Contemporary filmmaking, specifically in the music industry, hires the appeal of illustrious, decadent, colorful, and embellished imagery to sell a message. Flashing lights, cuts to smiling countenances, and material objects are all embedded into the fabric of plenty of popular music videos. In filmmaking, plenty make use of lighting, angles, and props to paint a sort of imagery that’s been sitting in the back of the viewer’s mind, waiting to plucked and flicked on to establish a connection.
In a very Kafkaesque formula, Cameron Busby brushes traditional conventions and adds a murky, gritty livelihood to his artwork. Just as Kafka did in his short stories, Busby draws the unconscious, darker thoughts of the human mind to paint images not normally expressed and recognized in artwork. There’s an untamed honesty and artful bleakness to the shots seen on his website– an organized chaos of sorts.
Cameron Busby sat down with RESPECT. to discuss the molding of his mind into the form its in now, his views on advertising and happiness, and Cleveland.
RESPECT.: What are you afraid of?
Cam Busby: Going back home and living with my parents in Cleveland, Ohio. There wasn’t much poppin’ over there.
I mean, the Cavaliers won the chip last year so the city was definitely aroused after that.
That’s true. But it’s the Cavaliers, then this huge hospital that’s the center of life over there. Other than that, there just isn’t a lot of things to do. That’s why I moved to New York.
So, how has that fear you mentioned just now driven you in the past?
When I came to New York at 19 I hit the ground running and worked through school on my own stuff. So I got an internship, got into music videos at 20, brought in some crazy ideas, got on MTV, and basically had this just feeling like I cannot waste this. Because I know once school was over I knew it was make it or break it situation. I’m not going back to the mid-west. I gotta do this, I gotta pitch this, I gotta segue into that, I gotta be around these people, and never take no for an answer. It really just drives yourself to hustle and of course try and find out who you are, as an artist, quicker.
You aren’t really selling Cleveland as a travel destination (laughs). But, grass is always greener.
Yeah, I’ll never insult anyone who reps it as “premiere travel destination” though. It’s a nice place don’t get me wrong, I grew up there. I’m from there. I love my city. I remember there was a time though when everyone was coming up, and the music scene was intense. Kid Cudi, MGK, King Chip used to be in the city regularly. I remember interviewing MGK at 18 when he first got poppin’. Then they all left for LA. Most of the producers left too. All of them- all of them used to be “touchable.” You know? I think that time really inspired me to get into music videos.
It was just an organic place to be, I gotcha. Well, like you said before that fear of headed back there clearly molded you as a person, molded your perception of the world around you. And it shows in your artwork. Looking at the videos on your website, it’s transparent that your videos have a very murky, dark aesthetic behind all of them. Going back to fears, and going back to you, what draws you to capturing this vibe?
I’ve always been drawn to the darker, more richer, aesthetic based movies. But I also like these thrilling graceful things. I like films like Tree of Life and Black Swan for example. They’re seemingly dark but they’re also so graceful. I want to find the exception between the two. Like, walking into the woods is scary, but it could be beautiful at the same time. It could almost be happy. And uh, I just don’t find myself liking cliché super happy things (laughs). Like, those really corny advertisements for example. I’m super meticulous. I don’t think I could make something like those.
Ah, have you ever seen Mad Men?
Yeah! Love Mad Men. It’s all just real fake.
It was all facade. The Don Draper character was designed to embody that vapidness – that blankness, that lack of attachment to Ad campaigns that get sent out. Ad companies create desire and emotion, sell it, then go to work at it again.
That would be hard for me to do. I’m very attached when I make things. When I make something I really try to pour my all into it to make the best thing possible.
The visual for “Pretty Gal” with Johann Vera did a great job at capturing emotion. Heartbreak & love are always things you can capture in an instrumental or lyrics. So, like these shots here, what are some other ways to tap into those emotions using a visual?
