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Work & Life (in Lockdown): Jordan Rossi, The Graft
Jordan Rossi is a member of that fairly rare breed: a music video director with a genuine love of proper, old-fashioned pop. And in the past year or so, he has emerged as one of the most prolific young directors making pop videos, his work spanning from new artists such as Rika, NUUXS and New Rules, to pop icon Natasha Bedingfield. His latest video, a live performance by Raye for Hunger magazine, has just dropped.
A born and bred Londoner, Rossi studied English Literature at Sheffield University - and did a stint at the University of New Mexico in the US - before returning home, and working through the ranks as a member of über-photographer Rankin's creative agency. And music videos have by no means been his only preoccupation in the past year.
He sent us his answers to our Work & Life questions - now slightly adjusted for life in lockdown - from his home in south-east London.
How long have you held your current position?
I’ve been directing properly since 2016. Before that I was just mucking around experimenting, but I would say that I’ve been in the industry since 2012.
What were you doing before this?
A variety of roles. Largely working at creative agency RANKIN in various departments from narrative short form, commercial advertising production as well as for our bi-annual magazine Hunger.
What was your first job, or first significant break in the industry?
I went straight from university to working as an intern at RANKIN. My first proper job was as an assistant grip on a Rankin beauty commercial. It was eye-opening. I’d never been on set before and the three days taught me so much about how the industry works and how sets operate.
We shot an amazing sketch for Hunger where Stephen Graham comes in and trashes the clothes we presented to him to wear for a photo shoot.
Name one music video that inspired you that get involved in making music videos?
There's a few music videos that hold equal importance for me. They are all within the pop realm, but it’s what I love. Lady Gaga’s Telephone is up there, its iconic for all the right reasons. I love Jonas Akerlund’s work so videos like Ray of Light have had a big influence on my artistic consciousness.
I absolutely adore old school music videos from the '90s and early '00s: Christina Aguilera's Dirty, Madonna's Vogue, *NSync's Pop, Backstreet Boys' Everybody.
I love Jonas Akerlund’s work so videos like Ray of Light have had a big influence on my artistic consciousness.
Name one project you’ve done that was significant as a learning experience – and why?
The music video I shot for Brooke Candy’s Honey Pussy, off her latest album. Brooke isn’t with a record label anymore so she’s literally judge, jury and commissioner. She’s the boss – a complete tour de force. I absolutely love her!
She had the framework of a concept and then I used this develop the creative even further. We worked really closely and it really felt like a joint collaboration. It was a very different experience than the usual director-commissioner-artist paradigm. But that’s what I love about my job and the industry. No job is the same and it keeps me on my toes. Every experience you can learn from and utilise on the next piece.
What are your favourite music video-related jobs of the past year or so, and why?
There are a couple. One of the best was working with Natasha Bedingfield on her video for Kick It. It was the lead single from her first album in nine years so the pressure was on. The shoot was so fun because it was had all the things in music videos that I love – strong art-directed setups, gorgeous glam and styling tailored to each scenario, and strong performances from the lead artist.
The other was my most recent video for Rika’s catchy tune Doses. I loved this because it was very different for me. Shooting outside, utilising natural light with a narrative at its heart. Even though it was out of my wheelhouse it pushed me in all the right ways. I’m super proud of it.
What are your favourite other jobs of the past year or so?
There are so many! Shooting the manifesto film for Extinction Rebellion was really exciting. It had a great message and team behind it who were able to pull in a big cast of famous faces at very short notice. We literally had a day, maybe two, to prep so seeing what we were able to achieve and the coverage it got for such an important cause (the climate crisis) was very special.
Shooting the three finalists from Drag Race UK for Grazia Magazine was super fun. It was a nice full circle moment for me having shot many drag queens throughout my career but now having the opportunity to film the finalists of a huge BBC show for one of the UK’s leading weekly fashion magazines.
I would love to break through to the upper echelon of music videos - particularly in the pop genre.
Finally, I loved working with Stephen Graham on some content for the last issue of Hunger Magazine. We shot this amazing sketch in our styling area where Stephen comes in and trashes the clothes in a way that only Stephen can. It was partly based on his own reaction to some of the more… outrageous items we presented him with for the shoot. He was so lovely and such a professional and was game for anything – literally a dream for a director!
What are you currently working on?
Currently working on several pitches for music video and commercial projects (both film and photography). I’m shooting a series of live music sessions for ethical social media app Vero. Most recently I shot a gorgeous live session for Raye and photographed the single cover for a new Emeli Sande track. I have more exciting content coming out over the next few months so stay tuned.
What kind of work would you like to be doing in future?
I would love to break through the glass ceiling to the upper echelon of music videos. Particularly in the pop genre which is a really tough nut to crack.
I love shooting, so I would like to shoot more. More music videos. More commercials. More fashion films. More photographic projects. I pride myself on being an all-rounder, so anything that stretches and pushes me creatively is a plus. With music videos I’d really like to break out of my comfort zone and try some different genres rather than being boxed in. I mean, imagine me shooting a grime or rap video. The possibilities...
What advice would you give someone entering your field?
