"I like the idea of pushing the visual image," says British director James Frost, known for his spots and music videos that fuse technical genius with humor. Frost (pictured above, right), just launched the new L.A. production company Honey Badger with executive producer John Benson and was behind the recent Active Park Assist spot for Ford through Ogilvy Paris, which features a dog parking a car, and Y&R's DieHard Batteries' spot, starring Gary Numan making electro-pop on a line of battery-powered cars. As a music video director, his work has included OK Go's This Too Shall Pass, which featured a Rube Goldberg-style machine, and Radiohead's House of Cards, which used real time 3D recording instead of cameras. While technology and engineering wizardry seem to be running themes in his work, "the traditional filmmaker in me likes to have a bookend," says Frost. "My premise has always been narrative-driven."
Having studied photography in college, Frost says he's "always been interested in what creates an image on screen." But, he adds, "I also wonder how I bring emotion into something like that. With House of Cards, people laughed at me because I wanted to know how to create a story out of it, as well as using the technology. So, the story became the world collapsing around us."
Inspiration for such technically intricate projects comes from a variety of sources; he doesn't, as he says, "sit there looking through Wired." For example, the idea to use Gary Numan in the DieHard spot came to him in the middle of the night, weeks after an initial idea he'd had about making banks of cars react to a keyboard with sound and light. (Luckily, his wife remembered the conversation, as he'd forgotten it by the morning).
To achieve these effects, he's been keen to forge partnerships with technical experts; working, for example, with Syyn Labs on both the OK Go video and the DieHard spot, and with other partners like The Mill on IBM's Data Anthem. "It can be a very laborious process; with IBM, we sat there for six weeks in post production before it finally came together. But it's important to have these alliances, and it can be very attractive to clients."
Given his oeuvre, it's not surprising that Frost has become a go-to director for experimental, tech-focused projects. He'll expand on that with his latest venture Honey Badger. Partnerships and the fusion of disciplines will be integral to the new production company, which will focus on commercials, music videos, branded content and experiential projects. In addition to six directors, the company has an experiential team that includes a designer and live screen content director, a creative producer/show runner, and an art director who will conceive, design and produce experiential projects and live events. The aim, says co-founder Benson, is to have "a diversity of talented people within different artistic disciplines" and the company will also encourage its roster of creatives to share side projects and other interests. "I would love to produce an annual and say to our talent roster 'you can have four pages each to do what you want, and we'll publish it,'" says Frost.
Both Frost and Benson point to Sweden's ACNE collective, or even the Virgin Group, which have branched out into different areas, often inspired by the interests of employees. "In between projects, creative people can disappear," says Frost. "There are missed opportunities to engage--maybe a photographer wants to do a book, for example. And these could also be other lines of revenue for us."
The new company's name Honey Badger evolved from trying to find an interesting animal moniker--only later did the pair discover that the Honey Badger is an incredibly fierce creature celebrated on YouTube for its 'crazy-ass badness'). But the philosophy behind the shop also is very much about its neighborhood, the artsy suburb of Silver Lake in East Los Angeles, known as a west coast denizen of hipsters and creatives. Frost (who has called L.A. home for 10 years after a spell in New York) compares it to London's Hoxton, or perhaps Notting Hill in the '70s. He describes Honey Badger as a "community-driven project" which will aim to bring together like-minded people who live and hang out in the same neighborhood.
So what's next for Frost as a director? Although he began his directing career in music videos in 1998 (Coldplay's "Yellow" was an early hit) Frost moved into directing spots in 2005 and now does fewer videos. But he believes that "as a director, to label yourself into a medium is virtual suicide these days" and hints that his next project may be "in a different medium entirely. Agencies want you to have input at a much earlier stage now and that's exciting. Those barriers are coming down."
See more of Frost's work below: