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Introducing Gabriella Kingsley: The Director Who Brought Us The Dab

Meet one of the UK's most in demand music video directors.

2nd Feb 2017

Image Credit: Instagram

This is the first in the Keakie Power series; a new series that features some of the most powerful people across the creative industries. This week we focus on the talented music director, Gabriella Kingsley (GK).

If ever you've come across Gabriella's page on Instagram, you'd be forgiven for making the quick assumption that she's an 'Insta chick'.

Between her various posts of alluring imagery in bikinis, fashionable clothes, and pouting selfies, it's an assumption one could easily make. However, unlike many of her millennial counterparts, this 23 year doesn't look at her Instagram as just "a bit of fun". Her 13,000 followers don't phase her in the least. For Gabriella, her professional career extends far higher than the product promotion glass ceiling of the insta-fame career ladder.

Gabriella Kingsley is an up and coming Music Video Director, and by up and coming I don't mean the generic 'Starbucks is my office and I just got my first client' up and coming. I mean, in the space of her short two year career, her music videos have already been viewed by over 20 million people worldwide and her clients consist of some of the UK Hip Hop Industry's biggest names.

Strong minded, eloquent with impeccable social manners and an unwavering sense of self-certainty, Gabriella's stance is clear: "I have, to be a powerful woman to have my voice heard and for people to respect what I am saying."

So what are the secrets of this accomplished young creative in an industry where it's so hard to even get your foot in the door?

We sit down with Ms Kingsley to find out:

Keakie: How long have you been directing for and how did you get into the industry?

GK: So I've been directing now for about two years. I'm still doing it now, going off on it in my own direction. My partner before was Vertex, we had been friends for a very long time and he's been in the industry for ten years. He brought me into the industry. I never actually wanted to direct. It was never something that I studied or wanted to do. My brother was always into music but it was never something I was interested in. I was way more into fashion, I wanted to start my own clothing line. That's always been my thing. It began about two and half years ago when Vertex reached out to me about starting a production company. He said he wasn't organized enough and knew that I was good with people. At the time I was working as a manager for Victoria Secret. I understood retail, I knew it was something I could always go back to, this offered me something different so I made the decision to leave my job and open the company with him.

When it started, my position was all about meeting with people, performing the admin duties, facilitating meetings and helping out on set but as shoots went on, I started to subconsciously put in a lot of input and directing without realising. I was always quite arty in school, I always loved photography and stuff so whenever I had the chance to work on set I would put in input. It started with "this should be put here" and then eventually I was doing more and more until one day Vertex just turned around and was like "you should be directing. There's not a lot of female directors in the industry. You're not just good at it but you're a really strong minded and powerful person because you've had to be for people to listen and take you seriously. Use it for this, it'll work." I tried it, it worked, it stuck and I love it. It came very naturally.

Keakie: A lot of young people your age with your aesthetic and social media presence tend to use their Instagram platform for jobs in front of the camera, i.e. modeling, product endorsement and partaking in music videos. What would your advice be to those young women and men who wish to go another route, like yourself, that doesn't focus their career so much on their image and moves more in the direction of working behind the camera?

GK: I get a lot of young girls and guys as well messaging me asking me how to get into the industry because it is really hard to get into, they want to know how to get their foot into the door because it is a small, tight knit community, a hard industry to crack into. I can't give crazy amounts of advice because I never studied it, it really fell into my lap. But I have always said that when it comes to this industry it's all about who you know and getting out to as many networking events as possible.

I actually take on a lot of students, runners who are willing to work for free to give them the experience of being on and around a set. It's all about building up your CV and reaching out to employers. I get so many emails asking if they can come and work for free, building knowledge and contacts. I'm not even looking for the help but they reach out but they're eager and motivated to reach out themselves.

I direct but unlike other normal jobs, the work isn't constant. Some times I'm working four days a week, sometimes once a month. When I'm going through a period where there aren't as many jobs or projects to work on, I start reaching out to companies, who may not be looking for something but I still email them to say I'm here and this is what I do. I turn to a lot of fashion and promo companies, sending emails with my portfolio and basically saying if they are looking to shoot a smaller budget promo video or something this is what I can do. Often enough even though they aren't thinking about it, I've planted the idea in their head and they end up hiring me for the post. A good example of this is my friend who contacted a really big car manufacturer with his portfolio and said "although I'm not a big name in the industry, this is what I can do and if you give me a couple grand I can make something really great for you". They ended up using him and that particular advert went worldwide. He's still called back for jobs sometimes. Even if it's a company you think would never hire you, just do it. A lot of the time you won't hear back, but don't be discouraged. Perserverance is definitely key.

