Director X Gives Us 3 Lessons on Working with Creatives

The Canadian director behind iconic music videos reveals his creative process.

Rihanna walks into frame in a hooded pink fur coat, a Rastafarian print mesh dress, and gladiator coil heels before breaking it down on the make-shift dance floor in the dining room of The Real Jerk. A nascent Justin Bieber sits in the driver’s seat of a 1968 Oldsmobile 442 wearing dark shades as cars perform doughnuts around him. Iggy Azalea stands behind a wooden pulpit at the front of a classroom in an yellow plaid suit playing with her hair. Drake busts a move in a cube box as pastel coloured lighting fades in and out.

MTV may not play music videos from dusk to dawn anymore but music videos are as culturally relevant as ever. Especially when they find their way into mainstream meme culture. Director X is the man behind some of the most memorable videos in popular culture history. Case in point: all the above videos. As a director, producer, and collaborator, the Canadian creative has worked with the biggest names in recent music history, and from Usher’s “Yeah!” to Kendrick Lamar’s “King Kunta” and even Nelly’s “Hot in Herre,” he has done it all for culture.

In April, Director X will creative direct the 15th edition of AGO Massive—a night when immersive art installations, performances from local creators, and dance floors take over the Art Gallery of Ontario. In anticipation of the fundraising event, we’re giving away 3 pairs of tickets valued at $200 each.

Here, Director X distills his advice on finding inspiration, learning to have a vision, and working with other creatives.

Learn how you find inspiration. Use it.

“Every muscle can be related to a function in the brain, so the more you do, the better you get at it. If you’re looking to be more creative, then you need to do creative stuff and keep pushing yourself. I’ll go to museums trying to be as much in the art space as possible. [To harness creativity] I suggest trying drawing. Do some still-life, do things that engage your artistic brain. Or, try writing stories, writing poetry. There’s writers who will tell you, “Well, the only way through it is to do it. If you’re blocked, you gotta start writing, you know, you just gotta do it. You gotta warm up, essentially; you gotta get in there and do some of the stuff, and then at one point you’re warmed up and the body gets loose, and now you’re on track.”

Find your vision.

“My mentor [Hype Williams] told me when I released a music video that it would have to be about something. Being about something doesn’t mean it’s a story. ‘Something’ can be about the photography; it can be about the look; it can be about the feeling. Hype really knew the whole process. That was the brilliance talking about Hype. He knew about hair and make up and styling and art direction and the lights and the cameras. He really knew film making through and through. And for me that was my first teacher; I came into film making thinking that a proper director knows the departments. You really could speak the language of films through all his departments, through all this people.”

When working with other creatives, listen and collaborate.

“I deal with client-based [projects]. I’m making something for them and they’ve hired me to do it for them. You have to trust that they have an instinct about their work and their job that supersedes your own. If my client wants something to go a certain way, I begin to trust that, or at least I take that as an indicator to the direction. When they might not be able to vocalize, they’ll go back in and go, ‘Let me try that, let me play with that.’ It’s a partnership, it’s almost like you could use them as a coach to push you to do better when you’re open to the client and what they’re trying to get out of their product.”