Maker by name, maker by nature
Melody Maker began her career in the world of fashion, before turning her talents to helming ambitious promos. Now, the Mill director is bringing her blend of reality, fantasy, live-action and VFX to commercials and creative tech. Selena Schleh meets a rising talent who exemplifies the new breed of creative ‘slashies.’
When it comes to choosing a pseudonym the only limit, it seems, is your imagination.
History is littered with downright bizarre noms de plume and stage names: War and Peace author William Makepeace Thackeray rejoiced in many alternative monikers including Charles Yellowplush and George Fitzboodle, while singer-songwriter Ella Marija Lani Yelich-O'Connor opted for the snappier and more slim-line Lorde.
The ‘Maker’ part is a statement of what I want to be... Also, I like the alliteration. It does make it quite hard to search for me on the internet, though…
New Mill director Melody Maker took a Ronseal approach to her work name. “The ‘Maker’ part is a statement of what I want to be,” she explains. “Also, I like the alliteration. Plus, my dad used to work in the music business and was a big fan of [now-defunct weekly music magazine] Melody Maker – I’ve got issues going back to the early ‘60s. It does make it quite hard to search for me on the internet, though…”
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Above: Maker's work for Mabel.
Whether you call her a maker, a slashie or a multi-hyphenate, there’s no doubt that Maker’s talents extend far beyond filmmaking – though her reel, boasting spots for Nike, Herbal Essences and OPPO, promos for Gorgon City and Bosh and a short film, demonstrates a growing directorial flair. “Fashion designer, stylist, creative director, photographer, director… I just roll with the punches really,” is how she describes herself. Currently developing an Instagram filter for a high street fashion brand and augmented reality concert visuals, she’ll soon be able to add ‘creative technologist’ to the list.
Fashion designer, stylist, creative director, photographer, director… I just roll with the punches really.
Hailing from the heart of British suburbia (Weybridge, Surrey), Maker has been a London native since the age of 18, when she moved to the capital to study fashion design at UAL. After graduation, she worked as a stylist for M.I.A, then joined resurrected ‘70s punk label, BOY London, as a creative director.
The stories I wanted to tell didn’t have enough longevity when it came to fashion.
From the visuals-heavy fashion world, it was a short step to filmmaking, dabbling in fashion films and music videos for her East London mates. “I just picked up cameras, I taught myself everything,” she says. It turned out designing a collection and writing a treatment were pretty similar: “You come up with an idea: what’s your concept? Then you think of the backstory to this concept: who are the people wearing these clothes?” But while clothes could carry a narrative, she found them too fleeting for her purposes. “You do a show, everyone loves it for an hour, then onto the next thing. The stories I wanted to tell didn’t have enough longevity when it came to fashion.”
Above: The promos for Greentea Peng's Ghost Town and Gorgon City's Go Deep.
So, in 2017, she left BOY to pursue directing full-time, churning out 14 music videos in one year on budgets ranging from shoestring to dental floss. Having a coterie of creative mates – all part of the same East London crew – certainly helped in those early days. “I pretty much put myself through film school,” she says, “or rather, my dear friends, musicians who wanted to be artists, helped me – we all kind of learned and grew together.” Those friends included Rizzle Kicks singer Jordan Stephens, electronic music duo Gorgon City and Greentea Peng.
I pretty much put myself through film school.
Describing her aesthetic as a mix of reality and fantasy, live-action and VFX, Maker admits to having a “techy side”, enjoying the challenge of “figuring out weird camera shots, and trying to do things that are impossible in-camera”. Her promo for Gorgon City’s Go Deeper, the dreamlike story of two lovers whose spirits reunite on the ocean floor after a fatal car crash, is a good example.
It could just have looked like two people prancing around a blue room.
