Former musician Olivier Gondry changed his career to being a film director due to his brother Michel Gondry‘s strong recommendation. Olivier has made it big through his co-directed music videos with Michel such as The Chemical Brothers “Star Guitar”. Last week, Olivier came to visit Japan for the first time for MTV‘s “CREATIVE TALK SESSION”. PingMag offered to be his guide for a day around Asakusa, the old eastern part of Tokyo. So, here are some photos from our sunny day together with stories from his work and his family.
Olivier Gondry, you are a French director based in LA, mainly working on commercials and music videos now, but when I read your biography, it said you were a musician before?
Yes, I played the trumpet between 18 and 30 or so. At one point, I almost became professional. (laugh)
Why did you change your career then?
I was doing special effects on the computer for videos. One day, Michel asked me to do some special effects for his stuff, though, so we started collaborating. 4 years ago, I did quite lot of work for the Chemical Brothers “Star guitar” which Michel directed and he then decided to emphasize that this video was co-directed by both of us. That was the beginning of my new career. I never wanted to be a director, actually. That was simply a very strong push from him.
Why did he push you to be a director so much?
Because it’s a great life. (then, his wife Lilly said “No, that’s because he thought that you were talented.”) Yes, that is another reason, too. He discovered my talent and gave me lots of advice.
You co-directed a few videos with him after that, but do you still work together these days?
We don’t any more – and he is a bit upset about it actually… I now work as an independent film director for commercials and music videos. I’m supposed to shoot a commercial starring Michel soon. So this time, I will be the director and he will be the guy on the screen. I’m a little bit nervous about it, actually but I am pretty sure it will be a good one.
By the way, I realized that many of your videos make an interesting use of cameras, for example OK GO’s “Do What You Want”. Is that a speciality of yours to put a lot of emphasis on camera work when creating something?
I used 28 cameras for that video, but I have shot those kind of videos only twice so I don’t really do that usually. You might have thought that though, because one of the basic ideas I always have is how the camera moves. What I always try to do is to keep my video entertaining.
When you create a music video, do you usually use an idea you already have or listen to the song nonstop until you get an idea?
Basically what I do is to lie on my bed and listen to my iPod or something. Then, I wait for the idea to come. Sometimes I use ideas I already have but that is getting harder and harder. To get an idea for a music video is the most painful part of the job for me… Sometimes I get the idea right away and sometimes I give up. (laugh)
People don’t usually allow enough time for getting good ideas these days.. I remember, a few years ago, you used to get a couple of weeks to get an idea, but now people say “by the end of the week!” or something like that. Sometimes I feel really relieved when I don’t get certain jobs, because there is just not enough time to work on.
What are your favorite videos so far?
All of them are great videos, but I really like TIGA’s video you directed last year. I actually watched it more than 5 times yesterday.
That’s great. When you see a good video, you want to see it again. That’s also a very important factor for me. I realized that I don’t really like short films… like 2 or 3 minute ones…
How and when did you realize that?
One day I wanted to find out what it actually is, that I liked and don’t. So I took Michel’s DVD and watched myself carefully while I watched it. Everytime I saw something visually entertaining I wanted to watch it again, but everytime I came across something more story based, I didn’t. Probably that’s why I prefer music videos to short films – and I like entertaining music videos.
I heard that this is your first visit to Japan. Do you get inspired by Japanese culture?
My wife, Lilly knows more about Japanese culture than me. We’ve known each other for a long time, and she showed me so many Japanese films and books! The first film I really liked was mmm… what is the title…. the one with a pig and a red balloon… (maybe he means “Porco Rosso“) and I like Totoro, too. Anyway, the connection between me and Japanese culture is definitely through my wife. She is like my little Japanese girl (smiling at her).
I like the craziness of Japanese people and I get amazed by that sometimes.
Quick rest in front of a five-story pagoda.
What were you interested in most when you were a child?
I heard that your oldest brother is still doing music while you and Michel are video directors. So was there always art and music in your family from your childhood on?
Yes, my parents are both musicians. Mom writes and teaches music. Dad loves jazz and is a big fan of Duke Ellington, but he was also a technician and electrician. So I guess you could say that our family has a connection with technology and art.
Besides being a director you are also a father of two sons, right? What are you going to tell them if they say “Dad, I want to make a music video!”?
I would say “don’t you want to be a rock’n'roller!?”. No, no I’m joking. (laugh) I would probably say: “That’s great! That’s fantastic!” because every time they show me something, I say “That’s very beautiful!!” (laugh)
This is the last question: what are your future plans?
Maybe in the future I will write a script for a feature film, but for now I take one job after the other and do my very best. Whenever I don’t work, I spend most of my time with my kids. Both work and family are very important for me.
Olivier, thank you very much for spending time with us today. We all are looking forward to seeing that commercial with Michel you were talking about! And bring your sons next time you visit Japan!
At MTV’s talk session 3 days after this interview, Olivier told us that he already got three ideas in Japan he wants to try and he was very keen on making a music video for a Japanese band! Also, one of his videos will be screened at the international film festival RESFEST. So if it comes to your town, check it out!