Luke Tierney: his favourite videos from first five years at FRIEND

Promonews - 13th Apr 2021

Luke Tierney has been Head of Music Videos at FRIEND in London for just over five years - which feels like a good time to take stock, look back, and hear more about the projects that have defined his time at the company.

He started out as a blogger reviewing music videos, and then he went on to become a director’s rep. But it was not until he arrived as the new music head at FRIEND in 2015 that Luke Tierney began to put his instinctive understanding of the medium properly to work in the making of music videos.

With the learning curve and repeated challenges that inevitably came with the job, Tierney has experienced  ups and downs over the past five years, but FRIEND’s long-running reputation for creating acclaimed work has been consistently upheld. The period has been distinguished with a run of memorable music videos from a range of talented directors - and plenty of awards too.

Tierney says that he did not join the company with a set of definitive goals. "I wanted to keep it simple, my only aim was to make work that I was happy to show others," he reflects. "I’ve always thought the point of the entertainment industry was to entertain and that’s enough for me."

All of these videos created and sometimes forced personal growth.

He adds that he quickly realised that there was a big difference judging the work of others, and the work in which he had been closely involved. "I learned to accept that you can't judge your own projects objectively. You have to almost have an out-of-body experience to really understand their impact. But looking back it’s definitely easier to judge now!" 

The period has also been characterised by Tierney’s versatility. Primarily acting as executive producer on music video projects, he has also been a line producer, and latterly, tried his hand at directing too - and been a UKMVA nominee in all of these roles.

So we asked Luke to pick the most significant videos he has worked on in the past five years. How did he make his selections? 

"I chose these videos as they were all pivotal moments in my career," he explains. "It’s funny as they’re not necessarily the ones that won awards, but they all created and sometimes forced personal growth. On each project you learn something new, and sometimes that thing was big enough to affect all the projects that followed.

"That can be something obvious like the importance of a good VFX team. But it can also be something more nuanced. The times that you end up thinking: ‘oh right this is why I do it'. Or asking: 'what have I been doing up until now?' and 'who even was I?’, that kind of thing.

LUKE TIERNEY ON HIS MOST IMPORTANT MUSIC VIDEOS AT FRIEND:

Rejjie Snow - Blkkst Skn (2015) dir: Ian Pons Jewell

There’s no better place to start than my first music video with FRIEND - which was an Ian Pons Jewell classic.

I joined the company partly off the back of being friends with Ian and this was the perfect introduction. Nico Chavez (the head of music videos at FRIEND before me) took me to his last project and it was a one-day shoot that included a literal golden shower.

I’m not sure what I was expecting exactly but the set was smaller than I thought it would be - essentially a dungeon underneath Waterloo Station. Yet the world creation in the music video doesn’t feel constrained at all. And when you see the final product, it’s the perfect definition of what a music video should be. Ambitious, bold and budget-wise, efficient.

Bonobo - Kerala (2016) dir: BISON (Dave Bullivant)

I was still pretty new to everything when we did this video but I think I had started to find my feet. I really enjoy building a team when it comes to shoots, the right people either creatively or synergistically (if that’s a real word). In my head once we have the idea and the track, if we can get the right team together it’s almost a done deal that it’s going to at least be very very good.

Gemma Arterton could hype herself up almost to the point of tears with a few breathing exercises.

On this we had signed Bison (aka Dave Bullivant) to FRIEND and the relationship kicked off with a banger. Ben Fordesman - who also shot Rejjie Snow - came and shot this with Sonya Sier producing who was and is a serial FRIEND collaborator, so there was a nice energy on set. As a starting point in my mind I had five winners between idea, track, dop, producer and director so I felt it would be strong.

We were lucky enough to have Gemma Arterton star as the lead who was a Bonobo fan. She was brilliant, the way she could hype herself up almost to the point of tears with a few breathing and physical exercises before the camera started to roll. And her commitment to being disorientated, almost knocking over the other actors as she threw herself around was brilliant.

