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Jocelyn Anquetil on flexible creativity: "My inspiration comes from what's in the artist's head."

Jocelyn Anquetil on flexible creativity: "My inspiration comes from what's in the artist's head."

David Knight - 26th Mar 2024

From a trio of videos for singer-songwriter Ezra Williams to a high profile series for Spotify, and now supervising the launch of DJ/producer Salute's debut album, Jocelyn Anquetil is showing the way when it comes to combining the roles of director and creative director. 

We caught up with the Pulse Films director to find out more about her recent projects, why she's comfortable making visualisers - and her saucy-sounding side project.

Since she emerged as a video director a few years ago, Jocelyn Anquetil has consistently demonstrated her versatility. Whether its alternative artists like King Krule, hip hop queens like Bree Runway and Sudan Archives, rockers like IDLES, Anquetil builds visual worlds dovetailed to their needs, while also playing to her own strengths - a cutting edge visual sensiblity allied a cherishable sense of humour.

Furthermore, Anquetil is often called upon to take on more than one role than just music video director - and is happy to do so. Having started out in set design for live shows and festivals, her background and also her attitude distinguishes her from many of her directing peers. "I didn't come from a place where I was saying: 'I want to be a director, I want to work in film'" she points out during our discussion.

I've always wanted to do the whole package.

Perhaps that is why she is able to view the artist beyond the context of the music video - a skillset has never been more valuable than it is now. In the past year or so Anquetil has been both music video director and creative director on a number of projects, all quite different in terms of style and scope.

At both ends of that period there are two ‘indie’ projects – one for Irish singer-songwriter Ezra Williams, the other for emerging Manchester-based DJ/producer Salute, recently signed to Ninja Tune. In between, she directed music videos for Tkay Maidza, King Krule and IDLES – and then also helmed a huge project for Spotify’s new live music video series, featuring an array of international pop stars including Troye Sivan, Tinashe, Nessa Barrett and Ivan Cornejo.

Spotify's Green Screen is a six-part series where live studio performances by the artists are transformed by the creation of virtual environments around them. Most of the six episodes have now been released  - most recently the episode featuring rapper NLE Choppa - our conversation began with this high profile project which, due to its complexity and her role, dominated her time in the latter half of 2023.

It wasn’t sufficient to say ‘hey, lets put Troye Sivan on a cloud’. There had to have some relevance.

PROMONEWS: How did you get involved with the Spotify Green Screen project?

JOCELYN ANQUETIL: Spotify sent through a short deck saying that they wanted to create a series called Green Screen, where artists perform on a green screen and then we transport them into some kind of animated world.

It was a nuts idea, really. A mammoth project. If you want to do a high-end green screen situation, a lot of elements are involved. It has to be well planned, and as we know in the music industry, everything happens last minute. But that was the brief. And as I saw it I had to create some purpose to the worlds we were creating. Why did they exist? It wasn’t sufficient to just go ‘hey, lets put Troye Sivan on a cloud’. There had to have some relevance.

I rewrote a brief that pointed out that the worlds need to mean something towards the music. I created a series of questions for each artist, including: If you imagine this song, what colour is it? Or when you're performing this song, does it take you anywhere? Or if you could perform this song anywhere - if there was no rules of reality or anything - where would you perform it? From those prompts, we built each world. Some of them were built off emotions or lyrics in the songs, and some were built from an artist saying: I imagine this.

P: So each artist had their input in the idea?

JA: Yeah. Which was really nice. It’s similar to the way I work for a music video, in that I speak to the artist about the song. We talk about visuals that the lyrics bring up or anything that they feel really strongly to do with the song. Then I would develop a design idea and pitch it to them. It was very fast-paced as well. We would have about a week to just concept it all out, which was kind of mad, but fun.

Obviously, there were limitations within our budget and the timeframe, so we couldn't really have loads of scenes. But we would create a world where you could do this live performance that is somewhere that you would never be able to do in real life. We went for things that were impossible or a bit surreal or kind of stupidly beautiful.

We were playing with how you could make real things - albeit computer generated - look kind of surreal and designed in a way that you wouldn't be able to get in real life. That's why a lot of them involve a reveal, because we couldn’t just cut to another scene. Each one would be a setting and then we'd think about some way to amplify it, whether that would be like a lighting change or a reveal.

I’m happy with all of them... but Tinashe is my favourite.

P: So how did you create the worlds? It's all CGI, presumably?

JA: Apart from the stool that Troye is sitting on, and the mics, nothing is real. We worked with this really cool post duo called Mad Ruffian, out in LA, and they killed it. They did a really good job. We had a ‘house look’ for the series, which was this hyperreal, set designed feel. We had rules, so that we weren’t going to do anything that felt real – like cityscapes, or existing places. It had to be quite designed and working with the same post team meant that a lot of it was very consistent.

