All week we'll be reprinting The 405's music video series Loud Visionaries Week. Yesterday was all about Hiro Murai, but today they shine the light on Edward John Drake .The 405 presents their Loud Visionaries series focusing on the new wave of music video directors and creatives.
LOUD VISIONARIES: Edward John Drake, director
Born to be a James Bond villain — though fortunately for us he's taken to crafting music videos & commercials with powerful emotional hooks at play — Edward John Drake jumped on a short call between shots on a new music video he's directing. With genre-defining artists like Klangkarussell, the Stanton Warriors and Kat Krazy paying generously for his time, he's become the go-to guy in electronic music for brave characters and thought provoking themes. Former assistant to Mark Romanek, office drone on True Detective — and now creating worlds of his own — Edward John Drake is a name you could get used to hearing more often.
read more for the interview...
405: You've got a great origin story - a producer spotted a short film of yours and invited you out to Los Angeles - can you break it down for us and what your influences were growing up? (feel free to wax lyrical, we love to hear name dropping of artists you feel shaped who you are today)
EJ Drake: I moved around a lot growing up, and films were always the constant. Same with video games. No matter where you are in the world of everyone knows Space Jam or how good the Lethal Weapon series is. I remember seeing Mad Max 2 [The Road Warrior] in Melbourne, then taking a VHS copy to friends in Belfast when I was a teenager, and it was great to be able to have this common ground with people I wouldn't see for months.
Film is, and certainly was for me, a fixed point in the universe more than anything else. They've always been there for me, and I'm going to try and make some that'll always be there for someone else.
405: Great answer. How about key influences?
EJ Drake: The watershed was seeing The Fifth Element, and I really think you're going to get that answer from a ton of others over the next few years. There's a little wish fulfillment, little humour, and a great world to explore with Besson's signature little character 'ticks'. Same with Brick, The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, Princess Mononoke, or even, and I'm 100% severe when I say this... Steven Soderbergh's Ocean's Eleven. I mean, those are pieces which speak to me just as much if not more than the Seven Samurais and Barry Lyndon's of the world. I really really enjoy Midnight In Paris, and I can't fault Master and Commander... both changed the way I see what's possible and what a film can be, so, ah the water is still shedding?
405: Formal education vs. School of Hard Knocks?
EJ Drake: The third option - School of Rock. Go do your own thing, grow a little and find something authentic — or at least not as regurgitated — to say. An education is where you find it.
405: What was your education?
EJ Drake: I went to college for Media and Law and walked away with a degree in Journalism and Literature. I was super scared — I applied for what you're told is the be-all-end-all film school in Melbourne. I had to go for a scholarship-or-bust place, and they rejected me straight out of high school. After I graduated I applied again and got in, then the offer to move here was on the table. I think I made the right choice, but I'll never know what relationships or networks could have been made at that school.
The uncertainty is the price. It's weird, we hear all these amazing anecdotes about PTA dropping out after two weeks, David Fincher kicking it in California, or David Lowrey auditing classes and still being able to come away with an understanding of the medium which enabled him to make the freaking gorgeous Ain't Them Bodies Saints, but for every 'naturally gifted autodidactic successful filmmaker' there's always going to be 100's Scorsese's who had NYU, or Aronofsky's who had Harvard.
It's a good question, but also a personal one — I think everyone should understand from an early age that at some point, the technical know-how will be secondary, and can be taught outside of the classroom. You go to school to learn why something is good more than anything. You look at the great painting houses through the Renaissance — someone studying under someone now famous. That doesn't exist today in the academic world. It exists on film sets, or in production companies, and those have been, and still are, the places where you'll be learning and challenged the most.
405: How did you engineer your first big break?
EJ Drake: I got struck by lightning while being eaten by a shark as my plane crashed. And then a coconut fell on my head.
A short film I wrote & directed (that I'm not very proud of) did the rounds in some b-level festivals. A great man and producer by the name of Luke Rivett saw it, told me to get out of Melbourne and that'd he'd put me up in Los Angeles with an internship at Anonymous Content. Best production company in the world. I worked as a PA and assistant to make rent and learn the landscape while taking on side projects. Someone else saw my work. Someone else recommended I reach out to a few people and then 2K appeared to make a video for the Stanton Warriors.
405: How does each idea take shape for you now — what's the osmosis process — do you have any consistent forms of inspiration?
EJ Drake: Let the song speak to you. Sounds weird, but songs are stories. Listen to them, and listen to the artists thoughts. Most of the time the inception will start there. Everything is for the artist. I always try to bring a new concept to each track, so the process is a little slower though hopefully more authentic. You can recycle elements, but never whole ideas. Most of the time you can tell when someones done that, too. You can get a great video, but maybe not the right one for the track.
It's no different to anyone, I think. One friend has an interesting method / ritual - Putting on a blindfold & headphones, and writing on a notepad as he listens to the song for an hour. I tried it. One of the best naps of my life.
405: All Eyes On You for Klangkarussell is a technical masterpiece. It's not a traditional music video by any means, it could be said it takes the genre to that next level that sends chills down your spine. How did you conceive the idea?
I shot my first big, proper, Edward-John-Drake-don't-you-dare-fuck-this-up ad campaign in Ireland and the UK in May. I made a few friends, had some of that sweet sweet ad coin in my pocket and decided to kick around for the summer. I went back to Ireland for a friends wedding and crashed his towns christmas in July party where I saw a girl in angel wings saying she was so drunk she was dying, and this great but rough & tattooed young woman helping her.
There was something that, if we had no context of the event, would anyone be able to make sense of it? That's where the idea came from - to search for an unknowable moment as a result of a variety of forces. Hopefully we succeeded, but thanks for the kind words.
405: Earlier you mentioned "Everything is for the artist". Can you expand on that?
EJ Drake: They wrote the damn things. Not the label or a manager. If you get a note from a manager you're not sure about, approach it by saying "Guys, you hired me for a reason, lets have another look." If the artist sends through a note, talk through it but be way more open to them, especially if its something to do with theme or tone.
The way we deal with violence, the way we deal with gender roles... We have such a huge responsibility because 9 out of 10 people and kids will learn about these super important issues, to some extent, through art, so you have to say "sorry, I'm not your guy to do this" if you don't agree with it or don't feel you can't add something new. Other than ethical personal issues, collaborate with the artists and recognize that nothing is more important than them in the process.
405: What was the shoot like?
EJ Drake: Super great. Mikey Stephenson & Charlie Archer [the pauper and lead guy] were so intuitive, I really hope they work together again soon. Very honest chemistry. It was a little experimental, though Nick Morris [Director of Photography] and I had designed this style guide before we arrived on set.
We were able to bring to life 90% of what we wanted - a license to have the pyro on set was revoked at the last minute for reasons I still don't get. We had this amazing bonfire-esque moment planned for the final moments that we couldn't legally do. We were going to, but some local bacon arrived to make sure we weren't waking up the neighbourhood.
405: You've got what commissioners call "mad heat" - what's next?
EJ Drake: 10 years from now mad-heat will be the name of the venereal disease heralding the apocalypse.
Flying back to home - via Juicy Burger - then to work on a great little video for a little artist no one has ever not heard of and no I'm not worried oh am I rambling sorry it's just hot in here.
405: I'm hearing hushed whispers of a feature effort in the next 12 months...
Ha. Yeah, well, we'll see. It's written to shoot next year while the stars are aligned.
Written and Interview conducted by ELSA BISHOP. First published in longer form on The 405 and appearing here with permission.