The Chris Milk Interview

Today is the day to wink.

Today I chat with an acclaimed music video and commercial director, whose work you have undoubted seen in the numerous cool Kanye West videos out there. In addition to "Jesus Walks" and "All Falls Down," he's directed videos for Courtney Love, Audioslave and Modest Mouse, in addition to approximately nine million other projects he's working on.

The Chris Milk Interview: Just Under Twenty Questions

What's been the most difficult video you've directed?
Courtney Love ìMono

What's influencing you of late?
I'm trying to shoot more in a documentary style even if the narrative is completely manufactured.

Do you have any video guilty pleasures?
started it all for me and I still love it to this day. When I met John Landis I told him I owed my entire career to him.

What are some of your favorite and least-favorite trends in videos right now?
Not crazy about all the cutout after effects videos. I realize it's a byproduct of trying to make todayís lower budgets work, but emotionally, for me anyway, I have trouble getting emotionally invested in them.

I donít know if itís a trend, but my favorite thing is when directors try to tell compelling stories.

Any particular reason for the locale of the Modest Mouse video that you shot in Romania?
The band was on tour in Europe and Romania is very cheap and has a beautiful countryside. We never could have shot that video in America for the budget we had.

What was the point in your career where you felt that you went from being an aspiring director to a director?
Probably never, I'm still amazed when someone actually knows who I am. I feel like Iím winging it on every video. Every job I'm throwing up till the last day of shooting wraps.

Being a director, do you think that you notice more details in other videos, or is that only with the stuff that you shoot?
Probably, I watch videos with a pretty critical eye. It's difficult not to when all you do is critique your own work day in and day out.

You must get dozens upon dozens of people like my boyfriend sending you e-mails asking, "Hey, how can I make it in this business?" Does it get frustrating? Do you answer everybody? Do you have stock answers?
I answer every single email eventually. I say eventually because sometimes it takes me an insultingly long period of time to do so. I don't have any kind of form letter I send out although itís not a bad idea. I do give a lot of the same answers though because I am getting a lot of the same questions. For the most part I write them fresh because itís too cumbersome to go back and find and old email to copy paste. I want to do a FAQ on my website but I've been too busy to get to that as well.

Are there any old songs (that have videos or not) that you would have loved to have done the videos for?
Any Cure song. All I want to do in life is a Cure video.

There's a lot of that movement from music video director to feature film director. Do you have those ambitions?
I do

Is there anything in the works or do music video directors usually just get handed bad action films based on video games (or ë70ís TV shows)?
I've been sent a lot of scripts and have only ever liked one. I'm extremely picky. There are two routes to go for your first film if you want to do a second and third. Either do a film that is a box office success, or a film that is critically acclaimed. The latter is infinitely more difficult to find and produce, and is the path I've chosen to follow. There is no reason for me to waste time doing a stupid movie. I sincerely love music videos, I'm not doing them to transition into features. I will make a film when I find the right script, until then, Iíll keep doing what I already love to do.

Last year I saw a trailer on your site called ìWeatherman.î Is that connected to the Nicolas Cage movie thatís coming out?
That was the single script of 500 I've read that I liked. The script was making its way around Hollywood a couple years ago. I adapted a short out of the feature script to illustrate the tone in which I would direct it. This kind of movie lives or dies by its tone. It's also not the kind of movie they give to a music video director. So I shot a 2 min adaptation to show to the producers when I met with them. Unfortunately Gore Verbinski (The Ring, Pirates of the Caribbean) later became interested in directing the movie. My film credentials have a tough time going up against Gore's. Hence, Gore Verbinski's The Weather Man.

Do you feel that one particular style of music is easier or more difficult to write video treatments for or does that just vary on the people youíre working with?
The difficulty or ease of the writing never correlates to the type of music for me. Either it sparks an idea in you or it doesnít. Itís completely random.

It seemed for a long while that the typical style for a hip-hop video involved really bright lights and a fisheye lens (well, anyway, it did to me, as a casual observer.) Is there a new trend now?
I honestly don't know. I don't really watch a lot of hip-hop videos. They still seem pretty similar to one another from what Iíve seen.

Any videos making the rounds right now that you absolutely canít stand?
I hate my Jet video. Itís too one dimensional. As far as other peopleís work goes, anyone that puts themselves out there and tries to make a piece of art deserves a lot of credit. It is not an easy thing to do, making a music video. I'd never dis anyone for directing something if they put their heart into it.

Typically do artists say ìIím looking for a fairy-tale, surrealistî kind of thing and wait for your treatment, or is more restricted or loose than that?
Most of the time now they just let me write something. I used to get really detailed briefs at the beginning of my career but that seems to have stopped. I think once people understand what kind of work you do, they trust you more to just come up with what you see for the track. The best scenario really though is if you to get to speak to the artist before you write. I'm not looking for an idea, I'm just trying to understand them and their sensibility.

Usually the best work comes out of that scenario. But sometimes you know the bandís sensibility already just by their reputation. You know their politics and the way they think and you write accordingly. I still to this day have never met or spoken to Audioslave.

Do directors get irritated when musicians take the reins more on their videos, or is that welcome?
I always welcome creative input. On many tv channels their name will be on the video and mine will not, so they need to be comfortable with the statement. I am the director however, if you second guess everything you will be guaranteed mediocrity. Luckily that has never happened to me on a music video. Tons on commercials though.

Can you briefly describe your most favorite treatment that youíve written lately?
I wrote this one for the Cure. It was my dream treatment for my dream band. Never happened.

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