An Interview with Ryan Kruger
Now that we have announced the 2016 Jameson INDIE Channel music video grant, we thought it would be a good idea to chat to some local music video directors to glean inspiration and perhaps pick up the odd nugget of advice. First on the list is Ryan Kruger, whose distinctively dark style has made him a go-to-guy for visually juicy, narrative-driven music videos and short films. Nowhere is Ryan’s aesthetic better embodied than in his latest production, featuring the the unlikely collaboration of David Kramer and Toya Delazy.
I took a look at your show reel earlier today, and I have to say it’s quite a rollercoaster ride. There’s some deliciously dark stuff on there.
Yeah, my style is generally pretty experimental and dark, but I’ve also got my lighter commercial show reel. If I’m pitching for a commercial, people would probably be scared away by the darker stuff.
It seems like a lot of the work you’ve done has in fact been in the form of music videos. You’ve carved out a bit of a niche there.
Well, there are a few short films in there too, and a lot of the music videos do have a narrative, some degree of story telling – but yeah, I also have a lot of purely visual stuff as well. When I started doing music videos I decided that I wanted to focus on story telling because with short films there are only so many distribution platforms, but with a music video you can tell a short story and you’ve already got an audience; the band has an audience too, and it has a longer shelf life. If the band is doing well, people are always going to come back to that video.
How does it work, coming up with these stories? Do you take your lead from the existing story ideas within the song lyrics?
I’m very lucky because almost all the videos that I’ve shot have been my entire story and my entire concept. At the beginning of my career I made one good story telling video, and I guess most of the time since then the artists or the label have trusted me and said just do what you want to do. That said, I’ll always ask the artist what the song is about, to send me the lyrics and what it means to them. But I’ll interpret it in my own way, or in my own style.
It’s a collaborative project and ultimately the video is part of the artist’s marketing mechanism, so you can’t go completely rogue.
Completely. I love working with artists, but I always pick their brain about what space they were in when they wrote the song, or what it means to them. So I’ll take that ‘feeling’ that they’re looking for and I’ll put it in the right context so it comes across.
Is directing music videos your long-term goal, or are you using this format as a sort of training ground for a feature-film future?
Yes I’m definitely using it as a training ground. I got into music videos so that I could get into movies, that’s why I do a lot of the very visual stuff. If you look at the careers of Spike Jonze or Chris Cunningham, music videos are great platform to be creative and show what you can do, as a prelude to directing films.
What’s your take on the current state of movie-making in South Africa?
It’s starting to change for the better, but South Africa is still very far behind most countries, just in terms of developing universal stories. The films we make are either Afrikaans comedies or movies about the past. We don’t have to shove the South African relevance down the audience’s mouths; we don’t need to shove the mountain in the background. We should first just focus on telling a story that most people can relate to on some level. South Africa has so many great filmmakers, great actors, and some of the best crew in the world. These guys are brilliant and I know they would also like to sink their teeth into something real like that .
The other big thing is that we filter a lot of South African movies. I’ve heard so many people say to me “it’s too risky” or “we could never do that” – particularly with regard to violence. But the things I’m suggesting are nothing crazy, nothing that we haven’t seen before. If someone from England or America had to watch it, they wouldn’t even think twice about it. In fact, the majority of South Africans aren’t going to think twice about it. But I think the people with the money, or the very conservative market, they’re the people that are going to be bothered.
As a music video director I would imagine a lot of your projects are self-initiated and have small budgets.
That’s where the creativity comes in. You’re forced to be creative and I love that. It often happens in Hollywood where a director makes a great indie film, and then for the next film they’re given millions of dollars to work with, but it flops because they don’t actually know what to do with all that money. It really just comes down to a good story, a good concept. It doesn’t have to be difficult.
So tell us about your latest video. How did the bizarre combination of Toya Delazy and David Kramer come about?
So, this was for the Sony Xperia ‘Mashlab’ project with 5FM, where they basically just take different artists and put them together in the studio to collaborate on a track. In this video you’ve got David Kramer, whose musical style is so completely different to Toya Delazy’s stuff, which is great. And then of course I come in as a director, and now they’re also collaborating with me, and my particular style. Not all the artists in the series get along perfectly, and in the studio David and Toya had a few problems of their own. So what for the video I took a very visual approach, and made it very dream-like… but looking closer, it’s also about the contrast between these two artists. David Kramer is a South African icon, and he’s been at the peak of his career his whole life. And then you’ve got Toya, who’s this dynamic young woman still climbing in her career. The whole video looks at the contrasts between the two artists. The lion in the video represents Toya, and then there’s the fish – the big fish in the sea.
So it’s more than just a series of decadently stylised images?
Yeah it’s got a very loose narrative. It’s a very visual video, but there is also that sub-text. For example, David Kramer holds a slingshot, which represents the old school. Everything’s got a meaning to it – it’s just my interpretation of the whole thing. Stylistically David has gone for a whole new direction in this collaboration; there are little hints of David Bowie. Who knows, this could even be a whole new look for him.
Ryan Kruger is represented in South Africa by Artists & Legends.