WTF is a Creative Director, with Charlie Twaddle


 

Words by Sean Hetherington

In anticipation of Neuw Denim’s video with Jeremy Zucker, we caught up with creative director Charlie Twaddle to chat about creative directing. 

This title remains somewhat of an enigma in the film industry and can mean a ton of different things depending on the job, project, and vision—with even more points of entry to ‘becoming one’. Neuw Denim just launched their latest campaign featuring NY-based musician Jeremy Zucker, and we couldn’t help but wonder who gets to think of this stuff? Aside from looking the part (*cough, in the right denim jeans, cough*) what makes a creative director you know, a creative? director?

To get a little insight into the campaign, I chatted with creative director, Charlie Waddle. Just a few years ago Waddle was in design school in New Zealand. Now he’s in LA directing music videos and brand campaigns for heavy hitters like The 1975, Tove Lo, Icona Pop, Porter Robinson, and even Spotify. We talked about his unique career path, launching his new creative studio (Only So Blue), and what it was like working with Zucker. 

 

Hey Charlie, so let’s start out simple. Where are you from?

I’m from Auckland originally and I spent four years in Australia. Now I’ve been in LA for 10 years.

Did you go to school in Australia?

Yeah, I actually went to business school in Melbourne but didn’t find that path was right for me. So I came to the States and ended up doing some work in productions—working in music videos, running around sets, picking up trash, and grabbing coffees. Stuff like that. It weirdly inspired me and I wanted to figure out how to get involved in the industry.

From there, I moved back to New Zealand and went to design school, then did advertising for a couple years before making my way back to the States. There’s just not the same opportunities to make a career out of the music industry in New Zealand. So I was drawn back to LA to do music videos and it has since kind of grown into expanding beyond music into other creative fields.

So would you say it was worth going back to school?

Definitely. I went to media design school in Auckland and it’s the most valuable education I got. It was one year, super intense. They treat it like a job and they’re really hard on you, but you get schooled. I’d say that’s where I got my creative confidence. School taught me how to trust my ideas and figure out how to make them happen. So it was really, really valuable for me. But I think if you don’t go to school, it’s about trying to find your creative confidence. How can you find the thing that you’re good at, and then refine those skills?

I’d say that’s solid advice for any type of art school. Any other advice for aspiring creative directors?

Yeah, any way in is a good way in. That would be my first thing. And not being entitled to think you’ll come in and immediately be an art director. You just have to get in, be involved, see how the whole process works, and refine your own creative passions as you go. Because it’s so competitive, just showing people that you’re hard-working and willing to do all the extra stuff—that goes a long way. That’s how you earn the trust of talented people. I’d also say it’s never too late. I finished business school and started working, and then realised I needed to get more skills. So, going back to design school was a moment where I had to ask myself, ‘Oh, am I gonna do this?’ But, it was worth it in the long run.

Sounds like it. So, when you moved back to LA after design school, how did you first break into being a creative director?

My first stepping stone to music video creative directing was working for a company that represents music video directors. That’s where I learned how the whole industry worked. The role of creative director was something that you heard about, but it wasn’t so well defined. That role was initially held by record labels. But as labels thinned out their staff, creative director was one of those roles that became freelance. I thought I could do that because I knew all the parts involved and had a good network of talented creatives I had access to and liked working with. That’s how I met my business partner, Samuel Burgess-Johnson.

I was just gonna ask about that… You’re starting a new creative studio called Only So Blue. Tell us about it.

Well, I first teamed up with Sam a couple of years ago. I was more on the video/photo side and he’s a really talented graphic designer. It was just a really nice match, and we were able to see how complementary our skills and interests were. So we were just kind of like, ‘We should really turn this into a studio.’ We first started working with some dance and pop groups which helped us get established on the music side of things. And since then we’ve started to branch out into branding. We got an office last year to really go for things but then the pandemic hit and had other plans. We held back on the release of it to wait until the world opened back up. At the moment it’s just been word of mouth, but we’ll probably go live just before this campaign releases. So 2021 is the year to open it up properly. I’m stoked.

That’s exciting. Congrats. And now you’re doing this Neuw Campaign with Jeremy Zucker. What was it like working with him?

He was great, honestly. He has a very specific vision—knows what he likes, knows what he wants. But at the same time, he’s collaborative and open to ideas. And really good attention to detail. I love working with people like that. We shot this in New York during the pandemic and even though it was a dark time, it was great to be there. From a career standpoint and being from New Zealand, getting to be in New York making something was just a really cool feeling. I obviously wish the circumstances could’ve been better, but being able to see that resilience and being part of that city just felt special. It’s just always been a dream city for creatives. And it was important for the campaign because we wanted to convey that New York feeling.

Well, it looks great. Were you familiar with Jeremy Zucker’s music before the project?

Yeah, my friend told me about him initially and I got into his music through that. And as this Neuw campaign took shape, it became clear that Jeremy would just be a great fit. So it was cool to be able to mold this towards his style and he was a really natural fit so it wasn’t hard.

Did you get to collaborate with Jeremy Zucker on the campaign? What did that process look like?

Yeah, Jeremy was very collaborative throughout the process. We started with initial insights, with the aim being to highlight how artists were able to stay creative and inspired within the craziness and uncertainty of this past year. Jeremy was still clearly someone thriving in spite of the circumstances, so was the perfect fit. Then once he was on board, we wanted the campaign to be very centred around him and his process, so collaboration was key. There were countless calls, emails, and texts to make sure everything felt authentic to him. That even led to us changing the tagline of the campaign, which came out of the narrative dialogue Jeremy wrote himself for the brand film. Once we heard ‘Find It’ we knew that was the perfect summation of everything we wanted to say.

How do you go about incorporating the denim as a focal point for the project and how does Zucker fit in?

The great thing about denim is it doesn’t have to be the star of the show. Some garments can almost act as a distraction when shooting a campaign, but denim just seems to effortlessly elevate everything else around it. This project was no different, obviously, there are a few specific angles you need to capture for product details, but we knew that if we focused on Jeremy and his craft, the jeans were going to be such a natural feature of the imagery that we wouldn’t have to force it. Neuw were great about letting us take this approach too.

What was your favourite part about working with Jeremy Zucker?

The great thing about Jeremy is he knows exactly what he wants and really knows who he is as an artist. This made the process a dream because we were able to bounce ideas and notes back and forth with a lot of clarity and direction. It also didn’t hurt that he’s just a really nice guy and looks great in a pair of jeans.

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