A director whose work is “people-centric, traversing the weird, nuanced and downright gorgeous”? That work should get audiences’ attention. Courtney Brookes has already proven its worth in the hardest market of all, New York. And Eight has snapped up the director as she lands back in Australia and now represents her in Australia, New Zealand and Asia.
Brookes had a chat with The Stable about cracking New York as a creator “from downunder” and what tugged at her both to stay in NY and to leave it.
The Stable: New York is a tough nut crack. What/who helped you to conquer working in NY?
Courtney Brookes: New York certainly seems very big and daunting from afar. Once I was sucked in, I learned the film scene there is an incredibly tight-knit community and it didn’t take long before I had met like-minded people who were willing to share basically whatever resources they had. These people are still my closest friends there.
I was fortunate enough to start at an agency called Blonde + Co run by fellow Australian filmmaker, Julie Stahl, who hired me off a Facetime call. The power of the cold email cannot be understated. I spent a lot of time editing in our Flatiron studios and outside of the 9-5 I used the facilities and equipment they had to create whatever I could. With a few New York-based videos under my belt, I was able to more confidently pitch like a New Yorker. I knew my way around just like I knew what subway transfers to make and all the hacks to tell which direction you were walking in Manhattan. So much of working in a place like New York really comes down to attitude. I’m a Sagittarius, so yes New York is tough but I’d like to think I’m tougher.
TS: What about NY will you be sad to leave? What are you looking forward to gaining back home?
CB: There is so much to be missed in New York but let me be clear – this relationship is far from over, I’m used to long-distance. It is difficult not to sound like a broken record when talking about all the things I’m sad to leave – the energy and hustle of the city, the grit and character of every single corner which makes the whole city a dream film set, the beer and a shot combo for $6 at my local dive bar, even the smells of the trash piles in the heat of summer. That being said, I’m equally excited to make films here again in Australia. I feel as though I have returned with fresh eyes and a new appreciation of the Australiana aesthetic which will also feel fresh and new to my US audience.
Here’s a glimpse of what Brookes can do:
CB: My music video for singer, Eva Tolkin, a member of Blood Orange is one of my favourite projects to date and created early into my time in NYC. It is decadent, bursting with colour and charmingly subversive – my style in a nutshell. Eva and I connected online (the power of the cold email again) and then met in a bar around Bowery to discuss concepts. We decided her song, Honeycomb, lent itself best to my visuals and both liked the idea of exploring Marie Antoinette meets Gwen Stefani, something sweet and sticky. The production process was hectic but perfect. Mercury was in retrograde, I tossed hay bales into midtown elevators and we had to wind our way up and down eight floors of the fire escape with an eight-metre backdrop – what more could you want! In the end, the video was exactly what I set out to make, something beautiful that doesn’t take itself too seriously with a combination of high fashion detailing with analogue film processes. It looks just as sweet as the song sounds.
The second piece of favourite work is the Infallible campaign for L’Oreal Paris, which really shows my transformation into a director who understands how to combine the hallmarks of high-end beauty videos with my own vibrant signatures. Much like most of my projects, I worked alongside a team of boss women and I applied my music video hustle to the production as we finalised narratives and shot lists the night before the shoot as our revolving door-esque talent list continually changed. We ran around New York Over two days, capturing Witney Carson, Courtney Lavine, and Nadya Okamoto being themselves and utterly infallible – all women taking charge and blazing trails across the industries of contemporary dance and ballet and the menstrual movement. The pairing of the luxurious tones with their tenacious stories again unified the duality of my work and also my love for the feminine. What can I say? There is nothing better than a strong woman.
For Eight, Brookes’ latest work for Netregistry via Sydney creative agency, Edge, shows her heritage in fashion and music, and is a great example of her passion for styling, out- of-the box casting, striking sets and cohesive colour.
Brookes commented, “It was great to work with Lib Kelly on my first job at Eight. The process was so smooth and I felt unstoppable. The fact that Eight is female-owned and run really drew me to them. I feel completely supported to create my weird and wonderful worlds and this speaks volumes after only one job. They’re a young, energetic company full of ambition, much like myself, and I foresee a long and zesty collaboration ahead.”
Eight co-owner and head of production, Lib Kelly, added, “Courtney is a new breed of commercial director. Her confidence and ability to make good snap-decisions is amazing and while she respects the process, she’s not afraid to disrupt. She’s a great talent with the world at her feet.”