The Videostatic Interview: Cameron Duddy

As is the case with many directors, Cameron Duddy can tell a good story. And since it's a long story — but a good one, I promise — I'll skip a big introduction. Let's just say you've undoubtedly seen some of his videos for Bruno Mars, AWOLNATION, Grouplove and beyond... And despite the occasional tall tale — another common director's trait — there's also some unvarnished truth. For instance, ask him why his one-take music video for "The Lazy Song" has overr a half BILLION YouTube views, his answer is, "I have no fucking clue." (Although, on second thought, maybe he's just protecting his trade secrets, like any good director would)

Read on for our conversation, which takes lots of twists and turns along the way...

VIDEO STATIC: I really like when I see directors establish long term connections with the bands and artists they work with, but it's such a rarity these days. You've worked multiple times with AWOLNATION, Grouplove and Bruno Mars in what seem to be a really collaborative and ongoing relationships. How did you get connected with them and how has having more than just one video with each opened up creative possibilities?

CAMERON DUDDY: I still can't believe I had the opportunity to work with these artists. I guess maybe the reason I've been so lucky to have long term relationships with them is because on every single one of those projects the Artist has had a strong voice. Whether it be creatively like Bruno Mars, or whether they fight for my creative (AWOLNATION and Grouplove), we get into the trenches together. For the most part, I've worked with some great video commissioners, but there is always going to be the "label agenda". And I get that. I'm a business man, first. But with those artists, for whatever reason, we always had to team-up to get something done our way. And in doing so, established a pretty solid relationship.

There are other factors too. Ive known Aaron Bruno of AWOL for over 10 years. We lived together at my grandma’s house when he was between labels. We didn't have two pennies to rub together at the time and that kind of turmoil can have a lasting effect on a friendship. We will always be very close no matter what. He set my career in motion in a way and I’ll never be able to repay him fully. Bruno Mars is also a long time friend. My wife (shameless plug) took his first photos, thats how we met. 

VS: A few random things happened and here we are five or six music videos and a world tour later. Bruno put his nuts on the line for me on every video. That I will also never be able to fully repay, but Ill try my best. Grouplove was a cattle call for treatments on "Ways To Go", but I somehow got the job. It was love at first sight with them and they've gone to bat for me ever since.

Once you have one video that everyone is excited about, it becomes easier to pitch yourself. The follow ups have been scary but we've managed to make some fine pieces.*

VS: It's also impressive how the creative grew along the way too. Like, comparing the Bruno Mars "Lazy Song" to "Gorilla"... One had monkey masks in a one-take bedroom shot, the other was a massive production. With Bruno and Aaron in AWOL, do you feel like those extended relationships let you push each other to make something bigger each time?

CD: Oh ya, of course. We always try and out-do the previous videos — sometimes it pushes the budgets bigger, sometimes it doesn't. AWOL and Bruno are similar in their intensive vetting of ideas. Its never the first idea that’s the best. Its not even the second idea. It’s idea 12 or 45 that’s the one. Which is good because looking back on some of those concepts that were not used — lets just say its a good thing. It's incredible what kind of ideas I’ve tried to push on those guys. Also, there is always the "brand" in mind, so that usually dictates where we are going aesthetically. With that in mind, we can develop things like the low res throwback quality of the Bruno vids, or the quirky youthfulness of the AWOL vids.

VS: And what about the response that some of these songs and videos have had... Did you expect something as seemingly off-the-cuff as "Lazy Song" to get over 500 million views? Or for Awolnation "Sail" to still be going strong three years after its release? Was there any sense while making those that there was something special afoot?

CD: Sometimes you go into a music video thinking "There is no way this isn't gonna get some traction". Sometimes it surprises you when things don't blow up. The story of "Sail" is an interesting one. I remember when AWOL came in and showed me that song for the first time. We were living in a back house together. Very small. He lived in the garage that we converted into a bedroom and I lived above him in a little loft. No kitchen, no closet space (in fact my closet was in the bathroom so my clothes were often damp from the shower and smelled like shit), really just the bare essentials. Anyways, Aaron played the new record of “Sail” and I started laughing. Because it was so good. We were laughing in each others faces because he knew it was great too. I immediately had a vision of him at the helm of a Mario Brothers flying wooden ship (King Koopa Style, you know the kind in Super Mario 3), and proceeded to sketch an idea. Anyhow, months later he finally signed with Red Bull, but “Sail” wasn't the first single in their mind. Nor was I the first director in mind. Months after that I remember the sentiment being “Hey, we want to do a low key video for that ‘Sail’ track.” They really downplayed it so I assumed they weren't even gonna push it on radio. So they gave me a budget after I promised never to film a flying wooden ship. We shot the video. I didn't have any expectations because I was so green, I was just happy to be given the opportunity. In fact, my dad DP'ed the job. Wow. Now that I think of it I really didn't know what the fuck I was doing. I didn't even save pizza for AWOL when it came time for dinner. Fast forward three years later and that track is STILL on the charts. It's not surprising. Its a great tune. It crossed from Alternative to Pop radio, giving it supernatural longevity. The video... well. Sad to say there is a spoof video that has more hits. So I'm not sure I nailed it , but it led to more opportunities and a lasting relationship with one of my best friends. 

