By Richard Crouse – Metro Canada
Director X (real name Julien Christian Lutz) has captured some of hip-hop’s most iconic images on film. His Hotline Bling music video for Drake racked up almost 300 million online views, and he’s directed promos for everyone from Rihanna and Kendrick Lamar to Iggy Azalea to Busta Rhymes, but now that he’s made the leap to the movies don’t expect a big screen musical from him.
“I’ve lived my life for almost 20 years with guys rapping or singing or singers who wish they were rappers,” he says.
“I’ve swum in those waters enough. Now that I’ve got people talking I don’t want them to talk about rapping and singing. Forgive me if that is not something I’m into right now.
“Maybe when I’m an old man doing a period piece about this time it might be interesting but I’ve always felt hip hop is like a movie right in front of your face. Chris Brown and Drake really got into a fight at a bar and threw vodka bottles at one another. Me fictionalizing a movie of that [isn’t necessary], you’re watching the movie unfold in front of your face, bullet time. For someone else, go on ahead, but there are other stories I’d like to tell and speak in my own voice.”
Over the years Director X has been connected to other projects — there were rumours he would direct a vampire film called Razorwire — but says he chose Across the Line as his debut feature film because “it was actually about something.”
“It’s about where I’m from,” he says. “It’s about Canada but a deeper level of Canadian history and Canadian communities. It’s not just a story about Toronto or a story we know, regardless of the city.”
Inspired by true events, the film is a study of race in small-town Nova Scotia as seen from the perspective of a young National Hockey League prospect. When his chance at the big league is threatened by family problems and racial tension at his high school, he must overcome intolerance, cultural tension and the odds to fulfil his dream.
“It’s a story that needed to be told,” says the director, whose next film is a sequel to the movie Center Stage.
Director X’s music video work is characterized by his own particular sense of style, something he had to put on the back burner while making Across the Line.
“I brought myself to it but at the same time there aren’t any scenes that are just pure visual fun,” he says. “There was no John Woo cool. When you’re making movies you have a responsibility to respect the story over cool awesome shots that belong in blockbusters as opposed to a narrative. But at the same time it’s not just turning on the lights and putting the camera on a tripod. It’s finding a style that aids the story as opposed to just something that is cool stuff.”
Across the Line’s story has already connected with festival audiences. It won Best Atlantic Feature at the Atlantic Film Festival and earned kind reviews at the Beverly Hills and Boston International Film Festivals, which he thinks are driven by the realism on the screen.
“It’s inspired by life,” he says, “and takes turns that only come out of life.”
By Richard Crouse – Metro Canada
Music video maker Julien Christian Lutz is better known as Director X.
“I got Julien from my mom and dad,” he writes on his website. X, he says, came from the streets.
One writer, however, suggests that the unusual name could stand for “Director X-tremely Good At Directing.”
The in-demand Canadian-born helmer has worked with everyone from Jay-Z and Nicki Minaj to Rihanna and Drake. The key to his success, he says, is leading “an artist’s life. You have to be as open as you can be to everything.
“You need to keep yourself inspired so you have to do whatever it is going to take to jog your creative brain, whether that be going to an art gallery or whatever.”
His strong visual sense — he uses graphics and letterboxing in tricky and interesting ways — is his trademark, but X says his most influential video came about “from a bad edit the client didn’t like. So I had to go in there and come up with something new.”
To keep the people paying the bills happy he devised a picture-in-picture look for the Fabolous featuring Nate Dogg video Can’t Deny It.
“It was really kind of cool and got taken on by hip hop in general,” he says. “It shook up the norm of what was happening in the genre. It became its own thing. After that, everyone did it. That was a really good moment where the ripples were felt from a piece of my work. I loved it. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. People inside the game know where it comes from, so any time someone copies you, it flows back to you.”
Today, whether it is a music video or a commercial shoot—he’s shot ads for Nintendo, Guinness and Burger King among many others — he’s learned to listen to the customer.
“Some people have the idea that the client is always wrong, and if they weren’t here everything would be better, but I have come to find that the client has an instinct.”
But he didn’t always feel that way.
“You know everything when you’re in your 20s, so you’re passionate about how much you know and passionate about how wrong they are. It’s definitely something that has to be learned. It would have been interesting if someone had come to me and explained that ahead of time, but I had to learn it like I had to learn it.”
The busy filmmaker has gleaned many lessons along the way, but his life and work boil down to one simple statement: “I’m here to make art and express it.”
On Tuesday, Director X will deliver the keynote speech at the Emerge Conference 2014, an initiative of the University of Guelph-Humber to encourage young professionals to embrace new technologies and networks.
X says he hopes to “give some of the knowledge I’ve gained over the years, in front of the camera, behind the camera and how that filters into life itself.” Other speakers include news anchor Christine Bentley, co-founder of BizMedia Dan Demsky, and Eric Alper, director of media relations and label acquisitions at eOne Music Canada.
$15 tickets for the day-long event are available at emergeconference.ca.