The Weeknd, Daft Punk, and A Tribe Called Quest all have something in common (other than profession): They have all collaborated with music video director Warren Fu on creating visual stories to go along with some of their greatest hits.
Fu broke it down and talked about how he approached making his wide variety of music videos last weekend at CAAMFest 36. Surrounded by creators whose work being shown on the big screen is common place, seeing his work presented that way, along with his discussion, was an exhilarating experience for him.
“As a music video director, you never get to see your work on the big screen,” he explained in an interview after his presentation. “Back in the day, music video directors got to see their stuff on MTV. But now that no one is really watching music videos on TV but online, that’s exciting in a way because everybody is seeing it at once. But at the same time, you don’t get that rush of seeing it like in a theater, so I was really glad I got a chance to do this at CAAMFest.”
Fu’s love for visual media and art traces all the way back to his early childhood; by way of drawings and being a fan of cartoons like SPIDERMAN and PEANUTS.
“My mom is probably the more artistic one of my parents,” he said. “She’s the one who sort of encouraged it, and so when I was in fourth grade, she put me in an oil painting class.
“Since then, my interest in art has evolved from there into different types of art.”
Fu holds a degree in Economics from UC Berkeley, only to land his first job post-college at Lucasfilm. For five years, he went from being an intern to an art director on the STAR WARS prequel trilogy. Being a part of the team that expanded that universe involved him learning a number of skill sets; such as storyboarding, designing sets and costumes, proper lighting techniques, and how to film miniature sets.
“I got a nice, well-rounded film school education at Lucasfilm and got paid for it, so that’s always a nice thing,” he remarked.
Despite the steady income – much to his parents’ approval – Fu eventually left Lucasfilm to move to Los Angeles. He submitted a music video idea for the song, “You Only Live Once,” by The Strokes (despite the fact that there already was one in existence). In return, he was given money by the label to create an alternative music video for the song.
Since then, he’s been churning out one music video after another, for a wide variety of artists. No two music videos are the same, as each one differentiates greatly, both in terms of execution and the final product.
Fu explained how when he was just starting off, he was known as the “STAR WARS director,” and that people would come to him because of that.
“Recently, I’ve been trying to break out of that and just be a good director and not a certain style of director,” he stated. “I’m trying to basically change it up as much as possible now, and stylistically change it up too.”
His work shows just that, by way of the choreographed music video for Haim’s “If I Could Change Your Mind,” the mythological-themed music video for The Weeknd’s “I Feel It Coming,” and the talk show music video for Paramore’s “Rose-Colored Boy.”
Fu has worked with a lot of big names in the music industry, but hopes to someday work with Arcade Fire, Frank Ocean, Rihanna, and SZA.
When it comes to fan responses, Fu loves that fan art will surface online that were inspired by the music videos.
“The best response is when you see fans do art work based off of the music videos,” he said. “So you just know you’re kind of inspiring a younger generation of people who might pursue art.”
Fu is currently at work on another music video. While he did not reveal the identity of his collaborator, he did note that she’s an Asian American artist.
Apart from that collaboration, he is taking a break from making music videos for the next few months to focus on writing and more narrative-related work.
“With music videos, you get a song and then you have to fit a story within those three or four minutes of the song,” he explained. “I’m looking forward to writing something that doesn’t have time constraints and doing some longer form stuff like either short film or writing some feature ideas down.”