James Chappell has just finished his fourth music video for Guy Sebastian’s new release, Standing With You. That’s an outstanding endorsement of his talent. Equally impressive is that his video for Choir won an ARIA last year for Best Music Video and helped the song to enjoy an extended stay at the top of the music charts. Since directing Sebastian’s first video, Before I Go, Chappell has built a solid cache of trust with Sebastian and Sony. He is given a lot of freedom now to develop his ideas. That freedom accompanied an important task this time. Chappell wanted his video to put the Australian star on a more international level, to give him a more sophisticated look while retaining his authenticity.
The new video also had to follow Choir. It needed, too, to recapture Sebastian’s strength and one of the foundations of his popularity, his social conscience. “Guy does things from the heart, he’s quite a sensitive person,” Chappell noted. You want to tap into that emotion in his videos.”
Between Choir and the new video there was Let Me Drink, a rocking tune with a difficult subject, that received a bit of backlash. “It’s a great tune – really funky. I had a high concept idea to soften the edges and make it not about alcohol; to make it a more fun tongue-in-cheek video that everyone could watch because I know he has a large young following,” Chappell stated. The song was a departure for Sebastian and it landed in a moment when problematic alcohol drinking was in the news in Australia. “Plus Choir was still at the top end of the music charts,” he added.
Standing With You addresses men’s mental health, a topic that’s also currently in the news but for entirely different reasons than Let Me Drink. “Choir touched on mental health too, but it was more of a celebration of Sebastian’s friend who took his own life. This one has a similar personal touchpoint; it’s starting point was someone close to Sebastian. But it’s all about standing with someone who is struggling, not trying to change them but just being there for them, bringing in optimism when they don’t have it.” Chappell broadened its scope by introducing four characters, a boy, an older man, a Japanese businessman and gay man, covering a range of men with mental health issues. “Casting is always very important to me in my work and I will fight for the cast I want. I am very happy with this cast,” he stated.
“We’ve returned to the more serious themes, gone even further in, delved deeper. This video is more sophisticated and more mature. It’s an intimate narrative piece with Guy’s emotional performance interwoven creating a strong metaphor for battling mental health,” Chappell explained. “The initial feedback was that everyone was crying when they watched it. Everyone at Sony, Guy’s team and even Guy, was quite emotional so I knew I’d done something right.”
That ability to hold an audience’s emotions “in its hands” while it tells its story is apparent in Walk In my Shoes, Chappell’s film for Lung Foundation Australia.
“Work like this, intense character driven action packed with a strong social message, is my kind of project. I create dynamic visual action in a different way than most. There’s a hyper-visual quality with a really strong emotional call to my work and that’s what people are drawn to.” The same quality is felt in Chappell’s Incomparable for the NRWL, an anthem for women in football that elevated their status in a traditionally male-dominatedsport.
The Stable: What makes your work stand out?
James Chappell: I’m told that my work is quite dynamic, that it takes you in on an absorbing journey in a short space of time. I like that progression. I like taking people somewhere they’ve never been before with a surprising concept that blows their mind. The trickiest thing in advertising is to replicate those same elements you can achieve in music videos and short films – the creative freedom to push the boundaries. I see my work as hyper-visual, off kilter and quirky and I love a high-concept narrative with a big reveal or twist. I also like to be versatile; to mix it up visually. I use textural lighting and contrast to achieve depth, atmosphere and mood. I don’t shy away from hyper-colour and aim for sumptuous images that jump out at you. Most of all, I love a good underdog story and strong female protagonists.
TS: What assets do you rely on most?
JC: I did start from a very hyper-visual place as a photographer, as well as shooting and editing my own work. That taught me a lot. I obsess over visual imagery and go very deep into that with heavy prep and planning. The most valuable part of my experience has been collaborations with people like Kieran Fowler, the cinematographer. We see eye to eye and jam so well in collaboration. After a two-year gap, Choir was the first project we’d worked together. We previously did a lot of work from 2014-2017, some of which got me repped in the US. We finally did a music video on a major commercial scale but retained the cool artistic qualities of our earlier work. With this new video I hope we’ve one-upped ourselves again. I believe it’s who you collaborate with that matters, that you can exceed expectations if you have the right creative team just as passionate as you.
TS: Your personal work is quite different. Proceeds of Crime could not be more offbeat.
JC: Short films are big learning experiences. I love large scale productions with big set builds. I’m drawn to quirky ideas and ambitious VFX; films, and ads, that people don’t forget. Proceeds of Crime came from a bizarre place. Charles Waterstreet wanted to fund a short film about a gang of women with shaved heads who cut the hair off women. This was all inspired by a true story of attacks by female gangs on women in Venezuela and Brazil. I thought this was a crazy idea for a short film, so I wrote a script. It was the first film I hadn’t self-funded. There were script approvals and changes, and the entire production was shut down for a year while Waterstreet looked for extra funding. The ending was made with less money than we anticipated, so it became an exercise in resourcefulness and creative problem solving as well. The whole thing took three years to finish. Proceeds of Crime toured all the horror festivals – Brooklyn Horror, Soho Horror, Hollywood Horrorfest, Arizona Underground, Nightmares Film Fest, Sydney Underground. When I finally released it online recently it received a Vimeo Staff Pick.