematographer. It took a while for them to find the best way to maximize each of their strengths into one package, harnessing Ray’s instinctual, often lo-fi approach with Matt’s eye for the crafted image. But once they found their groove as MOM, recognition of their talents quickly followed.

Their early music videos, for Alexander Nate and DJ KSHMR, brought them to the attention of Jeff Pantaleo at Black Dog in Los Angeles, who signed them to the company earlier this year. By that time they had also directed videos for the likes of rising hiphop artists Marzz and Aryeè The Gem. They have also started to make inroads into working with brands, including for Hennessy, where their creative coverage of a shoot with Alicia Keys and classical pianist Lang Lang was elevated from BTS content to being released as an ad itself.  

When we meet them, at the RSA/Black Dog offices in London, they are about to embark on a new shoot for Hennessy. And they mention that their daughter, a big Harry Potter fan, was disappointed that she had to stay in LA and go to school, when she could be hanging out in the Land of Harry. So it seemed appropriate to ask what they were like when they were about her age, or a bit older…   

We were trying to uplift other people in the industry that maybe didn't have the opportunities - Moms specifically.

So when you guys were teenagers, what was the coolest thing in your world and your biggest influences?

Ray: Probably what everyone thought was not cool at the time. I've always been a little bit like that. But I would definitely say that where I grew up [in Seattle]. I think hip hop and that whole world was my jam. 

So I watched TRL every day - I was obsessed. Music videos seemed so far away from me in my world back then. I would have never thought, oh, I'm going to be making music videos.

Matt: Man, it’s interesting. I think why we work so well is that there’s a lot of ying and yang going on. For me when I was growing up it was metal – the heavier the better. I was on the constant search for the heaviest shit you could find! To be honest I never paid much attention to the videos, but I would hear music and I would see the craziest imagery. I could just close my eyes and whatever song I was listening to, I could just see it.

R: So when there’s a pitch and I mention a Missy Elliot video or something from 20 years ago, Matt’s like – what video?  But it is funny how full circle came for me and for you, too.

M: Yeah, I was a musician - started playing guitar when I was like, nine. I was in a band throughout all of high school, so we're very tied to music. So I think that's probably why it started the way it did.

R: So it's like not being a musician, but getting to work closely with them. It's the best thing.

What was your first job working together, as MOM?

M: Doing tour visuals for a DJ friends of ours, called Boombox Cartel [aka Americo Garcia]. It was the first time we'd experimented as MOM, and we just loved it.

It was for a single show where he was DJing - called Cell - which was big and sold out. There's 10,000 people there, and he's floating in a cube DJ booth, and we're standing there watching our work on a 60 foot screen. 

R: We had done projects together before then. We met in film school, and worked on sets together, started working in that sense. But when we had this opportunity we didn’t want to go under our own names. To be honest, I thought we were just doing this tour visual thing for fun. It wasn’t really a thing for me - until we were in the crowd watching it. Then it was like – OMG, this was so much fun.

M: The feeling of seeing something we had created that was our own creative and our expression up there was amazing.

So what did you shoot for Boombox Cartel?

R: He let us do our own creative, which was this very surreal “Mother Mary” thing. We both grew up Catholic, so we kind of flipped that on its head.

M: It was actually a really epic project. We shot in a women’s prison – a decommissioned prison, that is. But the main shot was insane – Mary at the altar of burning trash in the cafeteria in this women’s prison, with this crazy ray of light coming down on her.

R: If we’d told [Boombox Cartel] before he would’ve said that we couldn’t do it. When we started shooting it, he was ‘whoa, what’s going on?!’ and we’re like – just trust us, and watch.

M: So we did it anyway. And in the edit, it was his favourite scene by a massive margin. And then putting it on screen in front of 10,000 people, seeing how the crowd reacted... So it was a process of having confidence in our creative, pushing through and persevering and then it being realised – and having a great reaction.

Matt's thinking he needs a certain budget to do something. Where I come from you make whatever you have work for you.

That's a pretty strong indication that you're doing something right. And then you’re doing the multi-media thing, mixing up formats, in much of your work. Was that part of what you were doing then?

R: That’s where I started – collaging. All my walls in my bedroom were collage magazine cutouts and stuff, when I was a kid. So I've been collaging forever. And in my fine art practice, I did multi-media, and when we started working together it came naturally, the different artforms that we use.

M: It's funny because she had to convince me in the beginning.

R: From Matt’s perspective, with his DoP training, he’s thinking that he needs a certain budget in order to do something. And where I come from you just make whatever you have work for you.

M: Part of what makes us who we are is the fact we approach it from a very holistic perspective. I’m a DP and Ray was a photographer for ten years before I even met her. She's very aware of camera techniques. So in pre production, we'll both talk about very DP things and then we'll talk about very director things.

And part of what makes us is that we don’t pitch stuff that we know is not possible. We don’t say we’re going to achieve something that’s unaccomplishable for the budget.

So what came after the Boombox Cartel tour visuals?

