Tim Smith has been one of the most prolific colourists in the busy landscape of UK music videos for the past few years. Just in the past 12 months or so, his credits have include heavy-hitting …
"We’re making music videos for a living, it should be fun" - Jack Lightfoot on 10 years of Blindeye Films
It began with film student friends working together on extracurricular projects. Then they formed a company after they graduated and set up in Brixton. Now, Blindeye Films is celebrating a significant birthday - the company is 10 years old.
Throughout that time Blindeye have been making music-based content, and in the past few years they have produced music videos for the likes of Elbow, Public Service Broadcasting, Take That, Hurts, The Divine Comedy and Bastille. Furthermore they have also become a first-call outfit in the growing market for live music videos, working with Kasabian, Tom Walker and Niall Horan, just to name a few. And they are still in Brixton.
So we spoke to co-founder, MD, producer and director Jack Lightfoot about the first ten years of Blindeye, how they made it so far, and how they keep going from strength to strength...
So how did Blindeye start? When, where and how did it all come together?
Jack Lightfoot: It actually started to surface around 2006 whilst we were at University at Bournemouth - where I studied TV production. It was three of us to begin with, and we were looking to shoot stuff outside of the bits we were filming as part of our course.
We’d all been in bands and loved live music, so we started to reach out to artists we knew to see if they wanted any of their shows filming. I think our first one was at The Water Rats in Kings Cross. We travelled up with a load of cameras from the Uni. There wasn’t any budget, so I remember us all running through the tube barriers with ten tonnes of camera gear because we couldn’t afford an Oyster card. We didn’t have anywhere to stay either, so waited in a 24hr café until the first trains started running again. At least now we get a Travelodge.
We bought two DSLRs with shoulder rigs and some old photography lenses from eBay... That rig was pretty much glued to my shoulder for the next two years.
What was the first, or the next, significant breakthrough that took you forward?
JL: We finished University in 2008, and thought about what we wanted to do next. Myself and Robin Mason, another member of the original team, were still keen to pursue Blindeye. So in early 2009, we got together with a bunch of other friends who had just graduated, and rented a house in Brixton. It had a spare back room, which became our office. And there, Blindeye officially started as our full-time job.
We didn’t know anyone in London. But one of our pals, Ross McCarthy, invited us out to a party as “there might be someone there good for you to meet”. We went, and it turned out that someone was Will Nichols, who had just started working in the video department at EMI, and he asked us to send across our work. Soon after, we were asked to pitch on an EPK for their new signing, Eliza Doolittle. We were buzzing – it was our first proper job. Thankfully, it all went well, and we developed a good relationship with the guys at EMI, working on live shows, behind the scenes, interviews, etc.
Once we had a good collection of work under our belt with some decent -ized artists, it was easier to approach the other labels, and soon we were able to develop relationships there too.
We still work with a lot of these same people today. I often think: 'Thank fuck we went to that party...'
What were the big moments in the early days that forged the spirit of the company and took you forward?
JL: I think we were lucky in the early days to ride the ‘DSLR Wave’. The video function on these cameras had just started to surface, and suddenly we were able to achieve comparatively decent visuals at a low cost. So we shelved all our Mini DV tapes - which ironically are now back in vogue again - and we bought two DSLRs with shoulder rigs and some old photography lenses from eBay. For the next two years, that rig was pretty much glued to my shoulder. I’m sure that’s why I now have such bad posture.
Our films for Brother was the first time we’d seen any of our work on TV
In 2010, we were introduced to a band called Brother who were getting a load of buzz at the time and tipped to be the next big thing. As such, their management wanted us to follow them everywhere, from street gigs in Slough, to opening up the Other Stage at Glastonbury. That twelve months or so really helped us develop our craft, as we were producing, directing, shooting, editing all this content that was reaching an audience. I remember seeing one of the films pop up on Channel 4. It was the first time we’d seen any of our work on TV, and I thought 'this is alright this'.
Sadly, Brother released their debut in 2011, NME gave it something like 1 star, and that was the end of that. But we really learnt a lot during that time, it was good fun.