I roped my Dad in to be one of the cast and he ended up with a star role as old man on bench feeding pigeons. Dave loves easter eggs, and so there was a lot of subtle VFX for people to notice during the loops and in the comments section fans started to list them. And that's where we found the best comment of all time referencing my Dad’s acting:

Once we’d finished the video it went viral. A lot of people were talking about it and to have global press and even the studio head of a major film studio get in touch with the director ‘just to meet’ was an eye-opener. Good press is just as important as good work, it’s not just what you make but who sees it.

Connie Constance - Lose My Mind (2016) director: Ali Kurr

When I first joined FRIEND there weren’t any young directors, and there were very few London-based directors. I had no mates. The first thing I did was to sign Ali Kurr and Matilda Finn who were great partners over a lot of mad shoots. Ali’s first project was nominated for a UKMVA, and was my first ‘low budget’ project.

The first thing I did was to sign Ali Kurr and Matilda Finn.

Low budgets weren’t as common then as they are now, so for an established production company to have directors so new wasn’t really very common. Now it’s the norm and you can see why, the talent is undeniable and both boast incredible careers so why not develop your own. We did have some mad shoots but this wasn’t one of them, calm and well thought out with amazing home-cooked lunches which were very necessary and showed the energy needed to succeed on the budget.

I was lucky enough that Ali had developed a crew of incredible talent to work with; Nick Morris, Sorcha Bacon and Martha McGuirk made up the core crew. I must’ve been the oldest person on set crew side at 27!

Bipolar Sunshine - Easy To Do (2018) director: Matilda Finn

Looking back at the work we did with Matilda in the short time, it’s really hard to pick which to talk about. They’re all just brilliant. When she made this Bipolar Sunshine video she’d just won Best New Director at the UKMVAs, so we were lucky enough to receive some real VFX support - like super high-end top level support.

It’s weird to pick a video because of VFX support but for me it was a turning point. I was stunned by Time Based Arts’ knowledge - although we did have two of their founders working with us, so not sure why I was surprised. We all know Matilda’s a brilliant director but here I realised the importance of very good VFX. Just like any other part of a production it can make a project better and in ways I never imagined. The subtle things more than anything.

I realised the importance of very good VFX... it can make a project better in ways I never imagined.

The shoot was crazy, shooting in a loft flat in Clerkenwell which was something crazy like £2k per hour of overtime meant we were under a fair bit of pressure. We did have a second shoot day, but it was outdoor so we had to get a lot in a day.

Ben Fordesman was back behind the camera which I think was their first time working together but I knew would be a perfect fit. We’d been stressing about DoPs and weirdly I bumped into Ben outside our office and pitched him the idea. Having mentioned Matilda to him on the set of Bonobo it all came together and they’ve been working together ever since. Sometimes in preproduction these things happen and it’s that luck that change the path drastically.

Having said that we did make our own luck by not going with another option just because time was running out. It all worked out with the hand through chest moment feeling pretty iconic still.

ATO - Monster (2018) Dir: Zhang & Knight

This was the first project where after we finished it, I felt like we had really created something from nothing. Every music video you obviously create something but here it felt different. It came from Z+K’s relationship to the artist and became a true “this is why we do it” project.

Working with likeminded creatives, and 75% of us [being] mixed race was a moment.

As a video it’s so unique, both visually, emotionally and culturally. In our minds we were creating positive imagery for people of colour in spaces that weren’t considered a place for people of colour. It’s a space I find personally so interesting, working with likeminded creatives, and 75% of us were mixed race was a moment. It was the first time in my life I felt those around me knew what it was like for me growing up. The lack of path in regards to identity and lack of historical or pop culture references that I could relate to. Here, we created our own with the story and with the music video.

It could never have existed without Z+K, Ato and FRIEND and that felt powerful. It led to them winning Best New Director the year after I’d won with Matilda, so there was a happy ending to us expressing our feelings which was a bit like eating our cake and having it too.

