For all the
We stopped by
the home of Jake Davis
to talk about his
growing career and his
thoughts on being a
coming up in the
Since graduating from New York University's film school, Jake Davis' ties to New York culture have garnered not only the attention of brands such as Nike and Supreme, but Grammy-award winning artist Drake as well. But don't get it twisted, Davis didn't position himself with the hope to work alongside these companies and individuals, it was a result of his passion for the craft and the mutual respect he has since earned.
Davis, who grew up in the creative community of Woodstock, was brought up by his parents who the film director describes as "rather Bohemian", and it was his mother and father who encouraged him to be one thing—creative. He attributes his parents to laying the foundation of his creative perspective at an early age, "My parents put me onto a lot of films, literature, arts, and they also ran some clothing stores so clothing was always in the background for me. Seeing all those things at a super young age, it's almost natural to pick them up."
Fittingly enough, the director has taken those early influences, which have manifested into a visual style that embodies a variety of interests that make up who Davis is—music, style and the city of New York.
Words by Michael Bercasio
Photography by Greg Washington
To find success at such a young age, it's easy to get caught up in the glamour and hype. What was your mental plane back then, and how did you avoid it?
When I was coming up, it was pre-Internet, so if the Internet existed back then, maybe I would've been a little fucked. Maybe that's a little bit brash, but nobody knew about your work because back then, there was no social media, it was all behind closed doors. You make a film now and it's on the Internet the next day and people will love it or hate it, whereas prior, if you made a film it was only for internal use, or it was only played at a local store. When I started out, it wasn't the same environment and it all changed when the Internet hit major. Maybe if I came up during social media I probably wouldn't have had any time to develop my own craft. Now, people put up work online, and when I see it, I question it because it's doesn't seem developed enough. In the school environment everybody critiques your work and some of it can be tough to handle. What you put on the Internet now is open to everyone's opinion. I'm lucky because I learned my craft during the tail end of analog, so I feel like I've gotten the best of both worlds.
You're right, giving deep thought to an idea today is sometimes a challenge because the Internet allows you to share it instantly, and some lacklustre work is put out...
It's not just filmmaking, it's photography and writing as well. You can write a blog post on your own personal site and you can get picked up by The New York Times, then next thing you know you're a considered a "writer." I don't know if there's enough time to develop or give things much thought. We live in an "Instaworld" now and you can easily get instant gratification from an Instagram photo, unlike a project that could take you a few weeks, even months to produce. The creative person is going to have to figure it out where their priorities and values start. Most importantly, they have to ask themselves, "is this important enough to put out to the world?"
When you're uploading something and you want to hit the publish button, you have to be your own editor. For somebody who is young, the opportunity is there, which is amazing, but you also have to be able to filter yourself.
What was your M.O. as a filmmaker?
For me, it was always about blending things that I love: style, music, and figuring out the narrative between those things. I figured out a way to meld them, I thought my lane would be pretty good. Once blog culture hit mainstream and we figured out the "Test Shots" concept, that's when things really started to cook. Up until then, music videos were so saturated, and it was hard to be creative. For the people that were really super creative making videos, they had budgets, and it was their time [in that medium]. The Internet has changed everything, and now you have to figure out what you can do with it. Online media gave people an opportunity to flex their creative muscle an entirely new way.
You've been doing this for 12 years, what keeps you ticking?
Living in New York is a great motivator, the landscape is changing. As far as blogs, it's really interesting to keep up with the young kids. I feel like there was a small group that really pushed the format early on—Justin Saunders over at JJJound, Sean Sullivan who does Impossible Cool, Michael Williams of A Continuous Lean—we were all kind of just doing it, but blogging has evolved into a real industry. As a filmmaker, it's still about putting out really cool stuff that people will like. It's not just about getting paid, it's about staying relevant.
As a creative person, you don't sit well with yourself when you're not putting out work. It's almost as if when time passes by, we feel weird for not having any work out. This year we locked in a lot of good things, so it's gonna be a balancing act with work and play.
