Music industry director Hannah Lux Davis champions women behind the lens

As International SWAN (Support Women Artists Now) Day celebrates its 11th anniversary on Saturday, March 31, 2018, FF2 Media is proud to support the mission of highlighting the creative endeavors of female film writers and directors.

Included in this year’s spotlight is director Hannah Lux Davis, known for directing music videos for American artists like Ariana Grande, Hailee Steinfeld and Fifth Harmony. She has also directed the feature-length documentary Simply Complicated following famed singer/actress Demi Lovato through her struggles with sobriety, bipolar disease and her road to recovery.

In a recent interview with FF2 Media, Davis discusses how being a female filmmaker has worked to her advantage, the value of “paying your dues” and the stamina it takes to stay creative.

FF2 Media: Having directed many music videos, what compelled you to direct a feature-length documentary, Simply Complicated? Was directing a documentary always your goal?

Hannah Lux Davis (HLD): I’ve always been interested in storytelling, but with music videos it’s not something I often get to dive into, and when this opportunity came along to direct Demi’s documentary I was really intrigued by the possibilities in this unknown territory for me. I had worked with Demi and her camp several times over the years and I was no stranger to her story (or so I thought), so I knew there was a compelling story to dig into, and that tying it all together for 90 minutes would be an immense challenge that was going to push me out of my comfort zone. I saw the potential of creating something that was stylized and entertaining, but also incredibly inspiring to others. I wasn’t even an avid documentary watcher, so it really was a case of being thrown into the deep end!

FF2 Media: We’re now living in a time when you can see a visible shift of equal work for women in entertainment with the Time’s Up and Me Too movements. What have been your personal challenges of being a female filmmaker?

HLD: I’m often asked about the challenges of being a female filmmaker, but in all honesty I feel like being a female has worked to my advantage. Perhaps in the beginning of my career there was that feeling of needing to prove myself, but I think every young director feels that way, male or female. A female’s perspective is sought after in the creative industry, and it’s exciting that more and more brands are recognizing that.

FF2 Media: What is your advice to those young, female PAs hoping to direct their own films but having to “pay their dues” on male-dominated sets?

HLD: I’m a firm believer in paying your dues in some capacity. I was an intern and a PA for a few years before I became a makeup artist on set, and there’s a lot of value that comes from putting in that time. However, I found being a PA absolutely terrifying! Not knowing what my task was going to be for some reason just haunted me! I remember I’d never be able to sleep the night before a shoot, nervous I’d oversleep my crack-of-dawn call time or I’d get lost on the way to some far away location in the middle of nowhere (back when I was a PA there were no smartphones and we’d have to print out our Mapquest directions!).

My advice would be to do your research and study the call sheet before you get to set. When I would show up to a music video or a commercial shoot I’d know the DP’s body of work, for example, and it made for easier networking. Remembering people’s names and knowing their role on the set is also key to being super helpful. Another piece of advice would be to dress appropriately, don’t be on your cell phone (like, ever), pay attention, and always be aware of your surroundings. It’s also important to be polite and friendly to everyone— but don’t be a flirt.

FF2 Media: When it comes to pitching music video ideas or documentary subjects, what stories do you gravitate toward? Do you have a consistency of vision?

HLD: When it comes to ideas, I let them stem from the song/artist. I like to create concepts that are specific to each project (meaning I hardly ever recycle an idea) and I think it’s important to have an awareness of where the artist is at in their life, career, etc. so the video feels personal and relevant to them. The artist is essentially the “leading role in the movie” and you have to pair the right actor with the right role to really make magic.

Since doing Simply Complicated, I have had the itch to tell more stories in the documentary space —features length and docu-series— and want to continue to tell stories about women in the music industry.

FF2 Media: Do you ever see yourself directing a feature? 

HLD: Definitely! It’s really hard to find a project of that size that’s the right fit. I’m so used to quick turnarounds with music videos and commercials, overlapping timelines and cramming three to sometimes five projects in over the course of a month, but a feature film is a serious time commitment! I got a taste of it with Simply Complicated —we shot from May to July and were in post until around September of last year— and it really did become my life! That being said, I’m reading a ton of scripts and keeping my eyes peeled for the right one.

FF2 Media: What projects are you working on now?

HLD: At the moment, I’m in post-production on a music video I directed with Halsey for her track “Alone” featuring Big Sean and Stefflon Don, I’m prepping two jobs (one commercial and one music video), and pitching on a bunch of others.  

Something I’m also super excited about is a podcast I’ve started with my good friend Sandy Haddad (Executive Producer at Chromista) called “Females in Focus!” It is a weekly podcast highlighting women in film and video. From directors, to producers, to editors and cinematographers, each week we feature a female filmmaker and explore a raw, in-depth, and inspired conversation of what it’s really like to be a woman killing it behind the lens. We’re currently in the process of recording a backlog of episodes and we’ll be releasing them wherever podcasts are consumed SOON!

© Brigid K. Presecky (3/30/18) FF2 Media

* Find out how you can participate in SWAN Day events or create your own:

Photos courtesy of Director Hannah Lux Davis

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Brigid Presecky began her career in journalism at Chicago's Goodman Theatre. In 2008, she joined FF2 Media as a part-time film critic and multimedia editor. Receiving her Bachelor of Arts degree in Communications from Bradley University, she moved to Los Angeles where she worked in development, production and publicity for Berlanti Productions, Entertainment Tonight and Warner Bros. Studios, respectively. Returning to her journalistic roots in Chicago, she is now a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and certified Rotten Tomatoes Film Critic.
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