Arctic Monkeys - Four Out Of Five (2018) dir: Ben Chappell & Aaron Brown (fka Focus Creeps)

R U Mine? was one of my favourite music videos ever, so to do a Focus Creeps x Arctic Monkeys music video was a true dream. In the end we did two, both were great experiences for different reasons.

On the first, for Four Out Of Five, I’d not talked to the band much, they were nice and we’d talked in groups but I’d not had the chance to say hi properly. As an EP this can happen so it wasn’t as issue. On this occasion we did the shoot at Castle Howard in Yorkshire which was such a trip. There are usually a couple hundred staff up keeping it, visitors coming and going - and we had the place to ourselves. Everything went well.

It became clear that Alex Turner knows every detail of his projects.

After the shoot we head to an village pub for a beer, I end up needing a piss as you do, and who walks in the toilets but Alex Turner. I nod and say 'hi' - nothing too chatty considering I’m at a urinal but the funniest part was Alex nonchalantly gives it a “Oh hey Luke, how’s it going?”

We end up having a chat and I realised Alex knows exactly who I am, and what I do. I was surprised, but later it becomes clear this is a man who knows every detail of his projects. He confirmed this in the grade when his attention to detail really was astounding. The passion was palpable. We managed to get Sean, a producer at TBA who is a massive Arctic Monkeys fan, to come in to take VFX notes. Sean was sweating, ha ha.

Ashnikko - Hi, It’s Me (2019) dir: Lucrecia Taormina

This is when I found out my girlfriend of four years at the time was secretly an incredible director. This was a surprise and a very happy one. With her latest music video ATM I’m not even surprised anymore, just pissed!

There’s nothing that can stop Lucrecia achieving her dreams.

It’s nice to see but also with Lucrecia I get to see the messages people send her saying how she’s inspired them. I’m a big fan of hers, the Steven Wilson video is simply bonkers. She’s taught me a lot, so it’s not a specific thing about this project. More for me it’s a certainty that there’s nothing that can stop her achieving her dreams.

Between Lucrecia and Joseph Goldman her producer, we’ve forged a strong production team which flourished on this project. The budget was modest, yet it was still important it felt like we were shooting in somewhere that could be the US, a key part of Lucrecia’s world creation.

Somehow we manage a pre-light, dance rehearsals, VFX and incredible silicon masks all on our again modest budget. Without all of that, Lucrecia couldn’t have shown everyone just how good she is and with it she would go on to win a UKMVA at the first time of trying!

Eden - Projector (2019) dir: Zhang & Knight

This was the first music video for Z+K to really grab the world’s attention and set them on their path of ‘why are you so good!’.

The pastel colours Z+K are now synonymous with were born into the world on this set.

We did this project with me acting as producer and EP which was fun but also a stretch. You shouldn’t ever really have any one person have two roles, I don’t think. But we did and it was great, the start of my return to B2Y in Sofia having done a shoot with them four years earlier with Ian Pons Jewell and Dobi Manolova. The end product is something which has been referenced countless times already, remade by a couple other directors and even painted by another artist! The painting aside, the rest is a compliment I think!

The pastel colours Z+K are now synonymous with were born into the world on this set. It’s just always such a good vibe on set with them. There’s an intensity which allows for the unique to be created, but at the same time they’re only young still - scarily young! Projector has led us to do similarly colourful projects for London Grammar and Maserati, so it’s interesting now to look back at this moment as ground zero.

What makes it all work is the prep. Here they built a 3D model which showed the exact space down to a millimetre. We built it for real and Carl Nilsson lit it so extraordinarily, under Z+K's supervision, that when you stood in the set you really didn’t feel like you were in the real world anymore. It was a real mindfuck.

Robyn - Ever Again (2019) dir: Colin Solal Cardo

Colin is a true artist whisperer. We worked for maybe two years to build into that opportunity including doing a cheeky Kylie music vid in Paris, and again here he smashed it and we’ve been on a roll ever since.

