Nine times out of ten if you watch a gorgeous music video for an Australian band, it’s the work of Crystal Arrow Films. We reached out to Kieran Ellis-Jones to learn more about his work via Crystal Arrow Films in bringing music to life.
Hunting through Google taught me that Kieran (Kez for short) began with music videos in 2012. The first music video that Kez ever released was Mara Jade – “Our Collapse”. Kez admits how inexperienced he was at the time, saying “I’d like to think I well and truly had no idea what I was doing.” By the end of 2013, he released A Ghost Orchestra – “Hesitator” and rebranded as Crystal Arrow Films. In his words:
“I feel like that was the true beginning of myself as a music video director.”
Music videos for Kez started by filming local bands play acoustic one take performances on the streets of Adelaide. “Funnily enough the first band I ever filmed was Ben David [of The Hard Aches]’s old band almost 8 years ago. The progression in our sessions was so quick and before I knew it I was filming Matt Corby, Birds of Tokyo, and Passenger playing intimate acoustic sessions in the little nooks of Adelaide.”
Kez’s transition from these performance videos to traditional music videos came about from working at JB Hi-Fi, when a colleague of his approached him to shoot a music video for his band, resulting in the Mara Jade clip. Previously directing his creative energies into more corporate based work with arts organisations (such as Adelaide Symphony Orchestra, Arts SA, Music SA), Kez’s relocation to Melbourne has seen him put everything into producing music videos.
Despite being immersed in music videos professionally, Kez shares that he’s “actually really bad at watching other music videos, aside from the really popular ones that come around from time to time.” He says it has typically not been other music videos that he’s been inspired by, that he draws his inspiration from other sources. In thinking of a favourite music video that had stuck with him, he says “I always liked Blink 182 – “Stay Together For The Kids”, this was the first music video I saw use heavy camera shake to accentuate the chorus’.”
Kez shares that the Crystal Arrow Films name represents the brand for music videos he directs, however it’s the fireband himself behind the videos we see. “To date every single Crystal Arrow Films music has been produced, directed, shot, and edited by myself. I’ve worked on clips with no crew – I do not recommend this – but usually I turn to an array of amazing crew that help me bring my visions to life. There are too many to name but I appreciate each and every one of their contributions.”
“Inspiration for my ideas is never the same.”
As a viewer, I find myself blown away by the sheer differences between the Crystal Arrow Films music videos, while each of them still retains a strong sense of creative uniqueness and vibrance. I was curious about the typical process; from hearing a song through to bringing it to life with a video. “Inspiration for my ideas is never the same,” Kez says. “Sometimes the band comes with an awesome idea. Sometimes they might have a spark that I could elaborate on further, and sometimes I will pull something out of the dark. ”
He highlights how unique the experiences can be, sharing that he wrote the “To The Sky” video for Aburden seconds after listening to it for the first time, while Ambleside‘s “Blur” took back-and-forth brainstorming for a week, with inspiration striking while he was driving alone in New Zealand. “I think the main thing for myself is that I would never ever want to make the same video twice. It’s all about finding something unique as an anchor for the concept and building something full of life around that. Getting to work with the calibre of bands and music that I do makes life a million times easier when the music itself is so beautiful.”
It is paramount to Kez that his work is cohesive with the band’s image and what they’re trying to present with their music. With this, he says he always likes to have an in depth conversation to ensure he and the band members are on the same page creatively. He loves to hear bands’ ideas and visions, sometimes heavily drawing from these ideas or other times taking full creative reign.
It’s clear to me, especially with songs that I love, that Kez has been able to get to the essence of the song and bring it to life. In my view, he is able to use this ‘wizardry’ of film to add another layer to what the band is sharing in their music, based on how the songs feel. A great example of this is the editing on Ocean Grove‘s “Stratosphere Love” video, which exaggerates the already amazing guitar riffs, and colourfully adds to the ‘Odd World’ factor. I simply wanted to know HOW he hones in on the core of a song so well and expresses the vision.
“I would like to think I fully immerse myself in the world of the song definitely. The most important thing for me is creating a uniform experience. I’ve always felt like music and film are destined to be intrinsically linked as one can’t live up to its full potential without the other. I don’t really have a process or thought pattern into how I achieve the link, sometimes it’s in the concept, sometimes the edit, but I’m always painfully aware of when something does or doesn’t feel cohesive and you better believe I’ll spend days and days in front of the computer until the dots connect.”
With so many unique videos, I asked Kez about creative blocks and how he handles them. He confirmed that he’s no stranger to being creatively stuck at times, having felt like “I can’t possibly have anything left in my brain”. He finds the best thing he can do is to stop trying, take himself out of the situation, and find inspiration elsewhere. “Driving, exploring, gigs, cinemas, and even talking to friends have all broken writers block for me.”
As well as creative blocks, I had to wonder if there’d been some rough days on the job for Kez, and posed the question. He refers to “a few shockers”, giving one example of how he lost footage from shooting the Mane – “What If Love Dies” music video. He says a friend walked past the coffee table and tripped on a power cable.. mid-backup, “pulling the hard drive out and completely frying the only existing footage from a huge day of shooting. After dozens of attempted recoveries, I ended up having to reshoot the entire video from scratch. Who knows if the first time would have been better! But I love how the video came out regardless.”
