State Of Play: Nathan Killham, KODE
Rob Ulitski - 15th Mar 2023
In the latest of our new series asking British music video-makers about their experiences last year and thoughts on the coming year, we grab some time with Nathan Killham, Head of Music Video at KODE.
2022 was the year that KODE celebrated its 10th birthday - Nathan has been there from the start as a co-founder of the London-based studio - and it turned out to be a very busy year. He muses on the challenges right now posed by AI and TikTok, to the need for realism and transparency in the bidding process - and for freelance producers to be properly renumerated for their often Herculean efforts.
And he admits to an obsession with Wordle - and Quordle...
How would you describe last year in a few words?
Chaotic but satisfying.
What was your favourite project or projects you worked on last year?
I loved the experience of shooting the Meduza - Bad Memories video with Elliott Gonzo. We flew out to Vietnam the day after Glastonbury - which is never a fun few days recovery. But that long journey and being thrown into this mad experience of shooting in an abandoned water park in the sweltering heat was really exhilarating.
The crew and local production were amazing and we got some great results shooting everything through a long day - and it was nominated for a UKMVA alongside an array of incredible videos which was amazing!
Above: Meduza's Bad Memories, directed by Elliott Gonzo
What were the best aspects of the job last year?
I love working with our amazing roster of directors at KODE. There’s been a few exciting new signings and elevated journeys with the team here. There was an array of exciting opportunities last year and we’re really excited to push that further this year.
With that, it’s been a great year in general with meeting and working with new people: producers, crew and clients and expanding within the company. We definitely lost the community aspects through the industry due to the pandemic, so it’s been great to have that back now and get to know people more too in general through social events, award shows and festivals.
AI technology is coming at us fast... we’re doing all we can to embrace it and learn about it.
Any other project you enjoyed that deserved more attention, or went under the radar?
We did our first video with Ricky Gibb earlier last year for Murkage Dave – Us Lot. It was a long-term collaboration between Ricky and Dave and I love how it came out, the humour and madness of it all feel’s so relatable. It was a really challenging budget and everybody really put their all in for it.
It didn’t go under the radar per-say as it got a UKMVA nomination - but it definitely deserves more views.
Above: Murkage Dave's Us Lot, directed by Ricky Gibb
What were the most challenging aspects of the job last year?
The first half of last year was pretty intense. There were a lot of shoots on through multiple time-zones and generally navigating through COVID issues made things challenging.
Later in the year we expanded our production team and I immediately saw the positive impact that had. Albeit challenging at times, we had a really creative and successful year.
Best or favourite video or videos last year that you weren’t involved with?
AntsLive - Number One Candidate, directed by Tom Emmerson. It’s from this year, is that cheating?
Kendrick Lamar - The Heart Part 5, directed by Dave Free & Kendrick Lamar (Bit of a bait answer I know, but it left a lasting impression as soon as I watched it)
Doechii - Crazy, directed by C Prinz
Rosalia - Saoko, directed by Valentin Petit
Paramore - This Is Why, directed by Brendan Yates
What were the trends (creative or otherwise) that you thought were most striking last year?
AI technology is coming at us fast and it’s going to keep on growing and astounding (and scaring) us. Some of the artificial visuals and audio through film, TV and art is seriously impressive. At KODE we’re doing all we can to embrace it and learn about it.
Hopefully we don’t get to a world where our favourite artists can keep releasing ‘new’ music once they’re gone through AI - but that’s probably going to happen isn’t it?
It was KODE’s 10 year anniversary - which we celebrated in style.
What was other cultural highlight (or highlights) of the year?
KLVDR’s video for Mel Made Me Do It by Stormzy felt like a serious moment. I remember watching it hungover in Kinsale, it needed a couple of reloads to take it all in. Hopefully it lives on through an iconic legacy.
Wordle took over my life for a long while, too. They also expanded it to Quordle which is four times the amount of Wordle in one go. Crazy.
Any other personal experience that defines 2022 for you?
There were a lot of great travel opportunities through work and in my personal life which were a lot of fun. It was also KODE’s 10 year anniversary which we celebrated in style. We had zero experience before starting the company in 2012, so reaching that milestone and to keep growing has been very rewarding.
Artists ultimately know the song better than anybody else so I’ll be supporting closer collaboration more this year.
What are you looking forward to in 2023 – both for work and for other parts of your life?
I’m really excited about developing our amazing roster of talent further. Our directors made some great work last year and very much looking forward to pushing that further for the year ahead.
