Today, we have the pleasure of interviewing award-winning director Owen Brown, a director in the music industry who’s worked with Barack Obama, Google, Bob Moses, ZHU, Rema, Apple, and Stella Artois.
He’s won over 15 major awards, including multiple Webby and Clio Awards. Nominated for Best Music Video at SXSW’s film festival, he clinched a grand prize for film design in 2021, served on the festival jury in 2023, and this year, has an official panel accepted in the SXSW program called, “How to Make a F*cking Awesome Music Video”.
For his latest directorial project, he created one of the largest land art installations in Arizona history for the band A R I Z O N A’s most recent music video. For anyone not familiar, they’re a major band with over a billion streams on Spotify.
He recently won three Clio Awards for it, including two golds! His project won more Gold Clios than any artist other than Harry Styles. Plus, he won the top directing award of the year, beating music videos by artists like Kendrick Lamar. Wow!
Hi Owen! Firstly, congratulations on your last great project!
How did this fantastic and crazy idea come about?
Thank you! People use the phrase crazy idea all of the time, but this time, it really is one. Let me tell you the story by starting at the beginning.
I started my creative agency CTRL5 to help artists create powerful visual worlds across their album rollout campaigns. We use one central design foundation to connect all of their visuals as they’re releasing a record, from album art to music videos, all the way through to feature-length films.
And that’s exactly what I did with A R I Z O N A for this project. Working with the band, we decided on a visual identity that combines iconic Arizona landscapes with modern art and design principles. Picture a James Turrell light installation inside of the Grand Canyon. That’s the world I set out to create through film.
After I established our design foundation, I started thinking about what kind of art to build in an Arizona landscape and discovered the field of land art.
My idea was to build one of the biggest pieces of land art in Arizona history, in front of sprawling Arizona red rocks, and shoot a performance of epic proportions with the band A R I Z O N A. Given how much Arizona the state has inspired the band, I wanted to create a film powerful enough for the band to inspire fans in the state.
I started researching artists in the space and one immediately jumped out as the person I most wanted to work with: Jim Denevan.
He’s considered one of the world’s best land artists. His art is in MoMA. His work sells at Sotheby’s. He’s been featured in the New York Times. In short, he’s a big fucking deal. He creates art with sand, using nature as a canvas to make vast land art that can span hundreds of feet. Or sometimes, even miles.
I found his email address online, wrote him a message, and hoped for the best. I thought there was a next to zero percent chance he’d respond. But the next day, he wrote back. The email had just one sentence: “Let’s make something huge.”
It took months of work to pull off, but with Jim’s help, that’s what we did.
What makes this music video so special? What did you accomplish that’s never been done before with this project?
The land art we made is the second biggest piece of land art in Arizona history. The only land art that’s bigger in the state is James Turrell’s Roden Crater.
It’s also the biggest piece of temporary land art ever made in Arizona history.
It’s the first time land art has been created for a music video. We built the 300-foot-wide art to function as a production design. It’s a fine art as a film set.
On top of that, we also made a spectacle of light unlike anything captured on film before. I know we’ll talk about that more later, so that’s all I’ll say there for now.
That’s incredible that it’s the first time a major work of land art has been created for a music video. What was the biggest challenge?
Finding the location was by far the hardest part.
I sent out hundreds of emails to government agencies, like the National Park Service, who grant permission to film at Arizona locations. We were rejected by almost everyone.
After finding a few possible options, I flew to Arizona to scout locations with Jim’s son Brighton, who’s also a land artist. After a week, we couldn’t find anything that would work. The land was either not flat enough, not wide enough, or too hard. We also couldn’t find anywhere with sand and red rocks. Plus, no one would let us fly drones.
On the last day – after 100+ locations pitched and 20+ locations visited – we still hadn’t found anything. At that point, a location scout from the Navajo Nation government was taking us to different Navajo Nation sites. But at the end of the day, we had no possible options.
Heading home defeated, we drove over a bridge and our perfect location appeared on the horizon, just like a movie. The site was a spectacle to behold – a dry riverbed with sand as pristine as a beach in the Caribbean, in front of red rock formations taller than skyscrapers.
That wasn’t just my first day working with the Navajo Nation – it was my first time ever being in the Navajo Nation. Shortly after, we partnered with them to create the project.
How did the Navajo Nation help you bring the project to life?
Our Navajo Nation team not only helped us find our location in a dry riverbed, they also went door to door to talk to everyone near it to get their approval, as well as find local Navajo artists.
Through that, 30+ locals in the small town of Round Rock, Arizona came out to support us. The Navajo Nation fire department even offered to bring us water in their fire truck, which we needed to mold the sand into pyramids.
It was essential to me that Navajo residents were part of the entire process. I wanted to make sure the community was behind us, as well as give them the opportunity to be involved. I’d never been in a Navajo community before this project, so it was a really uplifting experience to go on this journey with them.
Tell us more about what it was like working with the Navajo?
It’s become one of the most emotionally resonant relationships I’ve had as a filmmaker. They helped make the impossible possible, and I was truly moved by the experience. I’ve heard Scorsese praise the Osage that he worked with while filming Killers of the Flower Moon. It seems like that experience had a big effect on him too.
During the shoot, we heard ALEXA Minis were used with the Defy Rhythm Track and a jib. How many days of shooting were there, considering you were outdoors and had to take care of all the equipment?
It took 20+ people seven days, working every day from sunrise to sunset, to build the 300-foot-wide land art. I spent that week capturing the build process by myself, attempting to create epic outdoor cinematography with a camera crew of one.