Choosing a favourite music video might be like choosing your favourite child, but Kez picks Ambleside’s “Wash Away” as his favourite regardless. “Jackson and I co-wrote the concept over many months starting with a trip to Thailand where the band recorded the EP. I’d never shot anything from a POV perspective, so I was coming into this video knowing how difficult many aspects were going to be but we knew most importantly we had to tell a story. I’ve had countless people tell me they cried watching the video and for me, to have made someone feel an emotion strong enough to bring tears to their eyes, that’s really special. I also received the award for Best Music Video at the SA Screen Awards. To get accolade from an industry I’ve always well and truly felt like an outsider from was a really nice moment.”
Fire, shadows, live action, animation, fantastical drama, horror. Having touched on so many styles, I wondered if Kez had a preference so far, or simply enjoyed mixing it up. “ I’ll tell you what, I really really hate doing greenscreen videos but I keep doing them anyway haha. I like to be flexible, I like to try new things and I like to be surprising. I’d like to think I’m capable of adapting to any genre or style and present something interesting and unique while maintaining my particular flavour.”
Some Crystal Arrow Films videos left me with unanswered questions, so I brought as many of them to the table as I could think of!
I still want to know what the significance of the sunflower at the end of Sleep Talk’s “New Tradition” is. A little help on that one?
“Detective Belletti will be on my case if I reveal too much so lets just say we are far from seeing the last of Crystal Arrow x Sleep Talk this year.”
Is Thornhill’s “Limbo” video inspired by the visually stunning video game of the same name?
“ The original concept was heavily inspired by a James Bond intro sequence. The bridge definitely is a massive homage to the video game. It remains one of the few things can completely immerse me when everything else around me is causing stress and anxiety.”
How did you get the footage of Patrick Miranda (Movements) in the Eat Your Heart Out video for “Conscience”?
“With great difficulty! There was much back and forth with the label trying to organise to have him shoot the scenes and Movements tour schedule proved to make it impossible. Then I realised a good friend of mine Brandon Lung was on the same tour with them filming for With Confidence. So I sort of skipped the middle man and had Brandon organise it directly with Patrick for me and they ended up hanging up black sheets in the back of With Cons gear trailer and shooting right after a gig with dozens of fans outside the trailer waiting to speak to Pat. Huge shoutout to Brandon for saving the day on this one because I was pretty close to using a Patrick lookalike!”
Some of your videos (such as Aburden’s “To The Sky”) seem to have production efforts go into them much like short movies! How many hours do you estimate goes into a music video from beginning to end on average? Which element takes the most time?
“I don’t like to keep track to be honest. If I knew how many hours, days and weeks that went into some of these clips it would probably just break me. Editing will always take the cake for taking the most time particular VFX based clips like “To The Sky” and “Blur”. The most stressful award goes to pre-production. Trying to find actors, locations, props, gear, crew etc is by far the hardest part of the job for myself.”
You cleverly linked the two Alpha Wolf “Golden Fate” tracks into a circular loop, with one tying into the other. Are there other ‘easter egg’ type of things that may be not obvious that you hope people spot?
“I love slipping in easter eggs of all shapes and sizes, but I love making my own cameos. This started in Ambleside’s – “Tired Eyes” (Catch me on that punk jump game at 0:27) another more obvious cameo was my Oscar worthy appearance in Hindsight – “Loveover”. Many more that have and haven’t been noticed yet though.”
In the world of film, Kez refers to Edgar Wright, Guy Ritchie, and Vincent Moon as directors that he’s inspired by. He says “They all have such a unique style they have made their own, and no matter what they present their vision true to those styles. ” Though it seems that inspiration surrounds Kez, as he draws it from all forms of creativity: “Musicians, artists, writers, poets, painters, gamers, lovers, haters, animals, dreamers, schemers and my own mother. You name it and I’ve been inspired by it.”
For aspiring videographers, Kez’s first tip is “Don’t rush”. He believes in the importance of honing and crafting skills before pushing beyond one’s capabilities. He suggests a well-rounded experience by filming live sets, acoustic performances, playthroughs, as well as “silly videos with your friends”. The solid grounding in experience and skill also relates to perception and reputation. “Perception is such a huge part of growth in this industry and pumping out half cooked videos before you’ve reached your potential will only hinder your progress. Unfortunately, people are quick to remember a bad music video they’ve seen.”
Having said this though, pushing yourself creatively is something Kez stresses the importance of, trying something new creatively, even if it may not work out.. “just always have a Plan B”.
Collaboration is the last important tip Kez shares, wishing he had learned a lot sooner. “Collaborate, work with other filmmakers, artists, designers, lighting techs etc each and everyone of these people have a unique set of skills to bring to the table. You’ll learn so much more from other people than you can inside your own box.”
Behind The Scenes
Check out these behind the scenes photos from some of the Crystal Arrow Films music videos, courtesy of members of Kez’s team, Nat Parham, and Lizzie Skyllas:
Sleep Talk – “New Tradition”
Alpha Wolf – “Golden Fate; Water Break”
Hindsight – “Loveover”
Ocean Grove – “Stratosphere Love”