You may not know the name Hannah Lux-Davis but you will definitely recognise her work. She has directed music videos for some of the biggest artists in the music industry such as Miley Cyrus, Drake, Lil Wayne, Jessie J, Ariana Grande and Nicki Minaj. Recently Billboard magazine labelled her as someone who is “rapidly becoming one of the most in-demand music video directors.” It is hard to disagree with this statement in light of Lux-Davis’ body of work that encompasses visuals for the songs 23, Burnin’ Up, Bang Bang, Love Me Harder, and, most recently, Nicki Minaj’s Only.
Hannah’s clean, vibrant and colourful style is visually engaging and can be traced to her background in make-up and photography. Even though Hannah was behind the camera she had “wanted to direct for a long time.” Today Hunger chats with the director to discuss working in a male-dominated industry, her process as an artist and the perceptions between narrative filmmaking and music videos.
YOU STARTED AS A PHOTOGRAPHER AND MAKE-UP ARTIST. CAN YOU TELL US HOW YOU TRANSITIONED INTO DIRECTING?
I started out with film school and the desire to direct without really knowing what aspect of it I wanted to do. I always loved music videos though. I was a PA for a couple of years. Turns out I was really stressed out as a PA. I hated not knowing what I was going to be doing the next day. I was also starstruck by it all. That intimidated me. This 20 year old girl PA’ing and I really wanted to just direct. PA’ing isn’t for me but I really need to be on set and I really need to be meeting people. That’s when I was like, I really love doing makeup and that could be a way to get out there and meet people. I went to makeup school and it was a short programme but it was just enough to give me the confidence to go out there and do it. From there I was shooting my make-up. It started just putting together little fashion shoots because I wanted to photograph my makeup. It was like a still frame of a music video. It was so rewarding and it’s instant gratification. It all starts with one frame.
YOU HAVE A STRIKING VIBRANT STYLE. WHERE DID IT COME FROM?
I think it stems from a love for visuals. Part of my process with directing is lots of visual references. I know treatments are saturated with photos but I think it helps paint a picture of what you’re after. Lots of editorials and photos and art has really stemmed my videos being so visual.
WITH YOU BACKGROUND IN MAKEUP AND STYLING ARE YOU MORE HANDS ON IN THOSE AREAS OF PRODUCTION?
Yeah, I’m super hands on in anything glam related. From hair and makeup all the way to the nails and styling. As much as I can. It really is a per artist situation on how much I can be hands on. It really comes down what to they want at the end of the day but for an artist who is really down for that type of collaboration I get really excited to have that trust. I really love that aspect of it and that’s why I really love working with females so much.
HAVE YOU FACED ANY STRUGGLES OR ADVERSITY AS A FEMALE DIRECTOR?
Yes! I think it’s tough for female directors. I don’t know any female directors. It’s hard for me to be like “Are you feeling this? Are you feeling what I’m feeling?” My thing is, as a female, is that if she’s being assertive or really direct it can come across as super bitchy. For whatever reason I’m very conscious of that. Not in production but in some phases of production I tend to check myself. It’s a fine line.
HOW DID YOU MANAGE THE LARGE BIG ENSEMBLE OF BIG PERSONALITIES (MILEY CYRUS, MIKE WILL MADE IT, WIZ KHALIFA AND JUICY J) FOR THE 23 VIDEO?
I’m surprisingly put in positions where I am dealing with lots of people. For the 23 video Miley was super super cool to work with. With her there’s no “I’m dealing with a star.” She’s like super chilled and down to earth. It’s all very raw and natural.
FEMALE ARTISTS IN THE MUSIC INDUSTRY ARE HYPERSEXUALISED BUT THEY AREN’T PORTRAYED THAT WAY IN YOUR PROMOS. HAS THAT BEEN A CONSCIOUS DECISION?
I think it has actually. I’m doing something towards not overly raunchy and it’s just tasteful and classy but still sexy but not overly contrived.
YOU EDIT A LOT OF YOUR OWN VIDEOS. DO YOU ENJOY THE EDITING PROCESS?
Yes I do. I try and collaborate with editors as much as possible because it does take up a lot of time when videos are so close together and it’s difficult to give each the time and love it deserves.
I feel like I’ve learned a lot within the past few videos. I’m at a really cool phase keeping things simple and not overly flashy and just letting the artists do their thing. I think right now, with the trends, people really want to see an artist perform and not feel overly flashy. As soon as I started thinking that way I started doing back-to-back videos.