Once the land art was complete, I directed a crew of 30+ armed with gear like a 30-foot jib, a robotic dolly system (the Defy Rhythm Track), three drones, and 100+ synced lights – all setup in a dry riverbed.
To say it was hard to get it all in that riverbed would be an understatement. It was a nightmare. Sand got stuck in the gear. Trucks got stuck in the sand. I truly couldn’t have done it without my Arizona production team at ReelBros.
I needed a camera with a sensor that could capture the beauty of that first-of-its-kind outdoor spectacle, which is why we shot with ALEXA Minis. I wanted a small camera powerful enough to capture something colossal.
We paired the ALEXA Mini with different camera movement platforms that gave us the ability to capture a range of shots without fear of crushing the pyramids. The last thing I wanted to do was destroy the art we’d just spent a week creating. So we mounted the cameras on the Rhythm Track and the giant jib, which we used to swing the camera over the land art.
Across the land art build and the two days of filming post-build, we shot for nine days. If you count the shooting we did while searching for the location, as well as the time spent filming the mirror monoliths afterward, we shot for a total of 17 days.
What other film equipment and lenses were used, and how did they contribute to achieving the expected result?
The only other thing worth mentioning is that we used Richard Gale Clavius lenses. I knew I wanted lenses that would give me interesting camera flares so my DP Jacen Sievers found those, and they did the trick.
The set lighting was truly fantastic; the night was magical! Can you explain how the lighting setup was created? How many people were involved?
Thank you! I wanted part of the film to feature something unlike anything the world’s ever seen. So for the grand finale, we built a lighting rig the size of a football field to pair our 300-foot wide land art with a 1000-foot tall light show. I know it sounds a little crazy, but the result really is a spectacle unlike anything captured on film before.
The spectacle was essential to the story. For the song “Moving On”, I wanted to create a beacon of hope for anyone struggling to move on from a difficult time. So to create a beacon of hope, we built a beacon of light, 1000 feet high.
I worked with Arizona company LIT Lighting to design the show. They 3D modeled the land art, then we rendered what the light show would look like above it.
The colors I picked for the light show are all colors found in the Arizona sky, like reds, blues, yellows—even purples from Arizona sunsets that we saw first-hand on set.
Many of the colors were inspired by James Turrell. I’d been thinking a lot about him for this project, especially because his masterwork, Roden Crater, is in Arizona. In the film, for example, the lights in the final night scene are yellow and blue, directly inspired by yellow-blue imagery from Roden Crater.
Why did you decide to make this director’s cut of the music video?
The original version looks like it’s mostly performance-based, and the director’s cut weaves in documentary storytelling.
I wanted to tell the story of working with the Navajo Nation to create art designed to inspire hope, which wasn’t in the original version of the music video. It took six extra months after we released the first music video to make it. In total, I’ve spent over a year creating this version of the video. To me, it was worth it.
I included footage of our Navajo artists and partners to thank them and show how much they contributed, as well as shared the story of how it all happened. It’s a beautiful story about how a small community came together to create a big piece of art, and in the process did something that’s never been done before.
Thank you so much Owen for sharing your experience and these valuable insights with the community!
Below is the whole team!
Director: Owen Brown @owenbrownyc
Lead Land Artists: Jim Denevan @jimdenevan – Brighton Denevan @brightondenevan
Creative Agency: CTRL5 @ctrl5studios
Production Companies: ReelBros @reelbros.tv – CTRL5 @ctrl5studios
Navajo Nation Team: Edsel Pete, Raquel Bahe, Kaene E. Antonio @navajonationtvandfilm
Producers: Colby Sassano @colbysassano – John Hebrank @thephotojohn – Owen Brown Editors: Jeb Hardwick @jebhardwick – David Labuguen @dlabuguen – Josh Chomik @chomik
Director of Photography: Jacen Sievers @jacensievers
Associate Producers: Jake Posner @posner – Joshua Granados @joshgrana2 – Josh Chomik Lighting Design: Lit Lighting @litlighting
1st AC: Eric Danescu @ericdanescu
2nd AC: Tyler Chandler @tylerchandlerdp
Camera Operator: Josh Chomik
Camera Movement Co: Reelmotion @reelmotion.tv
Movement Operator: John Hebrank @thephotojohn
Jib Operator: Chance Martin @chancemartin__
Camera Operator: Alex Schreer @schreerluck
Lighting Grip: Chris Kirma @kirma.c
Land Art Team: Jared Red @reditornot – Nathan Yoch @nathan_yoch – Dave Blum @daveblum1 – Khalid Honi @artisticfreedom_ – Jon Hammond, Andrew Arneson, Cordell John, Marlena Slim, Augus Begay, Lydell Attakai, Samantha Begay, Gerald Begay, JR Yazzie, Brian Yazzie
Stylist: Elena Lark @elenalark
VFX: Jeb Hardwick @jebhardwick – Andrew Gooch @ultra.studio
Color Co: Company3 @company_3
Colorist: Tyler Roth @ty.roth
Color Producer: Nadia Dabibi @ndcambio
Photography: Abi Polinsky @AbiPolinsky – Josh Chomik
Drone Photography: Brighton Denevan @brightondenevan – Josh Chomik
Photo Assistant: Lucas Brahme @lucasfauxreal
Label Team: Chelsea Danker @cheldank – Mandee Mallonee @mandeemallonee
Stay tuned for the next article and in the meantime, if you missed our latest article, go check it out.