Driven by the need to be original with his content and portraying unique stories, London raised film-maker Saoud Khalaf has a growing portfolio. However, the desire to spread his wings, venturing down new paths drives him. Through adversity, he's finding the courage to step out of his comfort zone, collaborating with some pretty talented artists along the way too. Here's Saoud's words on building his niche in the market:
Who inspired you when you first started out?
"One of the first directors that I was watching when I came into the game was Carly Cussen. She was doing crazy things, working with Tinie Tempah and with Devlin as well.
One of the earliest music videos I ever shot was funnily enough somehow for Ghetts for a track called 'Judgement Day', it was him and another artist called Max Valentine. Another of my earliest videos was for a guy called DeeKay at the time but now he's called Prynce MINI, he was a performer and engineer at the time and luckily enough, I must have come back home after being out and one of my friends said Ghetts was looking for a media team or something like that so I hit him up.
I said I shoot music videos even though I'd only done two at the time. Luckily enough, the one I did with DeeKay, he knew who he was so from there, he was like "yeah yeah, we can shoot". I got a random phone call after school one day, I must have been like 16 at the time and it was him asking me to shoot a video for him. I shot it for him, it came out well and after that, he brought me onto a video shoot for him, Wretch 32, Kano and Scorcher for the remix to 'On A Level' and I think that's where I first met Carly. Meeting her in person was mad, I kept in contact with her and from then on, I've built my way up in the game."
Who inspires you now?
"There's a fantastic director called Henry Scholfield, he shot Sir Spyro's 'Side By Side' and 'Topper Top' videos, he is nang. He also directed Wretch 32 and Jacob Banks's 'Doing OK' video which is a sick video as well. He's not just doing UK videos, he does a lot of international stuff as well, he's worked with a Belgian singer called Stromae, he did a video for him called 'Tous Les Mêmes' and that video is nuts. For me, the best thing about his videos are the transitions between scenes like you see in 'Side By Side' when they're going round and round in the shop, the way he just transitions between scenes is mad."
The video animations in your 'Shell' video for Manga were sick so how would you describe what your style is?
"Bro to be fair, you see the video animations in that video, that wasn't me, that was Manga.
"You see Manga, he edits his own videos. What Manga and I will do for the videos is I will shoot them and then the two of us will contribute ideas towards the direction of the videos in terms of movements, actions and shapes. The video we did for 'Young' with Jammz, we both came together and had ideas, he kind of gave me a rough idea of how he wanted it done. For 'Slew' with Jamakabi and P Money, we came to the idea of doing something blue so I found a way to film it so we could make it look like Manga was in Avatar. I like working with Manga a lot because Manga as an artist respects my time in a sense that all the work that I do, he makes sure all of my time is covered. Anything that I'm doing whether it be an interview, a show, a video, the guy makes sure I can eat and I respect that. It's nice that I can be involved Manga's project and we have a few more videos coming up as well."
How have you learned from the experiences you've gone through?
"Experiences shape you and I probably wouldn't be where I am today had I not made some of the crucial mistakes that I made in the first stage of my career. I was shooting a lot of videos with people that I didn't like, because I was in secondary school, I felt like I was peer pressured, around me I had a lot of people telling me who I should film and it was a lot of stuff that wasn't really great music or they weren't really good people. I've had negative experiences with some artists and it left me in a state of mind where I thought this is not what I really want to do so I had to change my direction.
Stuff that I do now, I'd like to say is niche, I do projects or I have ideas for my videos and it tends to be stuff that a lot of people wouldn't necessarily put in their own videos. I'll either make my videos so they look really mad and colourful or I'll put a lot of story-lines in there, every director has to do their fair share of performance videos but I'd like to say the ideas that I really care about are different to the norm. I did a video this year with a guy called St Louis, it's called 'Problems' and I did the whole video in negative. It looks crazy, it's different to anything that I've ever done but it was nice to experiment because that's what I want to do with my art."
