Work & Life Q&A: Ryan Morgan, Head of Music at FAMILIA
Promonews - 8th Feb 2021
As the main man for music videos at FAMILIA in London for the past two years, Ryan Morgan has been building on the company's well-known strengths.
FAMILIA, which turned five last year, was founded by directors Sasha Nathwani, Craig Moore and Francis Wallis with Toby Walsham joining the partnership as EP in 2017. It has always had music video production in its DNA, and since becoming Head of Music in early 2019, Ryan has reinforced the company’s reputation. He's been working closely with the original directors and UKMVA nominee Adriaan Louw to enhance their aesthetic and diversify their output. Recent signings include Henry Dean, animator/director duo Alex + Plex and Dumas Haddad, whose first video through FAMILIA, for Warner Music artist Priya Ragu, has just been released.
Ryan, 31, grew up in Old Town, Swindon, before studying filmmaking at Bristol UWE. He now lives in Stoke Newington, East London, with his girlfriend, fashion stylist Kendal Boyle. With the new year offering all sorts of challenges, we caught up with him for a chat about work, how he got to where he is now, his lockdown routine, and life in general.
And it turns out he has a thing for haggis toasties...
How long have you held your current position? What were you doing before this?
I joined FAMILIA three years ago this month as a junior producer. I started by assisting EP Toby Walsham and producer Hannah Bilverstone across commercials and music videos, producing smaller jobs - London Fashion Week shoots, music videos - and creating our photography roster with FAMILIA founder Francis Wallis.
As the company continued to grow I started to spend more time working closely with our roster of directors and OB Management on our music video department which ultimately led to this role I now hold as Head Of Music, working parallel to Toby on commercials, whilst we share the love and attention of our roster.
Before this I was Client Services Manager at Halo Post Production working across five different post sites in Soho. Transferring from post to production was definitely a change of pace, but all the technical skills and understanding of the post processes definitely gave me a confident foundation to jump into the front end of production.
As a runner I'd be lighting scented candles for Tom Ford, then finding the best brie baguette for David Attenborough...
What was your first job, or first significant break in the industry?
Trial shift as an overnight runner at Halo Post Production in Soho. Initially working from 9pm -7am alone in the alleyways of Soho - cleaning empty studios, kitchens and toilets across five facilities - gave me the platform to meet some incredible directors and producers on all sorts of jobs. One day I’d be arriving at 06:30am to pre-light scented candles in rooms for Tom Ford, and then scouting the delis on Soho to find the best brie baguette for David Attenborough’s VO session. It was high pressure stuff and gave me the perfect foundation to pursue this life.
Name one music video that inspired you that get involved in making music videos?
The Shoes' Time To Dance, directed by Daniel Wolfe. This blew my mind. I have always been drawn to the unpredictable, dark twists within short films. The suffocating cinematography, insane performance and recognisable London scene of my 20s just made me want to eat it whole.
This opened my eyes to music videos in a way that caught me off guard. I didn’t expect to see this type of story play out in music video form and has always been in the back of my mind whilst working with directors and pitching to commissioners and labels. Never underestimate your ability to break the mould.
Time To Dance opened my eyes to music videos in a way that caught me off guard.
Name one project you’ve done that was significant as a learning experience – and why?
I have to say David East’s Foals video for Neptune. Coming from a longform background, this was the first chance for a while to make anything longer than four minutes. This was a 10 minute track at the end of the second of two albums Foals released in 2019.
We had £15K, and managed to run horses across Botany Bay beach, release a load of doves, wrangle a crow, create a 20ft fire wall and a 10ft waterfall. It was one of those jobs where we had little money but everyone was so excited about the project that there were no egos on-set, just a shared love of filmmaking. But then disaster struck, after a long second day on a freezing cold beach in early December, our DIT informed me that one of our cards had corrupted - which contained the most challenging rushes of the shoot; a sequence of galloping horses on the beach filmed from a tracking quad-bike. Undoubtedly the lowest moment of my filmmaking career.
Thanks to insurance, we were able to reshoot the sequence a few days later. The morning of the reshoot was the morning after the UK general election and there was a real cloud of social depression amongst the crew. The lyrics from the song paint such a realistic portrayal of the whimpering ghost of a former United Kingdom. After Brexit and the latest election results we really did feel the song echoing across the beach as the horses stampeded across the sand of Botany Bay once more.
It was freezing cold, the wind was biting at our cheeks and the horses were a little skittish. During one take, one of the horses decided to turn 180 degrees and bolt in the other direction - away from the safety fences and horse handlers, and straight towards us! The horse handler yelled down the walkie talkies to “DO NOT TRY AND STOP IT”, so we politely moved aside and let the horse run up into the beach carpark and surprise a few old ladies walking their westies.
You can stumble across some magic that you just can’t plan for, and that’s more rewarding than anything.