To create the illusion of being underwater, she opted for the ‘dry-for-wet’ technique popularised by films like The Shape of Water, using smoke, coloured filters and lighting effects on a stage; a ballsy move for a young, untested director. “Fundamentally, you didn’t know if it was going to look good until you sat in the edit. It could just have looked like two people prancing around a blue room.” To achieve the dense feel of deep water, fans were placed at every angle to blow dust and debris the crew had gathered from the street. The end result so convincingly conjures a sub-aqua world, it’s hard to believe it was shot 90 per cent in-camera: only the bubbles from the actors’ mouths were added in post.
Above: Melody Maker on set.
Since joining Mill roster in 2019, Maker has successfully transferred her mix of reality and fantasy, live-action and VFX to commercial jobs, including a duo of spots for Chinese phone brand Oppo. A fresh take on a product demo, Shake showcases the phone’s anti-shake tech through a dancer’s dizzying twists and turns in a constantly moving world. “I wanted to create this playground of imagination [that conveys how] this phone enables you to interact with your surroundings and how the metaphysical becomes the physical,” explains Maker. As well as the technical challenges of wirework, she had to contend with 40-degree heat (“the dancer passed out a couple of times”) and a compressed shooting window to avoid long shadows.
I am so jealous of these directors who listen to 20 seconds of a song and are like [clicks fingers] ‘I’ve got an idea!
“Commercials work really well for me: you give me your theme and I’ll execute it. Fashion is pretty much being an executor,” Maker reckons. Music videos are trickier, “because it’s such a quick turnaround and the brief’s so open. I am so jealous of these directors who listen to 20 seconds of a song and are like [clicks fingers] ‘I’ve got an idea!’ For me, I need time to craft and tailor it, to forget about it for a couple of days, and then come back to it.”
What I achieved last year, compared to where I was the year before has blown my mind.
These are undoubtably uncertain times for the industry, but Maker remains confident that with the support of The Mill, the only way is up. “What I achieved last year, compared to where I was the year before has blown my mind,” she says. Recent jobs include the title sequence for new Starz series P Valley, based on Katori Hall's play Pussy Valley, which follows the lives of strippers in Atlanta. Conscious of being a white girl armed with a camera, documenting life in some of America’s poorest black neighbourhoods, Maker was determined to come at the brief in a “respectful” way, a quality she also demonstrated in the making of Greentea Peng’s Ghost Town promo.
Above: Work for Oppo and the trailer for Maker's short film, Barney.
A lament against gentrification, the stark black-and-white video was shot on London’s notorious Aylesbury housing estate. During filming, she spoke to residents whose homes are scheduled for demolition as part of the council’s urban regeneration plan. “They’re frightened, they’re getting shipped out to different places, getting dispersed from their friends and family… The idea of these estates was as a utopian community, bringing people together: it had such promise. With a little bit of refurb, it could be an iconic landmark for London, rather than these horrible flat-pack replacement buildings.”
The idea of these estates was as a utopian community, bringing people together: it had such promise.
Her short film, Barney, shows Maker can turn her hand to comedy too – albeit of the jet-black kind. Set during an excruciating dinner party, it’s the story of parents who take drastic action after their son is shown dog porn in the playground. Shot through with the sort of dark, twisted humour seen in films like The Killing of a Sacred Deer, it’s no surprise she credits director Yorgos Lanthimos as a big inspiration.
When you go to a festival, everyone’s like this” – she holds up her mobile to demonstrate – “so why not utilise that camera?
Although “old-school filmmaking” will always appeal, Maker is also keen to indulge that techy side of hers and is currently developing AR visuals for Greentea Peng’s concerts. “When you go to a festival, everyone’s like this” – she holds up her mobile to demonstrate – “so why not utilise that camera? So, while she’s performing, you look through your phone camera, and the lyrics to the songs or artwork is coming out and around, there’s a whole augmented reality world around her.”
With concerts and gigs banned for the foreseeable future, we might have to wait some time to see the fruits of her labours – but one thing’s for sure, this Maker will continue to live up to her name.