It's time for women to call the music video shots

Female music video directors are fast becoming first choice as their musical counterparts take over the pop charts. Emma Love talks to six women making their mark on a male-dominated industry
Click to follow
The Independent Culture

Unless you're something of a music geek or work in the industry, most people don't necessarily think about who's directed the music videos that are played on MTV. More often than not, they are not made by women.

According to Amy Mole, director of the Birds Eye View Film Festival, which held a Music Loves Video event, currently only 7 to twelve per cent of film directors are women – and the figures are likely to be similar in music videos, too. "We started the strand a few years ago because we realised that the music industry is as male dominated as the film industry. Where they meet is an interesting place to look at," she explains.

Yet while there may be far fewer women than men directing music videos, those who are are making their mark, winning awards and forcing the industry to sit up and take notice. Music videos give budding directors a chance to experiment with different techniques and hone their craft, often leading to them working in feature films further down the line. But whether they decide to dedicate their careers to music videos – working with the biggest music artists around and reaching the top of their game – or choose to move on to direct in other film genres, there's no doubt that the music video industry is a cool, wildly creative place for a woman to be.

Trudy Bellinger
Music videos for Girls Aloud, Pixie Lott, The Saturdays, Sophie Ellis Bextor
"As soon as I heard the Girls Aloud track "The Promise", I thought it had the feel of old 60s films. I knew that I wanted to embrace that and that the girls would really be able to pull it off," says Trudy Bellinger of the group's 2009 Brit Award-winning single. "Even though I included a section at a drive-in, I wanted to keep it British because the girls are intrinsically British. We based shots on iconic females, like Twiggy, from that time." Bellinger may have only been officially directing music videos for eight years, but she has a record company background, firstly commissioning music videos and then as head of creative at EMI. "It got to the point where I kept on interfering and coming up with the ideas myself, so it seemed logical to move into directing."

Kinga Burza
Music videos for Katy Perry, Kate Nash, Marina and the Diamonds
"I didn't actually want to see girls kissing, that would have been far too obvious," says Kinga Burza, 29, of Katy Perry's "I Kissed a Girl" video that won her an MTV award nomination two years ago. "I knew the lyrics were controversial and it had the opportunity to be quite big, so I wanted to make it tongue in cheek; sexy, but not in a derogative way." Burza, who has been directing for four years, believes that whether artists are just starting out or more experienced, a good music video can make a difference. "A video helps to promote a strong look and identifies artists from the crowd. Even those who are massively successful are always reinventing themselves."

Elisha Smith-Leverock
Music videos for Bombay Bicycle Club
"I'm not interested in realism; everything that I want to do is a bit removed from that – it's about a skewed or romantic view of reality," says 30-year-old photographer-turned-director Elisha Smith-Leverock. Bombay Bicycle Club's "Dust on the Ground" is her first big music video and was inspired by the film 'Picnic at Hanging Rock'. During the one-day shoot at a house in Henley, the owners told Smith-Leverock that the place was haunted. "Some of the crew heard a baby screaming in a locked room and there's one scene where we were waiting to give a girl a cue and the door opened on its own," she says. "It had an eerie atmosphere; I certainly wouldn't want to be there overnight."

Tabitha Denholm
Music videos for Florence and the Machine (co-directed with Tom Beard)
Being able to say that the first music video you ever directed was for Florence and the Machine is pretty impressive and Tabitha Denholm, 35, one half of DJ duo Queens of Noize, can say just that. "We had a really low budget for our first video, "Dog Days", so we tried to find something that would be really visual and bright without costing any money," recalls Denholm. "I had this Victorian clown suit that I'd been wearing to music festivals and Florence had adopted it, so we used that."

Sarah Chatfield
Music videos for: Lily Allen, Kid Sister, Filthy Dukes
"Lily Allen's "Alfie" was such a big video for me," reflects 28-year-old Sarah Chatfield of her big break. "Before that I'd only worked with little indie bands and Lily was the hottest star at the time." Originally Allen was never meant to be in the video, but she loved Chatfield's idea so much that what was going to be a B-side became the main release. "A big director once told me you should listen to what a track sounds like – that's the key to the magic idea – and the track sounded to me like a Hanna-Barbera cartoon. I based it on the woman in 'Tom and Jerry', where you only see her feet." Chatfield started out working with the Cribs and has been making music videos for four years.

Dawn Shadforth
Music videos for Kylie Minogue, Alison Goldfrapp, Björk, Florence and the Machine
Most people remember the video for Kylie's "Can't Get You Out of My Head", but for Dawn Shadworth, 40, who's been directing for nearly ten years, it's more than a memory, it's an important marker in her career. Since then, she's gone on to work with the likes of Alison Goldfrapp, Björk, Oasis and most recently, Florence and the Machine. "The idea for a video always starts with the song. Quite often the artist has things they want to say and themes they want to follow. It's a very collaborative genre of film-making," she explains. "In "Drumming Song" (pictured), Florence wanted to dance; she liked the idea of choreography because it's not expected of her. I was thinking of a virginal character who is wanton underneath. I wanted her to be like a disco gargoyle."