MrMr's Katie Lambert & Martha McGuirk: "Good times all the time."
David Knight - 7th Sept 2022
The producer pair have shaken up the tree of music video production with a new production company model, while still working for other companies. Do keep up. DK talks to Ms Lambert and Ms McGuirk about life as MrMr - or is that MrMr Films? - and finds that banter is not just for boys.
With years of experience between them producing music videos - including a few MVA winners along the way - Katie Lambert (above, left) and Martha McGuirk (right) made the bold decision in late 2020 to leave their roles running the music video division at Stink Films to set up on their own. And also do things a little differently.
Lambert and McGuirk founded MrMr Films, and since then the company has produced videos for Little Simz, Wet Leg, Self Esteem, Foals and alt-J. They have done this without what would usually be regarded a production company's main selling point: a roster of directors. Instead, MrMr Films' has produced work where artists have directed their own videos, provided a production base for unattached directors, and even directed work themselves, with a short film directed by Lambert for the new Suede album Autofiction released last month.
Furthermore, the pair have also become freelance producers for hire - known simply as MrMr. In that role they have also produced some of the more high-end music video productions coming out of the UK in the past couple of years, including for Dua Lipa, Little Simz (again), Sam Smith and Harry Styles.
We spoke to them about their ongoing adventures as MrMr, finding out about the inspiration and motivation behind it, their favourite work so far, and what they have planned for the future.
Although, we didn't always get a straight answer - or even the same answer - from this quick-witted, fast-talking double act...
After years developing directors... it was time to think of ourselves as the people who needed developing.
DK: Being a ‘producer duo’ is (still) quite unusual in the world of music video production. How did it happen?
KL: Production can be incredibly lonely and you need someone to bounce off, and whinge to. Someone who really understands how stressful a bitchy agent can be, and exactly why we have to charge mark-up on all overages.
We did a lot of jobs as this team [at Stink], and as the department got busier, and we had to do jobs apart, we realised everything was 100% more fun when you had a pal. And so we thought why not start our own thing, making sure we could have each other on every job in a beautiful, supportive, co-dependent, money-making machine. MrMr was built on these sturdy, healthy foundations.
How does it work? Would you recommend it?
MM: We divide and conquer depending on the job, and who hates the director most. If we can’t decide then we both have to do it.
KL: 95% of the time I would recommend being a production duo. Sometimes Martha can be moody as hell and on those days I wish I was going it alone. Luckily, most of the time she's OK. I’m not sure we are a ‘’good team’’ but we do our best to muddle through.
MM: Katie can be very needy. She demands we share a room on all away jobs.
As MrMr, you are both a production company and producers/production team. What’s the difference? Does one version take precedence over the other?
MM: We are still freelancing for others. Some of our best work is for other companies and traditionally our videos for big artists are with other production companies - for example, Dua Lipa for CANADA, Harry Styles for Prettybird.
KL: Freelancing is very fun because we can work across companies, countries and directors. It’s the juicy jobs you always wanted.
MM: Making stuff as MrMr has always been important to us. It started out with smaller videos with the artist directing like Self Esteem and Wet Leg but we’ve also worked with freelance directors who bring projects to us. Muse, for example, came through director Jared Hogan.
What was the first job you did as MrMr?
MM: We shot a video for Emir Taha with director and photographer Olivia Rose. This was our first full MrMr shoot running as a production company. It was a tiny shoot but felt very exciting to be doing something totally on our own.
KL: Our first job was actually a Celeste video with Joe Connor and it was a performance thing with a two day turnaround. It was fun and Joe is lovely. I quite like the jobs when you have zero time, because you have to make decisions and roll with it. It’s exciting.
MM: Oh yes, Joe Connor! Ahem, that was first. Our first big (commercial) job felt like the Samsung “Awesome is for Everyone” campaign with our sweet son Felix Brady.
