An Alternative Perspective with Randy Scott Slavin

An Unlikely Visual Career Path

Randy1Not every professional creative knows they have a creative bent from birth. Twenty years ago, if you asked commercial director and photographer Randy Scott Slavin what he’d be doing with his life, the last thing he’d tell you would’ve been something in film. And even when he became a director, he never thought he’d have the interest or aptitude for still photography. And yet here we are, and Randy is becoming renowned for his skills behind both kinds of cameras, especially for his “Alternate Perspectives” series that has heated up the industry and mainstream blogosphere. We caught up with Randy between music video shoots to talk about the evolution of his career.

ADC: Tell us about where this all began for you.

Randy Scott Slavin: I was born in Queens and grew up on Long Island. I was just a regular, happy-go-lucky kid, for the most part. For the longest time I didn’t really know what I wanted to do with my life. I couldn’t really draw, I did a little bit of writing here and there, but nothing that would have distinguished me. I loved the music videos of the 90s and was constantly shooting with my Hi-8 camera but never thought about making a living out of it. I used to shoot my friends bands, one of which became quite successful actually, but it was all for the fun of creating.

When it was time for college, my dad is a doctor so I just figured I’d follow in his footsteps. I went to University of Colorado in Boulder for Pre-Med. But one day I remember sitting and watching MTV. I was like, “what the hell am I doing in Colorado? I want to be doing something glamorous and awesome in New York City!”

ADC: Back to where you were from! So after your revelation, what did you do?

Randy: I came back to New York, and I landed an internship at MTV, starting my hustle towards this crazy career that I have now.

It was an amazing time for MTV – Total Request Live was at the center of everything, artists I loved like Nine Inch Nails and Marilyn Manson were actually doing interviews and performing on this mainstream show, it was amazing.

ADC: Wow, it must have seemed incredible to land your dream job so soon.

Randy: I wouldn’t call it a dream job. I soon realized that MTV was the wrong place for me. I loved the art of what I saw going on, the magic of television, of being on set, of post-production, but I didn’t like all the other politics.

I decided to take a daytime intensive film class at NYU for three months straight. After that, I hustled my way into this game in any way possible.

At the time I was doing everything I could possibly do to grow as a director —from the worst workout videos to random interviews. I did post-production for reality TV and things like that. I was learning the business and just kind of navigating my way through. Ironically, I even got hired to do some small pieces for MTV!

ADC: What would you say was your first big break? At what moment did you say “yes, I’m doing what I want to be doing”?

Randy: My first big break was winning the Special Jury Award at SXSW for my music video for “Temporarily in Love”. The entire video takes place in a vagina during a one-night stand. It sounds ridiculous and kind of crass but I worked my ass off on it and it was sort of my coming out piece in the industry. Even today I’ll take meetings at a big agency or studio and halfway through someone makes the connection and says, “Didn’t you direct that vagina video?” Now that I do a lot of corporate work I feel lucky that the execs have a good sense of humor about it.

The biggest thing I’ve done recently was direct two series of Bank of America commercials. My team travelled around the country, talking to business owners and doing mini documentaries that were turned into 30-second commercials and two-minute web spots. We shot about 40 different pieces each round. The experience was amazing, and I felt like it gave me credibility. If an institution like Bank of America could trust me with their brand, then I knew I’d made it as a commercial director.

ADC: I understand you’ve been experimenting with aerial shooting for your projects…

Randy: Yes, and it is a total blast! Part of what’s really awesome about being an adult and having budgets is the ability to play with big boy toys. When I started seeing the new technology that was coming out with aerial photography and aerial drones, I knew I had to get in on it.

I have been flying the DJI Phantom, and it really speaks to my inner 11 year old. From a directorial standpoint, it’s a beautiful tool. You can move that camera anywhere in 3D space. You can get a beautiful flyover of Manhattan and you can get what looks like a crane shot in places a crane just couldn’t go. It’s really important to push your boundaries with new tools and technologies, and this is one I’ve really taken to.

On one of the Bank of America shoots, I was filming all over Chicago. To make a long story short, that camera and drone now live somewhere on the bottom of Lake Michigan (laughs)

ADC: You have also moved into the world of still photography, which seems like an unusual step. Most film directors start with stills and move into motion, not the other way around.

Randy:Yeah, who jumps the other way? (laughs) I had a video camera when I was younger, and I would always shoot a lot of things, but I never really used a still camera until I borrowed one from a friend in 2009. I started taking some stills and I was blown away.

Still photography had a simplicity that I had not expected. All of the time and attention that goes into film production and all the different players that it takes in order to make movies… all of a sudden, I was just a one man band with my camera. I realized I could get a much better image, a much more beautiful and artistic image on a Canon 5D Mark II or a 7D than on a video camera.

ADC: You’ve already garnered attention for some of your photo collections. One of them, featured at the ADC Gallery, was “NYC Unplugged”, a series of photos of New York City in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy.

Randy: Hurricane Sandy was an intense experience. We live on this earth, and we have to deal with nature’s wrath from time to time. I was outside, experiencing some of the wind and it was just impressive.

I shot this series because I live right on the border of the blackout in Manhattan. My wife and I were in a cab, going down 2nd Avenue, and after we crossed 40th Street, it was just darkness. It was so surreal. We asked the cab driver to keep going. I was just awestruck, seeing no lights in Manhattan, aside from just car headlights. When we got home, I said to my wife “I gotta go out.”

I went out shooting from about 11 PM until sunrise. I had no idea what to expect, walking around the city with all my camera gear. Was it dangerous? What would I encounter? It didn’t matter. I believe that part of the burden of creativity is that when you have an idea, even if it’s the most pain in the ass thing to do, you have to do it. You have to just do yourself that justice.

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