One of the benefits of this UnSung heroes series is the opportunity to celebrate aspects of the music industry that are unexplored or not fully appreciated. Many of us take notice of the music but maybe not the creative process and direction behind music videos produced by the genius and creative flair of individuals like Lex Lewter. For the 3rd instalment of Unsung heroes, here is feature on Lex, a creative director and music video producer from Brooklyn, New York. Lex is also the founder of LightUp film, a full service production company that has produced music videos for many established US artists. Interview after the cut
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I first met Lex a while back at a friend’s birthday party and as many conversations in London tend to go we got onto the subject of “what we do”. Lex mentioned that he was here in London working with Lutimedia, the top UK production company that has produced videos for artists such as N-Dubz, Alexandra Burke, Talay Riley, Snoop Dogg, Wretch 32, Ed Sheeran- the list goes on. I instantly knew I wanted to interview Lex for Unsung heroes when he mentioned his love for directing developed when he worked on Jay-Z’s ‘Hard Knock Life’ video. Who remembers that video?? I do. Probably one of the most renowned hip hop videos in history. Here is some further insight into Lex’s career and the art of production/directing.
When did your passion for creative direction, producing and directing develop?
My interest was sparked when I was 12 years old when I walked onto the set of Jay-Z’s “Hard knock life” video and just asked them whether I could help out. So my first job was sweeping the floors and getting food for Jay-Z! And that’s where I fell in love with it.
My passion developed in high school through an after school program where I was able to develop my own creative pieces. I actually went to school for culinary arts (cooking) and thought that I’d become a world class chef. I am an amazing cook by the way! But then I dropped out of high school to go to film school rather than college. That was the best decision I made. I loved cooking but just knew I wanted to be a director.
How did your time at New York film academy help to develop your craft?
It gave me a strong technical background to build upon. So I got the sensibilities of knowing what a camera is and what equipment does and what the process is. Then it wasn’t until I went out on my own that all the knowledge I acquired kicked in.
You have worked with many notable directors of this era and assisted on a handful of chart topping videos. Is there a particular director that stands out as a favourite and why?
Bernard Gourley. With him I learnt how to delegate. Sometimes its hard to tell a 50 year old guy what to do when has has been doing his job from before I was born. But I learnt how to speak to people.
Director X (formerly Little X). It wasn’t until I worked with him that it all made sense. I realised okay this is what I want to do. He is a phenomenal creator from beginning to end.
I learnt the art of directing when I was assistant director to Bobby Yan. He taught me the importance of facial expressions, eye contacts and angles of the face. Basically all the little things that miss the naked eye. I also learnt the technicalities of directing and how to think about it all when it comes to editing.
Favorite music video of all time?
Busta Ryhmes, “Put your hands where my eyes can see”! Everything from the creation, direction to creative expression is amazing. I worked with the choreographer of that video recently and it was just amazing to see her in action.
What is involved in the process of producing a music video?
Typically you work with people you like as a core group and then you tailor that to what the client/artist needs. It is often a matter of what the set calls for and researching the right people to bring in to do a great job.
What are the components of a successful music video?
When you give a client more than what they expected. When the client says “Omg i wasn’t expecting this” that’s a hit. A good director will give the client what was written, a great director gives more.
How did you start LightUp film?
I teamed up with one of my partners Dr Woo with some start up money. I purchased all the equipment, domain, copyright etc and it was a case of just do it. I had the technical background and foundation to create so I just did.
You have shot commercials for the New York International film festival. Is directing films an area of your craft you want to develop?
Yes, film is something I could do until the day I die. Directing is something I am consistently developing and hopefully I will have my first feature film produced by the age of 30. It’s just a matter of progression.
You have produced many videos for Jessie Boykins III an artist who we appreciate here at Y&Y. How did this relationship with Jesse develop?
Jesse is the Zulu Guru! He is an amazing artist who basically directs himself and knows what he wants. Me and my partners are just his assistants! I co-directed “Pantyhose” with his partner and that is where our friendship began. As creatives we just built and built.
You were here in London working with Luti Fagbenle of top production company Lutimedia. How would you say production of music videos in UK differs from the US?
There is not much difference other than location laws! In London it is much easier to get permission to shoot a video. In New York its all about clearance, permits, money etc. But the fundamentals of production stay the same. In terms of quality, US videos have a gloss to it whereas UK videos feel more authentic and relatable.
Thoughts on London?
I love it. The best way to describe London is familiar. I feel at home in London. It is very much like New York but on a lesser scale . London has everything from the culture, food, to the buses and underground just like NYC but it is the little differences of London that I am learning to appreciate.
Advice for young up and coming directors?
Just create. Do it. There is no set way of doing anything. Do it, be passionate and dedicated and before you know it your going to say I did it.
To be happy. This is where I am supposed to be right now. I do not have a pre conceived idea of “I need to be there”- I set my goals and attack them and before I know it I’ve achieved it.