Things were not going well. But then, at about 2pm the sun burst out of the clouds. The horses were warmed up, and we caught some incredible footage that made the final cut and really elevated the most emotional parts of the film.
Sometimes, things happen on set that you feel there is no coming back from. You lose footage of your best shots or you lose horses all together. But in searching for solutions you can stumble across some magic that you just can’t plan for, and that’s more rewarding than anything else you can imagine.
What are your favourite music video-related jobs of the past year or so and why?
Brother Leo's Barcelona, directed by Sashinski. We shot this beautiful film out in Madrid that was centered around this couple in a fairground. We ended up in a rural small town outside of Madrid during fiesta season, incredibly lovely people and such a stark contrast to what we expected to find out there.
And AWA's Like I Do, directed by Adriaan Louw. Shooting in a Grade-A English Heritage building with the super-artistic duo of director Adriaan Louw and DoP Olan Collardy. It was such a pleasure to bring this shoot to life, the gardens and interiors of the location were just a pick 'n mix for the eyes.
What are your favourite other jobs of the past year or so?
We have an unreleased part-animation video from new directing and animation duo Alex + Plex that's still awaiting a release date after the artist changed labels. This was our first video during the first lockdown during the heatwave and our first with Alex + Plex. It was a super-creative process and a completely different way of working, looking forward to that video dropping later this year!
What are you currently working on?
We've just delivered our first full music video with new FAMILIA director Dumas Haddad for new Warner artist Priya Ragu. Such a lovely team over at Warner with Dom and Lottie and all of Priya’s management team - the whole process has been super collaborative. We lost a location at the last minute as it was super-unsafe, but the replacement we found was ten times better and gave us so much more.
What kind of work would you like to be doing in future? What advice would you give someone entering your field?
I’m looking forward to continuing to collaborate with different thinkers. Spending every day reading briefs and treatments, I love it when someone comes along and just blows my mind with an alternative perspective and then is open to interpretation.
For me, I haven’t worked too much on really high spec conceptual work. A lot of our videos are narrative or choreo-influenced and now with a few of our latest signings on the roster, I am looking to push their boundaries and step out of our comfort zones to create original and conceptual work.
What advice would you give someone entering your field?
My advice would be to get as many runner jobs as possible, start off from the bottom and really listen and adapt to those around you. Never be shy about asking questions, and most importantly, do not be ashamed of what you like. Don’t give a flip if you think your ideas aren’t as cool as what is current and trendy, stay true to what you like. People will gravitate to you more if you have confidence in what you’re selling, rather than telling them what they want to hear.
If I could do my time again I would have got a runner job in a Soho Post House years before I eventually did. You learn so much from the diverse range of jobs and people you meet along the way that set you up for the future. You learn a lot about yourself and your determination to succeed when you have to do overnight shifts emptying bins and refilling water bottles for weeks at a time.
I was in a band called the Disco Pirates. Stage name, Captain Morgan...
Tell us something that we don’t know about you…
At 17, I was the lead singer in a band called the Disco Pirates - stage name, Captain Morgan. Pubs of the South West have never been the same since.
When you’re not working, what do you like to spend time doing?
I love old movies, and I love cooking. It’s so dull and dark at the moment so my girlfriend and I - who live in a one bedroom flat - have been celebrating the Nordic Hygge lifestyle of celebrating the fact it is dark and cold and enjoying turning the heating to 11, getting wooly jumpers on, drinking wine and eating loads of food!
I’m also a huge sport geek, especially the NBA and football. I know, a 5’7, half Welsh and English guy is the biggest NBA geek? But it's true, and invite anyone for a Zoom quiz on that.
A 5’7, half Welsh half-English guy is the biggest NBA geek you know? It's true.
Where did you go on your last holiday (or vacation)?
Sicily - we were very lucky to able to go to Cefalu, about an hour out of the capital Palermo, last August. It was bloody beautiful and incredibly vibrant, we went off piste and met some amazing locals. A local man on the beach came out of the sea with an eal in his hand and a cut on his forehead, nobody batted an eyelid. Take me back.
One night we were walking through this small cobbled streets of Cefalu and happened upon the local town square that has a huge church set against the backdrop of the giant cliff face that is local tourist attraction for walker and hikers and for the nights we were there they had a film festival with a massive projector screen and various local Sicilian film makers showing off films they had shot on the island. We didn’t understand a word of the dialogue but the films were incredibly emotional and we went back every night.
And where would you love to visit?
Norway. I want to hike around massive lakes and go wild swimming in Norway.
What are your favourite currently-running TV shows?
Pfft, where to start? Ozark, Vikings (better than GOT), This Is Us (series 1 is just incredible), It’s A Sin... This is such a hard question.
What’s the best movie (or movies) you’ve seen recently?
