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 …
Work & Life Q&A: BWTV
Spoiler alert: our Work & LIfe Q&A with BWTV reveals that this London-based directing duo's work-life balance is "negative zero". Are you surprised? Just take a look at these guys. When they are not working, they are obviously continuously working out...
Liam Achaibou (32) and Ryan Vernava (34) met at University of Westminster - Liam was studying Contemporary Media Practice specialising in Design & Photography, Ryan studying Film & TV - and have been working together ever since. That's where they began Brain Wash, originally a short film event of weird and wacky stuff - before they became directing team Brain Wash and then BWTV - making all sorts of things themselves.
As BWTV cover a gamut of styles and techniques, accomodating live action with VFX and animation, it is not surprising that they do not get much downtime. The past year has been especially productive: videos for Bastille, Elbow, Baby Queen and Doves, plus live visuals for numerous artists - remember live concerts? - and some old-school VJing.
And as voracious consumers of video culture, Liam and Ryan have illustrated their responses to the Work & Life Q&A with some of the finest gifs known to man. For a start, as Liam was born in France from British/Algerian parents and Ryan’s parents are both Italian, they say: "we’d probably be best described as European…"
How long have you held your current position? What were you doing before this?
We went to uni together and started Brain Wash there. Initially it started its life as short film event in the back room of a pub in Kilburn.
We put together a bunch of shorts, music videos and wild animations to throw down a film nerds social. We soon outgrew the space, moving it to the Curzon in Soho. We kept growing and expanded our empire hosting popup events in New York, Paris and Berlin.
Always interested in new ways to make and create we started making loops and visuals to blow off steam on the side. It was hella fun so thought let’s carry on doing this for as long as people want to pay us to mess around with videos while people partied.
Does PTSD count as wisdom? There’s plenty that we learned the hard way. Oh man.
During this time Ryan had just finished film school (again) and Liam was working as a designer at Pulse Films. At that point we decided the music video world was the perfect place to pool our skills bringing together: drama, story, character, experimental techniques and mind melting visuals all in the same place!
What was your first job, or first significant break in the industry?
Ryan had done a few videos for artists like Guillemots and Mikill Pane, but the first project that we properly did together was a glitched-out performance vid for You Me At Six.
As for our first significant break in the industry… hmmm. Maybe we missed it. Maybe it hasn’t come yet? Maybe it’s this interview! Yeah, that's it, it’s probably going to be this interview…
Name one music video that inspired you to get involved in making music videos?
Hard to pin it down to just one video. As 90’s kids there seemed to be a million music channels,. We’d both spend hours channel surfing through all these different worlds.
Liam used to record 120 Minutes on MTV2 and watch it every morning. It was less about individual videos and more about surfing through a whole new world of rule-breaking, brain-melting content. The stuff they were outputting had so much creativity and were coming at storytelling from so many different angles. Afrika Shox - Leftfield by Chris Cunningham was one that seemed particularly unforgettable to watch for the first time, but then again all of his work back then was pretty memorable.
Name one project you’ve done that was significant as a learning experience – and why?
Does PTSD count as wisdom? There’s plenty that we learned the hard way. Oh man. Everyone undoubtedly has some great production horror stories that still give them nightmares. But we want to talk about an important positive learning experience we had.
The penny really dropped when we were working on Empires with Elbow. When everyone is pulling in the same direction and you have a clear concept that is true to you and speaks to ideas that you truly care about - that's when it's one of the best jobs in the world.
Sure, shit still happens, there are so many variables in filmmaking that you’re always going to be battling against things that are out of your control. BUT if you and the artist really know what you’re trying to say and what you’re trying to do… then everything else fades into background noise.
If you and the artist really know what you’re trying to say... everything else fades into background noise.
What are your favourite music video-related jobs of the past year or so (2 or 3 different ones, ideally), and why?
Both ‘Empires’ for Elbow and ‘Prisoners’ for Doves were huge projects for us. Huge thank you has to go out to Carrie Sutton for really fighting our corner and helping make both of those projects happen.
Not only were the bands totally invested in what we wanted to do, but we were also totally invested in what they were trying to do. Both tracks were absolutely fantastic and had tonnes to say. In their own way, they both perfectly captured the mood of some very significant moments in time that resonated with us on both an intellectual and emotional level.
‘Empires’ was our swan-song to the UK as we watched it crumble under the mass of its own stupidity, tearing itself apart in pursuit of Brexit. A eulogy to the old world and perhaps an invitation to a new one. Then ‘Prisoners’ came along… to us it was like an unofficial sequel to what we laid down in the Elbow video. We wanted to tell the emotional journey of a world in lockdown. While ‘Empires’ was about a world tearing itself apart… Lisa (sorry couldn’t resist) we wanted Prisoners to fill that void with hope, collectivism and community.
We couldn’t be happier with how both turned out and would love to continue making work that through whatever methodology, tone or aesthetic has something substantial to say about things that we feel very strongly about.
What are your favourite other jobs of the past year or so?
We really enjoyed making Internet Religion’ for Baby Queen - she’s a fantastic new artist with a big heart, open mind and great energy. It was really fun directing her first video and the first chance we’ve had to introduce a new artist to the world.
Also the work we did with Bastille last year was really silly. It ended up being like seven videos in the space of a few months which was hectic to say the least. The vertical video we did with Spotify in particular was heaps of fun. It came midway through working on the main video for the lead single and it had to happen fast. Cue Bastille running around Peckham on a Friday while Liam chased Dan around with an iPhone...
