All week on The 405, we'll be celebrating some of the best music directors on the planet as part Loud Visionaries Week. So far we've interviewed Hiro Murai, Edward John Drake, Dave Ma and Young Replicant (Alex Takacs), Ryan Reichenfeld, but for our final feature we get to grips with John Merizalde.

There's a lot to love about John Merizalde's quick rise to prominence in the world of engaging, thought provoking music videos. His asking everyone to lift their game, is keen to put it all on the line, and is passionately pushing through the industry at a ferocious pace.


405: You've got a great origin story, can you break it down for us and what your influences were growing up?

I grew up in the suburbs of Atlanta, Georgia. I watched an unhealthy amount of movies as a child, and I had an equally unhealthy obsession with Kurosawa, Kubrick, and PT Anderson. Growing up I spent most of my free time making mindless short films on mini dv.

I tried the college thing but that didn't work out too well. I dropped out after two years and spent some time bumming it out, living in a glorified crackhouse for a while. I got bored of that eventually and started making videos again.

I had always wanted to direct features, and it wasn't until fairly recently that I started to see the potential in the short form. Seeing challenging music videos from the likes of directors like Daniel Wolfe and Romain Gavras inspired me to go towards that medium.

Formal education vs. School of Hard Knocks?

School works for some people, but it's just not my thing. Everyone has the internet. You have all the resources you need to learn and grow right in front of you. Film school used to be a major socio-economic barrier to success, but it's a level playing field now.

The best education is to just watch and make films. It's evident when you look around that most successful young filmmakers are self-motivated and self-taught.

How did you engineer your first big break?

Dumb luck. My first music video opened a lot of doors. At the time I was making short films for a church. As you can imagine, not the most creatively fulfilling gig. I scoured through Facebook looking for musicians to collaborate with and stumbled across a small local artist: Snowden. Luckily they needed a music video, so I directed an ultra-low budget piece for them. To everyone's surprise, the video blew up on VEVO and ended up getting a lot of attention. About a year later I made the move to LA and here I am.

How does each idea take shape for you now - whats the osmosis process - do you have any consistent forms of inspiration?

The writing process is always unpredictable. I feel like the idea always hits you once you put your brain to rest. I'll listen to the track dozens of times and go for a walk. It's often very helpful to bounce ideas off people but I really try to come at it from somewhere personal. It's a vulnerable, draining process, and I can't say I've quite figured out a reliable, systematic approach yet.

Jon Waltz was fantastically captured - where did the idea come from, and how much did you have to work with to execute it?

It's all in the lyrics. The track called for something moody and contemplative. The artist never wanted to be in it, so I approached it as a narrative from the beginning, but the story itself wasn't the centerpiece. It was all about capturing a certain feeling.

The execution was an ordeal. The little funding we had from the label fell out at the last minute, and we had to cancel the shoot. After deliberating on it for a few weeks, I decided that this project was worth enough to me that I would take on the full costs. We went out with a guerrilla crew and my measly life savings. Fortunately the video turned out alright.

What was the shoot like?

Up until the last minute, I was sure it would all fall apart. Luckily, I had an amazing producer in Chris Black, who helped wrangle everything together. We'd also made some friends in South Central from the last rap video I did, so that helped a lot. Once we got to set, it was a surprisingly lax shoot. Out of necessity we had to approach it from a verite angle, since most of our extras didn't really stick around. It was a run and gun affair. Lots of illegal situations.

Labels dropping out, does that seem to be common? How often is the pressure on the director to kick in their own funds to bring a project to life?

Videos fall through all the time. Sometimes the labels just don't pick a treatment. Sometimes they shelve the video once it's been shot. My situation for Bang was pretty unique, as it was my sole decision to continue the project. Directors are never pressured (that I've heard of) to inject their own funds into a video. At worst the director will forfeit his fee so that the video can be properly executed.

'Bang' was something special for me. I'd been living in LA for about 6 months without creating anything, and I couldn't take it anymore. Hopefully I'll never feel that kind of desperation again.

Low budget videos are the trend nowadays, are you worried we'll be seeing more major acts taking advantage of well meaning directors/producers?

Totally, it's already happening. Directors are approached all the time with pitiful budgets, even from major labels. Often the coolest and most creatively open artists have the lowest budgets. It's a fine balance for a director, as we're constantly straddling the line between art and exploitation. Hopefully the labels will up their budgets one day or you can graduate to commercials. Gotta pay the rent somehow.

You've got what commissioners call "mad heat" - what's next?

I've been working on a couple projects with Interscope and Dazed that will be out in the next few months. Week in and out it's the same grind though - writing treatments. I'm also trying to make more short narrative and doc projects apart from music videos. Just keeping busy.

Rumour mills and water coolers from LA are hearing hushed whispers of a feature effort, other than a concert film, in the next 12 months... (Anything we can land a scoop on?)

I've put off the feature game for now. I'd love to focus on short content for a while. While I definitely have aspirations for a feature one day, my heart is currently in music videos and commercials.


Token Quick Questions:

Favourite MV of all time?

UNKLE's 'Rabbit In Your Headlights', directed by Jonathan Glazer.

If you could make a video for any piece of music through history, who would it have been for and what would it be?

Anything by Phillip Glass.

What are you reading at the moment?

Weird Twitter.

Desert Island time - you're traveling on the worlds largest floating library. Every form of modern media in existence is cataloged and held on the ship. Suddenly, ice berg time. The onboard lasers can't melt it, mission control confirms you're now in the Bermuda Triangle, and you're going down fast. Which Led Zeppelin song do you have in your head as you grab three films and three books to keep you intellectually stimulated?

'Stairway to Heaven'. In reverse.

And which films/books would they be?

1984, The Trial, Signal to Noise.

The Shining, There Will Be Blood, Dumb and Dumber.

Make sure you head over to our Loud Visionaries section to keep up-to-date with all the features we post this week (8th-14th September 2014).