R: We kind of just free-flowed with it. We made some connections with independent artists and we would just make one video and then we would get hit up by another artist.

M: There was no agenda. We were just trying to create stuff and have fun.

Where did the name MOM come from, and what significance does it have?

M: There was a directing duo named DAD. Ray’s on the Instagram, and sees this. She says: 'DAD? But they're not Dads - that's fucked up!'

R: We knew those guys and that they didn't have kids. And I don't even know if they like kids. And I just felt that they were sort of representing parents in the industry, but they were not really parents. That's when Matt said: okay, we should be MOM.

After that, we just started going by MOM on everything. And we started to making sure our sets were hiring females. We were trying to uplift other people in the industry that maybe didn't have the opportunities – specifically moms. Because it's kind of hard to do what we do and be a parent.

M: We know everywhere it's very male-led and very white male-led. We try to our very best to try to open the doors to people that may not have the opportunity otherwise.

And your first proper music video was…?

M: Yeah, our first official music video. DJ KSHMR and Krewella in India. It's called No Regret. It's a weird video, and we learned lessons. The artist rammed this creative down our throat. That was so awkward. And we asked him if we could make it better. And he goes, no, this is it.

R: I had just been travelling in India for a couple of months. And I had spent a lot of time in Kashmir. I said, Why don't we just go shoot this in India? He was surprised we could actually do that.

M: I'm like, you have 70 grand, of course you can do that. And he goes, okay, we're going to India. Although he ended up not going.

R: It was amazing shooting in India, because it was just so different than the US. What we got for our money was insane. We had such good crew. It was like the first female ad I had ever worked with.

M: We were working 10 hour days and were worried about getting it done because we’re used to like a 20-25 person crew. Well, 300 people show up.

We went to a wrestling gym, and it had to be night for the story, otherwise it made no sense. But this was during the day, and there’s windows in every direction, 20 ft high. I was like – how are going to black out 400ft of window?! My DoP assistant just looked at me and said ‘Trust me boss – 30 minutes.’

Then 40 genie guys turn up with bags over their shoulders and just scale the pipes on the wall, climbing 40ft in the sky, just clipping on bars. It was the scariest shit I’ve seen. But they were the most capable and best attitude people that work really hard and it was an awesome experience.

R: We did a pickup day in LA with Krewella, met them and their sisters, and became friends there and then.

That led to the Krewella video for Drive Away...

M: They said: anytime we have real money for a video, we want you guys to shoot it. It took a long time because I don't think they put a lot of money into their videos. But one day they just came to us and and said, we only have like 30K, but we want to do this super rebellious in a high school going crazy, like our fantasies as a kid.

And we're like, okay, cool. Let's go. And we just went crazy, running about…

R: In an all-boys Catholic school! Shooting handheld, the madness that we normally do.

M: I think in the first five minutes of talking to an artist, you'll know, right away if it's going to be a fucking nightmare or if it's going to be a blast and they're going to be collaborative. And Kamala was amazing. They were like, yeah, whatever, man.

“It's kind of hard to do what we do and be a parent.”

R: We had some really beautiful collaborations. Like the one where they came to us and were like – we only have $10,000, I don't need to be in the video – and I want it to be about love. And I’m like, say no more.

M: That was Alexander Nate, who had this great song, Save This Dance, about love and loss and how complicated a relationship can be. And we just listened to the lyrics and interpreted it and we came up with this awesome idea to explain the difficulties of a relationship through dance – but make it very simple, a very minimal video.

That was the video that kind of blew us up. It got tonnes of attention, it was on the front page of Nowness, other publications picked it up. And that’s how RSA found out about us.

It is a very lovely video – have to say its beautifully shot!

M: It was tough – unbelievably hot. Yeah, it was, like, 110F in Joshua Tree when we shot that.

R: But before that we had done an Atticus video for It is What It is…. They wanted these 10K a day rate dancers in the video – very talented. They ended up not being featured much in that. But we made the connection with them through that video and they said: anything you guys want to do, we'd be down to make with you again. And so we hit them up for that.

M: And that was the key. Because if you don't have good dancers in that video, that video is not worth watching. And they were like - anything you guys do, we're there no questions asked. Literally came and did it for free, we just fed them.

R: It’s the same relationship we have with our crew. They want to create beautiful things, too, not just to get paid.

M: Our sets are very silly. We have a lot of fun. We're very passionate. But we're like we like to have fun. Since the strike’s been on we’ve been getting really OG crew members – 60 year old guys who’ve been in the game for 40 years. And they’re like – thanks for being cool, reminding me that it can be fun. And we’re like – you’re welcome!

What have you been working on that’s required OG crew?

R: We didn’t deserve or need them, but they came out, for a live performance video for an artist called Aryeè The Gem who we previously did a low budget music video for. And then we just shot a really cool one with her that's not out yet - that involves Beyoncé's horse.

M: Yeah, we got Beyoncé's horse trainer and Beyoncés horse. It was like, totally out of control, random stuff.

Excuse me… Beyoncé’s horse?!

M: Yeah, who is called Odysseus. The most intense name for a horse!

