With Jeen-yuhs: A Kanye Trilogy, A Kid from Coney Island and Down a Dark Stairwell under his editorial belt, as well as Cannes, Clios, and UKVMAs for his short-form directing, the term multi-hyphenate does a good job at describing J.M. Harper's particular skillset.

Signed to Park Pictures, Harper uses his musical background as a way to find poetry in the lives of real people while pushing the documentary form into non-traditional, narrative places.

The Film

Having a stash of celluloid film functions a bit like a bookshelf full of old books; it gives an aura to the space. 

These are mostly exposed or expired rolls and short ends, but the emotional, mental, and spiritual quality of the room improves by virtue of having stock within arm’s reach. 

I’ll never get tired of the 16mm yellow Kodak boxes.

The Photojournalists

The emotional power of an image is part character, part composition. 

How do you make someone angry/sad/happy with the image itself?  

Good photojournalists do this on a high level, so I collect their books and start each day by reading news stories; not just to stay in touch with current events, but to study how photojournalists tell stories with images. 

Developing an instinct for character composition (especially in a fluid, documentary environment) helps to simplify the world into a story that provokes thought and emotion. 

Tim Page is a titan and an old favourite of mine.

The Post-Its

The nitty-gritty part of filmmaking boils down to stickies on a wall. 

My brain works in colours, so having these colour-coded notes helps me identify themes and string story buckets together. 

I’m a bit obsessive-compulsive about the font as well, so I’ll write and rewrite these notes until they feel right. 

At the end of a film, it’s always a bit sad to take them down. 

The Edit Notebook

Whether making a long-form film or an ad, the process of making is a process of watching and rewatching hundreds of times. 

I prefer to make edit notes in a notebook. 

I like the tactile act of literally crossing things off with a pen, and there’s also a lot of satisfaction in watching a film without being able to touch it.

It gives you a healthy distance from the keyboard and helps you gain perspective. 

The notebook eventually becomes a little museum piece and a reminder that the daily intent of the work should be progress, not perfection. 

The Piano

I came up playing music and touring in a band, so music remains close to my heart. 

I still compose for my wife Vanessa Carrión Upson de Harper's new music project. 

I love working with composers and sound designers – it’s one of my favourite parts of the process of making a film sing. 

The Sonogram

I keep this little sonogram of my daughter, Yma, in front of me. 

Whether consciously or subconsciously, I’m often staring at her. 

She’s nearly two years old now, but I loved her from the first time I laid eyes on her. 

The image of her in her mama’s womb keeps me grounded and connected to the reality that life is as beautiful and mysterious as she is.