24-year-old New York based, Los Angeles bred filmmaker Austin Peters is making a name for himself in the music video world. Already filming videos for the likes of buzz bands such as Alex Winston, Caveman (Peters’ video for “Thankful” was featured on Portable) and Haim, Peters’ style is a nostalgic yet modern take on the classic VHS style of recording. Combine that with an affinity to involve his subjects in the action removing the confines of a stark studio, Peters’ natural ability to engage the audience in his short features is undoubtedly capturing audiences on a viral scale.
Having lived in New York for the past six years, Peters headed to NYU at the age of 18 to pursue his love of film, driven by his parents and a sense that it was inevitably in his blood.
“My dad is a production designer and my mom is a freelance television/documentary producer so honestly it was kind of the only thing I knew. I don’t know what else I would be doing.”
However, it was outside the walls of academia that Peters truly found his creative flair and cut his teeth in the industry. Speaking to Peters, it is clear he is truly passionate about his art form, wanting to explore every inch of the timeless and magical industry.
“I want to do it all. I want to make movies, music videos, commercials, installations, all of it. I want to make things that make people have an experience, that after they experience it they will think about it; whether they loved it or hated it, I want them to feel something. For me, indifference is the worst thing an audience can feel.”
Peters’ start in the industry has mainly come from creating music videos for young, hip and fresh buzz bands, whose cult like followings play out on the Internet and aren’t fuelled by record labels’ pockets. The young creative’s hand in nurturing his peers is just as interesting as it is rewarding, shaping and moulding their visual appearance to the world, and sometimes eradicating past, misguided YouTube uploads.
“I like doing peoples first videos because they don’t always have an image out there prior to that and of course I like to work with artists who think the visual is important like I do, but honestly if an artist I’m working with has only put out bad videos previously and I still really want to work with them I just go through the motions of making our video pretending that the other ones don’t exist.”
Many of these artists are friend of the young director who exudes a sense of a D.I.Y. aesthetic and community throughout his works.
“I’ve worked with a lot of artists, mostly people I was friends with before. For me every project is a learning experience and from each success and failure I’ve learned a lot about my process and how to be better at what I do. The first music video I ever made was for my friends in the band Dawes (“Love Is All I Am“). The album wasn’t even mixed yet but we had always been talking about doing a video so Taylor (the singer) called me and was like “Let’s make the least commercial video we can, something with no redeeming commercial value,” and since there was no management, no labels and no nothing at that point, this was something that was completely feasible. It wasn’t like I set out to make something that wasn’t commercial but instead just meant that I could do what I really wanted to do and not have to worry about what anyone else thought.”
However, Peters learned that from moving away from what people expect can ultimately create a very strong and emotional response .
“The crazy thing is while the label loved the video a lot of the band’s fans really hate it. It’s been pulled from and reposted on the Internet so many times since it went up the first time it’s crazy. Sometimes I find it on YouTube and read what people are writing and it’s pretty crazy, like that they love the band and all their music but now want to boycott them completley because they were so taken aback by the video. One guy I saw commented something about how disturbed he was by the video, then an hour later commented about it again saying how he would never give them another dollar because of it. It’s amazing to me that someone could be so moved by something I made even if they completely hated it, the fact that it stuck with this person so much to me means that it is an unquestionable success. Of course its still a conflicting feeling though because I don’t want anyone to boycott them.”
Despite the very real presence of people’s opinions, especially online, Peters’ gravitation to the world of music videos seems to sit well with him at this stage in his career, focusing on the present and consumer driven element to the creative industry, explaining, “Vimeo and all this stuff is amazing because you can really talk and connect with people who genuinely care about film making and videos.”
He also divulged, “Music videos are great specifically because the turn around is so fast and a lot of the time they are something that people actually want to share with each other. It’s really easy for someone to sit in front of their computer and watch a four minute video that features a song they already like, whereas its much harder for me to convince someone I’ve never met to sit in front of their computer and watch a 15 minute short I wrote and directed staring a bunch of actors they probably haven’t heard of.”
The marriage of film and music in particular is also something that fascinates Peters, which he described to Portable.
“I think that music and pictures make the best couple. They enhance each other. Since forever pop music has always been this amazing way for artists to share their pain, their heartache, whatever. Everyone knows the sad song with the happy melody. Its this juxtaposition of two unlike things that end up going together so well they create something completely new and amazing. I think that videos are really just an extension of that and the best videos create something new and powerful by using the song they do. Sometimes a video can make you appreciate the music and everything about it even more than you already do.”
Despite focusing on music videos, Peters did mention that he ‘wanted to do it all,’ however the romanticism of short films is a double edged sword, and not particularly viable at this stage in his career.
“I’ve made short films and I’ve gone through the process of trying to hustle them to festivals but the whole thing to me is just sort of convoluted. Festivals are so overloaded with submissions and so long already that once you get something into one there is the whole other problem of actually getting people there to sit down and watch your movie. Don’t get me wrong I have a ton of respect for all these film festivals and it’s part of a long tradition that I certainly want to continue participating in but right now to me seems like the Internet is the most democratic festival of them all. Anyone can show their work and anyone can watch it, there is no exclusivity on either end and if you don’t care for a certain piece then you just skip to the next one or do a new search. It’s kind of beautiful in its all encompassing simplicity.”