I’m happy with all of them, but I think the Tinashe one is my favourite. The concept and execution worked well together. It's quite difficult when you're on green screen with a particular concept, and you light for it, if anyone decides they want to change something in post, then it becomes like a whole mission in post to adapt. The Tinashe world is actually very complex - it's all sky and clouds. But we were totally on point. The colours are  

P: You’re credited as director on the Spotify project although your role arguably crosses over into creative direction, and as well as directing videos you’ve creative directed other projects in the past year – Ezra Williams, Tkay Maidza and now Salute. Is this a recent development for you?

I think when you direct, you always end up doing bits and bobs. When I was first starting out, I did some creative direction for [German singer] Au/Ra. Then I did an Ashnikko video and I did the single artwork for that.

For me it’s been a natural progression. I've always wanted to do the whole package. And now with Salute, I’ve been creative directing the whole album campaign – everything. The vinyl, the CD, the cassette… Also the custom vinyls, all the visualizers, the press shots, the artworks for the singles. It's been really cool.

P: So what can you tell us about the Salute project? It's mostly still under wraps isn't it?

JA: We shot all the stuff with the visualizers before Christmas. The first one, for System, has come out. We're currently editing the second one.

The whole direction is very much inspired by 80s car commercials and there are two Japanese artists on the album, so around those ones, we've taken 80s Japanese advert influences. It's been really fun to kind of play around with the references, but then also kind of bring it a modern perspective so it doesn't feel too nostalgic. We definitely stretched this budget because it's a new artist. So I think we got a good quality outcome.

It's been fun to play around with references, but then bring it a modern perspective.

P: So how do these visualisers differ from proper music videos?

JA: I think it's a grey area. We've definitely been trying to establish that with the label and management side, like what that is so that it doesn't spiral into becoming a music video.

But essentially we don't have enough footage, really, to do full music videos. We shot all the footage for three visualisers in one day. The tracks have really obvious musical sections, and we’re doing loops. For System, there’s a loop for a certain part of the song and then another loop for the chorus.

I do feel like System did get quite elaborate and ended up probably heading towards being a music video, but ultimately we are reusing footage. The process was not as intense as it gets with a music video. We didn't storyboard it. And I didn't completely lose my marbles.

P: Does that make it different from the experience of making a video?

JA: Maybe it does for labels and management, who are always going to expect something big. But for me, I'm happy if it's shot nicely. The cinematography is really good, the grade is beautiful and that it's edited in a way that amplifies the track.

I know it's not a music video, so it's fine. I quite like it, if you're trying to work with a low budget - even if there’s a lot of managing expectations on the other side.

P: One of your creative direction projects last year that did lead to a really great music video was for Tkay Maidza. How did that happen?

JA: I'm quite lucky in that a lot of the projects I've done have been direct to me, so I've had the luxury of being able to say 'let's chat'. 

I like working closely with the artists. I prefer going for a coffee or having a lot of phone calls and sort of working on it together. I pick up so much inspiration from what they see or what's in their head or their lyrics and stuff. And it was very nice to work with Tkay because she's just a total sweetie.

Ultimately we decided to channel the budget into one big video rather than lots of visualizers.

I did a remote music video with her during lockdown – shot over Zoom on greenscreen – when she was in Australia and I was in my living room in London. We just hit it off, and she came back and said ‘I'd love you to see some creative direction for this and do a few different things.’

With that one, she was just texting me random things for months. And we were playing around with different references, different movies, that we like. Tkay loves Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo+Juliet, but then also loves weird, dark and dirty things. But ultimately we decided to channel the budget into one big video rather than lots of little visualizers. There's always a toss-up between doing lots of little things, or whether you just do one big video work from there.

That video was also crazy. We shot it in the back of Lewisham Shopping Centre, where there’s a fairly horrible old derelict leisure centre - like a haunted gym. It was meant to be this sweaty, underground, Fight Club-esque dungeon where people are fetishizing over money. It was fun to play with that and get into nailing that as an aesthetic for a very punchy, fast paced song - poppy, but also with like a grimy vibe.

P: Then you directed IDLES' Dancer. Was that a more straightforward directing commission?

JA: In some ways it was different from everything else I've done recently, but it was also very much the way I like to do things. 

Firstly, I have to admit that I'd never listened to IDLES before I was sent the track! I think I told Joe [Talbot, lead singer] that as well. I just don't know what I thought they were, but when I actually listened to their music while I was pitching on it, I realised I liked these guys. 

