Last Christmas, James Hankins quit his job at Rise Records to make music videos full time. A giant leap into the unknown, Hankins, along with his brother Mark, has produced and directed videos for a huge range of Bristol-based (and national) artists including Kayla Painter, Micachu & The Shapes, Spectres, Trust Fund and Rozi Plain.
His style undeniable, each video is able to come out as wholly original whilst still complimenting the song itself; giant frogs, football games, black tie performances and chat show set-ups all feature and it’s this undeniable style that has made him one of the most exciting (DIY) directors to come out in recent years.
We wanted to discuss the process of these videos with Hankins - the highs, the challenges and where the heck he gets his ideas from; he felt that the best way to do this was to ask the bands and artists themselves about their music videos that he produced this year. What follows is an insightful look into the mind of an artist doing his own thing.
Rozi Plain: Friend City
Rozi Plain: I want to ask you something about being resourceful because I think you are very resourceful and that’s great. I like to work with what I’ve got around and I think sometimes I’m at my best when certain things are limited.
I like making something out of nothing. A mountain out of a molehill. I get the impression you thrive when limited by your resources but it’s also clear that your projects are more ambitious now as well. What do you think about this?
JH: Yeah totally. I don’t like to waste things either and I like recycling props. I donit really have any other option at the moment. I have two go-to places for getting cut-price props… Wilko’s and Poundland; there was a point this year where it felt like I was visiting them almost every day.
“I don’t want that DIY look to be a thing people expect from me”
Although I did splash out £20 for that wig in your video and only used it for a few seconds - that wasn’t very resourceful of me, I should have shaved my own hair really. As much as I enjoy scrabbling around in bins and working with limited resources I’m not the kind of person that would be satisfied working like this forever though.
I don’t want that DIY look to be a thing people expect from me. Yeah you’re right, I have become more ambitious in what I’m trying to achieve now. Obviously still on a very small scale but you’ve got to aim higher haven’t you?
Trust Fund: Football
Ellis Jones: How much do you storyboard your videos before you start filming? It felt like you had lots of ideas but were also happy for people to come up with their own stuff; is that what it’s normally like?
JH: I very rarely storyboard anything; I really should though, my brother would appreciate that. I just create a big list of shots I have logged in my mind and some other things to remember to try out.
I think my reluctance to do storyboards probably comes from me not wanting to be pinned down to anything in particular. I just don’t want to feel like there’s a solid plan - there should be room to be spontaneous and open to any new thoughts that occur on the day.
“I just don’t want to feel like there’s a solid plan”
The people I work with are great for throwing in suggestions. Richard Edkins who worked on your videos is always really good at coming up with different ways of framing the action. It’s got to the point now where (like with my brother) I can 100% rely on him to deliver great shots.
Kayla Painter: Revert
Kayla Painter: The ‘Revert’ video seemed to suit the aesthetic of the track perfectly, how did you know what shapes/themes to go with when planning the video? How did you manage to make Bristol look futuristic and otherworldly when it’s just the same old shopping precinct with the same shops and design as most cities?
JH: I guess I’ve always found it quite easy to listen in to music and dream it all up. I can’t really explain how it happens, but 90% of the time I’m lucky in that I’ll see most of the video play through in my head during the 1st or 2nd time I hear the track.
I try and hold onto anything from those first few listens, even if it’s something really absurd and seems like a bad idea at the time. I knew when I heard your track that it was taking place in a very soft blue and white world, and I kept seeing mints and bubbles everywhere.
“The future always looks sad and lonely doesn’t it?”
I didn’t question why, I just went with it. We selected certain areas in the city that had a kind of sad and lonely quality to them. The future always looks sad and lonely doesn’t it? Obviously there are crowds in the video too but people in shopping centres have that kind of vacant alien look to them. Maybe that’s why you think it seems other-worldly?
Joe Hatt: What keeps you coming back to us? You have said ‘no more Spectres videos’ a few times, but time and time again it happens. Is it a sort of Stockholm Syndrome?
JH: I think it is yes. I don’t know any other band willing to put themselves through the traumatic nightmares that you lot do. That’s the main reason I think. It’s so good to know that if I turn to you guys and say I need you to act out this crazy idea for me that the answer will always be “yeah alright”. It’s been a great few years collaborating with you lot. Oh and I’ve got used to the bullying now thanks.
Get The Blessing: Phaenomena
Jim Barr: How on earth did our track make you think of an argument between a smartly dressed karate expert and a giant frog monster?