“The creative person is going to have to figure it out where their priorities and values start... they have to ask themselves, 'Is this important enough to put out to the world?'” JAKE DAVIS
Do you think this is the new era of how people create work?
I'm trained to be a director, I come from the old model, that's what I went to school for. Traditionally, directors would work on features that take years to develop, and in between that, they would produce a music video or a commercial to stay fresh, that was the model. Now you can make a commercial and make 100K in a couple of weeks, instead of developing a film like before. Not to say, that is bad. Even with the online model, there are ways to control it. I can control a Test Shot, or a Screen Test. I can work with a brand and put something out in a few days. With the new model, kids are thinking,"I don't have to go to film school, I'm going to create a network around myself that is nurtures my talent." The mentality is, if you can just go out and "do it", why not?
Today, everyone can run with any tools to be a photographer or a videographer, be it a smartphone and a blog. Do you feel you need expensive equipment to make something happen?
Not everyone has a DLSR, but that shouldn't stop you. I've never been a proponent of 100K lenses, you can put something out there that is really touching with a point-and-shoot, or an iPhone. There are some photos on Instagram that are shot with an iPhone, and they look amazing. That doesn't mean it will be used for a billboard, but you can't take away how beautiful the photo looks. It's all about your perspective. Of course, you have to know your exposures, but technique can be taught, perspective is unique.
Do you feel because of the Internet, kids are finding less of a need to travel and not really looking at developing their perspective through experience?
Travel is so important. Don't get me wrong, the Internet is great, but it's just a screen. Living vicariously through Tumblr or your social network can only do so much. I'd love to travel more than I do, because it gives a fresh perspective every time I come back home. It doesn't necessarily have to be across the world. I lived in SoHo for a very long time, then I lived in Brooklyn for a bit, so coming back it helped me notice the little details of SoHo.
Compared to when you were 18 years old, how do you find a new sense of discovery now?
I didn't have the Internet or cable back then. I lived on a mountain by a monastery, so I couldn't get access to channels like MTV. My father would get recorded VHS tapes with "Yo! MTV Raps". When I finally got access to the Internet, I was late. I was surprised, because I had the capabilities to learn about something I innately had a love for. I'm talking more than 15 years ago. Now, having that access is unbelievable. Lets say you were into the soles of a shoe, you could probably find more information about it, as opposed to actually going to Parsons. But you still have to balance the Internet with what's real, because there's still a lot of bullshit online.
Beyond your personal interest in the DJ culture, when you came across more information on the Internet, did you find yourself moving away from that kind of research and leaning towards a more hands on approach?
Real talk, I think I just got lucky. I was super into this culture, and all of a sudden I'm now friends with the idols I had on my wall growing up as a kid. I can't explain that. But like any craft, you have to learn the foundation and technique. The Internet is good for conducting researching, but that's just step one. I love that it allows you to find hard to get items, but I still feel like you have to go directly to the source if you really like those things. Those experiences still exist outside of the Internet.
That's just it... it is not only about recognizing where the Internet can take you, but realizing it can only take you so far.
Exactly, even though I was trained at NYU, one of the most prestigious film schools, I don't think you have to go to film school. Look at Quentin Tarantino, he didn't go to film school and he's a fucking genious. He got his foundation in a different way, and I don't feel you necessarily need an institution to teach you that. But you still need to get out there, develop your own craft and do your own thing. That's how all movements start, it's about a rebellion against whatever is popular, then that becomes popular, and from there, it's on to the next thing...
Are you a firm believer in fate, luck or chance?
To be honest, all of the above. I think there is some path for you, and when you make the best educated decision for yourself, it will lead you to another decision. I don't know if things are predestined, but I think if you listen to yourself and your heart of power, you'll know which way to go. But at the end of the day, the best decisions you make are the ones you don't think too much about.
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