Interviews

Published on November 25th, 2019 | by Percy Crawford

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Director J.R. Saint’s Risk That Turned Into A Career!

Prominent director, J.R. Saint bet on himself and it paid off.

Well, he figuratively bet on himself. With limited funds and no backing, J.R. Saint took a chance on himself when he received a call to shoot a video. The catch was, he would not be paid for the video. Saint took full advantage of the opportunity and after shooting the video “Bandz A Make Her Dance), things took off for him. Not only did things take off, but he learned a valuable lesson on risks taking as well as not being timid in chasing opportunities. J.R. has shot everyone from, 50 Cent, The Game, Chief Keef, Machine Gun Kelly and many more. He’s also worked with companies such as, Walmart, Panera Bread, Moncler, Jos A Bank, HeartGard and many other well-known entities.

We discuss what it’s like working behind the lens for everyone from local artists, mainstream musicians as well as Fortune 500 brands.

How are you doing, my man?

J.R. Saint: I’m great, man.

Where are you based out of?

J.R. Saint: I’m out of Boston and New York. I’m between Boston, New York and L.A. I’m originally from Lawrence, Mass. Which is a Hispanic neighborhood outside of Boston.

How long have you been providing these dope visuals?

J.R. Saint: I started in 2010, but the first real big video I did was, “Bandz A Make Her Dance” in 2012.

How did you get into being behind the camera?

J.R. Saint: I’ve always had an eye for things as a kid, ya know. I was working a regular 9-5 job selling coffee and donuts. I started a recording studio. I’ve always had a passion for music and visuals. Basically, I started a recording studio in the Boston area. And it was a big time need for visuals. This was around 2010 when it started becoming affordable where you could actually shoot a good video at a reasonable price. I ended up getting my master’s degree in finance. I grew up as a troubled youth. I got expelled out of school for bringing a weapon and drugs when I was 15. But then I ended up getting my GED and got my bachelor’s and master’s. But while I was doing that, I had a kid really young. I used to play some college hoops and shit.

So, when I finished school, I ended up getting that 9-5, and I quickly realized that office life ain’t for me. I can’t sit still. I have ADHD overload over here. So, I ended up doing some quick visuals. With those, you end up not being on a project for like 6-months at a time versus a stagnant 9-5. You work that 9-5 and you’re in the office everyday doing the same bullshit. I have always been a dreamer. I had a studio that I was doing part-time. I ended up leaving that and going full-time. When you mix music, it’s kind of like editing videos. It’s the same shit; same process. While in the studio I learned how to edit music real good. Eventually, my clients were looking for video. All on the local market in Boston. So, I was like, “Fuck it, man. I’m gonna learn.”

Sounds like you taught yourself.

J.R. Saint: Yeah man. I researched shit on my own. I never went to school for this shit. It’s funny, but I got a saying, “I never went to school for this, but everybody that I hire does.” I started doing videos in 2010 just for the local market. I clearly had a niche for it. I got good at it real quick. That attracted the local artists, and then eventually it caught the eye of some celebrities. They were like, “This is dope, let’s work.”

How did you go from shooting for local artists to doing the, “Bandz A Make Her Dance,” video?

J.R. Saint: I’ll tell you a funny story about that. it was a weird situation. “Bandz A Make Her Dance,” was the first real big video I did with 3-major artists on it. I got a call and they were like, “Hey listen, we can’t pay you to shoot the video, but if you want to come out, it’s an opportunity.” I had like a thousand dollars in my account at the time, spent the last of my money to go out there for an opportunity and it changed my life. I did that video, took that chance and that turned into me shooting a ton of big videos. That opportunity turned into a career just by taking a risk.

So many people would be telling you that you would be crazy to do that for free, and I would be the dude telling you to jump on it.  

J.R. Saint: You know what it is, people’s minds are generally trained to not take risk. When you’re growing up, what do they tell you in school, study hard and go get a good job. That kind of eliminates your mindset from being a dreamer and taking chances. Like me, I learned at a young age, I’m Puerto Rican and I remember seeing my father dedicate his whole life to a company, for them just to pack up and leave. So, I always told myself, I’m never going to be in that position. I’m going to create my own path. People don’t understand, taking risk could change your life. Taking that risk changed my life. It legit changed my life. It made me millions of dollars and gave me a successful career.

I didn’t know my journey on my path, but I knew I loved music and being creative, but I didn’t know that I was going to land as a video director. I went from working with local artists. These artists wouldn’t even pay me my studio rate of $40 bucks and hour. And now they are hitting me up like, “Yo, I got $20,000 for a video,” and I’m like, “No, I can’t do it. I’m so busy.” That’s why I have always remained humble and tried to help. Even to this day, I’ll shoot videos for local artists to try and help them blow. If I believe in them and they are good kid’s, I’ll help them out. I don’t think I’m boujee or anything. I’ve shot, Fetty [Wap], I’ve shot, The Game, I’ve shot, 50 [Cent]. I’ve shot all of these guys and directed videos for them. Even though I have done all of that, I still try to give back and remain humble and keep it going. It’s been good, man. It’s funny though because you’re absolutely right, people are afraid to take chances, man.  There is so much shit out there.