In a perfect world, what would your direction be when it comes to putting a video together?
"The funny thing is, in my perfect world, I would be able to do anything and everything because my videos don't necessarily tend to have a certain style. I recently worked on an animation video with a friend of mine, he's an illustrator so I had the idea that I wanted to collaborate with him and work on the video where I take a song and then we illustrate frames on Photoshop, making the frames move against each other to create an illusion of a sort of cartoon or an animation. I try to experiment working with as much stuff as I can, my cousin does motion graphics so I try to do a lot of stuff with him, it's about exploring all corners of art and creativity and seeing what kind of work is the best to take forward. I wouldn't say I have one kind of genre that I work with because I like to branch out. I need to branch out into different music genres and let my work take it in that direction."
It's good to experiment but is it worth it if you go too far out of your comfort zone?
"To an extent, going outside of your comfort zone is not bad at all because it makes you think that maybe your comfort zone isn't the comfort zone you're meant for. I started shooting acoustics, shooting singers and I realised that this is something that I like doing. I started shooting acoustics and live performances a couple of years back, a did an A64 for SBTV for Ghetts, I started doing stuff for Polydor Records with a band called IV Rox and I thought it was nice because it wasn't stuff I had ever done, something I now think I'd like to do more of in the future. Stepping out of your comfort can be useful."
Why do you think music and videography go together so well?
"With music, whenever I hear a song, I get a rush of ideas; I get colours, locations, scenery, stories, people, frames, I listen to a song and I envision as much stuff that comes to my mind. These sort of art forms allow you to tell stories you don't necessarily tend to experience or tell stories you may never have the chance to tell. I think that when you're creating a music video, you're almost creating a sort of utopia and you can get lost in it. The artist is like the hero of the video and you're creating a whole world around them. When you can get to a stage where you can really craft and construct every single component in your video, I'm talking location, props, set, when you get to that stage, you can shape this world to be any world that you want it to be.
With me, it kind of takes away the mundane from everyday life. That's why I think music and videography go together, when you hear stuff you want to see stuff, I mean nowadays in the scene we work in, a lot of people whenever an artist drops a song will want visuals for it and it wasn't necessarily like that before. Music is so disposable unless you have a video to accompany it. An artist will drop an album nowadays and everyone will be thinking what visuals are dropping. It feels like songs need to have visuals in order to have any sort of impact."
Even with songs that have visuals, within weeks or even days, those songs are stale because something else has come to replace them.
"100%, everything's too disposable nowadays. A new song will come out and everyone will forget about it instantly because the next one will come out because there's many more people making making music than before, there's a lot more saturation or even competition to an extent. There's so many people making music that it's almost too much to take in, you don't really have time to listen to something and really take it in and appreciate it before the next big project has dropped."
Do you think you have grown as a person through your work?
"100%, I think you grow with the people that you meet. When you meet somebody and see how they are, you take inspiration from how they conduct themselves and what they do in their work. By me meeting Carly for example, seeing the way she did things, I thought that was interesting and took something from it or when I worked with Chas Appeti on one shoot and he is nang, I think his visuals are crazy. Also a good friend of mine called Kane Chattey who used to direct videos for SBTV, the way he conducted himself in his work, not conforming to any social norms encouraged me to start experimenting and doing things differently, it helped me to grow because I was kind of set in my lane doing one type of video, one type of genre and I wasn't really going anywhere. It helps to branch out."
What are your future plans?
"I'm trying to up my game. I think I need to work on doing narrative projects where I can bring in a cast, lights, cameras, whatever it is and put time and effort into it. I'm doing a lot of stuff where I'm turning up on the street in exterior locations with my camera but now I really want to put time and effort into my work so people can see that I have a passion for my work and I want to put an effort into getting these narratives told."
All videos used directed by Saoud. Picture above and picture used in TTL artwork shot by Charlotte Regan. Find Saoud's website at www.saoudkhalaf.com.