As founder and MD of LEVILE, a leading casting agency for diverse talent and audiences, Ola Christian has been casting director on dozens of UK-produced music videos in the past few years, …
Lowkey Films - making a big impression
Founder/MDs Jamie Gamache and Connor O'Hara explain how Lowkey Films has quickly become a force to be reckoned with in UK music videos.
In just two years, Lowkey Films has made a big impression in British music videos. The company's output, including hugely popular videos for the likes of AJ Tracey, SL, Sigala, Che Lingo and more, just in 2020 alone, means their industry profile no longer matches their name.
Founded and run by Jamie Gamache and Connor O'Hara, Lowkey only began producing music promos in earnest in 2018. Since then it's been pretty much non-stop for the pair. They have been prolific, working with directors both on and off their roster - and the productions have been getting bigger. Their largest to date, for Fredo & Dave's Money Talks, is certainly one of the standout British videos of the year so far.
So we thought it was a good time to catch up with Gamache, 28, and O'Hara, 27 ("Jamie is one year older and it’s something Connor likes to remind him about every day") to find out more about them, and their plans for the future. It turns out they go way back, having grown up not far from each other in Surrey - and have already done some hard yards in the film business before they entered the fray of music videos...
Your work and rapid rise in music video production with Lowkey suggests that you've gained some useful experience elsewhere in film. So what was your route into filmmaking?
JAMIE: The first time I considered a job working in film was when I found out that Titanic grossed over a billion dollars… Cut to fifteen or so years later: 254 meal deals and 987 Diet Cokes down, the reality has hit.
I started off working in the industry as a sound designer after studying on the Tonmeister course [at Surrey University]. I worked at Sound Disposition in Tottenham for about four years with a really lovely team working on numerous projects including Bulletproof (Sky), Wounds (Netflix), City Of Lies (starring Johnny Depp) and others.
Neither of us had any family in film, or mentors... it’s always been about following intuition, watching and learning.
All the while, Connor and I were making zombie films to upload onto Youtube, making fake blood out of custard and food colouring, ha ha. After moving away from the zombie films we started taking things a little more seriously, screening shorts at festivals - and starting to dabble in music videos.
CONNOR: When I was nine years old I had an illness that left me bedbound for a few months – in which time I devoured the first two Lord Of The Rings films, and told myself that one day I would work in the film industry.
Flash forward, and after a miserable and fairly disappointing first year at university, I messaged Jamie to say that I wanted to make something. And thus, we did… and ‘Lowkey Films’ began, when we were 19 (well, Jamie was 20). We started Lowkey with our friend Alexander Lincoln, an actor, who is now in Emmerdale.
Here he is looking sexy and hairy in one of our early short films, Wander.
From here I worked on whatever sets or videos I could until I was 21 when I started my first ‘proper’ job - thirteen months on Star Wars: The Last Jedi in the art department. Neither Jamie or I have had any family from film or any mentors who held our hand, so for us it’s always just been about following intuition, watching and learning.
Can you tell us more about how you met and started collaborating?
JAMIE: We met in bands in our early teens. You could say we were in ‘rival’ bands in our area in Surrey, and became friends after playing gigs together. After a year or so we decided to form our own band called A Wolf Like Me and actually did pretty well, touring the UK, and playing with bands such Gallows, You Me At Six, Young Guns and Outcry Collective.
A Wolf Like Me actually did pretty well, touring the UK...
CONNOR: I’ve always wanted to be a filmmaker and after the band stopped, Jamie and I still wanted to do something creative together. One summer we started shooting zombie short films together for a bit of fun and decided to call ourselves Lowkey Films, not knowing that one day Lowkey would be our full-time job.
We started with filming our family members on the only cameras we could afford. In time we got into some newspapers, gained momentum, and grew from there. When we were 21 (well, Jamie was 22) we did a short film called Infinite, [starring George MacKay, later of Pride, Sunshine On Leith, 1917, etc] which was probably the first time our friends, family, people around us, thought - ‘oh, they’re actually taking this seriously.’
