It's a Wednesday night at WestHollywood's strip bar-slash-sometime musicvenue Crazy Girls, a hang spot for thedirecting duo known as Skinny -- MarcEdouard Leon and David Hache. Leon haslong hair, an abundant beard and wearsblue shiny leggings. Hache is dressed likeBruce Willis in The Fifth Element. As Skinny,Leon and Hache make videos that recreatethe playful hedonism they experiencefirsthand a few nights out of the week. Theduo's ability to artfully capture this sortof reckless behavior in videos for friends like Ke$ha (Leon was her love interest inher "Your Love Is my Drug" video) andDevendra Banhart landed Skinny a dealwith prestigious production companyPartizan, home of groundbreaking musicvideo director Michel Gondry.
"It's all about friends in L.A," Leonsays. "You work with people you have funaround and it lets you be yourself and getnoticed for it." If your friends happen tobe up-and-coming musicians, all the better.Fellow director Zander Coté wound upmaking his first music video for pal, AdanJodorowsky (son of filmmaker Alejandro)'spopular band, Adanowsky. There's even anice cameo in the video by Skinny's Leon,who Coté met a couple of years ago atLeon's birthday party. "We're friends withso many musicians, we can work outsideof commissions," Coté says, as opposedto dealing with record labels, managers,agents and even mothers. "Moreover, threeout of the five people I meet in town aresome sort of creative person," he continues."So by default a lot of the people I knoware artists, musicians, filmmakers, writers. Imeet someone socially who I end up workingwith all the time."
Eric Coleman, of pioneering videoproduction and photography duo Mochilla, has been documenting artists like J Dilla,Erykah Badu, Bilal, Talib Kweli, J. Roccand Cut Chemist in L.A. since the daysof VHS tapes, so he's been observing thecommunity for a long time. "I don't knowif it's the weather or the amount of spacethat's here," Coleman says, "but the architecturallayout, everything, people inthe arts are way more open in L.A., toshare ideas, at least in the musical world.Everyone helps everyone. The social energyis way different."
There to channel that social energy isthe Masses, a video production collective,which has gathered together a formidablebatch of fresh L.A. talent over the last fewyears, like director Ben Kutsko, who madethe video for "Desert Song" by his friendsin the L.A. band Edward Sharpe & TheMagnetic Zeros. As the band spread itscultish power over the universe, Kutsko'sepic music video went along for the ride.Many YouTube hits later, he joined thecollective. The Masses helps connect directorswith resources, projects and waysto skirt around funding limitations by collectingfavors around town. The group'sfounder Matt Amato (who happens to beone of the most prolific video directors inL.A., having worked with Beach House,Bon Iver, Ima Robot, 60 Watt Kid and theDodos), explains: "In L.A., music videosare respected because it's a musical city.There's an eager audience that wants tobe around music."
Theo Jemison and Grace Oh, a directingduo who make music videos anddocument live performances, agree. Onthe same Wednesday night that Skinnywas hanging at Crazy Girls, across townin Lincoln Heights, Jemison and Oh wereat Airliner. They were there documentingLow End Theory, a popular weekly hiphopparty that often sees visits from FlyingLotus, Tyler, the Creator, Erykah Badu andThom Yorke (who's been known to takeover the DJ booth). Why is Yorke hangingaround L.A? "International artists want tobe a part of the movement happening herein music and visual arts," Oh says.
But not everyone is feeling the love.Director and PAPER contributor MollySchiot points out that music videos and the film industry in general continue tobe primarily testosterone-driven, andit's not easy being a female director in a"boys' club." "For every 20 boys, there'sone girl," she says. "That's the main thingthat feels slightly isolating." But Schiothasn't let being a girl stop her from churningout videos for an impressive mix ofup-and-coming musicians and legendarybands like Elvis Perkins, Mika Miko,the Raveonettes, Sleater-Kinney, ElizaDoolitte and Mark Ronson.
Alexandra Pelly of the Masses andDublab (a DJ and radio collective) explainsthat she goes by Alex Pelly so thatpeople look at her work -- like the videoshe directed for the Brooklyn duo Javelinperforming live with dozens of puppets atthe Bob Baker Marionette Theater--first,and her gender second. "But I think thingsare changing," Pelly notes. "While mendefinitely dominate music videos right now,there are so many awesome opportunitiesopening up for female directors and I thinkthings are going to start leveling out soon."
In addition to a more level playingfield, another change in the industry isthat directors are actually starting to makemoney doing what they love. Fighting toget them paid is Danielle Hinde, founderof the production and talent agency,Doomsday, who explains that right nowevery corporate entity is looking towardsthe L.A. music director scene for new talent."They're saying, 'Fuck, we wannaget in on the music game!' If you look onYouTube, the majority of views are on musicvideos. One of my directors makes amusic video, then suddenly he's hired for acommercial and a film management company,just for this one video that gets himexposure and starts his career." As companieslike Xbox and T-Mobile continuepursuing long-form music video-orientedcommercials designed for the Internet,all of these artists will start getting paid.Representing more than 100 music videomakers and production teams, Hindesays she wants "to create ahome where these people cangrow." And she's in L.A., "becausethat's where things arehappening right now."