Creative Lives — Directors’ representative Laura Jones on moving to LA and making videos for some of music’s biggest names
A chance offer to work on a TV series first took Laura Jones to the States. Equipping her with a three-year working visa, the opportunity eventually led to a full move to Los Angeles, a city she has called home for the past seven years. In that time she has worked as both a producer, executive producer and now Directors’ representative, helping create music videos for the likes of The Weeknd, Pharrell Williams and Lorde. Here Laura discusses a journey that took her from ‘not knowing how to do anything’, to founding her own company, Mensch, earlier this year – which has enabled her to work more collaboratively with artists and directors, on anything from music videos to documentaries.
Directors’ Representative for Music Videos and Creative Content
Production companies include: Partizan, Cadence Films, Serial Pictures, Somesuch, Stink Films
Artists include: The Weeknd, Vince Staples, Pharrell Williams, Sam Smith, Travis Scott, Disclosure, Foals, Lorde, 2 Chainz, London Grammar, Moses Sumney
Los Angeles, USA
Executive Producer for Music Videos, Partizan (2016–2017)
Freelance Producer for The Directors Bureau, Blink, Iconoclast, RSA Films (2008–2016)
Producer at Partizan (2005–2008)
BA Visual Culture, Brighton University (2002–2005)
How would you describe what you do?
My job falls under directors’ rep and creative development, but parts of my role are similar to that of an EP [executive producer]. I’m a partner in a company called Mensch, which I recently founded with two other people. We represent directors for music-related video content, whether that’s documentary, music videos, a visual album, or music branded content.
The company finds music-driven opportunities for some of the best directors in our industry, with a good mix of massive names and younger emerging talent. The focus is on creating work that feeds the creative side of production companies and directors.
I talk to artists, managers and record labels to get music in for directors to pitch ideas on. Then I will discuss ideas with directors to make sure it’s what the artist is looking for and realistic. Sometimes it works the other way round, so a director will have an idea for a piece of content, like a short film, and we’ll take it to a platform like Apple and pitch the idea upfront.
What does a typical working day look like?
Because my two partners are over in London, I have to get up early and talk to them first thing due to time difference. Then the rest of the day is spent working from home, having meetings – whether that’s with a director or a platform like Red Bull or Apple, or with an artist manager. Then I’ll listen to music and see which directors would suit different tracks and read through their treatments or ideas.
“[I] act as a cross between an agent and a manager for directors, bringing music in for them to pitch ideas on.”
What have been your recent work highlights?
In the last year I worked on so many amazing projects it’s hard to say. But I shot a Michael Kiwanuka video out in Atlanta with director David Helman – who I think is a genius – so I always love being on his shoots. I also recently did a couple of videos for Moses Sumney, The Weeknd, Vince Staples Travis Scott who are all incredible artists, with directors such as Allie Avital and Warren Fu. I think I just get excited by the artists and directors that I love more than anything.
Why do you feel LA is a good place to be for your industry?
Music is really exciting out here. Then in terms of budgets, people are willing to spend more on music videos which helps the creative process too. While I think the talent in the UK and in Europe and everywhere in the world is great, many of the biggest artists and directors I wanted to work with are in the US, plus so many of them end up moving over here or wanting to.
What skills are essential to your job?
I’d say you need to be diplomatic, as well as personable. You also need an understanding of what’s good in music, and have a good sense of taste.
How I Got Here
What did you want to be when you were growing up?
It wasn’t until I got to university that I really thought about what area I wanted to work in. I was really into Warp Records, who were doing some experimental visuals with their album releases which led me into the world of music videos.
How (if at all) is the subject you studied useful to your current role?
I think it was helpful for me to have a degree where I could focus on any area of art. It made me realise that I was interested in music videos. But I can’t say I really learned anything that I use at all!
I think it’s different in the US, in that most people in the industry went to film school, whereas in England, hardly anyone has. Here it’s just a given that if you’re a director, you’ve majored in film – and I see that as an advantage. At the beginning I didn’t think it was, but I think because you’ve gone through the process of making and editing, you have a better understanding of how to do it.
What took you to LA initially?
It was quite random. My sister was working with Jamie Oliver at the time, and they were making a TV show about America.They needed someone to go to West Virginia for three months. At that time I was working at Partizan, as I started my career there (and returned to them again later). They gave me sabbatical to go and do this TV show for three months, and that got me a three-year working visa.
“The first year was pretty tough. When I first got here I had no idea how to do anything.”
After that I decided to move to LA because I had this visa and wanted to make the most of it. The first year was pretty tough because production is different here, and it wasn’t my network of people. I actually decided to move back to London because I missed it. But as soon as I got back to the UK, I found out that a director called Ryan Hope, who was an old friend of mine, was shooting a production in LA and New York. I ended up working with him on that, and as a result, we worked together for four years. I became his producer in a working partnership.
When Ryan signed to his production company in the US, The Directors Bureau, they got him a visa, and they got me mine too. So then I would come over and produce these jobs with him, wherever he was in the world. So my relationship with him enabled me to come over. Following that I freelanced for a while, before joining Partizan as an executive producer.
Recently starting up Mensch has been a great chance to get much more involved with what happens at those initial states, listening to the music, rather than running a production. I still enjoy managing music videos all the way through, but after doing production for 10 years, I wanted to be able to think about the creative properly with the directors, the management and the label.
What have you found most challenging about moving to and working in LA?
When I first got here I had no idea how to do anything. I wouldn’t say I found it easy. I remember being on set and having no idea what was going on. I think people assumed I knew more than I did, because I had an English accent (some Americans think we sound wise!)
In the US, you can hire the same crew, film in the same way as the UK, use the same cameras. But the local knowledge, contacts and paperwork were all so different. In The States it’s a much longer process to do anything, and everything’s so much more official. They have 10 times the amount of paperwork than in England, where it’s so much more straightforward. Learning all of that was hard as a producer. For a director, you might not notice, as most things don’t change (you just have a different word for a grip, and that’s it).
“It’s about creating relationships in the US, so that someone will want to invest in you. Dealing with visa stuff on your own is tricky!”
Words of Wisdom
What advice would you give someone wanting to move to LA and get into the music video industry?
I would say it’s a good idea to get in with a company who has a US office, so you can eventually transfer over here. That might take time, but it’s one way to guarantee getting a work visa. I would also say it’s about creating relationships in the US, so that someone will want to invest in you. It’s not necessarily easy, but it’s about trying to make yourself into an indispensable person. The other way would be to get an internship and see if the company would be prepared to take you on after that. Dealing with all of the visa stuff on your own is tricky!