Babyteeth. Such incredibly raw acting, I wanted to shout and cry a lot during that film.
What are your favourite music videos by other people in the past year?
This is tough as I can’t do a Alex Ferguson and talk about footballers on other teams, but I did love Rubberband's lockdown video for Louis del Mar's The Ceiling.
Dave Meyers' seven-minute video of Harry Styles in the fishing village was a lot of fun. Bloody random and cinematic, my favourite combo. And The Weekend's Too Late by Cliqua. I hate social media and thirsty celeb hunters, and after watching Neon Demon, this just hit me right where I needed it. Great fun and savage, class.
Best book you’ve read, and/or best exhibition you’ve seen recently?
Best book I read on holiday in Sicily was Eric Ambler's Mask of Dimitrios - a real detailed exploration of European espionage back in the 1940s. Beautiful, honest and tranquil, defo recommend for anyone looking for a digital detox.
Favourite food and/or favourite restaurant(s)?
Campagnia in Columbia Road - beautiful fresh pasta, beef shin ragu and pappardelle at it’s finest.
The haggis toastie at Deeneys in Leyton. Don’t knock it till you tried it, and yes, I do have a Scottish other half and I did knock it till about 6 months ago. Treat yourself.
Wolf in Stoke Newington. They are currently doing Italian subs to replace their normal menu of fresh italian pasta (which you still can buy from their deli).
And/or your favourite/most comforting food whilst stuck in lockdown?
Roast potatoes and fresh pasta - not together obviously. But separately I have mastered the perfect roastie and various fresh pasta combos from my time travelling in Sicily.
With a few of our latest signings I'm looking to push their boundaries and step out of our comfort zones.
What’s the favourite/most rewarding part of your routine when you have to be in lockdown?
Morning walk to the local cafe - Yellow Warbler, Stoke Newington, to get my partner and I our morning coffee and chat to the team in the cafe. They also do a free coffee every six stamps which is very generous. Rolling directly out of bed onto the laptop and opening the gmail would be a bad idea. I recommend everyone gets out of the house for a fake commute to start the day right.
Friday morning, we will get up extra early and walk to Highbury to the Western Laundry for some homemade Guinness cake and coffee which is incredible. Gotta get those 10,000 steps in per day and walk off that cake.
Anything you’ve achieved in lockdown that you wouldn’t have done otherwise?
Made a lot of music on Logic Studio, harking back to my music technology days, which I would not have had time to do if running about on various jobs and travelling around.
Explored the local rural surroundings of Walthamstow, Epping and Leyton Marshes on long walks and cycling trips that I would not have probably attempted if the pubs and restaurants had been open, let’s be honest...
Companies and people reacted fast and said a lot of positive things about BLM, and there needs to be long term strategies to work on those foundations.
What’s your favourite political or charitable cause, and why?
Where to begin, I feel like this could be a separate essay all together on the frustrations of racial and systemic social inequality. I hope that the BLM movement continues and we see long term change and continued support and discussions. Even though a lot of companies and people reacted fast and said a lot of positive things there needs to be long term strategies to work on those foundations and an intrinsic and honest look at ourselves to make sure we do that.
This is not really political or charitable, but continuing to support your local businesses, finding those local suppliers of family run businesses that have been in your local area for generations and are struggling and making sure to not take the easy option and using online suppliers. Plus it’s fun to get out (with mask, sanitiser and from a safe distance) and chat to them about their produce so you can make some delicious food and drink.
Best recent purchase (send photo, if poss)?
Something that I have just ordered and very excited about is the Ember Mug 2. It's basically a smart mug that controls the temperature of your drink, so if you make a tea or coffee, get distracted and it goes cold, you can control the temp from your phone and heat it back up… genius.
There are a lot of small tricks I've been using to make the days feel more pre-Covid.
Work & Life - balance/ imbalance out of five (1 for imbalance; 5 for balance)?
3 - I would say after a year of working from home, the balance has started to even out a tad more from a solid 2 previously. Working from home has definitely blurred the edges of when work ends and home starts so I have made a conscious effort to create physical boundaries with my digital devices: do not look at the social channels on my phone before bed and as soon as I wake up! Get up early, shower, walk, listen to some music, coffee and then look at the phone and emails when you're ready otherwise you lack perspective and get a bit lost in it all.
There are a lot of small tricks I've been using to make the days feel more pre-Covid. The phone being one; another, giving yourself 5-10 minutes between Zoom calls, to get up, walk around and go to the toilet as you would in the old days in the office. It's insane to go from hour-long creative Zoom meetings, talking to one set of people about a project, then jumping immediately into a whole new one. You just aren't going to give that director or client your best self in order to be the best producer and creative problem-solver that I hope I am.
• Ryan Morgan is Head of Music at FAMILIA
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Promonews - 8th Feb 2021