Stylistically, Peters does not rest on his laurels, employing new techniques and drawing inspiration from the past to create hazy moments loaded with excitement and spontaneity yet set against a realistic background.
“I think hopefully my style is something that is always changing and developing. The idea of being categorized by a certain style kind of scares me but of course there is plenty of recurring themes I think in my work. I love home movies and artifacts like that. I love VHS; it’s so textural and loaded. Recently my friend who’s not a filmmaker told me something that really has changed the way I have been thinking about projects lately. I was telling him about an early version of an idea I had for the Caveman video and how I wanted to stage a wrestling match and he told me that everything is always better when its real and I was sort of amazed by the simplicity and accuracy of that statement. Why would I ever fake something when I can show the real thing? And when the real thing is so much more complicated and deep than the staged version ever could be? It’s a technique that a lot of my favorite filmmakers who have influenced me over the years have used. Someone like Herzog whose work I adore has been doing it forever, as of late it’s just been something I’ve been trying to recommit myself too. Makes for very interesting shooting experiences too.”
Clearly Peters has a strong artistic view, and his honesty is something that really comes through not only when speaking to him, but also in his work. However when working with other artists there can be clashes, yet the director manages to work collaboratively on most projects acting as a creative behind the scenes force.
“It’s really a case by case thing sometimes artists have some ideas or something for their own videos, but very often they are terrible and sometimes they end up being really great. I think its good for a third party to come in and visually evaluate the situation, because sometimes the artists are already too close. A lot of times the artist will have some very general idea of what they want and that can be a nice starting point conceptually. With any video I’ve made there’s been some point where the artist or the group has said ‘we trust you’ which is basically what needs to happen. I’ve convinced people to do a lot of crazy things that they didn’t like the sound of at the time but they ultimately ended up loving in the final cut.”
Most recently, Peters worked with L.A. long locked, sister babe trio, Haim. Combining the whimsy of folk with r’n'b, the hyped band’s signature sound which could be described as Stevie Nicks meets a supergroup of TLC, Brandy & Monica and Aaliyah and similarly inventive video for “Forever” was the director’s most challenging, yet most rewarding piece of film to this date.
“When we shot the video, it was the first time I had worked since I had been in this accident a few weeks earlier where I was hit by a car. I’m fine now but I hit my head really hard and my brain was bleeding and I had what was like a super concussion. When I got to L.A. from New York the doctor called me and told me I wasn’t allowed to drive a car because of my head and of course not being able to drive when I’m supposed to be finding locations in one of the most spread out cities is a nightmare. So I kind of had to pull this video together producing, directing, locations, everything, for no money while dealing with crazy mood swings, not driving, headaches and all these other side effects of a head injury that I’ve never dealt with before. And I guess because it was one of the most challenging makes it one of the most rewarding, the video came out and me and the girls both are really happy with it and that feels great especially because of how difficult it was to make.”
The video for “Forever” is highly stylised using various elements and techniques fusing together modern indie rock with 90′s r’n'b nuances, yet still following Peters’ current stylistic preference of truly being part of the experience and involving his subjects completely. Influenced by not only his own past but also that of his creative comrades, personal touches play an important role in Peters’ pieces.
“We filmed the video all over L.A.; the first part is in the living room of their parents house in Studio City where they grew up and actually have practice still. All the pictures around them are pictures of them as young kids that are in that room, except the painting behind Danielle which is a painting of their mother as a little girl which was in storage and that I insisted that we hang up. All the stuff of them riding around on the mopeds is in Venice around where Danielle lives with her boyfriend. They have a bunch of mopeds in the backyard so we just rode around the neighborhood for a few hours. All the other stuff in the Hair Salon and with the bikers was all shot in Culver City around where I went to high school.
In a lot of ways the video was kind of supposed to be like us with no money trying to make a Destiny’s Child video. Musically they’re influenced by all that 90s R and B that they heard on the radio growing up and I grew up watching MTV Jams so it is something we are both very nostalgic about. The scene in the hair salon is inspired by the Destiny’s Child video “Bills, Bills, Bills” specifically where they are all in the hair salon where they ‘work’ gossiping and dancing. Of course in that video the salon is a giant set that doesn’t look like anything like an actual hair salon so for that section it was kind of about taking that idea from that video and making it real. Then of course seems like most people got the reference that they are doing one of the dance moves from the “Say My Name” video.”
While the Haim girls gave Peters a taste of r’n'b, looking to the future, the 24-year-old wants to step his swag up a notch.
“I really would love to make a rap video. I’ve never made a hip hop video and its such a classic thing in it of itself that I really want to try my hand at it. I really want to do a video for an artist like The Dream; he’s such an amazing artist who has already made such great music but he hasn’t made a video that’s done it right in my opinion.”
Strong willed, and full of interesting and intriguing ideas, Austin Peters is definitely one to watch grow and develop in 2012.