Articles - Features

Director’s Cut: September Girls – Heartbeats

SG-Heartbeats -2

Can you introduce yourself to us and a give us a little background?

My name is Jessie Ward O’Sullivan and I’m a filmmaker/musician originally from California, but have been living in Dublin since 2002. I went to NYU film school originally to become a camera operator, but found I preferred directing, editing and working on a smaller scale.

How did you get into directing music videos?

I think it was music videos that got me into filmmaking in the first place. I grew up watching videos like ‘November Rain’ and Michael Jackson’s ‘Thriller’. I just loved the creativity and the way a bones of a story and/or striking visuals could be combined with music.

How would you describe your style?

I tend to lean towards a more vintage look, trying to give my videos the lovely imperfection of actual film or super-8. Generally I shoot on DSLR with a variety of lenses, depending on the shot. I also tend to use lots of layering and compositing to give it a richer, larger look… despite the fact we’ve usually shot the video in a tiny dark room, just using creative lighting.

Are there any visual themes running throughout your work?

It mostly depends on the project, but I think I’m definitely informed by the look and feel of films and TV from the 60s. And trying to recreate the imperfections of analogue formats.

Can you discuss the concept behind the video for ‘Heartbeats’?

This one was a bit different as we decided not to have any performance and instead to have a bit of a loose story. We had model, Sarah McCall, as our protagonist who is haunted with a feeling of dread. We had a vision of various scenes we wanted to create and tried to tie them together with the loose story. Sarah is seen in various vignettes and her dread materializes in the form of this shadowy character that she is both scared of, and fascinated by.


Can you describe the process behind creating this video?

We put together a list of different scenes and looks we wanted to incorporate into the video. We had a private shared Pinterest page of photographs and illustrations we liked the look of to get going. It took ages to try and find a good creepy location to shoot in, but everything we liked was way out of our budget. We ended up just using our own houses and getting creative with set dressing and props.


Who else was involved in working on the video?

Myself and Caoimhe from the band had been wanting to do a video project together for ages. She looking after the art direction, and me on the directing and editing. It made perfect sense to work together on our own music video together. We also shot a lot of the video in Paula’s house as she has amazing props, is a fantastic hair stylist, and brought some good ideas to the table.

As a member of September Girls, how did the video come about and did the others in the band have any input?

As mentioned above, it was mainly me and Caoimhe just taking over and just doing it (whether the rest of the girls liked it or not!) and then Paula ended up helping out on the shoot itself. For our previous video, ‘Green Eyed’, we all worked together to come up with an idea we all liked, which could be done on a zero budget and quickly! We shot it in the creepy hallway outside of our basement studio with just a few lights, a projector and a smoke machine.


How do you go about assembling a crew for your shoots?

It all depends on the project. Most of the time I shoot everything on my own, for better or for worse! I do have a handful of people I’ve worked with on various projects who I trust to do a good job if I need them. With music videos there’s no need for sound, so that cuts down on the need for a large crew. If I’m doing a multi-camera shoot, or will need a hand with lights, friends in the industry are usually more than happy to lend a hand. As budgets for music videos are generally non-existent you do have to pull a lot of favours.

What’s the time frame on creating a production?

This obviously depends on the project, but most of my videos are shot in a day and then take a few days to edit. Some projects take much longer in post production, if there are a lot of graphics and animation involved; as was the case with the ‘Urges’ video I did last year or the ‘Sweet Jane’ video, which had composite layer on composite layer and took ages to render.

Have you run into any difficulties on a shoot/post production with a band?

No, most of the time I’m pretty much on the same page as the band and would meet with them before starting on the video to know exactly what they’re looking for. I have learned not to send a band any rough edits, otherwise you can end up making a million unnecessary changes. I did work with one musician (who shall remain nameless) who nixed a load of beautiful shots as they didn’t like how their nose looked. You just have to accept that it’s part of the process as it really is a video to promote them, and not your own vanity project (even if you are doing it for yourself!).

Tell us something funny/weird that happened on set.

Unfortunately I can’t think of many weird happenings on set. While filming the ‘Green Eyed’ video, we were all going a bit cracked and dressed September Girls’ drummer Sarah in a bedsheet with RayBans and an “I Love Music” hat. She was a hipster ghost for about two minutes. Well, it seemed funny at the time…

What’s your favourite music video ever and why?

I’d say Bjork’s ‘Human Behaviour’ still sticks in my mind as being that wonderful combination of simple idea, executed really well. The vintage style projection effects and set design with the simple, cheeky story and costume design… it still stands up in this digital age. Another Gondry gem is the mind-blowing, backwards-forwards, split-screen ‘Sugar Water’ by Cibo Matto. I’ve watched that video a million times and I still have trouble wrapping my head around it.

Who are your biggest influences?

Michel Gondry is probably a big reason for wanting to get into filmmaking in the first place, although I don’t think I’ve ever made any videos that look like his. I love 60s films like Smashing Time and most everything by Sophia Coppola. Lately I’d say I’m mostly influenced by photographers like Ellen Rogers or Ryan McGinley.

If you could direct a video for any band, who would it be?

I’ll make this a any band living or dead scenario and say The Cramps. I think I’d have a lot of fun with that shoot.

What’s your favourite video you’ve worked on and why?

That’s tough because each video has been a different collaboration with a different friend or band. I had a great time working on the last September Girls video as it was the first time myself and Caoimhe collaborated in a visual way, but what also sticks out in my mind is a video I made back in January 2007 for the now disbanded Stagger Lee. It was a collaboration with my good friend Susie Morrell Moore and we had only just started working on music videos and were really still learning how to get it right. We spent a crazy day in the woods with the band dressed as mad Victorians, scaring all the ramblers that came across us.

What are your plans for the future?

At the moment I’m really working project-by-project. September Girls are about to release our debut album so we’ll be busy touring in 2014 -combining that with the fact that I’m a new mom to 6 month old Jasper. so it’s tough to see beyond the few months ahead. Hopefully some new, creative projects will pop up in the next few months.

Are you currently working on any new videos?

November and December tend to be my busy time working on a lot of TV adverts and web videos, so the music videos, which are a labour of love, get put on the back burner until it gets quiet again in the New Year.

Have you any tips for budding music video directors/creators?

Just go out and create projects, nothing will fall into your lap. If there’s a band out there that you want to make a video for, ask them! They’d probably be delighted. I also believe in valuing your work too. If it’s a project that’s a labour of love, then yes, you probably won’t get paid. But don’t let people take advantage of you, because they will. If you’re not outright learning something, insist on a day rate, people will respect you more.


Where can we see more of your work?

My website is kind of my showreel/business card site, but all of my projects get uploaded to my Vimeo page.

is the co-editor / photo editor. She also contributes photos and illustrations to The Thin Air print magazine.