What are you currently working on?
At the moment we’ve been art directing the graphics for an upcoming feature documentary about Charlie Chaplin by the amazing Peter Middleton and James Spinney. Been tinkering on it for over a year now and we’re almost at the finish line so very excited to see it out there in the world.
What kind of work would you like to be doing in the future?
We’d love just to be above water (not a metaphor) but beyond that we’d like to be at a point where we can develop deeper relationships with talent we admire and that isn’t scared to colour outside the lines. Bigger. Bolder. Weirder.
What advice would you give someone entering your field?
You’re trespassing on private property. Get your own field. Look after it. Grow vegetables and don’t ever let anyone tell you what to do.
Tell us something that we don’t know about you…
One of us has been on stage with Bryan Cranston at the National Theatre and one of us has stood in for eye-line while Monica Bellucci acted out a sex scene.
When you’re not working, what do you like to spend time doing?
Working on something else! Ryan’s big into video games and usually tinkering away on a feature script while Liam’s recently been turning his design skills to home improvements and converting a new office space so we can do even more work, hahaha.
Where did you go on your last holiday (or vacation)? And where would you love to visit?
Last year was crazy. We did Argentina, Rwanda, France, Italy, US, Taiwan, Japan and China. So maybe its time to chill out for a bit… However we did hear Mars is nice this time of year.
What are your favourite currently-running TV shows?
The last season of Atlanta was about as good as anything we’ve seen on television. We can’t wait to see what they come up with next season.
What’s the best movie (or movies) you’ve seen recently?
Sorry To Bother You. Both in style and substance it felt very fresh. We love original IPs that have something to say but also find an interesting way of saying it rather than hiding in dreary pretension.
What are your favourite music videos by other people in the past year?
Aphex Twin - T69 Collapse by Weirdcore. This video absolutely KILLS, it’s constantly inventive and at breakneck pace. It builds a whole universe out of nothing, whilst tracing the full evolution of both form and life. Weirdcore has been a huge inspiration for many years. This really is the gold standard.
James Massiah - Natural Born Killers (Ride for Me) by Ian Pons Jewell. Ian is a homie, his shorts were a regular fixture in the original Brain Wash film socials and we’ve been fanboys ever since. His work just keeps getting better and better. This and Beardyman was such a heavy double hitter to come out so close to each other but we’d have to pick this as our fave. We love how pure and singular the idea is - it’s executed absolutely flawlessly and delivers a huge impact. It’s actually something we think about a lot and it just really really connected with us. Doesn’t everyone else feel like they’re melting?
Bronson - Keep Moving by Stylewar. We’re big fans of recycling, there is so much excellent material out there to work with. There’s nothing stopping you starting with a 30 second clip of a light bulb and turning it into an 80minute psychedelic odyssey - it’s all about technique, process and imagination. This video is exactly that - it takes material that most people would never consider using and it turns it into something mind-blowing. The world and aesthetic is so fun and original. This video would have to take the ‘we wish we made it’ award this year.
We’re big fans of recycling, there is so much excellent material out there to work with.
Flatbush Zombies - Afterlife by Arnaud Bresson. What did we say earlier? Bigger. Bolder. Weirder. This vid ticks all our boxes. It’s got a strong singular concept that is well executed and backed up by an iconic visual technique. We had the pleasure of being side of stage at one of their shows in LA last year and it was wild, they’re fun guys, we’d really love to work on more Rap vids but we need to get our street cred up first.
Favourite music artist(s), and favourite gig(s) in the past year?
Last year we worked on visuals/lighting design for live shows with Santigold, Django Django, Leon Vynehall and Kano. It’s always buzzing to be at a gig where everyone is vibin’ to the show and there’s little bits of you in there.
We prefer working to dancing these days but after years VJing shows and clubs we’re pretty good at dancing while working.
Best book you’ve read, and/or best exhibition you’ve seen recently?
We’re video kids - proper video junkies - sad to say we don’t really read much anymore. Most of our free time is spent surfing video nasties, cult TV and obscure foreign TV ads from the 90s.
As for exhibitions during lockdown… Google’s a pretty wild exhibit - there’s a lot of shit on there.
Favourite food and/or favourite restaurant(s)?
We both LOVE food and love to cook but paradoxically at the grand old age of thirty-four Liam still won’t eat mushrooms or olives.
What’s your favourite political or charitable cause, and why?
It’s hard to know where to start this is a much larger conversation. There are a lot of causes all trying to address equally important issues so we’ll just say this: general mindfulness is a good place to start. It’s small start but it underpins so much. Manners, tolerance, an understanding of shared sense of responsibility and of mutual respect. Knowledge over ignorance; reason over opinion. What is it that Bill and Ted said...?
Best recent purchase (send photo, if poss)?
We recently got our hands on a couple of 360 GoPros that are really fun to play around with. Plus some new mods for our rack-mounted video synthesiser and a beefy new computer we built that cuts through our cinema 4D renders like butter.
During lockdown we also invested in an Oculus set up where we’re working on something special in the VR space but we’re not allowed to talk about it yet.
Work & Life - balance/ imbalance out of five (1 for imbalance; 5 for balance)?
Negative zero. Hustle everyday. Sleeping is for dead people.
• BWTV are with Blindeye Films, and represented for music videos by Carrie Sutton
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