JH: I don’t know? I’m afraid that’s your fault, it’s your music. I was hearing the different instruments on your track as arguing voices, battling MC’s in some kind of underwater rap battle. If I had the equipment I would have loved to have done the whole video underwater.
The music made me think of the creature from the black lagoon initially. The other guy was suppose to be a stressed office worker complaining about his work and general day to day troubles but then the actor Edson took it up a level and went off on one and we just went with him.
Velcro Hooks: Severin the Mind
George Garrett: Did you intend us to cook and eat that whole salmon or was it really just a prop? It still had the head!
JH: I didn’t know what was going to happen? I love the randomness of a video shoot. With a band like your band I don’t thinking planning anything too rigid is a good idea. I just thought we’ll turn up at the farm with the power tools, I’ll buy them a load of vodka and hand them a massive fish and we’ll make something up.
“It’s exciting to leave things down to chance because that way you’ll get surprises”
I’d never been to the location so it was just a case of reacting quickly to the surroundings. I had ideas, I always have a rough idea in my head of what could happen or what I’d like to happen but it’s exciting to leave things down to chance because that way you’ll get surprises and I think (I hope) as a viewer you can feel the surprise of the cameraman reacting to the spontaneity of the action.
That fish was expensive! I think it was anyway? £25 that’s an expensive fish right? I mean I’ve never spent that money on a dead fish!? I’m so glad we got to eat it at the end of the shoot. The poor fish.
Micachu & The Shapes: Sea Air
Raisa Khan: How did you find filming, editing, and partying at the Cube Cinema? How did you find doing so many videos in one space? What was the biggest challenge?
JH: It was a fun weekend. Maybe I should have stopped having fun in the evenings though, that didn’t help the following day’s work. It was pretty stressful and tiring at times. We were faced with the challenge of creating 11 little videos in just 2 days with them then being shown in the cinema to the public at the end of the weekend.
The biggest challenge was staying calm and focused while having the constant feeling that there was this big clock above us ticking away. We didn’t really venture too far out away from the Cube as we were set up there so we kinda just did what we could. Mica came with a list of some rough ideas for each track, quite often just a word or a sentence.
“I had to be patient and trust someone else’s vision”
We’d then set about filming something very quickly usually in one or two takes. You guys were in charge and kind of lead the project. I felt like I learnt a few things that weekend, I had to be patient and trust someone else’s vision. I was already a big fan of the band so I was more than happy follow your lead. I’d love to make you a ‘proper’ video one day.
Spectres: This Purgatory
Andy Came: What were your reasons for wanting to attack Radio 1 with This Purgatory video and what led you to the conclusion that we would be most suited to shoot a video for it?
JH: Radio 1 is just so terrible. I mean, I know everyone knows it but still! The current crop of DJs I think could be the worst the station has ever had. Scott Mills in particular. His show is unbelievably awful.
They are all clones. There’s no proper personalities. I think it’s important to attack and mock the people that are harming the world. They are spreading stupidity. You were the only band that I would have asked. You would have never been asked to do a live lounge. It was too perfect.
October Drift: Robots
Daniel Young: Where does the surrealist style of your videos come from?
JH: It comes from my gut. I’ve never been interested in real life. It doesn’t offer me anything. I find it very underwhelming, so I daydream. I guess with my work I’m trying to realise those dreams. I don’t know whether that’s a wise thing?
No one’s been hurt yet. It’s early days and I’m starting gently. I don’t know if my videos are particularly surreal yet? I haven’t really gone off on one like I know I can. I will though, that’s a threat. I like the two extremes, really mundane stuff that really makes me laugh or ridiculous fantasy. I’m not interested in that middle zone, the nice safe seating area. Probably why I suck at normal day to day life.
Falling Stacks: No Stops
James Woodward: We have a Noel Gallagher-esque dislike of making videos, so try and not be involved at all. Does having a totally free reign make your job easier or harder?
JH: That’s a tricky one and I don’t really know? Harder I think. It’s nice to feel the band have full confidence in what I do and are happy to let me get on with it all but without any input from them there’s always a worry you’re going to make something they hate and it’ll be too late to change.
I like to meet them in real life and find out what kind of people they are and most importantly find out what their sense of humour is like. I think it’s also harder if the band/artist doesn’t want to be in the video. That often throws me a bit. So yeah, thanks Falling Stacks for being so awkward!