R: We actually glammed him out, and braided his hair. He's very pretty. We got him to do tricks.

M: Odysseus and his trainer  - they were dope. His trainer – we got her to wear full-on Knight's armour. We had him run around - and then we got the horse to go in a tiny church. We're like, is the horse going to go in there? She goes, I'll get him in there. My horse will pretty much do anything. This horse has been a movie horse since it was born.

R: This is for Aryeè The Gem – she’s like the next SZA. She’s very talented, and its really exciting to be in the room with someone that has no ego and, you know, they're so talented and we're just on the journey together.

What about commercials? It’s starting to happen for you, right?

R: We've just started getting into commercials, to be honest. I think we hit this point with music videos where we were like, we love music videos, but it is a struggle because we are so passionate that at the end of the day, we'll throw our whole rate in and not get paid. So then it becomes a thing where it's like, we need to do something to kind of balance it out. And I was very hesitant about doing commercials, and Matt's view has been - It's fine.

M: Yeah, also being a DP, I've been on a lot of commercial sets. So my feeling is: it's fine, don't worry. We're getting beaten to the ground on some of these music videos anyways. Even on videos sometimes you're being told that you have to do the creative you're presented with. You cannot veer it all from this creative, just execute. So on that basis we might as well get paid for it.

We've done a couple really small commercials just to test the water. We did one with a microscopic budget for an eye brand [Barton Perreira]. It was with a smaller crew than we have on our music videos.

R: And that brought us to Hennessy.

Ah yes, the Hennessy ad is cool isn’t it?

M: We're really happy with it, considering it started out as BTS and then it kind of morphed into more of, like a second unit thing. The clients gave us a deck that was like a shot list. And we're like - Guys, it's not really BTS. This is like a whole other commercial. And so we're like, okay, cool, let's just do our own other deal.

R: That was a lot of fun.

Your versatile background – in post work as well, the collage effects and all your multimedia work – is really evident in the Hennessey work. Did you have multiple cameras on the shoot?

M: My God, we had eight cameras on! And that job was just us. Then they gave us a PA, who ended up being a rock star. Because we quickly realised we had to be in four places at once. But we just have enough background and enough education and experience that we can kind of just make it happen.

R: And creatively we didn't have to try to be something we weren't. It was like our style to begin with. The creative agency had seen this little thing we'd done with a friend that has a fashion brand that we had cut, kind of similar, and they were like, we want it like that.

That’s the Monroy film?

M: I think we spent $50 on that. It was a favour for a friend. With that we were interviewing people about their authenticity and their own voice, including a a little bit of branding for [Monroy]. Ray is so good, she did everything by herself – all the sound design, all the soundtrack work, the Foley. Then I coloured it.

Who did the interviews?

M: We did them together. We had a list of questions we wanted to ask. And then as the interview would kind of evolve, we would kind of poke and ask questions as it would go along. It all came together in the edit.

R: What was funny was when we showed that cut to Marilyn Monroy, who owns the brand she was like… ‘Nope, this isn’t me, I don’t like the music…’ I was like, ‘really?’ I really liked it. We knew it was good.

She’s this supercool LA fashion girl, and she sent us another track, what the cool kids listen to in LA right now. It was very laid back. We put it over the film and it just didn’t work. But then we sent our cut to a magazine and it was featured. And then it blew up.

M: It got good feedback and to her credit Marilyn came back and said ‘I was wrong. It’s awesome, it’s got a vibe, its very authentic’. We’ve been through that kind of thing a couple of times.

So what’s next for MOM? What’s your latest thing?

R: We just finished a passion project that we're really excited about. It's with Desert X, if you heard of it. But it's kind of this art festival that happens every year out in the desert. And they do these crazy big art installations.

M: Absolutely massive in scale, like 500ft by 400ft. And they do, like, 30 of them and they're spread throughout the whole desert. It's incredible. We collaborated with an artist whose art is about the clusterfuck of late-stage capitalism…

R: It's like 30 shipping containers that are formed to make when you look far back from far away, it's supposed to be like a sleeping figure, like a guy sleeping. And there's a big mountain peak behind and a functioning train in the back that passes by. So it's epic.

M: But basically, this project is basically talking about the parallels of late stage capitalism and how it kind of ignores a lot of minorities and how they kind of get the brunt of it. So we decided to film in this place, with a friend of ours, a dancer in LA who’s incredible. And our daughter's in it doing Native American dance. We just got this kind of cobbled together this group of technicians and artists together and just got this really cool little piece that we did on film.

R: It's like an interpretive dance piece. We're hoping this will be like kind of the branch to do more narrative stuff. And I'm Native, so I do want to make work that talks about my people and my background. And we have the opportunity to do that.

M: We also have a script in development with a friend of ours who's a producer, and we got a couple pots boiling on on the oven here. So we're trying to stay active, we're trying to stay proactive and try to keep all avenues open to us and just kind of take it as it comes.

• MOM are represented by RSA/Black Dog Films in the UK and US, watch their work here

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