Q: Tell us about yourself. How did you discover your passion for film?
My love for filmmaking started when I was 10 years old. I am native to Los Angeles, CA, which is a rare breed. At a young age, I started out as an actor and was in national commercials and a couple of films. I was in a Disney movie called The Million Dollar Kid and then appeared in a Steven Spielberg film called Minority Report. I was supposed to only be on set for a couple of days, but then Spielberg kept me on the Paramount lot for three weeks. It was being on that set and watching him work that really inspired me to go from in front of the camera to behind the camera.
From there I started creating my own short films on DV cameras with any friends I could convince to be in them. I fell in love with the entire process of creating. It was an outlet for me as a kid and an escape.
Q: How did you move into directing music videos and why?
My love for music videos started like most kids, watching MTV’s “Total Request Live” in high school. I would race home to watch the countdown every day.
It was a really cool time for music videos, because a lot of them were becoming much more cinematic. They were starting to tell real visual stories that were closer to movies. Watching those videos, I was able to learn about specific music video directors because TRL put their names at the bottom of the videos. I started researching all the directors I liked such as Hype Williams, Anthony Mandler, Spike Jonze and David Fincher.
After high school, my dream was to go to USC School of Cinematic Arts because I was told by everybody in LA that that was the best place to go. That’s where I went and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in film production.
As soon as I graduated, I was in Los Angeles and I remember thinking, ‘what now?’ I was dropped in the middle of Hollywood with a film production degree, which pretty much meant nothing.
I reached out to a director that I really admired at the time, Anthony Mandler and was able to sit down with him and pick his brain on the music video industry. He set me up with a production company in LA who really helped me connect the dots and mentor me throughout the beginning of my career. Some of my first music videos were with artists like Chris Brown, Nicki Minaj and Mary J. Blige. I got very lucky with some of the artists that I worked with early on. From there I just kind of fell into it and it caught like wildfire. I still love the process and the people I get to meet along the way.
Q: What’s your favorite music video you've ever worked on and why?
One of the first videos that I remember thinking “wow I can't believe I do this for a living” was a video called “Salud” starring Wilmer Valderrama, who's a longtime friend of mine. It was a fun experience because I hadn't been a producer of a large music video set before and it took place in an old Western town where they now shoot the show, WestWorld. It was a huge set with elaborate costumes and production design. We even had horses! I got a Director of Photography (DP) that I really looked up to and always wanted to work with named Joe Labisi. I remember watching him work all day and taking mental notes on his process. I realized that being a producer meant that I finally have the ability to hire the people I've always wanted to work with.
My favorite recent video was the Kelsea Ballerini “homecoming queen?” music video. I was excited because I got to work with Shane Drake who is a good friend of mine and also a Taillight director.
It was a very challenging music video because of the technicality of the camera set up. We used motion control to speed up time. Everyone on set came together to pull it off. And I of course always enjoy working with Kelsea Ballerini and the Taillight team because of the unique concepts and fun collaboration. Shane always pushes us to create amazing art, and as a producer it’s always fun to take on that challenge!
Q: What makes your directing style unique?
I have the ability to bounce between genres in a way that's very natural and fun for me. I love being able to maintain consistent, cinematic storytelling, while pushing the boundaries of genre. I enjoy taking an artists’ image and honing in on their specific style to create a beautiful aesthetic with a narrative structure, while putting my unique twist on it.
Throughout my career I’ve found that I have the most fun working with a variety of artists across multiple musical genres. People tend to stay in one lane, but I love to switch it up and learn from all walks of life.
Q: Where in the world would you want to shoot and why?
I want to shoot in Nashville. All of the country music shoots I have been a part of have been in LA, so I’d really like to shoot something in Music City.
I've shot all over the world in places like New Zealand, Japan, South Africa and Bulgaria. When we shot in Tokyo it was the one day of the year that it snowed so that was a big deal. It typically only snows one day a year and we were able to capture it on camera.
What’s weird was we actually wrote in the script that it was snowing, having never been to Tokyo, and not knowing that it doesn't usually snow there. It was serendipitous that it ended up snowing when we were shooting that scene.
I love experiencing new places and capturing its unique aesthetic on film. When you are traveling, you have to live in the moment and experience it through the lens of curiosity.
Q: This is the last question so we’ll make it an easy one. Do you have a nickname and is there a story with it?
Everyone calls me by my last name, Sandler not to be confused with the actor, Adam Sandler.
To this day people accidentally call me Adam or they ask if we are related. At one point I'd been asked so many times that I just started saying yes.
Back in grade school, I would jokingly tell my teachers that he was my uncle, so I could get out of tests and homework, but eventually they’d meet my parents and realized it wasn’t true.
I have yet to meet the real Adam Sandler, but hope to someday.