The original idea came while I was cleaning my new house – we had just moved in – and I was cleaning the place over and over, and listening to the song on repeat. And in my head I was thinking: isn't this the kind of shit people do to summon the devil? They listen to songs over and over again and do, like, weird, repetitive dancing? So I thought: okay, Idols are the devil. And these people are dancing and they can't stop.

I admit that I'd never listened to IDLES before I was sent the track.

Anyway, I write this crazy treatment in half a day - because they were saying: it must be in immediately - and then hear nothing for three months. Then, out of the blue, I get a call. They love the treatment. Do you want to make the video? 

Then working with Joe, was very much in the world that I like. We had a direct line, we were on the phone to each other, coming up with ideas, firing them back and forth. Joe is a funny man - very charismatic. It was really nice to work with him and build the video, again in a very short period of time. Everything's always in a very short period of time…

We had two very different references – the walking shots in Thamesmead in Clockwork Orange, and then a video by The Whispers, the 70s soul group, where they are really being quite camp and performing to camera. So it’s a kind of a weird collision of the two.

Joe thought it would be really unexpected to perform like that, in a Clockwork Orange-esque brutalist location, because people see them as these sweaty, angry blokes. But actually - and they might hate me for saying this - they are a bunch of softies. They're really sweet and lovely and humble and very nice to hang out with.

P: Then there are your trio of videos with Ezra Williams - very low-budget but surprisingly, almost shockingly gory! How did that happen?

JA: Ezra's team were looking for someone who could create direct five videos for their EP, Supernumeries. I just spoke with Ezra and learned a lot about them that was really interesting. From that I did three mini-budget videos at the beginning of last year.

That was more like creative direction in the sense of trying to find a thread or create a flow between the videos or a visual world. As it was basically no budget, I pretty much had free rein. I was trying to just do single, simple concepts and execute them well. And I was also into some of the visual cues that Ezra gave. For instance, the emphasis on blood and guts. I was like: 'Yes, let's go!"

I thought it'd be really fun to try and make someone feel sick when they're watching the video...

So we went with these ideas of having different characters that could represent the music. Characters that are living the story of the song. And I think we were actually really lucky. We found some really strong performers and actually, we didn't do traditional casting.

With Skin, they wanted someone that you thought was in a relationship. Then you discover that one of them was eating the other one. We just ran with that! I thought it'd be really fun to try and make someone feel sick when they're watching it. I wanted to do that thing where nothing really happens for a while. You're lulled into thinking that this is all there is. And then... bang. I was just trying to push it for as long as possible, before it turns, for the biggest impact.

And then the concept for Babyteeth was: you’re a teenager at a house party where your ex is somewhere and your teeth start falling out. Like a bad dream, but turned into reality.

We spent all the money on the teeth, basically. We had this really good tooth prosthetic artist that made the teeth so they could go back in, so we could do numerous takes. However, monitoring the continuity of which teeth came out when - and how much blood there was - was a nightmare. So it became more like a fever dream - which I guess is my rationale for absolutely everything that I ever do.

I see Skin and Babyteeth more as like fantasy horror. But I do think people thought Skin was a bit gross…

P: How do you see the current landscape for music videos - or directing other kinds of visuals for artists?

JA: I think things will always evolve and change, people consume stuff differently. You can still direct content that surrounds music. It just sometimes might be different, but it's still video, it's still directing, it's still a world.

It seems like the industry is leaning towards that at the moment. The downside is that it can be a nightmare when it comes to deliverables. When the message is: 'you need to shoot it so it's this way, this way, this way and this way - but we won't pay for it to be shot multiple times.' 

I don't mind reshooting things. I think it's interesting shooting stuff in different formats or different shapes. But it's when you have to make it so its 'one size fits all'. That takes away from something by squishing it or cropping it changes.

I haven't necessarily come from a place where I've been like, 'I want to be a director, I want to work in film'. I've come from having done set design. So I think for me, I naturally would want to be involved in different stuff that isn't just linear like the filmmaking thing. But I think if we strayed totally away from music videos for a while, then there would be some renegades out there saying: ‘no one does music videos anymore. I’m going to make a music video.’

P: And is it true that as well as all the other projects, you also have an interesting side project you're working on?

JA: Yes. I started shooting a short film last year. It's a comedy horror - called Porntageist. It's about a woman that gets haunted by the ghosts of some murdered porn stars. 

It's a little bit batshit, but I think that’s good. If it’s a short, then it's got to be impactful, hasn't it? 

Having said that, it was actually surprising how many casting agents asked: ‘It's not actually porn though, is it?’

• Jocelyn Anquetil is at Pulse Films for music videos and commercials, and repped for music videos by Hands.

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David Knight - 26th Mar 2024


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