I think there’s a lot of ways beyond letting by just letting the artist/actor act. You could belittle them by shooting them from above, or shooting in profile backlit because we don’t know of everything, or making the lighting all lowkey and contrasty. There’s so many techniques to do it. In that case we wanted a lot of stuff to be handheld because it would feel more “alive” to us.
How often do you put something out? And what’s your favorite kind to do?
Usually every couple months because I was trying to do as much as I can. I had that “can’t stop” feeling. Not every video though was “good” to me. I slowed down the last year though because I was doing a short film. That was a big endeavor for me. Presently I’m at a stage right now where the next things I put out have to be at certain level “artistically”. I’m more meticulous and will put things out sparingly for now.
Music videos will definitely be my all time favorite thing to create because they got me into filmmaking. So they hold a special place in my heart. However, making fashion films are growing on me. Fashion films are almost like a merging music video and advertisement to me. You have to make it sort formulaic because you’re selling something, but it also has to be creative. It’s almost like turning your creativity on and off. The ones I’ve helped create I’ve had a lot of creative control over thus far. Making short films are getting up there too because you truly have total creative control from inception to delivery. And I can take a long time working on it to get it where it needs to be creatively. A film could be the last one you make in years. You could release one film then not have the inspiration, time, or, above all, resources to make another one. There’s no deadline for delivery like advertisements, and music videos where you work under pressure. Pressure makes diamonds.
This question’s about cigarettes. You employed smoking to add more of an attractiveness/edginess to the models at Amazing Magazine, yeah? I always found cigarettes to be the handle of attractiveness; always found it appealing. But they’ve definitely declined in popularity because of the obvious health setbacks. How come you used them in the video? What were the instructions for the models?
The smoking was more of the photographer who I collaborated with’s idea. It was just part of the theme. Most of the kids already smoked I think. So they were just told to “smoke” and create cool smoke clouds. I don’t think it’s big deal, models smoking. A lot of them do that already. Plus it’s “fashion,” so who cares. I liked that video turned out to be beyond smoking. It’s kind of overshadowed to me. Motion graphics played a huge part in that video. Late 70’s video games like Pong and Tetris and The Brady Bunch opening influenced it. Amazing Magazine really loved it. They’ve called me back to do more since then. Shout-out to my friend Daniel from film school for hooking that relationship up (laughs).
The Danse & Nyck Caution video opens up with that disclaimer about rap music and rap videos gearing kids toward violence. How do you think adolescents are molded? Also, where was it filmed?
I think their parents, peers, and pop culture; your parents because those were who raised you, and put these values in you. Then things in pop culture could make you be like “I don’t wanna be this way,” or “I wanna be this way.” Peers influence you because they feel similar to you. You like art? So you’re with the art kids, and so on.
Me, Danse, Nyck Caution, Joey Bada$$, and the rest of the crew broke into into a warehouse to film that. The rest is filmed in LES, and parts of Brooklyn.
I loved that video a lot because there’s a lot going on that adds into the concept and the process of making it. All that wrecked furniture in the video I got from Craigslist. And the old dude at the end changed the channel to this other rapper kicking a baby. My first class in college was a music history class, and I saw this study in our textbook that said rock and rap make kids violence. Always thought that was kind of funny (laughs). That influenced the intro.
Does it take a level of desensitization to portray these gritty ideals in music videos?
Somewhat. I mean, it depends. If you want to make those kinds of video you should be used to thinking that way, if that makes sense? I just feel creatively satisfied by choosing to make those types of videos because I’m used to thinking that way; it’s normal. You have to be drawn to stuff like that I feel. I like gritty stuff. So I’m desensitized. Hopefully you have people who believe in you to help you make those ideals happen.
What’s the next thing you’re working on?
My film One Way. I spent a year making it. I stopped everything I was doing and I learned so much about myself about making that film. I’m nearing a rough cut it. I’m pretty close to it, as you could imagine. So One Way 2017! Beyond that. I’ve been collaborating with Amazing Magazine on a series of fashion films that will drop with there spring-summer issue. And of course…more music videos!