Behind the Avant Garde Art of Roger Spy
Breaking Barriers And Beyond With Britain's Most EXTRATERRESTRIAL Filmmaker
Over the past few years, the world has gone through a phenomenal digital revolution. A significant amount of our human experience and cultural connectedness has migrated online. We live in a world driven by social media, spending hours at a time on Youtube, Instagram or Facebook, looking for new trends and stories to keep us entertained and informed. Now more than ever we are spoilt for choice with what to read, listen to and watch as content is so widely available and easily disposable. This over saturation makes it challenging for brands to stand out and reach new audiences. It takes a great deal of creativity and an awesome story to produce something that will genuinely grab peoples' attention. Storytelling has become the new norm for brand communications and the fashion industry more than any other thrives from this practice. Fashion film has been the winning formula in the industry for the past few years. It is a fairly new form of communication that is described as video avant garde art and is mostly used by luxury fashion houses to enhance the brand experience through entertainment, glamorous edginess and seductive appeal.
Some of the most celebrated fashion films over the past year include Calvin Klein’s August / Winter campaign featuring Frank Ocean which was shot by Tyrone Lebon and Kenzo’s campaign for their new fragrance 'Kenzo world', directed by Spike Jonze. Other notable directors to have worked in this genre include Wes Anderson, Guy Ritchie, and even Martin Scorsese, but the most intriguing of them all has to be Roger Spy
Who is roger spy?
Roger Spy is an award-winning British filmmaker, multimedia artist and visual storyteller who has done work for the likes of L’Oreal, VH1, Ministry of Tomorrow and Sony Pictures to name a few. He’s been in the game since 2010 and has already established himself as a creative juggernaut by having been commissioned and featured in mainstream publications such as Vogue, Elle, Wonderland, I-D and many more.
My first encounter with Roger’s work was the campaign he did for Ministry of Tomorrow’s debut luxury vegan leather bag collection. I immediately became a fan. Most of the brands I have become enamored with over the past few years are those who’ve been able to connect with me on a visceral level and speak to my deepest aspirations and imagination. My yearning for a Benz coupe was ignited by a story they told about ‘presence’, using the cool, calm and collected Josh Brolin to narrate the tale while only giving but a brief glimpse of the car driving through the nighttime desert.
In 2013, Romain Gavras mastered the art form in a visual anecdote for Louis Vuitton featuring the late David Bowie, it was the perfect fairytale about travel and made me feel like the world was my oyster. Now, thanks to Roger’s first campaign for Ministry of Tomorrow, being conscious has never looked cooler. Compassion has traditionally always been portrayed from a lens of pity and sympathy, but Roger Spy has achieved the impossible and managed to make it look suave and evocatively elegant.
Making a name for himself
Roger Spy made a name for himself as the first director to work with Cara Delevigne back in 2010 and has since been enjoying a burgeoning career, producing more work with the likes of Tyson Beckford, Yoko Ono, and Boy George. Unlike other personalities in his trade whose creativity is solely bound in their work, Roger’s personal style is just as equally distinct as his work. Spy's style says something deeper about his work – expect the unexpected and the unpredictable. With regards to his personal style, he says,
“I see and I react, I live and I react. I try things and some thing’s stay and some thing’s don’t. Its very much like feeding off the energy of the world and reflecting it back in the way that I see it. It’s a very natural expression that comes from being playful and childlike”.
Some of his work has been produced alongside his longtime friend and collaborator, Grant James Thomas. In addition to Grant, Roger has a small core team of professional sidekicks which he occasionally supplements with special talent for new projects. In his film for the first Ministry of Tomorrow campaign, he was responsible for every bit of production including carrying out all the creative direction, filming, and postproduction. He is entirely self-taught and has had no formal training, but still managed rise to the top despite having dropped out of school at 16. Some of the other directors he admires and aspires to emulate include Woody Allen, Barbara Streisand, and James Cameron.
The type of work you do seems to go by a lot of titles these days such as multimedia artist, creative director etc. How would you describe what you do?
A lot of people have the multimedia artist title nowadays which I don’t really like. I guess I could say that I am just an artist? Because I think that’s the best way to describe myself … or maybe like a director who likes to make music as well.
What would you say your specialty throughout the entire production process is. Is it filming, art directing or postproduction etc?
All of it. I like to be involved in every step along the way, from coming up with the idea, putting together a mood board and then visually materializing it. I like to be involved in choosing the models, finding a location, writing the script, filming, putting a team together and producing the music.
What is your creative process like when starting new projects? The first steps you take and so on.
I like to simmer the task at hand in my mind first and then do some research. The first step is usually putting a mood board together that best exemplifies what is going on in my heard. I rarely watch what other people are doing or try to mimic something that has already been done.
Do you have a signature style that you try and incorporate in your work?
Well, I think my style comes through in everything that I do. I like to approach things differently each time and explore different aesthetics. Something that I always like to hear as feedback when I share my work with a close group of friends is ‘this is very different from anything that you’ve done before. but it still has the Roger Spy touch'.
Are there still any models or personalities and actors that you would like to work with?
Of course, but not so much models. I am moving more towards making short films now and there is a massive list of people that I would like to work with. I would love to do music videos for artists like Blondie and Annie Lennox.
What was it like working with Cara all those years ago?
That was her first video ever. It was a test shoot, one of the very first ones she did. That was right at the brink of fashion film when it was about to become a thing. She is lovely and a very down to earth girl.
Roger has recently collaborated with Ministry of Tomorrow again for their second campaign and took a completely different direction to the first one. The new campaign is much darker, extreme and punk, all while maintaining the brand's sentiments of higher consciousness and radical nonconformity. Part of his desire for his work is to be able to strike an emotional nerve and provoke curiosity in the way that old Benetton ads used to. He is a great admirer of Oliviero Toscani and his ability to create controversy out of the seemingly mundane. His hope for this new campaign is to go beyond surface level controversy and evoke emotions that will inspire public dialogue that breaks social, racial, gender and sexual barriers. With that being said, it should now be more evident than before that the Roger Spy touch is, in fact, his artistic ability to break barriers.
In another short promotional story also shot for ‘MOT’ entitled ‘Sacred Blood’ he addressed the stigma of menstrual shame by effortlessly turning something of sorrow into a symbol of strength in a way that wasn’t overtly gross, but instead came across as empowering and liberating. When done right art can be a really powerful tool for changing perceptions, so it's important that the stories we share go beyond just entertaining and captivating us, but also provoke us to question the status quo and challenge traditional norms.