It was summer 2018 when we decided to have a crack at actually making Lowkey ‘official’ by doing our first music video for a band called XY&O.
What made you realise that the time was right to launch Lowkey as a serious concern?
JAMIE: In the first place we started Lowkey just to create something and tell little stories. Infinite and Wander, the shorts we’ve mentioned above, were both quite successful, which kind of gave us the confidence that we could do this.
CONNOR: We got jobs in film to pay the bills and learn more. Jamie did sound design while I worked in set decoration. What we found in our time working elsewhere was that the environments could sometimes be toxic; be that sexist, racist, homophobic or just generally rude. In 2018 when we decided to make Lowkey into an ‘actual’ company we did so with the ‘unique selling point’ that we would be the good guys, and be the antidote to the bad environments that sometimes exist with the film industry.
We found the environments we worked in elsewhere could be toxic - sexist, racist, homophobic or just generally rude.
Has music video production been your main focus in the past couple of years?
JAMIE: I’d say we divide our time between music video and narrative. The best thing about music videos is that we’re constantly working with amazing new crews, exciting new directors and from learning daily through writing, shooting, editing and repeating. We put this knowledge into our narrative work to make us better producers there.
Also, producing music videos is sort of like wiping forty people's arses everyday for a living. So I guess that’s also good practice for the future, ha…
CONNOR: For us, what music videos really allow is creative freedom and collaboration with artists who are also looking to push boundaries. In what other reality can you create films that defy gravity, time or consciousness? For example, one of our genius directors Edem Wornoo did this recently [in the Fredo & Dave 'Money Talks' video] which was entirely shot backwards other than some moments where images on screen move both forward and back in time.
What was the first music video you made that felt like a significant step for Lowkey?
CONNOR: From a creative perspective, Ghostpoet's Concrete Pony was a huge step for us. It was the first video we worked on that really started pricking up peoples ears and turning some heads. We both had white t-shirts on, standing two feet deep in black gunk holding Obar (Ghostpoet) upside down. This was low-budget producing 101, and it’s been followed with a few awards nominations which is always nice too.
Secondly, we’d say a video we did for Robinson's Watching You, as it was our first time working with OB – something that has lead to a really great relationship.
Who are the directors on the Lowkey roster? Can you explain why you were keen to sign each of them, what you think their strengths are?
We connect deeply to people, particularly nice people. All our directors we have a personal relationship with, and would happily go to the pub with any of them just for a chin-wag. On top of that, they’re all madly talented and madly different.
There’s a wealth of talent here that, we believe, with Lowkey and OB Management can finally be released onto the world. You really should see some of the treatments they’re writing – it really is just the start for them.Above: Lowkey Films' founders/MDs Jamie Gamache (left), and Connor O'Hara
We’re the production company where our directors say ‘jump’, and we say ‘how high?'
JAMIE: We like difference and we like challenges. We’re the production company where our directors say ‘jump’ and we say ‘how high?'. Worth also giving a shout out to Oliver Jennings who we’ve been servicing for – our extended Lowkey Family.
What are the videos that you would choose that represent the next big steps forward for the company?
JAMIE: We started this year with a great video for Dave & Fredo that I mentioned above. For us that was the biggest video we had done to date, and the fact it was something narrative and different felt very ‘us’.
We’ve also just had our first feature film financed and our feature documentary Dear Future Children in distribution, which is a huge step forward from that side. The trailer isn’t out yet but here’s a taster...
CONNOR: We’re currently in the process of doing a VFX-heavy, 360 video which feels cool – alongside doing a really cool video for quite a big artist. However, other big steps forward was coming straight out of lockdown and filming videos for AJ Tracey and SL [both directed by Oliver Jennings]. We prepped them both throughout full lockdown and with AJ in particular, were on set just days after restrictions lifted - and working safely.