Keakie: You say your root passions lay in fashion, would you every consider returning to a career in retail?

GK: Luckily, because of the stage I'm at, working with some of the country's greatest artists, my job allows me to make a lot of money in a short amount of time. I can earn in one day what some people earn in a month. So when I'm going through those dry spells of less work, I get bored - I'm a very active person. This year I've been thinking, about as more of a hobby, to go back into designing, maybe releasing a clothing line. I can control how big it gets, maybe keep it small to focus on the music videos. For me, directing is what I love most. If I were able to work three or four days a week, every week, on directing then that would be ideal and I would let fashion go. But until that point, I am considering something to fill my free time and sink my teeth into something in those dry periods.

Keakie: I understand one of your biggest projects thus far to be Dance For Me by Eugy & Mr Eazy. How was it like working with such big names and how did that opportunity come about?

GK: Dance For Me is probably the biggest project I've worked on so far. It's an amazing feeling. For me its different, Eugy is a dear personal friend of mine so I knew of the song long before it came out and got this big hype I was invested. It's amazing to see it grow, its definitely gotten me a lot of work. In fact, a Nigerian management company reached out to and tried to sign me recently because of it. It's crazy to see how almost 11 million viewers have seen it and it just released in September and for me it hasn't even reached its potential. Whilst random places like Brazil, the Nederland's and France have picked up on it and surprised us, it hasn't yet properly broken into the States yet. It's only been out for four months so I'm excited to see where it's at in a years time when it hopefully breaks through to broader America. Definitely one of the largest projects I've worked on and most fun. It was a really fun day.

Dance For Me, Eugy

Keakie: One of the best things about that particular music video, to many, is how aesthetically attractive the settings are, where did you shoot it?

GK: Funnily enough, Dance For Me was filmed in a London Town Hall. A lot of people watch the video and think it's filmed somewhere crazy tropical but it wasn't, it was filmed here. We took out a lot of cool props - palm trees and stuff, we got the dancers dressed in really bright and vibrant clothing. A lot of people were surprised. The song was coming from a UK artist, but a big one and we knew it had potential to go global so we knew it had to be something attractive and appeasing for everybody and anybody around the world. It has to have a bright and happy feel so when you watch it, you want to get up and dance. Lighting is very important. We had an amazing lighting crew on the day and it made all the difference. One thing I always say when it comes to shooting music videos - you can have the best cameras in the world but if you're lighting isn't right it's all for nothing. They spent hours setting up the lights to get it right and even the reflective lighting to give the sunshine affect, it was really paid well attention to and the crew worked really hard on it.

Keakie: So is lighting and scenery aesthetic something you focus on with all your projects?

GK: Definitely. When we were shooting Krept and Konan 'Falling' a lot of people said it looks like a central London penthouse, but it was filmed in an East End studio. In the main scene in the hallway we had someone pushing a glass door up and down to get the reflection of Travis at the door. Even the other video 'Last Night' was shot in a nighclub in Camden called Proud. Nobody recognises it because it's all about dressing the set and having that good lighting. I can't take all the credit, its the whole team down to the DOP. I have a DOP I always work with called Luke Biggins who's also been a director and worked in the industry for a long time. I don't really like to work without him. He and our lighting crew are so important. Anyone who's been on a video set would tell you that lighting takes ages, for us it's what we spend our longest time to set up. A 20 minute filming scene can consist of lighting to take an hour or two to set up.

Keakie: Talking of Krept and Konan, how was it like working with them? How did that process go?

GK: Actually, funnily enough they're both great guys and have done really well for themselves in the UK. They've now touched the states which is an achievement because critics are always saying how trapped the UK music scene is and to reach that height of success artists need to branch out there. So our first shoot was Falling, there was a lot of stress on the day but we did it and it came out great. At this point they had already shot last night in the states with another director but they didn't like how it came out so we redid it for them. We kept the final scene of what was shot in the States to keep YG in it so we had to keep that concept but revamp it with our own ideas. We recreated the video in London and nobody notices the difference. We added our own affects but kept it succinct to the original concept to link it in.

