For music video directors ALEX AND BEN BREWER, the only downside to working with a brother on set is the lack of elbowroom. Alex says, “Two regular-sized directors, or even one fat director, can take up a lot of space. I think this is one of the reasons Orson Welles’ work suffered in his later years.” Hopefully their growth will continue to be stylistic and not at all gastric.
“A lot of our ideas are born out of things that make us laugh. Even though the end result is rarely funny to anyone else. We have very similar tastes all the way around, and we keep each other entertained on jobs.” —Ben
Hey, guys! How are you today? What were you doing before answering this interview?
Alex Brewer: Working, thankfully!
Ben Brewer: We are in London right now, shooting a viral commercial. So we were working. This morning I saved Alex from losing his hand in an elevator door. That was some scary fun.
Tell us a little something about yourselves outside the directing gig.
AB: Well, we’re brothers from Massachusetts but we now live in Los Angeles.
BB: We used to play in a band together—all through high school and a few years of college. We both fled a burning building once. Our last name is almost the same backwards as forwards, but not quite. Our early descendants came over on the Mayflower, and in this way we share the same heritage with the Baldwins (Alec and the brothers, not James). Our great grandfather on our mother’s side was a very famous Russian filmmaker named David Kaufman, better known as Dziga Vertov. So I guess we just have it in our genes a bit.
Professionally working with a sibling could go either way. You could either be constantly fighting or you could read each other’s minds. Obviously, it worked out well for you, guys [Laughs]. What made you want to work together in the first place?
AB: We both have the same sense of humor and we both wanted to do something creative, so it seemed like the obvious thing to work together. The only downside is that film sets can get quite crowded with the crew and equipment, and sometimes it feels like there’s only room for one director. Two regular-sized directors or even one fat director can take up a lot of space. I think this is one of the reasons Orson Welles’ work suffered in his later years.
BB: A lot of our ideas are born out of things that make us laugh. Even though the end result is rarely funny to anyone else. We have very similar tastes all the way around, and we keep each other entertained on jobs.
Purity Ring – “Belispeak”
Passion Pit – “Carried Away”
Alt-J – “Something Good
“We look to film a lot. We always want our work to have a cinematic aspect to it and helps to be mindful of what’s gone before. The things we reference shift a bit, I think we go through phases.” —Alex
What are the references and inspirations you guys look through when conceptualizing a short film or a music video?
AB: We look to film a lot. We always want our work to have a cinematic aspect to it and helps to be mindful of what’s gone before. The things we reference shift a bit, I think we go through phases.
BB: I’m obsessed with the look of old movies. And by old I mean the 60s, 70s and 80s. Sometimes concepts come from watching old films and riffing on something like a scene or an aesthetic. I don’t care for videos that steal from other videos. Not because I think stealing in this manner is wrong, but because there are so many works of literature and film to look to for inspiration, it seems lazy to take ideas from whatever just popped up on Vimeo.
What qualities do you look for in the musicians you collaborate on these videos with? Are you drawn to any specific genres?
AB: It’s nice for a song to have character. We write on songs across many different genres, but with some songs, the moment you hear it you know what the idea should be. It just creates a mood that’s very specific and gives you a nice jumping off point. Conversely, some songs you can listen to all day long and the ideas just will never come. It has to do with how clear and original a song’s message is.
This is for both of you: off the top of your heads, what’s the best music video you’ve seen recently?
AB: Very recently I saw the video for David Bowie’s “The Stars Are Out Tonight.” We’re both big fans of David Bowie’s music videos. “Ashes to Ashes,” “China Girl,” “Dancing in the Streets”—they’re so much fun to watch, and they’re very odd because; it’s not what you would expect for David Bowie at first, and then you realize it’s perfect for him. He’s the smartest guy in the room. “The Stars Are Out Tonight” video is exactly in that spirit and has Bowie playing a mundane man who’s settled in his ways and filing noise complaints against his former rockstar self.
BB: I just saw a video for a new band called Savages that I loved. The song is called “Pop Noire.” It’s just a black and white performance video shot at one of their shows, but it’s such a brilliant introduction to the band. The black and white look is done perfectly—It looks like film, the grain and the contrast levels are spot on. It’s a thoughtful depiction of the band’s live show, and you don’t see that too often anymore. I like it because it does exactly what a music video is intended to do, and it did it in this no frills way.
The War On Drugs – “Brothers”
Drop the Line – “No Sleep For The Wicked”
“It’s nice for a song to have character. We write on songs across many different genres, but with some songs, the moment you hear it you know what the idea should be.” —Alex
What are the five songs (old or new) that you wish you’d made the music video of. What would their individual treatments be?
1. Elvis Presley’s “American Trilogy”. The video would be Alex and I screaming along to this song in the street, wrapped in American flags. We listen to it a lot…
2. Seal’s “Kiss From a Rose”
Who cares what this video would be, we’d be working with Seal. And we’d have all that footage from Batman Forever to work with cause it was on the soundtrack.
3. Michael McDonald’s cover off his album Motown, “I Heard It Through The Grapevine”
Michael McDonald and the California Raisins tear this one up.
4. Scarlett Johansson’s cover of Tom Waits’ “Anywhere I Lay My Head”
No joke, if you haven’t heard her Tom Waits’ cover album, it’s excellent. She really gets it—used to listen to it in the car constantly. We probably couldn’t get her for the video. Maybe we’d get her for an hour or two. So the video would be her sitting on a backwards chair singing to camera like Bruce Willis in “Save the Last Dance For Me.” Probably cut a little Batman Forever footage in there to flesh it out.
5. Michael McDonald’s “On My Own”
This would be a shot for shot remake of the 1986 version of this video, except we’d spend the budget digitally replacing Patti LaBelle with Michael McDonald as he is today, and it would be like A Christmas Carol, Ghost of Christmas Past kind of deal.
Top 5 people you want to work with in the near future.
1. White people
2. David Koresh
3. Christopher Carbone
4. Justin Timblerake/Jusitin
5. Vin Diesel.
Interview by Rita Faire
For the full story, grab a copy of STATUS May 2013 issue