Be persistent. The amount of times you will get knocked back is unreal. Just keep at it and know that hard work pays off. But it’s a long road, a very long road. So enjoy the journey. The journey is the fun bit, it’s where you get to fuck up and make mistakes without the pressure.
I pride myself on being an all-rounder, so anything that stretches and pushes me creatively is a plus.
Tell us something that we don’t know about you…
I am a huge American Football fan, and have zero interest in soccer - yes, I called it soccer! My team are the Dallas Cowboys. I typically go and see them play a road game each year, but have also been to their home field AT&T Stadium with the largest video board in the world. Everything is bigger in Texas.
When you’re not working, what do you like to spend time doing - in normal circumstances, before the lockdown?
Usually pitching on something else or in prep for another job. Or out dancing with my friends at the nearest gay bar.
Where did you go on your last holiday (or vacation)? And where would you love to visit?
Berlin was my last holiday. It was great – the club scene there is crazy and the art was fantastic. I would definitely go back because it’s such an interesting place with a very rich history.
Next on my list is South Korea and Japan. Their cultures are so vastly different from our own that any experience there would be an adventure. But I would also love to visit because of their pop music scene. K-Pop and J-Pop videos are unreal. Where they are now is where American videos were in the 90s with huge budgets and set builds and performances. It’s sugary and glossy and so enthralling.
I'd love to visit South Korea and Japanbecause of their pop music scene. K-Pop and J-Pop videos are unreal.
How are you spending your time now we're in lockdown, and do have suggestions about what to do/watch/best pass the time?
Obviously, the coronavirus pandemic is incredibly serious and the government advice to stay indoors needs to be heeded - even for a workaholic like myself. The world has been thrown out of sorts so I’m trying to maintain some semblance of a ‘normal’ life. I’m continuing to work from home, finishing up projects and pitching on a few new ones. It’s meant that we’ve all needed to think more creatively as to how we tackle remote shooting and come up with innovative responses.
In order to pass the time I’m going back to my roots. I’ve got a whole bunch of old Italian films lined up from the likes of Fellini to de Sica. Looking forward to re-watching 8 1/2, Bicycle Thieves, La Dolce Vita, etc. I’ve also got a great book to read: Out Of The Shadows by Walt Odets, which my friend gave me a year ago.
What are your favourite currently-running TV shows?
Nothing has really peaked after Breaking Bad for me. There’ve been some good ones though. End of the F**king World was awesome, with two great actors at the helm. I also liked Fleabag as it’s so well written, and hilariously presented by Phoebe Waller-Bridge. And also Pose and Euphoria - both shot beautifully.
What’s the best movie (or movies) you’ve seen recently?
Watched Midsommar recently and that was mental. An intense pressure cooker of a film that shows you how horrifying both human nature and grief can be. I did also recently re-watch The Hunger Games saga and Blade II. They’re both awesome sets of films and Wesley Snipes plays the badass so well.
What are your favourite music videos by other people in the past year?
There are tonnes. But special mention goes to The 1975's People by Warren Fu because it’s such an assault on the senses. Lil Nas X's Old Town Road by Calmatic was great too. The type of video I’d love to make. Slick, glossy but with a touch of humour. Great styling too. And Normani’s Motivation, by Dave Meyers and Daniel Russell, was how to Introduce-An-Artist-101. It encapsulated Normani down to a T.
Normani’s Motivation, by Dave Meyers and Daniel Russell, was how to Introduce-An-Artist-101.
Favourite music artist, and favourite gig in the past year?
Oh wow, tough question. It was a little over a year ago now but seeing Troye Sivan in Chicago was probably one of the best gigs I’ve ever been to. He's also my favourite artist who I’ve never had the opportunity to work with yet. His charisma and energy at was incredible and the crowd were in such a frenzy. It’s also rare that I ever go to a gig and know the words to every song.
Best book you’ve read, and best exhibition you’ve seen recently?
Best book I read recently was Straight Jacket by Matthew Todd. It was eye-opening. It made me read it’s precursor, The Velvet Rage. Made me realise a lot about myself and how to be a better human being, as corny as that sounds.
The Tim Walker exhibition Wonderful Things at the V&A was amazing. I love the fact that Tim Walker shot imagery specifically for the exhibition. It felt very much like a surreal Alice in Wonderland-style event. You go down this fascinating rabbit hole. I would love to be inside Tim Walker’s imagination.
Favourite food and/or favourite restaurant?
I love food. Period. All food. All cuisines. If I had to pick a restaurant I’d go with The Ivy Soho, if I’m feeling particularly boujie. Then for cocktails somewhere near Old Compton Street.
What’s your favourite political or charitable cause, and why?
Switchboard LGBT+. Because of the stellar work they do for the community and I hate the fact that they get barely any credit for it. They pride themselves on being a safe space which is a cause very close to my heart particularly with an alarming number of closures of Queer spaces and club nights across the UK in the last few years.
Switchboard LGBT+ does stellar work for the community and I hate the fact that they get barely any credit for it.
Work & Life - balance/ imbalance out of five (1 for imbalance; 5 for balance)?
Minus 50. I’m not joking.
• This Work & Life feature is a co-production from Promonews and The Graft
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