Something Anorak: I Am A Doctor
Chris Barrett: After filming ‘I Am Doctor’, in a moment of madness we fly tipped an alien. Subsequently we were riddled with guilt. Are there many any incidents’ you really regret after a shoot, and if so what are they?
JH: Yes I did feel very guilty after we did that. It did smell bad though and it was dark and it would have just sunk back into the earth over time (it was a chicken painted green). Apart from that I don’t think I’ve ever regret anything after a shoot.
“There’s never time to stop and think properly”
We try and pack so much in to the day that it’s actually hard to remember what’s just happened. Often it’s just me, my brother and/or another friend and we’re racing around in such a panic that it all becomes a blur. Things works, other things don’t.
I don’t get too hung up over anything. There’s never time to stop and think properly. So no regrets no. Oh ahh yes! Actually I quite often I regret not having the time to be able to talk to the cast, extras and helpers more, and not letting them stop for lunch.
Candy Darling: Going Straight
Emily Breeze: Do you think when you have the budget for C.G.I dinosaurs and explosions it will negatively affect your D.I.Y aesthetic?
JH: C.G.I dinosaur vs D.I.Y aesthetic!! What a battle! I dunno really? I can’t ever imagine someone trusting me with a big budget. It would be nice. I’d absolutely love to have a big team to work on things full time, that would be so great. I’d like to think me and that team would use the money to make the dinosaurs with our own hands.
Spectres: Where Flies Sleep
Adrian Dutt: As a band we obviously use a lot of imagery which can be deemed as ‘dark’ and unnerving, you managed to capture the mood perfectly with ‘where flies sleep’, how did you manage to balance light hearted entertainment with sinister undertones? And how important do you think it is to retain that balance?
JH: Yeah I think with that video we got the balance just right. I find it quite easy to balance being sinister and being humorous as they are kind of the same thing in my view. With a band like yours it works well and is made easier as you guys have a dark sense of humour that i can tap into and try and present on screen.
Adrian Dutt: This was the first video where you collaborated with another director. How did that change the outcome and was it exciting to work with another creative? The visceral intention of that song is violence, and I was intrigued to see how you’d both interpret the ‘vibe’, how far do you think you can push the limits of taste these days?
JH: Yeah it was cool! Steph came up with the concept and directed it. It might have been the first time that I wasn’t in charge I guess. It was a little odd for me to start with but I got used to it. Steph’s got a good eye so I knew together we’d get a good result.
“No one should tell anyone what the limits are”
We’re mates, so it was fun to work with her and I knew the kind of shots she’d want so there wasn’t any problems there. Well, the outcome did feel different to other videos of mine as it wasn’t my vision and was operating in Steph’s world but I’m proud of what we both created and think it works well.
I’m not sure about the limits of taste? I’m a fairly sensible kind of guy so I think I have my limits. No one should tell anyone what the limits are, it’s great there’s others out there who keep pushing them! (As long as no one gets hurt and please don’t kill animals on screen, I really can’t stomach that).
BEAK: The Meader
Matt Loveridge: Can you explain your fetish?
JH: Ha! Interesting question Matt. I don’t what that would be? Actually it’s probably all the different water bottles and fizzy drink cans from around the world. Exotic unknown branding, that’s my fetish!
Tara Clerkin & Sunny-Joe Paradisos: My Fisherman Lover
Tara Clerkin & Sunny-Joe Paradisos: The ‘My Fisherman Lover’ video was influenced heavily by the setting where it was shot. To what extent does each part of the process influence the end product between the conceptualising, the filming and the editing, and in which stage do you find the video most comes to life?
JH: It comes to life the moment the idea is born, that for me is the most exciting thing, that first moment. Everything after that is a massive slog! I’d be more than happy just coming up with ideas and letting other people make them real. With your video the smokey bridge definitely influenced the whole thing. I didn’t think it through i just thought ‘hey that bridge looks cool let’s film there, Tara do you fancy that?’. There was absolutely no planning for it.
Barton Carriages: Canaveral
Markland Starkie: How did your involvement in this video compare to other videos you’ve made?
JH: It was quite different in that my brother Mark and Ben from the band took the lead on this one. Ben had the idea I think and then he developed it some more with Mark and the rest of the band.
I gotta admit I did find it quite hard standing by and watching rather than directing the action which is probably why I ended up shouting “dance Markland dance!” at you a lot. There have been a few times this year where for whatever reason I’ve not been 100% in control and I’m not sure I feel comfortable doing that. That’s something to think about for next year.
To find out more about the videos or to see more of James Hankins’ creations, head to the HANKINFILMS website.