Some of the first videos we ever made with artists were live videos. When we first moved to Brixton we launched a project called ‘Brixton Sessions’
Has Blindeye gone through different phases as a company? If so, what are the videos that best sum up those different phases?
JL: Yes, definitely. I’d say the first phase was very much learning our craft and building contacts with management and labels, and shooting absolutely everything but the music videos themselves (behind the scenes, interviews, live sessions, etc).
Soon, we were building up enough work through that to warrant an employee, and in 2011 recruited our first team member. That felt like a massive step – up to then it had just been me and Robin, doing everything ourselves. And whilst we were working our arses off, as long as we could pay the rent and get a Greggs we’d be alright. Then suddenly we had this responsibility, but I think that really helped push us further.
It felt like a new phase for us when we started to land our first 'proper' promos – not us self-shooting content, but a proper crew with a decent camera, lighting, etc. One of the first I can remember was for an artist called Hervé. It was a tiny budget but we chucked everything in to the video – kids, props, Steadicam, seaside location etc etc. We even got Justin Brown, who is (and was even then) an insanely talented DOP, to shoot it.
We didn’t have any budget left for catering. The crew must've been fuming when I handed over a ham butty.
We massively lucked out with the weather, and it all went well actually. Although, I remember making sandwiches for the crew the night before because we didn’t have any budget left for catering. Man, they must have been fuming after hours or travelling and filming when I handed over a ham butty.
Off the back of that shoot, we grew in confidence working with bigger teams and more ambitious ideas. We were also developing good relationships with decent crew, and it just felt like our industry network was growing, giving us the opportunity to facilitate more and more productions.
It was at that point that we started to reach out to other independent directors to see if they’d be interested in working with Blindeye. It felt like the natural progression in order to accommodate the kind of briefs that were coming in. Soon after we were approached by Lock It In about representation. This was a real significant phase, as suddenly we were
receiving all these briefs from beyond just our usual label contacts. Chloe Page - and more recently Carrie Sutton - have been so instrumental in developing our level of music promo output, opening up so many new doors and allowing us to develop
new relationships with other commissioners. Everything really stepped up a notch from here.
One of the first promos we worked on with one of our newly rostered directors was Samm Henshaw’s Our Love. That Jam captured a really great performance video. It felt like a big achievement as a company too, as I think it was one of the first promos I hadn’t been involved in directly - it was run by our wonderful producer Emily Vincent - and so it felt like Blindeye really was starting to function as a multi-layered company.
As a company, I’ve always seen ourselves a bit like a small indie-label, or maybe even a skateboard company
Now, we work with a great range of directors, across many styles, genres – and budgets! We still get excited by the smaller ones if it’s a great idea, or if it’s an opportunity to work with an exciting new young director. A recent example was our job with directing duo Do No Entry for Kawala’s Play It Right for Virgin EMI. It was such a great concept, and the references were brilliant, so we were really excited to
be involved – and everyone was thrilled with the results...
But obviously it’s also amazing to be able to add videos attached to names such as Take That [for Out Of Our Heads, directed by Michael Baldwin], Noel Gallagher, Kasabian [Off The Record, directed by Lightfoot himself for Vevo - below], or Elbow [Empires, directed by BWTV] to the catalogue.
How would you describe what makes Blindeye Films distinctive and special? What's your philosophy?
JL: I’m not sure really! Probably sounds very obvious, but I think at the core it’s down to having a team of creative, extremely hard-working individuals, who genuinely have a passion for film, music, and production.
As a company, I’ve always seen ourselves a bit like a small indie-label, or maybe even a skateboard company, in the way we present ourselves with our tone of voice, visual identity, branding, etc. Never really taking ourselves too seriously, and almost a lo-fi / punk-rock-DIY type vibe. I think that’s just because that’s what I grew up around and what I still find interesting on a creative level nowadays.
We try to steer clear of any bullshit and adopt almost a “Be Excellent To Each Other” mentality. I get enough agro from my 3 year old trying to get him in the bath every night, I don’t need it at work too. We’re making music videos for a living, it should be fun.