It was shooting in Lagos, Rio, Bangkok. Kyiv, Amsterdam and London (remotely mostly) but that was a big deal and a stressful but exciting ride. We all went to Kyiv for over a month and just had a production hub from our AirBnB. There were a lot of arguments, and once Felix accused us of trying to kill him, but overall a lovely time.
Above: McGuirk (left), Felix Brady (centre) and Lambert (right) on the Samsung shoot
You launched MrMr Films as a production company with a different proposition to the usual structure. What’s the thinking behind it? What motivated you to launch it?
KL: It’s rosterless, that’s the crucial difference. Any company with a roster is structured to further those directors careers, and get them onto higher budget projects. Often that path is from music videos to ads, and this is something I loved doing – both at Agile and Stink. But, the time the pandemic rolled in I’d been developing directors for the best part of 8 years.
I was (and remain) so proud of all the directors we worked with but it was time to think of ourselves as the people who needed developing and do projects that suited us.
Artists who direct are much like new directors - they need creative support and help. Doesn’t everyone?
MM: I think filmmaking and production is so much more than that, and a crucial factor of MrMr is us having the independence to do whatever we’d like. We went to Nashville for a month last year to shoot a short film, and we’re developing a lot of longform [ideas] – these feel like projects for us. MrMr means freedom. Good times all the time.
You’ve worked with several music artists who have directed their own videos - Self Esteem, Little Simz, Rhian from Wet Leg... Have you actively sought those projects? Do the challenges differ from working with ‘professional’ directors?
KL: This happened super-organically. Basically from making music videos for 10 years we knew a few commissioners and managers. When these artists want to make something, but don’t want a ‘director’ per se – why not talk directly to the producers? It’s really rewarding and some of our proudest work.
Honestly, artists directing are much like new directors. They need creative support and help - but doesn’t everyone? It depends on the artist and director, of course.
MM: I’d say the biggest challenge is that artists may have a busier schedule than directors (!). But often it’s actually a smoother process because we’re doing directly what the artist wants. I feel like the biggest single factor in music video success is artists feeling involved and actually responsible for the creative. When you’re going straight to the source its simpler.
You started working with Wet Leg after Chaise Longue had become a word-of-mouth smash, and you produced the all-important follow-up for Wet Dream. Presumably that all went to plan as you have been working with them on several videos since...?
KL: It was the week after Green Man last year, and we were both feeling a little under the weather... Martha cried all the way to the Isle of Wight.
MM: Katie demanded I drive all the way, and also that a small van would be big enough for all the kit. Guess what? It wasn’t.
KL: Anyway, we got there and we were met by Rhian and Hester who immediately made the whole hideous journey worthwhile. We had a delighful time dressing up as lobsters and running around with the dream boat Ailsa Aikoa. When they came back this year [for Ur Mum] with Lava La Rue, how could we say no?
Then you went on to produce the first Alt-J video from the current album, directed by Prosper Unger-Hamilton - brother of Gus from the band - for U&ME...
KL: Prosper got in touch with us via Isaac Eastgate and this project was incredibly fun. Romford Skatepark is a special place, complete with a squirrel hotel, ‘black hole’ BMX drop and ‘rom rash’ (you don’t want to know) – and the amazing manager Becky couldn’t have been more accommodating to us. Martha fell in love with a skater called David. That’s what the video is about, mostly.
Dua Lipa’s Love Again - with Dua, linedancing and invisible horses…. How did you manage it? Was that the most challenging video you produced last year?
MM: I think this probably was the most challenging video, yes. Lope [Serrano of CANADA] is one of the greatest,so it truly was exciting, but the budget wasn’t huge compared to the scale.
We had a lot to shoot in the two days and only had Dua for one of those. We had to get several horses into the underground ballroom and the only access into the space was a lift which the horses were not too keen on.
Above: McGuirk (left) and Lambert (right) with Karen Saurí (centre) in Grosvenor House Hotel for the Dua Lipa 'Love Again' shoot
I was VERY worried about the carpet, which was not insurable...
