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Meet the King of Gifs



LBB’s Phoebe Siggins speaks to Revolver Films’ Sammy Rawal on making ‘visual fast food’

Meet the King of Gifs

Born in Vancouver, director Sammy Rawal hails from a mix of Indian, East African and MuchMusic heritage.  MuchMusic is Canada’s version of MTV and Sammy’s self-professed directing inspiration. Falling in love with the combination of music and image at a young age, underground conceptual music videos were the catalyst of his future ethereal video loops and trippy promos.

An early internship at Revolver Films, Canada proved to be a fruitful start for Sammy. Working closely with then producers, Jannie McInnes and Natalie Galazka, he was given the opportunity to direct a promo for a group of friends which subsequently led him into being signed at Revolver full time. And the rest is gif-tory…

LBB’s Phoebe Siggins finds out the story behind the uber-cool Sammy Rawal.

LBB> How would you describe your background?

I was born and raised in Vancouver. My parents immigrated to Canada from India and East Africa, so, growing up, I was surrounded by the visual art, music and culture of both those places - as well as all things ‘Canadiana’.

LBB> How did you get into directing?

As a teenager growing up in Vancouver, I used to watch MuchMusic religiously. MuchMusic is our version of MTV. Back then it was worlds apart from what it is now. It was much more focused on music videos and visual culture. I would love watching this one weekly show on called The Wedge. At that time it was a place for cool, underground and conceptual music videos. This was definitely my first introduction into what music videos could look and feel like. I fell in love with the combination of music and image. I think that was definitely the catalyst for everything. 

During high school I got really into fashion photography and portraiture and started dabbling in digital manipulation. After finishing high school, I moved to Toronto for University where I got a BFA in photography and discovered that I wanted to take what I learned in that programme and apply it to moving images. 

After completing my degree, I did an internship at Revolver Films where I got to see how the industry worked and what being a director really entailed. While working at the office, I was then lucky enough to direct my first real music video for some friends’ who had a band back then. As a direct result, I was added to Revolver’s roster.

LBB> How did you develop your style? 

SR> My style is definitely rooted in my cultural background, as well as the sounds and images I was surrounded by as a kid. My love and curiosities of colour, dance and fashion all come from this mashup of Indian, Kenyan and Canadian cultures. For me, there’s also a huge element of play and experimentation with my work. I’ve found that it is one of the best methods of developing my style over the years. 

LBB> What’s your creative brain food? 

SR> My creative brain foods would be music, yoga and weed. Music has always been a huge inspiration for me and it can really stimulate creativity. Yoga keeps me grounded, thinking straight and focused. People and friends around me generally inspire me too. I feel like even in a one-block radius around my place in Toronto, I’m surrounded by amazing artists who are hustling so hard and making incredible things. I find that so inspiring and motivating. I’m inspired by all of the special things happening in the city right now.

LBB> I love your music video for Keita Juma “Come Over” the looped motion seems to work perfectly with the beat of the track. How do you decide which poses will work best in the loop? 

I have to say it’s one of my favourites. I really wanted to capture raw, “masculine” movement in slow motion and then disassemble it all in the edit, find the most hype parts, and loop that to create a new aesthetic. I think people tend to associate certain types of body movement with hip hop, so I wanted to do something different. I found that capturing a group of guys moshing around in slow motion to a house-y hip hop track was actually so beautiful and unexpected. Seeing sequences of this stuff looped back and forth and cut all together brought in an element of controlled grace to the movement. There was so much sick film to work with. Me and Izzy Ehrlich (the editor) and I sat there for HOURS finding the best parts to feature in the video. 


LBB> What inspired the high contrast lighting? 

The cool thing about this video was it was ultimately just a bunch of friends hanging out at night on a beach. At that point, I think we were all going through a bit of a goth-y athletic phase and I wanted everyone wearing black - a uniform, I guess. But black clothes at night meant I had to think very carefully about visibility. I started to play around with a frontal spot light, seeing what it could do to 3M reflective fabric and that’s how the high contrast lighting came about.

LBB> A couple of your promos replace the eyes with blank space. What is behind this?

SR> I dunno really…it just kind of looks fucked up and makes the viewer feel uncomfortable…which I love. Eyes are the windows into one’s soul, so when you remove them, I think it sparks this weird reaction in people. To me, it almost makes people feel like machines. I’m really into all that shit…artificial intelligence, robots, and aliens…

LBB> You started off with promos but what led you to creating gifs and video loops?

SR> I think it all stemmed from my insanely short attention span! I started experimenting with looping body movement really early in my work. The rise of YouTube and Vimeo gave people the tools to scrub through a video instead of watching it from start to finish as we had been doing on TV. I started to realise that sometimes short-n-sweet is more effective than a longer format. 

Instagram and Tumblr kind of fortified these ideas for me. For me, gifs and video loops are the mid-point between still images and full motion videos - two mediums I had been working in already - so creating shorter format visuals just felt right.  I always equate my gif and video loop work to visual fast food.

LBB> Why do you think shorter format film is becoming more popular?

Generally speaking, I think people have shorter attention spans nowadays. They’re somewhat impatient, and want to look at something for a few seconds, process it, reflect on it, and then move on to the next thing - or maybe that’s just my millennial brain at work!

LBB> When you’re choosing which scripts or projects to work on, what tends to catch your eye? 

SR> With music videos, I have to be into the song. If I’m not into the song, writing a treatment can be incredibly difficult for me. I need to be able to listen to the song, close my eyes, and see the finished video in my head. When I can’t do that, I just feel like I’m drowning. I love working with people and bands that are willing to take risks and play around. With commercial work, I tend to gravitate towards things that are more stylised, and involve elements of dance and movement.

LBB> Your gif work and video loops are super cool. What type of brands want this content most? 

SR> I think gifs and video loops are really resonating with people right now. I used to think my gifs and video loops would maybe only attract clothing/apparel and sports brands but I’m starting to realise how relevant the format is to other brands. I recently did some video loops for a car company, and that was a bit of a trip for me. I guess people are realising the importance, relevance and power of an animated gif or video loop and how potential consumers process it all. I think across the board, this medium is pretty ‘new ‘n’ fresh’ so brands are warming up to the idea of it. 

LBB> When not filmmaking, what do you get up to? 

SR> Music is huge for me. DJing is my side hustle and in many ways, it works in tandem with my film work. I started a queer hip hop / R’n’B / dancehall night here in Toronto called Yes Yes Y’all with a few friends. We actually just celebrated our eight year anniversary. We’re a big bashment party but there’s a huge element of social and political activism involved. Our biggest mandate has always been to bridge the hip hop and queer communities in the city and provide a safe space for queer POC. It’s grown into an institution here in Toronto. It attracts around 700 people a month. It’s a sacred space where anyone and everyone is vibing together and celebrating each other’s differences. This is super important to the community given the current political landscape and general fuckery happening all around us…

Vertigo (feat. a l l i e) by Harrison (Official Music Video)

Sammy Rawal is represented in Canada by Revolver Films and in the UK & the US by Believe

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Genres: Storytelling, Scenic, Luxury, Fashion & Beauty, Animation, Music performance, People, In-camera effects, Visual VFX

Revolver Films, Fri, 31 Mar 2017 13:44:46 GMT