Budgets are still a sticking point. We weren't fortunate to be around during the music video wonder years you hear of through folklore...
When did live videos start to become part of your output? What impact has that had on the company?
JL: Right from the start! They were some of the first videos we ever made with artists. When we first moved to Brixton we launched a project called ‘Brixton Sessions’ – kind of like a La Blogoteque type vibe – and we used to hook up with bands playing the local venues (big up The Windmill) and capture a series of one-shot / one-take performances. I think that opened up doors for other live content, as we had all this material we’d made ourselves.
We still really love shooting live sessions today. There’s something about being there in the studio or on location and seeing/hearing the track come together in front of camera that feels special. I think as the sessions are usually raw and stripped back, it can really help showcase the talent of the artist and bring their music to a new audience. I’ll always be a metal-kid at heart, but working with, say, Niall Horan in his rehearsal room to capture his tracks live, I was like, this lad is good, man.
Jack Lightfoot: "We’ve always had to be economical in our approaches. But I think expectation and demands are going one way, and the budgets the other."
What are your favourite music videos across the whole 10 year period of Blindeye Films?
JL: Ah, a real difficult one! Some I’ve never been able to watch again after delivery as they just bring back painful memories of being sat in edit suites till 4am for a week. So I think the favourite ones probably come from a combination of how fun the production process was, and how well the end product came together.
One that immediately jumps to mind was an EP trailer for composer Ursine Vulpine that we shot over in Iceland with the exceptionally talented director Frederick Lloyd. It was just such a great trip, with a really solid team of cast and crew on the road for 4 days. And the end result just blew me away…
Another would be Savvas Stavrou’s video for Metaxas ‘Sirens’. When I first saw the final edit I was just captivated by the whole thing and had it on repeat for days. The track and visuals just felt like a perfect combination…
Directors BWTV always blow me away with what they can do with their magical mystery machines. One of the first ones we did together was for You Me At Six ‘Night People’. It was great to see something so different from anything Blindeye had put out before in terms of style and aesthetic…
They’ve just finished one up for Elbow too which is not only mesmerising with its visuals, but also speaks volumes with its messaging...
Finally, I’d say the sessions we did with VEVO for Kasabian / The Cribs are up there. We captured live performance, but also constructed 30minute documentaries for each band. I wanted to create a Tony Wilson vibe for The Cribs doc, so invited retired Krypton Factor / North West Tonight presenter Gordon Burns down to present it. It was so random, but great. Plus, music producer Steve Albini (of Nirvana ‘In Utero’ fame) mixed the performance audio, so the 12 year old me would have been buzzing.
How has things changed in the past 10 years - with particular reference to the music video landscape?
There’s so many great production companies out there with incredible directors. It’s exciting to see how people keep pushing creative boundaries and coming up with fresh concepts. And also from a tech perspective, the capabilities with cameras and lighting, or seeing things like VR or live-streamed promos surface, it’s all very interesting.
Squeezing in a vertical video shoot over the lunch break, or rolling out social teasers and cutdowns. The workload all adds up.
Budgets are still a sticking point. We were never fortunate to be around during the music video wonder years you hear of through folklore, where budgets were apparently 10x what we work with now. So we’ve always had to be economical in our approaches. But I think expectation and demands are going one way, and the budgets the other. There’s so many more platforms for distribution now, that you need about eight drives per project just to store your deliverables. Squeezing in a vertical video shoot over the lunch break, or rolling out social teasers and cutdowns. The workload all adds up.
But at the same time, having your work showcased across all these different avenues is a fantastic marketing tool. We’ve literally had commercial clients get in touch because they saw something we did in a music video, and wanted to discuss a similar concept for their brand.
And I guess at the end of the day, a big part of why we all work so hard and invest so much time and effort in to music promos, is because they are a brilliant creative outlet for experimentation. So here’s to hopefully the next 10 years of experimenting!
• This is a Blindeye Films and Promonews co-production
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