Art department hand-blew 400 eggs. Costume had to sew a greenscreen suit for the horse and hand stitch hundreds of tiny lights to Dua’s costume and then do it AGAIN overnight when someone unpicked the hundreds of lights before the stunt double had worn the clothes the next day. I was VERY worried about the carpet, which was not insurable and spent most of the time checking the horses rubber hoof protectors were on.
KL: It was difficult but I managed to pull it off in good humour. I had a lovely day with the horsies.
You were the production company on the Muse video Won't Stand Down, so when did you come on board, what were your roles in achieving this ambitious concept? Was this one of the last videos to shoot in Ukraine?
KL: Jared Hogan is a long time friend and all around king. We were hanging out in Nashville (casual) when he won this video with Lark, and we were delighted to make it happen. We flew directly from Nashville to Kyiv because we didn’t want to miss the shoot.
Luckily for us, the staggeringly talented Savvas Stavrou and Dasha Deriagina were all over it. This was December last year, so yes I think it’s fair to say it was one of the last projects shot in Kyiv.
MM: My favourite moment was when the Matt Bellamy mask arrived and we all tried it on in the Shelter production office.
You've produced several Wet Leg videos directed by lead singer Rhian. How and why did Lava LaRue get to direct Ur Mum?
KL: Lava is one of the most uniquely talented people. They are a whirlwind of ideas, solutions, stories – all told at a million miles an hour with no pause for breath. This whole idea and story was written and developed by Lava with Rhian and we were just happy to be a part of the madness. I’ve never been more impressed with a new (ish?!) director on set than I was with Lava on ‘Ur Mum’.
Poppy Ashton produced the video and the whole shoot was a super refreshing reminder of why it’s fun to make videos and exactly how creative a whole crew can be. It was a tonic we needed at the time.
MM: You had to be over 25 to drive the camper van which meant no one else on the crew was nearly old enough. So I spent the day doing a lot of 9 point turns...
You’ve been (mostly) working on budgets at the higher end of the scale in a year which overall has seemed tighter than ever, budget-wise. So has that come with greater pressure than before?
Martha: YES, I’m incredibly stressed all the time.
Katie: Mostly fine.
Who knew Harry Styles was so famous? I was always a Louis girl myself.
Arguably your biggest music video production this year so far was as freelance producers of Harry Styles – Late Night Talking...
MM: The video was… ahem… challenging. Who knew Harry Styles was so famous? I was always a Louis girl myself. The self-proclaimed ‘Harry’s Whores’ (nice one ladies) kept guess the code word and the casting call was leaked for the world to see.
KL: We used E Pellicci Café - which is next door to our office - as one of the locations. It is a proper East End London ‘Italian’ and they were incredibly excited, yet disappointed about the no pictures rule. However, they made Harry sign 25 Pellici tea towels instead, which he did like a total champ. What a man.
MM: [Name redacted] asked Katie to join him in the Holiday Inn after the shoot wrapped.
KL: I was flattered but had to decline.
Does the MrMr structure operate in the same way for your commercial work?
KL: It depends on how busy we are and who we are producing for. We often divide and conquer in prep and then both turn up for the shoots. It's easier for managing client / agency that way and it’s only fair we both enjoy the fancy commercial catering. We try to name a lead Mr on every project now, but it's hard because don’t want to encourage favouritism, and Martha is much better at most things than me.
Can you talk about other projects you are working on at the moment - music video-related or otherwise?
KL: Making movies. The L Word but set in London, 2022. A female Indiana Jones, set in colonial Greece and returning treasures. Bring It On but English, shit and gay. A middle aged woman digs a hole in her garden to die in.
There are a lot of ideas floating around the MrMr office. Not many of them are very good - but that’s part of the fun.
MM: I’d like to focus on my memoir, “Martha McGuirk: On Her Own.”
• See more MrMr work here
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David Knight - 7th Sept 2022