Keakie: As times are progressing, we're seeing more notability for the Music Video, more respect for the process and its contribution to the music industry in it's own respect. As someone working in the industry, do you see a movement happening by those who, perhaps, use to have a more silent role?

GK: I think a lot of people who work behind the camera are coming much more frontlined across the industry in general. Back in the day you would very rarely see a producer's name in the title of a song. Their credits were all much more behind the scenes. Now, as times are progressing, you're seeing a lot more people, like myself, who work behind the scenes are starting to come forwards and show their presence. I really feel like DJ Khaled was one of the people to push that through, he was a DJ producer but he began putting his name on titles so now its DJ Khaled ft Chris Brown and now people's mindsets are changing, they care more now about who produces the music and so many more producers are bringing their names forwards on song titles.

Perhaps the artistry is being respected more. A lot of people from my era are always moaning "what about the days in the 90's when music was so good and the music videos were so cool?" but times have moved on and people don't particularly like the way the music industry is being shaped with the relationship between songs and videos and now its being put through a turn and it's coming back to how it was. As much as I love being a director, the visuals don't mean anything without the song - we have to enhance the song and make it come to life but without a song that people love the video isn't paid attention to in the same way. I see that music is starting to resonate with the people, the industry is now coming back around, people are paying more attention to their work and so now people are excited again for the visuals. The music video is essentially to the song what the movie is to the book. So many people around the world love reading books and if they love the book they grow excited for the film. Now, once a song comes out, people are excited to see how the artist visualises the experience of the song - it's the same concept. And now the industry has changed, it's not like back in the day when people sat in front of the TV and watched whatever MTV sent their way. We live in a digital era, where people have a lot more choice as everything's on the internet and its all about shares and views. We now have the job of creating something that would go viral - we need to understand what people are going to watch, repost and share. You need to have a strong online presence and understanding of online behaviors.

Keakie: So would you say that the current model of the industry, there is unfair emphasis on the singer than the visual concept creators of the project in the way it limits its credibility to the directors?

GK: I do see that but I think people need to be patient and give it time to grow. For example, Director X, one of the biggest directors of our time - he does everyone from Rhianna to Drake, just everyone. If you observe his career, he's really starting to get more credibility for his work. But as we, as directors and artists in our own right are taking more of a stance and coming forward, we need to allow the time for our industry to do the same. As I said with producers, back in the day you never saw producers getting these big awards and recognitions now they are because the industry is evolving to highlight their significance. Now the public have accepted it, it's allowed more systems and platforms to boost them up. I really think the same is beginning to happen for us video directors. I know there are some who complain that film directors have always had that recognition but what people have to realise is the difference between what we do and what film directors do. It may take us three days to a week to shoot a music video, directors on a film work on a film for two to three years so to not show credit to a film director is almost criminal because its three years of hard earned work on one project whilst we can do hundreds in that time. So it's different, music videos and films are just different ball games. For music video directors to complain about that is ignorant because film directing is where a lot of us admire to be. Its a whole other level, not that it doesn't take a lot of time to plan out and stuff but its not the same so that should not be an issue in our heads. We just need to give the industry time to catch up to where we are and make those platforms of recognitions. I think it will happen. In the UK we have the Rated Awards, Best Music Video of the Year even at the VMA's a lot of artists are shouting out to the directors more and more often, showing that well earned credit.

Keakie: There are many who'd be reading this who aspire to be directors and producers but who may not know too much about editing etc. How involved are you with the editing process of videos?

GK: I don't do any of the editing, I've always wanted to learn more but I always use an editor so delegating is key. So even before shooting I like to have really clear storyboards and a clear treatment with loads of referencing from the internet and other video's and compact it in a really thorough treatment presentation for my editor to have a very clear understanding of what I want. I have everything written down so every scene falls in its place. As I said my DOP is great, so he really helps in ensuring that the visual is made before editing. Sometimes I see the first cut and I love it, sometimes it takes three, four times before I send over to the artist to approve it, sometimes they love it first take sometimes not, so it can go back and forth a lot before we reach final product.

Keakie: Tell us about 2017, what can we look forwards to seeing from you?

GK: I'm not going to tell too much about the year but I am currently shooting with Eugy on his new single coming out. It's his follow up song to Dance For Me so it's got to be a strong and powerful video, that fingers crossed, people will love. We're expecting it to come out early February.

So there we have it, a woman with direction and a director with ambition. One thing we know for sure, Gabriella Kingsley is definitely one to look out for.

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