The SL video was a long time coming as Oliver had been discussing the idea with [Virgin EMI director of videos] James Hackett for the best part of seven or eight months. With the video originally scheduled to shoot in Bolivia, we had to re-shift the focus and bring Oliver’s crazy ideas to life within the UK once international travel wasn’t an option anymore.
What were the main challenges of making videos in the year of the pandemic? What were the hairiest moments (that you’re willing to talk about!)?
JAMIE: The main challenge has been trying to stay sane in amongst all the risk assessments ha, ha. I actually feel we’ve been really lucky this past year. We’ve taken Covid very seriously, and so have all of our crews and clients so we haven’t had too many awful moments. It’s been almost ‘nice’ looking after the crews in this way, and being able to provide both work and safety.
As a young company, we’ve now done more music videos post-Covid than we did pre-Covid.
CONNOR: Of course it’s been quite stressful working, but it’s stressful for everyone no matter what your job. It’s a huge time in the world. At Lowkey we’ve definitely felt a responsibility that, if we can work safely and provide work to an industry that frankly, was quite forgotten by the governments help, then we should do our best to continue. Safely. The other side is that… as a young company, we’ve now done more music videos post-Covid than we did pre-Covid, haha. So we’re like playdough and have just moulded to this new way of working.
Is there a philosophy behind the company - the ‘special sauce’ - that makes Lowkey distinctive from other outfits?
JAMIE: As a company, it’s our values. One of the biggest reasons we started Lowkey is because of the toxicity we’d experienced or seen in the industry. Whether it be racism, sexism, lack of support or respect. We’ve both experienced toxic environments in the past and wanted to put our values and ethos at the heart of everything we do.
This feeds into the crews we chose to work with, the staff we employ, the directors we sign and we strongly believe that the culmination of all of this weaves it’s way into our output and helps the company excel.Above: O'Hara and Gamache stand on a huge mountain of cash on the Money Talks video shoot. It's not there's, it's Fredo and Dave's.
What has been the best feedback (and/or advice) you’ve had, from the label side or elsewhere, about the work you’ve been doing?
JAMIE: Best advice is hard to say personally – but I would say that we’re definitely not overly confident here and we really respect the experience and advice of all crew, producers, labels, reps that we work with.
CONNOR: It’s not so much advice, but I do strangely quite like it when you feel like a label goes with another 'safer’ option than the one our director has pitched. That just spurs me on to keep making the cool stuff and not let those rejects get to us, as essentially… we don’t want to be making just ‘safe’ videos.
Where do you see Lowkey heading in 3, 5 or more years?
JAMIE: We’ve just opened our new office in Clapham which we’ve made sure feels very ‘us’. Super-comfy with a big TV, etc. We made sure we got a space that the great freelancers we work with and directors can use and work in as much as possible – but can also stay for some after-work drinks when we’re allowed to do that.
For us, music videos allows creative freedom and collaboration with artists also looking to push boundaries.
When looking forward to the next three to five years, we’ve been really amazed by what’s happened in even the past year so honestly – who knows?! I think it would be amazing if in five years more of our directors have their names on everyone’s minds and for us to have the knowledge that they’re producing exciting and challenging work.
With our first two features going into production this year, it would be great to have worked on some more narrative bits with our directors too.
CONNOR: We’ve already grown quite rapidly in 2021. We started the year with three of us, and by May there will be six in Lowkey. We’re on the lookout for a Head of Brands & Music to be able to handle that on a full-time basis while we continue bringing in new work, and working on our narrative features. We’re keen to keep our director roster small and focussed and continue to grow and invest as much time as we can into their development so we’re only looking to sign a few more directing talent to the roster in 2021.
Generally it’s just really nice hearing crew speak highly of the way we treat them and the attitude we try and create on set. In a way, I don’t really care if we don’t ‘grow’ any more… so long as we stick to the ethics and attitude that we currently have and don’t get jaded by too many RA’s and PCR tests.
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