Thomas English has been a successful Steadicam operator for more than a decade, and now he's also an increasingly in-demand DoP. Even in this tumultuous year he has continued to progress in this new …
The Questionnaire: Michael Holyk
Nottingham-born Michael Holyk started directing music videos in 2011, for an unknown teenage local lad called Jake Bugg. Since then he's worked with Sam Smith, DJ Fresh and lots more, with 2015 already a productive year: he's directed two upbeat videos for Ady Suleiman, and moodier outings for Gabrielle Alpin and Whilk & Misky. And he probably owns the sexiest beard in British music videos.
Now Michael, 26, is just about to start working with Sam Smith again as he tours and records the next album. High time, then, to give him the Questionnaire treatment. And find all about his shameful video directing past...
Education: GCSE’s and A-Levels in my hometown Nottingham. I took a gap year to do some work experience then just never ended up at university. The BBC was a big education for me as I was full-time since I was 18.
Previous occupations: Station sound producer at BBC Nottingham, and assistant producer at Radio 1 & 1Xtra.
Favourite video of all time? I can’t possibly give you one answer: Justice's Stress, Etienne De Crecy's No Brain and Aphex Twin's Come To Daddy. Gondry’s Lucas With the Lid Off is up there too [Yeah! ed]
Favorite publications/websites: BBC News, PromoNews, Twitter, Tumblr, YouTube, TED.
Favourite food/restaurant: River Café in Hammersmith.
Favourite drink/drug: Lager & Acid (not together)
Last movie you saw (and was it any good)? Re-watched Black Swan for some lighting ideas. Great film.
Favourite directors: Dougal Wilson is the reason I started making stuff. For movies and all-time Hollywood inspirations, (and I’m sure no great surprises here) Hitchcock, Kubrick, P. T. Anderson, Scorsese and Ridley Scott.
Last gig you went to (and was it any good)? David Rodigan and yup – amazing.
Favourite bands/artists: Too many to mention so a few recently listened to on my Spotify: Otis Reading, Oasis, Nick Drake, Nina Simone, Arctic Monkeys, Kanye West, Gang Starr, Hendrix, Bob Marley, Nas, Scorzayzee, Big Pun, Biggie Smalls, Jamie T.
Currently reading/favourite book: The 48 Laws of Power.
Above: Michael (right) with Ady Suleiman on set of the State Of Mind video
What was the first music video you worked on - and what were you doing on that job? It was my A-Level media coursework and our tutor gave us a track by a rock band I’d never heard of to do a music video for. We filmed it in my garage at home with an ad-hoc projector set up. For what it was, it was good. I shared it on YouTube afterwards and within it week it had 500K hits. The fans thought it was a leak and it took off.
It’s online now with like 8 million hits and I purposely left out the band's name because it’s ultra-shite and I’m acting in it – I look like my auntie's girlfriend.
Favourite job of the past 12 months: I directed a series for MTV India, based in Mumbai, with Rayban & Sony Music which was absolutely insane. I got asked to direct a music video before leaving too - such a crazy experience working in Bollywood.
What’s the next Big Thing you’re working on? When I know, you’ll know. A feature length Documentary I made with Jake Bugg is pretty exciting. Documentaries are a form I see myself working more on going forward as I really enjoy making them and I have this ability to get truly into the heart of it capturing moments that make me think, ‘fuck, that was special.’
What would most improve your life? Mindfulness.
Best moment, or fondest memory, of your career thus far? I was full-time at the BBC when making music promos really took off. I called in sick to direct a promo for Benga. Flying to Amsterdam a day after to work with Jake Bugg returning to my 9-5 later that week. Hard work but crafted my career to what it is now. With filmmaking – I fucking love grading. I love the final process of each video, it’s really satisfying.
Worst moment? My first music video commission getting destroyed by feedback as I was on the way to the grade, from Nottingham, soon to realize that it was back to the edit for me and I had to get a train back home to pull apart a video I loved. Luckily that doesn’t happen anymore and I can just get the tube home.
Biggest frustration? That I haven’t made my best video yet.
What’s the big issue or issues facing music video makers right now? Have faith - you signed off an idea and everyone wants to make the best promo possible. There is no need to micro-manage. I am also pretty fed up at the amount of time-wasting. Just like the time you have spent reading this.
Person you most admire? Anyone who stands up for what is right.
What advice would you give to someone starting out in music video production? It won’t come to you – work work work. The more experience you can get the better. Also, don’t be a dickhead – be nice to everyone.
Any hot tips on who will be the future stars in music video in the next couple of years – directors or otherwise? I’ve just started working with Eva Arnold – very excellent DoP.
Featured in this interview
Kareem Adeshina's start in film production arrived earlier than most. He was a child actor, featuring on several TV shows, including East Enders.
Price James has landed in Hollywood. The British director, who at 6ft 6in considers himself “officially the second tallest director in the UK” after a certain Dougal Wilson, has been marooned …
Tom Ringsby and Rhory Danniells have known each other since university days, and having travelled the world in pursuit of their filmmaking careers, they started working together a couple …
Colin Read mixes past and present, toying with our perception of the digital world, in his …
It's bloody awful out there. But what if someone could rise above, and heal everything, with one …
Kara Marni goes intergalactic in Samuel Douek's dreamy promo for Trippin'.
Fickle Friends channel the frustrations of 2020 into an exuberant and vibrant performance, …
Following the video for Son, shot during last year's spring lockdown, David Bertram collaborates …
Novelist is unphased by the drama circling around him, in Ehsan's fiery promo for Calm.