Sorry this is a long response. Ill tighten it up. 

The Lazy Song. That was a shot in the dark. It was the second video they filmed for the single. They had zero expectations. Very little money. Bruno and I were winging it the whole way thru. To this day he'll stop and ask me “How did that video get half a billion hits?" The answer is "I have no fucking clue."

VS: You should never admit you have no fucking clue in public, even though I think that's the truth in almost everything related to how or when or why music and music videos take off. I've seen many things that were "unfuckupable" get severely fucked up, and lots of things with no expectations go all the way. In other words: Never let dumb luck get in the way of looking really smart. You mention your dad, Christopher Duddy, who's a feature film cinematographer, and how he helped on “Sail”. That's amazing. How did you get  into filmmaking? Did you grow up surrounded by what he was doing? Film school?

CD: HA! You’re probably right. See, I figure if I admit one thing that I have no problem admitting as being the truth, you will then think I’m a truthful person. And believe whatever horse shit I feed you down the road. Like, I started making films when I was 12 years old. I had recently escaped an all girls juvenile facility where I had been incorrectly sent on account of my small genitalia (don't worry, I grew into it). Anyhow, I'm on the lam sleeping in an empty grain silo when it hit me. A camera actually hit me in the face. Broke my nose, blood everywhere, I look up and there he is... James Cameron, James fucking Cameron! Yelling at me for sleeping in his silo....

Real talk. I grew up around cameras because of my dad. He worked his way up in the camera unit, first as one of the very few "vista vision" technicians in town — a cool camera that pulled the film negative horizontally through the camera gate, essentially resulting in higher resolution — eventually making his way to camera op, then DP. He has a great story man. While working on the movie "Sliver", he was shooting aerials of a volcano in Hawaii. The chopper stalled and he and two other guys crash landed INSIDE an active volcano. I am not fucking with you. Please Google that. In fact, here check it out

Anyways, my dad's career always allowed the idea that I could actually be "in the movies". There was always that inner voice saying "Dad does it, so I can do it". But in all honesty, my career path had nothing to do with nepotism. A series of events, triggered by my only friend to go to film school — your very own Joseph Robbins [VS: Joey is Videostatic's in-house Head Of Production, overseeing Behind The Scenes and other content. Yes, that's a plug of sorts] — got me involved in actual film making. I was actually in a band at the time. This was four years ago. I needed money so I could party, so I got a part time job running errands for Mike Mansouri at HD Camera Rentals (now Radiant Images). I was one of his first employees. Joey Robbins got me the job. Anyways, that exposure to gear made it easy to do films my way, instead of working on someone else's crew. I had access. And Mike let me take whatever I wanted. He was cool. Even though he should have fired me a million times, he never did. He still gives me killer rates on gear. Around that time I met my wife. She's a photographer as I've mentioned. Her name is Thats her actual name. Its brilliant because she can plug herself without even trying. Anyways, I met her and she inspired me to get serious about being an adult. And being in a band and having a girlfriend was just not fun. So I quit the band and started making music videos for my musician friends, and short films with my family and actors I know. It's been a wild ride ever sense. 

Ask me about the time I converted an empty house my grandma was trying to sell into my own stop motion animation studio subsequently botching the potential sale of said house. Go ahead. Ask. 

VS: Tell me about the time you converted an empty house your grandma was trying to sell into your own stop motion animation studio. I heard you may have subsequently botched the potential sale of said house, right?

CD: Next question. 

VS: Fair enough.

*Side Note: It would be unfair NOT to call out Nick Billardello,  Red Bull records, Alex Bittan, Nicky Barger, Berko, and David Saslow (although I can't tell if he wants to kill me or hug me) because they all made those videos happen. (Sorry I never got to put out an album with "thank you's" at the end so this is my chance.) And obvs BLVD Industries. Woot woot!

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