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Elton John and YouTube Invite Aspiring Directors to Unleash Creativity in Global Competition

Production Company
London, UK
Pulse Films’ Stephen Whelan on a career-making competition to direct promos for Rocket Man, Tiny Dancer and Bennie and the Jets

In their 50 years working together, Elton John and Bernie Taupin have filled hearts and dancefloors with hit after hit. But, it may surprise you to learn, many of their most loved tracks don’t even have their own music videos.

And in the age of YouTube, that just won’t do.

To celebrate the 50th anniversary of Elton and Bernie’s song writing partnership, Universal, YouTube and Pulse have teamed up to give three classic tracks some long overdue music videos. And they’re offering aspiring directors the chance to launch their careers like, well, rocket men (and women).

‘Elton John: The Cut’ will officially open on January 9th, 2017. Undiscovered creatives are invited to submit treatments for an animated Rocket Man promo, a live action ‘Tiny Dancer’ video or a choreography-driven film for ‘Bennie and the Jets’. Shortlists will be selected by a high profile panel of YouTubers; Elton John and Bernie Taupin will choose three winners, and the finished videos will premiere on YouTube in summer 2017.

“We’re excited to partner with YouTube to bring together generations of artists and music lovers around a shared passion for storytelling. YouTube is a rich tapestry of creativity, and I can’t wait to see how the breadth of talent from the dance, live-action and animation communities apply their vision to these cherished songs,” says Elton John.

Pulse Films will help produce the final videos – and according to Stephen Whelan, Head of Branded Entertainment at Pulse, the project is hugely important for aspiring filmmakers.

 “Breaking into directing as a career – whether it’s something you’ve experimented with as a fan and creator or through school and university – is a really tough slog. There’s so much talent out there and self-publishing content through platforms like YouTube has become so seamless that the competition for eyeballs has never been hotter, even as access is increasingly democratised,” he says. “Aside from our responsibility to nourish the next generation of talent as a future facing creative studio, it’s an incredible honour to be working with an artist of Sir Elton’s standing. His music has provided a soundtrack to some of our most memorable cultural moments and that’s what Pulse is all about at its heart – creating moments of culture.”

In a sense, The Cut is also a chance for Elton and Bernie to give back to a new generation of creators. “We were lucky enough to be at an intimate panel interview with Sir Elton and Bernie Taupin in LA back in October when our director Giorgio Testi shot the various films that are up on the competition website now. At the risk of misquoting a legend, there was a moment in the conversation when Sir Elton was talking about how important he feels it is to keep abreast of new music, art, and cultural movements. He explained that in spite of the heights his musical career has scaled he is still incredibly aware of the element of chance and ‘right place, right time’ that to some extent all creative careers grow out of. His compelling honesty and humble acknowledgement that luck, alongside talent, has driven his music out to the world was really moving and he’s genuinely passionate about paying back the opportunities he’s been fortunate enough to experience himself,” recalls Stephen.

The project has been a long time in the making.  Pulse Films’ LA team got involved early on following conversations with Paul Kremen at Rocket. After Creative Director Davey Spens and Director of Production and Operations Claire Wingate got the ball rolling, EP Casey Engelhardt led the filming of the call to action and inspirations interview with director Giorgio Testi. Meanwhile, in the UK Stephen has been collaborating with Sarah Boardman, Head of Music, to define the competition briefs and build outreach to schools and universities around the world. Director Ninian Doff shot a ‘how to’ guide for entrants explaining the ins and outs of video treatments. And Pulse Films CEO Marisa Clifford has been on top of the whole conversation across everything keeping everyone pointed towards the target. 

One of the trickiest decisions was figuring out which songs should be assigned which genres – there was quite a bit of back and forth between all the parties to land on genres that complemented the song choices without being too on-the-nose, as Stephen explains.

“We didn’t want Tiny Dancer to be the choreo piece as it felt too literal. Rocket Man just felt like a natural fit for animation – the out of this world setting and Ray Bradbury inspired lyrics felt right to receive a treatment not constrained by the limitations that reality imposes on live action. In the conversation that Sir Elton and Bernie had about Bennie and the Jets (which you can see on The Cut website) they mention that the song lives in a world that’s a cross between Fritz Lang and Helmut Newton – sci-fi meets androgynous fashion photography. That track just seemed to invite a choreographed interpretation. Tiny Dancer grew out of Sir Elton and Bernie’s experience of LA in the ‘70s, so we were intrigued to see how a new generation of creative minds would take that setting and spin it into a live action setting.”

With three top tracks to choose from and the chance to create for the music world’s strongest song writing partnership, the competition is likely to be a big draw. But before you get stuck in, Stephen has some advice for entrants to make sure they give themselves and their ideas the best possible chance.

“Make sure you watch all of the supporting videos on The Cut website and thoroughly read and digest the brief for your chosen track / visual style. Ultimately we’re looking for treatments that really push the boundaries of expectation and originality and everything you need to need to know and immerse yourself in is there on