For me, personally - i’m really looking to travel more and go to places i’ve never been. Tough to navigate through the amount of gigs and festivals I always seem to plan through the summer but it’s a fun problem to have. There’s some exciting stuff happening in the pipelines at KODE in general too!
Have you set work objectives for this year and if so, what are they?
We’re really keen to shoot abroad more often where budgets and creativity allows. In our music video department we’re always looking for ideas with originality, naturally shooting in a never-seen-before location helps with that.
It’s been a really busy start to the year and looking to get even more chaotic. But it’s all about investing the time into the right projects and not saying yes to everything. Really eager to make videos for bigger international tracks and artists, and do videos for tracks and artists that our directors really feel passionate about.
It’s always tricky when you get a brief with unrealistic expectations and resistance to increase budget...
What is your prediction for the direction of the industry in 2023? And what will be the big trends for the year ahead?
I mentioned previously but I think AI will really come into place more in a lot of creative avenues, intrigued to see how that goes and keen to get more knowledge on that space.
Some of the best videos we have made have come through closer collaborations between the artist(s) and directors and overall feels like a more pleasant experience. It feels like a lot more artists are now directing or co-directing their own music videos, or at least being more involved in the creative process which is something I’d like to see more of this year.
Special shout out to the success Taylor Swift has had recently, but also to our very own Otis Dominique co-directing with Raye, and Rou Reynolds from Enter Shikari and Dan Searle from Architects directing the videos through KODE for their latest campaigns. Artists ultimately know the song better than anybody else so I’ll be supporting closer collaboration more this year.
Above: RAYE ft 070 Shake's Escapism' by Otis Dominique & RAYE
Any other comments about the current environment for music video production and music video creativity? What are the issues that we should be most concerned with?
I feel like most videos are still very much performance-based and I'm really keen to see and be involved in more emotional and honest narratives; it’s been a long while since I’ve seen a music video that has made me stop in my tracks emotionally.
That said, we have just finished another project with Raye which has been a huge journey for her and the team, a very honest and emotional video idea written and performed by Raye for Ice Cream Man - which I think does honesty and emotion brilliantly.
I've also not seen anything recently that’s really made me laugh like crazy. I suppose what i’m saying is that I love a music video that pushes boundaries and get people talking, we should all be taking more risks creatively. I’m not sure if this is an issue of concern, but it’s certainly something I’ve noticed we’re missing in terms of music video creativity.
Everything is also so quickly responsive. The TikTok market we live in gives any song the trajectory to explode in an instant which means the video needs to be done quickly, understandably, and most often for very little money. It can be hard to get creatively fulfilled on those opportunities. With that, you can also be engaged into a project and it can be abandoned or budget slashed due to the song underperforming and I think this is something we need to be really careful of.
I love it when a new track comes out with the video in tow.
Freelance producers definitely deserve a higher rate than the standard 5%
If you could ‘make a wish’, and reform or change the environment in which you work in one way, what would you wish for?
As always, we need more budgets and time. It’s hard to walk away with something you’re proud of if you don’t have either of those two areas. It’s always tricky when you receive a brief with unrealistic expectations and resistance to increase budget based on what they’re looking for.
We always like to give our all and stretch the budgets where possible but the cost of living is greater and people work so hard on music videos. There needs to be some form of reward whether that be creative or financial. Freelance producers definitely deserve a higher rate than the standard 5% too.
I’m a big advocate for transparency and clear communication and love to know how many people are pitching on videos which we don’t always get. It’s gotten better but still needs a lot more improvement - in the US especially. You sometimes have huge music video and commercial directors write on the circa £20k music videos which has a huge disadvantage on younger directors sometimes so having that information going into it would be really helpful.
Above: Enter Shikari's (Pls) Set Me On Fire, directed by Rou Reynolds
Where are the opportunities in the current environment?
As well as that; with social media and TikTok there’s a lot of new ways to be creative and for young creatives to explore filmmaking and express themselves and get it seen by people. You can post a video and get it seen by millions of people when you may not have any previous experience or online presence.
If you have an interest in creating music videos with no experience, head out with some friends and make visuals for one of your favourite artists on your iPhone. I used to do that with friends on my mini-DV camera when I was younger and it was so much fun, really gets you to understand filmmaking from the ground up.
Have you made any personal resolutions for 2023? And if so, how’s it going?
Focusing on happiness; as simple as it sounds it has been a hugely important takeaway from last year, not wasting my energy in the wrong areas or people. Saying yes to exciting opportunities and striving to achieve my goals in life, so far so good!
There’s stopping smoking too but that’s failing somewhat so far...
• Nathan Killham is Head of Music Video at KODE
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Rob Ulitski - 15th Mar 2023