How important is building relationships and being reliable in your line of work?

J.R. Saint: Listen, I was on Instagram the other day, and I’m seeing these directors with just bad business practices and complaining how somebody didn’t pay them and they owe them a couple of hundred bucks. The way the film industry goes… all of these people are focused on the immediate couple of hundred dollars. They lose track of being great. All these creators and film people are so focused on making a couple of hundred dollars, they don’t understand, you gotta do dope shit. The money is going to come. Doing shit that’s outside the box and being creative and taking chances. That shit could change your life. I know personally. I grew up with 6-brother’s, dirt poor in the projects and this shit took me around the world already. I have been to Israel to shoot a video with an Israeli artist. All types of crazy shit.

You not only direct music videos, but you shoot commercials for some big-time companies. Elaborate on some of the work you have done and the people you have worked with.

J.R. Saint: As far as commercials, I have worked with fashion brands like, Moncler, I’ve directed for, Jos A Bank, Men’s Wearhouse. It’s funny because everybody glorifies the celebrity stuff because I’ve shot a lot of celebrities. I filmed, “Bandz A Make Her Dance,” Ray J, “I Hit It First,” The Game, “Ali Bomaye,” 3-Machine Gun Kelly videos, 5-Chief Keef videos, 3-Fetty Wap videos, Shy Glizzy. Anybody who is somebody in hip-hop, I pretty much worked with at some point. But people don’t really know that because I don’t really wear it on my chest like that. I do but I don’t. It’s good and it’s bad. It’s bad because you see all of these directors that are below me getting more clout on the internet. So, now I’m on this PR campaign trying to get exposure.

But then you have brands that I have worked with, I shot Walmart’s Black Friday web spots. I shot Panera Bread web spots. The list goes on and on… Fox. The branded stuff is great because not only does it pay better… it’s sad, but it’s more professional. Me not having a film degree, I had to transition. A music video can get ratchet. You don’t really need to understand the process. When you start working with corporate America, you gotta be able to put your suit and tie on; not literally but conduct yourself in a professional manner. Me being the guy with a troubled start, the school and things like that helped open those doors.

When someone comes to you for a video or commercial, do you give them the vision, or do they tell you what they want, and you bring it to life?

J.R. Saint: It can work both ways. When it comes to music videos, 99% of the time, I’m coming up with the concept based on the song. The industry is weird. I’ll get burnt for saying this but, I hate working with record labels. They just make things ten times harder, and a lot of the times you’re not dealing with creativity. You’re dealing with kid’s out of college that don’t know the urban industry. If they don’t know urban, they’re going to try and tell me what’s a hot urban video or urban song. I know what urban is. I’ve accumulated billions of YouTube plays. My name is attached to billions of YouTube plays.

Record labels make it very challenging. So, a lot of my relationships with, Fetty, Chief Keef are personal. There is no middleman. I call them up and say, “Let’s do this.” Usually with videos, 99% of the time, I’m coming up with the treatments. I’m sitting down, listening to the song and coming up with an idea. And then I communicate the idea with the artists which is challenging because a lot of artists… I’ve learned over the years with treatments, not to be so verbal. They want to see visuals, so it’s more like a visual montage. That’s a trap too. These record labels are just burning young directors. They are getting 30 directors to write treatments. Some of these directors are spending 5-6 days on these treatments, not getting paid and then they are stealing ideas from them. If you can survive in this music video business and make money, then you can handle any business. This is one of the slipperiest business around. There are so many components to video production that I had to learn.

It’s not just showing up with a camera and writing ideas. You gotta deal with a whole production side. When a client or label is spending $100,000 on a video, they want to see where their money went. “Bandz A Make Her Dance,” was just me and one other helper; shot it, edit, color… everything. Now I’m dealing with a 50-team crew that I have to manage. I had to produce it, direct it. I’m one of those directors that shoots his own stuff 90% of the time. It was fun, but it’s a lot to learn. I’m at the stage now where I’m comfortable running big crews. I’m looking to do other things still. I’m still not where I want to be. I look at other directors and I’m like, “This dude is a legend compared to me.”

How do you know, Luke Cervino because that’s my man and he’s hooked me up with several people, so I always like to get the backstory as to how you all linked with him?

J.R. Saint: So, I met Luke through, Monty. Monty is a good friend of mine. I have known him for 7 or 8 years. He’s another example. I met him, he was a good dude, we hit it off and now we’re trying to take his shit to the next level. I always tell people, it’s not about the money. I want to create dope shit. I want people to be like, “J.R. is a fucking animal. This dude is next level.” No matter what I’m doing for, Monty or anybody, I just want to take my shit to the next level. Luke works with, Mont and I think I bumped into Luke in Miami or Atlanta the first time and we have just been chopping it ever since. Solid dude, ya know.

Be sure to check out J.R. Saint’s work at www.directorjrsaint.com



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