On Making Heat and Light – Interview with Nick Lovell

Nick Lovell

“Producing a music video requires many of the same skills, creative approaches, and sensitiveness that we find in a fashion shoot,” Nick Lovell pointed out during a recent interview at the Orange County Center for Photography and Digital Arts (The Center). “Both of these mediums are more media than image in the truest context and I think as a producer, director, and teacher one has to approach visual projects holistically.”

lighting_workshop_blue_sweaterNick Lovell is a graduate of the USC School of Cinematic Arts, an accomplished fashion photographer, videographer, and as Manager of Video Production at Sony Pictures Interactive, he applies his talents to video capture and postproduction.  He is also the Curriculum Director for Video and Fashion Career Studies at the Orange County Center for Photography and Digital Arts.

“The recent music video that I produced and directed at the ‘The Center’, for “System Recordings” is an example of how I approach a video project and a creative system that I want our students to embrace. In this particular video, the intention was to create a visceral experience; though there was no specific narrative, it was important for me to mirror the feel of the song as it built to its climax.  I was given a great deal of creative freedom by the artists, which allowed me to experiment outside my comfort zone.  This is a great space to operate in, as it’s where we learn and grow the most.  Orson Wells is famous for saying ‘the enemy of art is the absence of limitations.’  I could have easily produced a run-of-the-mill beauty video, but pushing the boundaries of your abilities is crucial to development.  This is part of my core philosophy of teaching too…  Each student needs to be at once fully supported and fully challenged to maximize their potential.”

Thee-O and Erin Powers “So Damn Good” Official Music VIdeo from Nick Lovell on Vimeo.

When asked about how he achieved the look of the video, his eyes light up.  “I used dual front projection to produce various designs on the artist and on the background.  These projections were created ahead of time and were synced to the music so we’d get consistent takes. I imagined myself immersed in the song, and for each section of it, tried to find abstract visuals that represented my emotions at that particular point.”

248193_10151701752147526_763936772_nMusic videos are entertainment, but they are also an extension of our various cultural demographics, and thus how we as videographers and producers approach the emotional range of these projects is critical.  Lovell says, “we need to think audience before we think camera, lights, and action. How will the audience respond to the talent, the music, the lyrics, and what is the underlying beat, which sets the background. Those issues will determine the mechanics of capture and postproduction processes.  The audience is key.”

reyLovell senses a ‘disconnect’ in visual education because many educators theorize about the aesthetics of photography and try to persuade students to see photographic art within certain definitions. That same faculty approach applies to narrative video wherein there is an emphasis on vaporous affective experience, which Lovell describes as ‘cold, navel gazing.’ Nick believes and sees glamour in fashion and or video as a multi-faceted metaphor.  “Lots of people look at fashion photography, advertising photography, commercials, etc. as lacking in substance.  However, all these mediums are essentially telling the story of an elaborate fantasy world many people would like to live in, and all of it reflects the dreams and aspirations of a particular culture at a particular point in time.  Some people are rigid in their belief that, if it’s aesthetically pleasing and commercial, it’s vapid and inartistic.  Then, there’s the other extreme, valuing aesthetic so highly that there’s nothing to say, nothing even for the audience to feel.  Finally, there is also the current trend of poorly-produced material being perceived as more ‘authentic’ than something that someone else spent a great deal of time and effort (and yes, sometimes money) on to get to a certain level of quality.  It’s complex.  The boundaries are grey areas.”

_MG_6783-EditHow does all this figure into Lovell’s teaching?  “As an instructor I don’t want to cordon off photography and video from the other visual arts as often happens on college campuses and in some workshop programs.  I took Cinema Courses at USC and Photography Courses, and at the time it felt very much like ‘ne’er the twain shall meet.’  Photography was ‘fine art,’ cinema was ‘commercial.’  But video and Photography are visual media, and as masters of either or both I believe our role is to create new visual stories— ones that generate heat and light.”

Nick begins all of his classes with background instruction and the history of the medium before exploring how to use the tools, ideas and structures to create images and narrative video. “You need to know the rules before you break them, and you need to know what’s come before in order to create something new without it being an accident.  Students come to class with their own theories, which can be partial, incomplete or fragmented. In fact, these theories are probably assumptions and I want them to begin at the beginning with the facts about narrative video, and fashion photography. A solid foundation is critical to creating exciting visuals.”

OCPC_fashion_workshopThe video and fashion curriculums at ‘The Center’ are fun but rigorous. Students can choose from basic classes to get the fundamental mechanics in place, take a complete career development course over 6-8 weeks or take an intensive 5-day course, which the school schedules several times a year. “My objective is the same as the other instructors at the ‘The Center.’ We are not presenters,” says Lovell, “we are teachers and we want our students to develop critical visual thinking skills, and to master craft. With this working knowledge they will be able to change how audiences see and feel the world about them. They will be able to create their own heat and light.”

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