Editing is really fucking hard though. I’m not going to lie, I’m usually hating it. Editing is like this rollercoster of emotions. I don’t even know how to tame it. It’s just a beast that you have to know is going to come.
DO YOU OFTEN COLLABORATE WITH SIMILAR CREW OR ARE YOU ALWAYS LOOKING TO MIX IT UP?
I think that mixing it up is healthy. It’s nice to give a body of work that shows that I can do a range of things. I don’t want to just be a flashy music video director, I want to also tell a story at times or be more conceptual or focus on simple, clean, sophisticated visuals and then all of a sudden I do a video that’s really loud and aggressive. So I think that switching crew is a very important part of my job. Picking the right person for the job is very much a big role in directing.
I like to keep some of the same people because they are super reliable, for example, I have a make-up artist called Taylor Tompkins because she’s really really talented and collaborative. I want to work with people who bring something to the table. I’ll come across people who I have to spell everything out for and it just makes me want to pull my hair out. It’s no fun! I really thrive off collaborating.
I like to be surrounded by people who are constantly on the pulse and are looking up art and are on the Internet and on these crazy tumblrs. I just can’t get down with someone who’s like “Oh, what’s tumblr?” I like to work with people who can pull a ton of references to show me something cool.
THERE’S A PERCEPTION THAT MUSIC VIDEOS ARE STYLE OVER SUBSTANCE. DO YOU FEEL THAT IT’S AN UNFAIR PERCEPTION?
Style doesn’t resonate. It doesn’t last. It doesn’t leave you with something. If a music video moves you and makes you feel something that’s the goal. With videos it’s really hard to shoot a performance and a narrative video in one. There’s only so much time and there’s only so much money which can only allow for so much time. You’re lucky if you get great performances in narrative on top of that. You want to be intentional with the shots that you use so it feels, not necessarily that you’re doing a full-blown story, but that you’re trying to say something.
Ballads are the hardest thing as opposed to a fast-paced track because you can’t just cover it up with an edit. Everything has to be super intentional. Every shot has to matter. With the Ariana video [Love Me Harder], that made me want to pull my hair out as every shot had to be so precise. There couldn’t be anything in there that didn’t mean anything. Every shot had to say something. With a quick edit you can cover things up but with a ballad everything has to be said with conviction.
THE CINEMATOGRAPHY ON LOVE ME HARDER IS FANTASTIC.
Our DOP was Ketil Dietrichson who is Norwegian. He brings this really calm vibe. I thanked him so much after the video for giving this different, matured, clean look. The horizons were nice. Everything was smooth and controlled.
HAVING A DOP WHO IS INCREDIBLY CALM MUST BE A MAJOR ASSET ON SET?
Oh my gosh it’s unbelievably refreshing. It’s so nice to turn to a DOP and he’s not only nice and respectful to me but he’s super cool and chilled to his crew. He’s so composed and such a crucial component to what made that video.
HAVE YOU FOUND THAT RECORD LABELS ARE APPROACHING YOU DIRECTLY OR DO YOU STILL PITCH A LOT?
I’m definitely still writing tons of treatments. There are only a few rare instances where I am able to just talk to the artist directly. I love when that happens. But I’m still writing a lot. Treatments are tough. I think visual references are so important.
ARE YOU MORE SELECTIVE OVER TRACKS THAT YOU PITCH ON NOW?
I’d say I’m a bit more selective in terms of the type of artist, yes. I’m really into female pop but then there are other artists like Banks who are so dark and cool and I would just love to do a video for her. I’m not overly selective. I’m still super new to this industry. I’m very lucky to be working as much as I have recently and it can go away really fast.
DO YOU HAVE ANY ADVICE FOR EMERGING MUSIC VIDEO DIRECTORS?
Some good advice would be to shoot photography. That was something that was a really good way for me to get behind a camera and find what I liked. It’s also a way to show that you have good taste.
I also think that emerging music video directors should be very on the pulse and the trends. It really depends on the style of director. If you’re a conceptual director or more of a narrative based director you don’t need to be doing everything that I’m doing. You need to be watching films and reading books and understanding story.
For any sort of director you should be writing a lot. Nobody told me when I was a kid that I would be writing as much as I am today. I’m having to expand my vocabulary quite drastically because writing is what will sell my idea.
WHAT’S NEXT FOR YOU?
I’m still super super new so I want to be kick ass at this. I want to continue with music videos while still exploring lots of other things. I really want to get into commercials and fashion films too.