He’s fronted a band (OLO Worms) worked in two of the city’s music shops (Fopp and Rise) and is part of the Howling Owl Record clique and now James Hankins is making a name for himself in the weird and wonderful world of music videos with a little help from his brother Mark. Here, James reveals all…
How long have you been in Bristol now and what brought you here?
I came to Bristol 15 years ago to study fine art at university. I don’t know why I chose Bristol? There wasn’t really a reason, I just had a good feeling it was gonna work out OK there.
What does Bristol mean to you?
It’s a cool place to live. It’s a city where I can create work with the support of friends and fellow filmmakers and artists. I’m happy here.
What was your first experience of film making?
When I was around 8 or 9 I used to draw posters for films that I had made up, so I guess that was my first experience of making something connected to film. They were mainly just rip-offs of films that I’d already seen at the cinema or on TV I think, but with little twists – so like you had an alien that looked just like E.T riding a motorbike with the Ghostbusters logo on its helmet, along with a gang that looked very much like The Goonies.
When I was a teenager I got bored of drawing cartoons and painting so I used to dress up (or dress my mates up) and take stupid photos. Looking back now, I think I was trying to create shots from made-up films that didn’t exist. I then started thinking more about film and would spend a lot of time walking around with a walkman dreaming up music videos to the stuff I was listening to. I’ve still got a massive backlog of ideas from those long dog walks that I need to make one day.
It was only really at university that I started to experiment with film. In my first year, I made a series of really lo-fi, really embarrassing short films that I had to edit in-camera (I didn’t have a computer at this point). I think I confused and annoyed my art tutors who thought I wasn’t taking the course seriously. I definitely wasn’t taking it seriously.
How have you honed your skills?
Erm, well I’ve made a lot of mistakes and I’ve either kept them in for a laugh or I’ve learnt from them. I’m not really into the technical side of filmmaking, it scares me. I’m more focused on the ideas and the feel of whatever I’m making. I figure I’m gonna keep bumbling on and pick up stuff as I go along.
I’ve basically learnt everything I know about operating cameras and editing from my younger (wiser) Brother Mark, who knows what he’s doing. I’m also lucky enough to have a great bunch of talented friends who are willing to help out on projects.
Run us through the key music videos you’ve made…
I guess there have been some videos that seem to have gone down better than others but I’m happy with them all for different reasons.
I spent a few years making all kinds of visual stuff for my band OLO Worms before being asked by anyone else to make videos for them, so that was cool that I got to play around and experiment without any pressure.
I’m fond of the ‘ICE ESC’ video I made for OLO Worms, I felt I hit the nail on the head with that one. It had been brewing for quite a while and it was good to get it out when we did. I like to try and make work that’s relevant to the time. I was especially pleased with the whole branding/sponsorship element. The presentation of it was satisfying too, with it ‘premiering’ on the Sports Direct website.
I’ve made a lot of videos for Howling Owl acts, Spectres in particular. I love getting really dark with Spectres and doing gross stuff. The relationship with that band is special to me. Think I’ve made 6 videos with them now. We should probably stop now. Maybe the video I made for Oliver Wilde was an important one for me because I felt that we achieved something with that one; it was a bit of a nightmare to organise and film, what with filming about 20 different people up and down the same stretch of road with the car doors and boot open all day.
People seemed to really like the Trust Fund video I did. We threw a load of dogs in a Scout hut and made them jump around. That was fun to make, apart from all the rolling around in dog piss. I got to fulfil my dream of having a life drawing class with dog models too.
Being asked by Geoff Barrow to help out with the Beak> video a few months ago was a nice thing to happen. As was working with Micachu & The Shapes, who we made 11 videos for in just 2 days. I’ve just finished working with Rebecca Taylor from Slow Club on a short film which was a lot of fun too.
Tell us about your involvement with Howling Owl?
I met Adrian Dutt (label owner) through Rise record shop where we both worked, then met his other half Joe, then met all the bands and all the other weirdos. I love them all! I started going to the early gigs and parties and then started documenting those nights, and then I ended up making music videos and artwork for a lot of the bands and the extended owl family. It’s been a great few years knowing that lot. They’ve all been really encouraging and I’m very grateful for that.
What’s your favourite memory of your filmmaking journey to-date?
I’ve found myself in a lot of weird situations over the last few years. Maybe having my hand up a rat puppet that’s just burst through a man’s chest with a mountain of spaghetti bolognese guts on top is up there on the list. Making kids break into cars, down shots of vodka and eat rats (why always rats!??) – that was cool. Actually there have been stranger things happen on shoots that I won’t go into. Mainly puppets and food though. My favourite things.
Any major challenges?
Yes! Major challenges on small budgets. That’s stressful. A good kind of stress though, the panic that makes you think quicker and respond to the chaos around you better. Challenges are good. I don’t think filmmaking is supposed to be easy, is it?
What’s the best thing anyone’s ever said about your music videos?
My Dad always complains there’s “too much stuff going on!” in my videos. When I tell him that I’ve just finished a new one he says: “it’s not another wobbly one is it?” You only remember the bad comments right? That keeps you on your toes.
Why do you think music videos are important these days?
I don’t think they are. Are they? I don’t know? It’s down to directors and artists and bands to make them important. I think people have got lazy with the ‘lyric video’ type video which seems to be the thing of the last few years. There’s not enough time in the day to sit through everything that’s fed to us everyday. People will put up anything/any headline to get people to click through (and then be disappointed). Saying that I’ve seen some amazing videos this year. They have to feel fresh and interesting to still be important.
What’s the best music video you’ve ever seen?
Aww, really tough question. I can’t give you just one I’m afraid. I grew up watching MTV in the 90s so you can probably guess which directors inspired me. Aside from Spike Jonze and Michel Gondry, I’d say the other big influence was the work of John Maclean of The Beta Band whose lo-fi videos and live visuals really got me excited back when I was thinking about making stuff myself. OK ok ..it’s ‘Sabotage’, isn’t it.
And the worst?
Lazy ones with no heart. The one’s where you can tell there’s no thought gone into it and they’re just making it cos they think they should. Or boring lads with haircuts and guitars. Actually, the worst video I’ve ever seen is also the funniest – it’s called ‘I Have Been Waiting’ by a band called The Kayas. Check it out!
Who would you love to make a video for?
A really massive pop star. A HUGE MEGASTAR! Someone who has a gigantic fanbase that I could really let down. I’d just love to get a big budget and do something really really weird. I can dream.
What advice would you give to other people doing it?
Daydream. Work with interesting characters. Try and be original. Don’t plan things too much. Be spontaneous. Cling onto mistakes. Screw with it. Trust your gut. Don’t eat on the job.
How do you approach social media?
I approach it quietly, on tip toes, then I ATTACK!! BASH BASH BASH my angry fingers hit the keys chatting trash all day. I’ve had a beautiful relationship with social media over the years but things are changing (and it’s getting REALLY BORING) and I think it might be time for us to go our separate ways. Fans of my bath Vines will be upset, I know. Looking forward to spamming the new virtual world with my junk though!