Alex Turvey

Posted by Fabio 22 October 2009

Recently gaining recongnition as one of 15 creatives who will define the future of arts in Britain by the Independent. Alex Turvey is a director, designer and illustrator with an eclectic oeuvre of projects ranging from music videos to illustrated charity cereal boxes.
We caught up with Alex to find out more about his work.

Where do you live?
East London, London Fields.

Does your surroundings influence your type of work?
Growing up by the sea, Cornish folklore had a huge effect on my creative thinking as a child and it’s still with me today. The theatrical, macabre, ritualistic and often sexual performances that I witnessed being paraded through the streets of local villages have definitely left their mark on my work.  One particular favorite is the Obby Oss festival. Each May, a horse-like chap, the ‘Oss’, dons a gruesome mask and a huge black cape under which he tries to catch young maidens as they pass through town. Powerful stuff when you’re a young boy in a small town with a lucid imagination.

At what point did you discover that directing was an interest of yours?
I had a very creative upbringing, as my mother is a costume / textile designer and my father an illustrator. I spent most of my childhood clambering around in both their studios, sticking Letraset to walls or airbrushing spaceships and WWF heroes onto any white surface I could get my hands on. For as long as I can remember this is what I’ve loved and known that I was going to do. 

In fact I recently found some photos of me at my Dad’s studio, aged six, wearing nothing but a vest, a blond mullet and wielding a golden sword, a boombox and a tripod which I actually still use today.

In the summer before my third year at university, I decided to enter an E4 animation competition. I came fourth, got told by Russel brand that I had a sick mind, and simultaneously changed my attitude towards design. College crits seemed less important than doing my own thing, and it was also then that I began to focus more on moving image over graphic design work, which all seemed a bit too corporate for my liking. After the competition I was also asked to pitch on a Channel 4 Ideas Factory commercial. Somehow I won the pitch, which was a huge boost considering I then went on to graduate with my work already on television.

While at university I had also begun to work closely with a Norweigan designer Ariel Hofstad, who shared the same ideals as me—we were both set on running our own studio, developing our own style and not having to compromise our creativity, where at all possible. As soon as we graduated we decided to form a design partnership, which we called Elefant Art.

Obviously clients and money were a fairly massive obstacle, in that we had neither, so we both took agency positions in London and Norway respectively, where we learnt how to run our own business, building our freelance work in the evenings. I spent a year obsessively working every night over ichat to Norway, often till 5 in the morning, building our name and client list rapidly. 

Our breakthrough project was for a bespoke shoe manufacturer who was making outrageously expensive football boots with Formula One technology. The project earned us enough design press column inches to earn more clients and quit our day jobs.

All the while I was still obsessed with film and animation and desperately wanted to become a director, but had very little idea of how to go about it. I decided the best way would be to just try and make something and so I teamed up with a friend and decided to invest some of my savings from freelance work into a music promo idea I wanted to make. 

We were given a MSTRKRFT track and the whole project was a ridiculously steep learning curve. The video tuned out completely different to how I had envisioned it, probably because in reality the video I scripted would have cost about £500,000 to make and required a team of 900 but we only had a couple of hundred quid and a team of 4.
However, soon afterwards, I won a pitch against 300 film makers to direct a video for Grizzly Bear with Warp Films for the BBC Electric proms.

I found I was developing my own voice in film and design and decided to leave my design partnership to set up my own studio. In 2007 I was signed to LOVE as a music promo director and have been directing ever since. This year I have also signed with Strange Beast, and La Pac in Paris.

How would you describe your style?
surreal folk horror with sequins.

Through a background of design did you understand and develop techniques or rules that you now apply to directing film and video?
Definitely I think the composition of the imagery I use within my film is a direct product of my design background, It was also pointed out to me recently that my end product is scarily accurate to my story boarding, I think I must set subconscious rules and bounds.

Your works seem to avoid computer based effects. Do you come up with new natural effects and methods by design or by experimentation?
Nearly always experimentation, Im very spontaneous, which is a good and bad thing, but spontaneity whilst shooting can lead to some rather wonderful discoveries! Nothing sickens me more than being told to do it in post.

Plus my animation skills are limited so I have to rely on having exciting footage to composite, I try to build a library of hand made effects with most projects.

You were commissioned by Dazed & Confused to direct “FRANKENFASHION” a short fashion film. Can you tell us more about that?
When Dazed asked me direct a fashion film to be screened at the BFI, I was terribly excited, but also a little scared as this was my first step into the scary world of fashion.

It was personally the most intense process Ive ever undergone to create a film, as I had to take on 95 % of the post myself, and still stay focused on the creative.

We also pushed the limits of a one day shoot, trying to stay calm in a studio filed with 3200 feathers, attacking you from every angle, was a feat in itself. Not to mention the risk we took with our amateur prosthetic.

But the end result has been a big leap forwards in my work and has opened some very exciting doors!

You have also worked on some wonderful print projects. Do you go through stages of wanting a break from film and therefore choose to work on more print for a while, or vice versa?
Thank you! I have to say print can be a very welcome break after a weeks spent agonizing over very frame of evry second of footage, then suddenly having to create one still image can be a huge breath of fresh air, but sooner or later I get the itchy and need a cinematic fix. I think the two disciplines have a hugely positive effect on each other.

Who would your ultimate collaboration be with, and why?
Easy… Kanye West. I’ve always wanted to work with him. Despite his ridiculous level of commercial success, he still pushes himself creatively, which is something I really admire. I have quite a few ideas, and let’s just say, they’re glittery… failing this, Karl Largerfeld!

Can you talk to us about any of your current or future projects that you are particularly excited about. 
I have a ridiculously exciting fashion / horror film set to go into production this month, as well as this im scripting my first short which im so excited about, but im keeping underwraps for the time being… Im also pitching on some very interesting music promos and commercials, and im set to shoot the new Lilly Wood & The Prick artwork very soon as well as lots of interesting design projects.

What genre do you find interesting in the current visual culture?
I’m not really following any current trends, but I have been getting excited by old analogue camera tricks and editing techniques of late. German and Russian films of the 20s and some 50s/60s French New Wave gems are great sources of inspiration. I recently saw Louis Malle’s Zazie dans le Metro at the British Film Institute and the surreal, sped-up sequences blew my mind.

What is your favorite time of the day?
Very early morning if I can catch it, especially if I am in my home town in Cornwall. Theres nothing better than a brisk morning cliff / beach walk allong the Cornish coast.