Behind every great director there is a trail of great stories. After all, you don’t go from shooting your family’s home videos to directing the winner of the Boston Phoenix’s Best Local Video award overnight, do you?
Director Michael Gill is a treasure trove of good stories. Even he has a hard time keeping track of just what he’s accomplished and how he got there. His early years in film are a jumble, to hear him tell it. Born and raised in Connecticut, Gill grew up shooting his funny videos with his friends using the family camcorder and working at the local public access station. After an brief jaunt to a fledgling film school in Maine, Gill returned home to join his best friend’s band, Johnny Too Bad & the Strikeouts, the band that eventually brought him to Boston. Soon after, Johnny Too Bad dissolved, and Gill joined the popular local band the Damn Personals. Oddly enough, it was this foray into the music industry that finally got Gill into its film counterpart. Their tour companions, Boston punk band The Explosion, saw the potential in their cine-phile friend. “Everyone knew I was a movie geek and that I loved making movies,” recounts Gill. They hired him to do some promo shots, including a video of the band writing a song about the Human Torch for the Fantastic 4 video game that Gill consider his sort-of first music video.
After their new label saw what Gill could do, he was contracted to provide live concert footage for their first official music video. Soon, Gill found himself working for the local production company Subversion Productions. Here he honed his skills, and after it too folded he used his refined skills to make a name for himself as a professional but affordable music video director.
In spite of his visible talent, Gill does not discount how important friends and good luck are in being successful. “I was just in the right place at the right time,” he says of the Damone spot he shot for The CW. He had already worked with Damone on a couple music videos and a rockumentary, connected through his friendship with Pete Galli, Damone’s manager. However, when Damone was offered the opportunity to become the face of The CW, as long as they made the spot within a very small window of time, Gill was handy. The result was a fantastic spot that involved shooting on a green screen and then coordinating the editing with actor footage shot by professionals on the west coast:
That same friendship with Galli also led to an interesting jaunt with the unpredictable, infectious performer Andrew W.K, whom Galli was also managing. Andrew was so impressed with the work Gill had done for Damone that he invited him in on a risky but fun proposition: to shoot a TV pilot, a project dubbed “Smokeshow,” on Andrew’s dime, for no pay other than expense coverage, and then wait and hope it got picked up. The two set off on what could only be called an adventure, writing and shooting skits and traveling around the country capturing encounters with random citizens. The fates were against the two and the pilot was never picked up, but Gill still considers the experience a net win. Here’s an example of one adventure:
Nowadays Gill is happy to keep working for Boston’s struggling artists. He’s excited about the changes the Internet has wrought in the music industry, saying that bands no longer necessarily aim to be signed to major labels. The Internet lets bands do their own thing, which is great because then “DIY bands want DIY videos.” He recognizes some challenges of shooting in Boston, mostly ruing the lack of a filmmaking community. To Gill, it feels like there are a lot of people who want to make music videos on their own, but he believes that Boston filmmakers would do better to pool resources. “It’s said that great art thrives off of limitation,” opines Gill, “but I think that great art also thrives off of collaboration.” His tips to other Boston directors, new or old, is “friendliness, openness to learning, and a good attitude. The best thing is to just dive in and learn by doing.” Gill also vehemently promotes the Internet as a learning tool, strongly suggesting that new directors “take advantage of Google and online forums. There are a lot of strangers out there who are helping each other out.” As for Gill, he’s busy shooting his second video for the local band The Have-Nots. He also recently released a rockumentary on good friends and old clients Piebald, called Nobody’s Robots. Check out the trailer for that, and Mike’s other work, at his site or his Youtube Channel or just keep checking in here!