A Conversation with Director Chris Strikes

Where would Music be without moving imagery? Recording artists experienced careers in music that succeeded those before them simply because of video. Not only could you hear your favorite performer, but you could see them, imitate them and dress like them. Television embraced music video channels  (MuchMusic, MTV etc.) creating huge stars in the early 1980s.  As the song says, Video Killed The Radio Star and to this day, it is imperative for an artist to have a music video. Last month, we celebrated the best videos funded by MuchFACT at the MuchFACT Annual Screening. It was there that we met Chris Strikes, a Torontonian film director who has made a mark in the music video genre. We had a chat with Chris about this career path and what he has planned for 2013.

Directors who bring the music to the screen, including Martin Wolfe & Chris Strike in the centre.

You developed a love for film in high school. What sparked that interest? Many of us like for the entertainment, but you were interested in how it was made.

I’ve always loved watching behind-the-scenes shows of music videos and film and seeing what music videos and films looked like behind the camera. I found it very interesting to see how videos and films were made. In grade 10 I took Comm-Tech and that’s where I really first began to develop my interest and skills. At the time, my high school was the only high school in Toronto that had a broadcast studio, and our
announcements were broadcasted on TV instead of the traditional P.A. system. So in
grade 11 Comm-Tech we were taught how to run the show, run the studio and began to learn how to use video cameras and shoot. And in grade 12 we actually ran the show and created video content for it and I loved every element of those classes. It was one of the very few classes I looked forward too every year in high school.

While attending college, you worked on sets with some renowned Canadian music video directors like Cazhmere and Director X. How did you gain these opportunities?

This was really a result of a snowball effect. I originally met RT! and John Nadalin
when Kardinal Offishall invited me on set of his ‘Everyday Rude Boy‘ back in 2006. I had expressed to John and RT! that I wanted to intern and PA and on set to gain knowledge and experience. So I started PA’ing on a number of sets, learning and meeting other producers who would invite me to work on the sets of other directors including X and Cazhmere just to name a couple. So it was all about putting myself out there, meeting people, letting them know who I was and what I wanted to do.

What did you learn on these sets that you never could learn in college?

You learn so much on sets that school could never teach you. In college you learn how to make a student production and on a real set you learn how to make an actual
production. On set, you learn the working pace. You learn the mechanics of a shoot and how a machine of professionals works together to create beautiful images. You learn how much more important every little decision a director makes which will have an effect on time and your production budget. You learn little tricks of the trade which only professionals could teach you and not the average professor. And very importantly, you learn how to network which schools NEVER seem to teach or really even touch on.

You directed a documentary, T.O. To D.C.: The Journey To Barack Obama’s
Inauguration in 2009. That was such a historic moment in history for the world. Explain the experience for us. Many people made sacrifices to be there and traveled miles.

It’s really difficult to fully describe in words what it was like to be apart of Obama’s
Inauguration. When Tyrone “T-rexxx” Edwards had called me about a week before the trip and ask if I wanted to document it I thought about it for about one second and replied YES! Just being apart of that crowd of over 4 million people was so inspirational, it was magical. You really felt this warmth, this glowing spiritual energy and joy that traveled through everyone in attendance that couldn’t be captured by any the TV cameras that were there, and trust me, it was a BITTER COLD BONE CHILLING day that day, but you just felt warm.

You have worked with some major recording artists. The entertainment industry,
seems to be competitive. How do you keep focused on your projects and progress?

It’s that competitiveness of the industry that keeps me focused. That, and the fact that I simply just really love what I do and am highly driven to succeed. It’s very easy for people to give up because this industry and the arts in general are so tough. But all I want to do is succeed. When you really love something and want to succeed at it you stay focused to achieve your goals, and you continually to set new goals, setting the bar further and challenge yourself more and more.

A music video is a collaborative effort. Do you find musical artists instantly trust you and your judgment when it comes to music video treatments or ideas? Or do you have to convince them?

Each situation is different and for the most part artists trust my judgment. Sometimes you have to convince them about one or two elements of a treatment. Sometimes you have to convince them on the whole treatment, but more often than not they trust me. Some artist are very involved in working with me on the treatment, some are less involved or not involved at all. Every artist is different and I like working either way as long as can come to an agreement about the creative and we end up with a really dope video at the end of the day that’s the most important thing.

You have worked with Clark Johnson on King, the Canadian TV series. What was that like and what did you take away from that?

Having the opportunity to intern with and shadow Clark was one of the best things that could happen in developing my craft of directing. There was so much that he taught me about different situations on set and also about the business of show biz. I was amazing to see how he would set up his shots and I got to everything that goes into shooting a TV show, like all the pre-production meetings, camera tests etc. He is also great with interacting with everyone on set, treating everyone very warmly whether you were the lead actors, or the craft guy or even me, the intern. I’d like to say a special thank you to Gavin Sheppard and The City Life program that made that internship possible.

Tell us about what you have planned for 2013 as far as new projects.

For 2013 and I’m looking to complete my short film entitled One Night A Stranger and submit it to a number of film festivals, both foreign and domestic, so I’m really excited about that. I’m going to be working on some more short film projects and once I get a chance, will sit down and write a feature film script that I’ve had in mind for a little while now. I’ll still also be looking to direct more music videos. Currently I’m in the editing stages of a webisode/viral type of video for Shawn Desman and am also cutting a video for Carlos Morgan.

We’re enjoying the music video you directed for Kardinal Offishall’s track ft. Karl Wolf, Turn It Up. Not that there is one clear answer, but what makes an effective music video? They are such strong pieces of pop culture and in this time of video, a video can make or break the success of a single, or a musician’s career. What does a director have to do to get it “right”?

I think it’s important for directors to really capture and portray the feeling of the song, or a particular element of the song more than anything else. It’s a really interesting thing how creative people can come up with completely different visuals and ideas of a particular thing whether it’s a song or anything else. Like for example when Kanye West does multiple versions of his Jesus Walks with multiple directors. Each version is completely different but they all work well because in their own way they portray the feeling and the energy of the song. So it’s not so much about what your idea is in particular, but more how your idea captures the feeling of a song.

Lastly, for aspiring film-makers, what steps can people take to build opportunities and start their film careers?

To aspiring filmmakers I say four things: First, buy a camera and shoot, shoot, shoot!
Shoot films, shoot videos, shoot weddings, shoot your little siblings or cousins acting
a fool! Haha! Really practice your craft and work to perfect your craft. Second
network, network, network! Put yourself out there; let people know who you are.
Thirdly, learn not just the art, but also the business of films. And fourthly stay

Twitter: @chrisstrikes
Stilettos & Rock n Roll,
By Carcia & Telly
Follow HerCastleGirls!