It felt good as it was the result of a lot of hard work paying off, which I think is a trend at FRIEND. It takes time, belief and talent to make it in this industry and most people forget the time part! Working with true pop stars is equally fun and inspiring and luckily for me, with Colin, I get to do it more often than not. I’ve always been big into pop pop. I love pop.

On these videos... you get to see a pop star be a pop star.

Watching Colin direct Robyn was an immersive experience. She would never show her pain but needed massages for her feet having danced for hours straight in heels, in sand! And the same choreo!

It’s on these videos you can really enjoy the shoot. Firstly you get to see a pop star be a pop star, and secondly you know you have enough for a video about halfway through the day. You obviously want to get as much as possible but the pressure isn’t there in the same way of the video not making sense.

Now that’s not to say it's easy but I get to enjoy it more at least, hah. Not that anyone else does!

Raleigh Ritchie - Aristocrats (2020) dir: Jacob Anderson

Similar to ATO Monster, on this project I knew it was something important. Something that visually mattered, even if just to update Google Image’s ridiculously outdated algorithms.

I had no idea Jacob (Raleigh) is mixed race, and it was really interesting to hear of his reality and how he’s been treated and how much of it comes down to his hair. I think the most interesting thing is, you can really see racism for what it is when you get to see how different people are treated in the same situations, your mum and dad for example or you vs your friend.

The outfits were all as authentic as could be, which was a game-changer.

Here we built a team of incredible people of colour, something that was important for the project to be authentic but really important just in general. Precious Mahaga produced, Joel Honeywell was the DOP and Jodie Simone-Howe styled, who between them and Jacob brought the project to life.

The outfits were all as authentic as could be, which was a game-changer. This was the first shoot where the outfit changes took up almost half the shoot. Having missed my first shoot with Jacob, it was great to see him on set. It doesn’t matter who you are, or what you’ve done, you should always create a positive work environment and he went out of his way to do exactly that.

FKA Twigs - Sad Day (2020) dir: Hiro Murai

I remember going to the UKMVAs before I was really in the industry, about seven or eight years ago. I was writing for Promonews, and David Knight and Louise Stevens managed to swing me a ticket [Yeah, you still owe us for that ticket, Luke - DK].

It was back when the event was at South Bank and for me at the time it was essentially magical. I knew no one! I love music videos, I always have. I had Michael Jackson’s Bad and History on VHS, and would watch it every time I was too “sick” to go to school. Music videos are a huge part of pop culture and to go to the event that celebrated them was a big moment.

To see Hiro's process on FKA Twigs was a magical moment.

Hiro Murai won Best Director that year for - well it could’ve been any set of his music videos he’s directed, I forget which. But I remember going up to him to tell him how great it was that he’d won, especially as he wasn’t based in the UK, and didn’t have 'home advantage' in the voting.

He won’t remember that, but to see his process on FKA Twigs, was an equally magical moment for me. A shoot of that size, quality and passion, directed by Hiro Murai. Enough said.

Keynes Woods - Tim Burt (2020) dir: Luke Tierney

I’ve always thought the best way to understand, empathise and protect my directors, is by walking a mile in their shoes. So I did and I have, four times to be precise. This was nominated at the Ciclope Awards which was a nice surprise.

Directing is stressful in ways that differ to producing or EP’ing. What you make will be judged and that’s the point of it almost. Creating something from just an idea in your head is, I think, a very special position to be in and something you should never take for granted. Someone is willing to pay to create your idea. That’s huge.

My other music video that year for Black Square was nominated for a UKMVA, so it was a strong year for me directing. But the difference between me and my directors is that I can live without directing. And for them, it’s their one true calling. You’d have to be mad to do it, day in day out, and that’s why that passion is so important. My passion lies in creating but I’m less fussy as to whether I’m the director, producer or EP.

• Luke Tierney is the Head of Music and EP at FRIEND in London

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    Promonews - 13th Apr 2021

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