matt lambert on his "magical" working relationship with mykki blanco

The antithesis to a homogeneous landscape of pop music videos right now, Matt Lambert's video for Mykki Blanco's 'High School Never Ends' is a deeply personal and emotional story that draws on prescient social issues.

by Tom Ivin
23 May 2016, 6:59pm

Last week, Mykki Blanco's "High School Never Ends," — a Woodkid-produced epic rap-scape — emerged on the internet, with a dramatic revenge tragedy promo to match. Here, Berlin-based photographer and director Matt Lambert speaks about his "magical" working relationship with Blanco, the autobiographical nature of his art, and the need for the world to humanize its aggression.

Tell us about the the film. How did the concept come about? This one seems born from blood, sweat and tears.
This one was brewing for a long time and took many forms before I had a finished script. It's something I've wanted to make for a while and is really personal. It was also a way to really play with some ideas for my first feature — especially in terms of process and growing the team.

Your work addresses human stories through fictional scenarios  it feels like it comes from a very real place.
A lot of the stories I tell are based on my life or the lives of those around me. When projects have failed in the past, it's because I lacked the authentic connection the material and characters. At one point, my work was directly autobiographical and now it's become more about my community.

I think your casting choices in this are particularly powerful. What goes through your head when casting performers? Is there a difference between casting for still photography and film?
Authenticity and an emotional understanding of the material is the most important. In film I'm usually working with actors, but this is much less the case with photography. For a subject to find an honest moment in an image tends to be much more effortless than to sustain it for hours and to ride its dynamic arcs. I do tend to always mix a few friends into every film as well — most of whom have very little experience on camera. They embody the spirit of the character, and in some case I've been writing with them in mind. For a feature, there's the luxury of spending months developing a character. For these shorts and music vids, it can be more direct to just get the real thing.

Mykki Blanco seems like such a intense performer; as a director, is it a pleasure to work with someone so versatile?
It was magical and full of trust. It's rare that an artist will give you something so vulnerable on set. His performance in the final scene — which we shot on the first day — really set the bar for some of the more experienced actors on set.

How important is it for music videos to direct attention to issues like gender identity and the refugee crisis, as yours does?
I suppose the world needs pure pop videos. We probably need content that allows us to turn off and just be entertained. However, I've often been disappointed at the amount of filmmakers, photographers, and content creators who never have something to say.

Would you describe yourself as a political filmmaker?
I try not to be. This video is perhaps my most political next to my video for Hercules and Love Affair. By nature of the worlds and character I explore, there's often of a political context, but I try to be a bit more humanist. Stories tend to be small and intimate. I am for the essence and relationships of my characters to precede their gender identity, orientation or position in socio-political space.

Does being based in Berlin directly influence your filmmaking?
Absolutely. It gave me the space and freedom to make the work I always wanted to make.

The Mykki Blanco video was shot by Martin Ruhe (Control and Harry Brown cinematographer). Do you like working with other photographers and image makers?
I almost always work with a DOP when I'm directing and only really started taking photos about four years ago. So, most of what I know about photography I've learned from the DOPs I work with. They are my most intimate partners, next to my editor, and I couldn't come close to making any of the work without them.

How do you manage to keep the intimacy and playfulness of your photography in a shoot on this scale?
It's a different beast being alone with one person in a room and then on a 30-person set. When it comes to intimate scenes, though, I try and recreate a space that's much more similar to how I work in photography. This usually means just three of us around, keeping things much more loose and freeform.

What do you hope to change with this film?
I'd like people to humanize their aggression and hate. I also want them to see the power that love could have if they let it in.

Where do you get most of your inspiration?
Conversations with friends, other artists, and my husband tend to be where most my ideas come from.

Are there any artists that you'd love to create work with?
Anohni, Diamanda Galas, Florence, Nicki, Beyonce, Cakes, Death Grips, Troye, Olly, Lotic.


Text Tom Ivin

Matt Lambert
Mykki Blanco
high school never ends