Spence needs both sides of this brain for this job, combining wild creativity with objective precision. A would-be scientist who eventually chose a camera over a microscope, Spence spent his childhood around wayward youths in Portland, Oregon, where his parents worked in outreach programs. Diagnosed with ADHD, he found a productive way to channel his energy: making movies with his dad's camcorder.
To find out how he is wired, we asked Spence some questions about his inspirations and his upbringing, and delved into his thought process for some of these memorable clips.
Spence Nicholson: To me, "Lost in Forever" was a very powerful track. There are many beliefs about what may come after life (and I won't get into mine here), so I felt like going with something specifically vague that could serve as a proxy to many people's beliefs would best serve the track. I'm glad you saw the '60s sci-fi vibe in there. I've always been a fan of shows like The Twilight Zone, The Outer Limits and Alfred Hitchcock Presents, shows that had big ideas wrapped in small packages.
Songfacts: The video's astronaut is desperately trying to connect with his lost love, but she seems to be nothing more than a figment of his imagination. What’s the message you're sending through this storyline?
Songfacts: What about the desert appeals to you as a familiar backdrop in the music videos you've directed? We see it as the setting for "Lost in Forever (Scream)," The Bled's "Smokebreaks," Augustana's "Steal Your Heart" and Bad City's "Take Me for a Ride."
Spence: There's something eternally mystical about the desert; however, the setting was chosen in each of the videos you have mentioned for different reasons. For Augustana, it was about having a visually dynamic yet tonally bland location that would contrast and accent the in-camera effects and fireworks. For The Bled, it was about creating a bland and drab location that would juxtapose its setting of an office worker's oppressive workplace and heighten its intensity. Bad City just felt right as a reference to Raising Arizona, Natural Born Killers, Lost Highway and other desert road rip/crime films.
For Augustana, it was about finding a place that felt otherworldy and that could easily be augmented via visual effects to heighten the feel.
I do want to point out that, for the most part, these are all different locations and I don't just do desert videos (LOL).
Spence: Many of these youths had clashed with their parents for different reasons, but I found usually it had to do with differences of opinion and beliefs to those of their parents. These were all smart kids who made bad decisions and were more often than not misunderstood because of their creativity and different outlook on the world. I realized at a young age that I saw a lot of myself in these kids and teens and that my best bet was to channel my creativity into a specific outlet.
Songfacts: Did you always dream of channeling your creative energies into a career in film, video and photography, or did you ever consider other professions?
Spence: Growing up, I had attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and I'm deaf in one ear, so the first couple years of elementary school were difficult for me. My parents had me read a book a week before I could watch any TV or see any movies. I loved TV and I loved movies, so I read as much as I could. I went from being behind in the 1st grade to reading at a 7th grade level in 2nd grade, and went from a book a week to a book a night. Around 3rd grade my parents made a deal with me that I could see any movie I wanted to, even rated R, if I read the book the movie was based on or its novelization. Needless to say, I read a lot of Grisham and Crichton in those years (LOL). But, to answer the question, I always wanted to be an author, but I also flirted with acting at a young age. I always shot little movies with neighborhood friends on my dad's camcorder that were basically ways to make fun of our different friends. In high school I took a film class, thinking that being a screenwriter may be a good idea, and from there I fell in love with being behind the camera.
Songfacts: I read that you once had a passion for science and even studied mitochondrial nucleization as a teenager. What was that all about?
Spence: I just always loved science. It was the flip of the coin to the creative side. As I mentioned previously, I am deaf in one ear due to tumors at a young age behind my ear. This led to a fascination with medicine. Also, I always loved space and dinosaurs, as many kids do.
Songfacts: Today's audience is highly visual and, in many instances, the popularity of a song's music video can either make or break its success. As a director, how do you cope with that kind of pressure when you know you quite possibly hold an artist's future in your hands?
Spence: Filmmaking is a collaborative process. I don't buy into the auteur theory. As a director, my job is to give my clients – whether it be a record label, an ad agency, a studio or the audience itself – what they think they want while at the same time giving them what I think they want as well. It's all about finding the right balance and walking the line.
Songfacts: How do you develop the premise for a video?
Spence: It all depends. Usually, I listen to the song non-stop, trying to come up with an idea, but the idea usually finally comes to me once I take a break and am doing something totally unrelated and mundane.
Spence: I just like music in general, and I also like a challenge. I don't really ever need to like the song itself to find something desirable about doing a video for it. I also never have wanted to get typecast into one genre, so I typically will take whichever genre comes my way. I was mentored by the great Wayne Isham who has always done videos for different genres, including metal, rock, country and pure pop, so I've always tried to fashion my career in a similar manner.
Songfacts: Which artists would you like to work with and why?
Spence: I'm in various stages of development on a couple projects. I don't want to jinx myself, but one looks close to being financed and another looks promising as well. The funny thing is, I kind of got into this business not really wanting to do feature films, wanting to stick to short format like videos and commercials, but I've always been a movie junkie, and as I get older, I really want to shoot a film.
September 5, 2012. Get more at spencefilms.com.
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