The View From the Top: An Interview with Running Up That Hill’s Director Jo Roy

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Jo Roy is a Canadian director working in the music industry sector. She is currently making, frankly, some of the most creative music videos on the web – most recently showcasing Meg Myer’s incredible Running Up That Hill; an energetic video bursting with invention that was hand-coloured by school children. Via email, FinalBoss awkwardly extended our hand and asked her to dance.

FinalBoss: Hi Jo, when I first messaged you, I had assumed that “Jo Roy” was a man. Does that happen often or is it just me?

Jo Roy: Haha, yes that does happen quite a lot!

FB: Where are you based?

JR: I was born in Canada, but I’m based in Los Angeles now.

Jo Roy Director of Running up that hill

FB: Did you train as a dancer? What made you want to step in and be “director” on top of that?

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JR: Yes, I trained as a dancer for over 20 years and initially pursued it as a career with no intention of doing anything else. It was my reason for moving to LA at 18. But, during my journey, I recognised the film medium as a way to extend choreography past the body movement and into the cinematic decisions to make it even more effective, and got caught up in the creativity of filmmaking which ultimately pulled me away from dance as a main focus.

I consider music videos to basically be visual choreography, so it felt like a natural progression, and becoming a director gave me more control over my own career by being proactive and creating independently. I totally love how filmmaking contains every other art form within it. There is no end to the learning and potential.

I totally love how filmmaking contains every other art form within it. There is no end to the learning and potential.

FB: Tell me, did you happen to win So You Think You Can Dance Canada…?

JR: No haha! That is a story for another time.

FB: All of your music videos are all so visually gorgeous (“Frost” is like nothing I’ve ever seen before). So many current music videos follow someone around a club, some dancing, then end. It’s manufactured and it’s drab. But your videos feel like actual stories. What do you make of the current world of music videos?

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JR: Thank you so much! The world of music videos can be challenging in that there is a lot of competition and limited resources. Countless directors are constantly exerting beautiful creative energy to develop concepts for projects that aren’t selected, so the risk of creative burn out is very real, and one can get caught up in hedging their bets about what a client wants instead of following their instincts. If you want to understand more about the challenges facing the music video world, I recommend you check out the incredible Daniels initiative — — where they outline the issues and propose solutions. I’m hopeful that this mindset could change the situation.

That being said, I do approach every song with the understanding that it has its own story arc built into the song structure, and I allow that to shape how the video develops. I think there is a difference between having an overall concept for a song and going into fine tune a video precisely to the music.

It’s about having the courage to pursue the person you know you want to become, through the struggle, forging ahead into the unknown and trusting yourself.

FB: Did Meg Myers approach you to do the music video for Running Up That Hill, or the other way around?

JR: Meg approached me to do the music video. She was absolutely wonderful to work with; a true artist. We clicked immediately and found we were going through comparable things in life and had similar philosophies. Meg had initial ideas about a lot of the visual components including children, butterflies, stars, books etc. which really inspired me. I rearranged her ideas a little bit into the format of a colouring book. I was very lucky to have the trust of Meg and her team throughout, and can say that the finished product is exactly how I hoped it would be, which is a gift for a director.

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Meg Myers Jo Roy on set of Running Up That Hill
“We clicked immediately and found we were going through comparable things in life and had similar philosophies.”

FB: Does Running Up That Hill have a storyline? Was there something you particularly wanted the audience to feel? It’s about growth, and evolving, right?

JR: The video is indeed about growth and evolution. It is about having the courage to pursue the person you know you want to become, through the struggle, basically forging ahead into the unknown and trusting yourself. I loved the idea of starting realistically with the journey of a moth from a caterpillar (a recognisable metaphor for change even understandable by children) and then following a more fantastical route with the moth going to space to communicate the message that the sky is the limit!

FB: How did you come to the decision on getting children to do the colours? It’s beautiful.

JR: Thank you! The children doing the colouring was central to the concept for me from the get-go. I’ve always wanted to incorporate children’s artwork into a music video, so this seemed like the perfect opportunity.

Children's artwork on Meg Myers' running up that hill

FB: How did you even shoot something like that? Did Myers perform in front of green screen and then you edited her over the top of it, or is it stop motion? Is she hand drawn? Rarely do I ask “How did they do that?” but I’m just stumped and so curious.

JR: Really good question! A lot of people assume that the effect was done with rotoscoping, which is basically a style of animation that involves tracing an image frame by frame. However, I had an insight that a comparable effect could be done by actually painting Meg to look like animation in front of green screen, and then just using contrast in post to isolate the black lines and white fill.

It was important to me that the performance be captured live-action because I think animated music videos that don’t actually feature the artist sometimes lack their essence and aren’t as compelling to watch for fans. It was also a hell of a lot cheaper and faster than full animation! Here is a BTS look at the shoot itself:

FB: How long did the whole process – start to finish – take? You told me it was pretty “crazy”.

JR: The whole process took about three months. It involved so many different factors: choreography, stunts, animation, VFX, the colouring and scanning process, and over 2100 children. We had to be very organised before the shoot to figure out what needed to be captured on set and what could be added in post.

After the shoot, we discovered that it would be more efficient to create images that could be moved around with motion graphics instead of doing full animation, but that process was still lengthy. Then, we printed 5000 single colouring pages which were brought to the Edmonton area in Canada (shout out St. Albert) and distributed along with sets of crayons to 10 schools to be hand-coloured, and sorted back into order. (We had to randomly mix the frames before distributing them to keep the animation from looking choppy from blocks of different grade levels).

Meg Myers on set of Running Up that Hill

Then we flew the frames back to Los Angeles. The hardest part was scanning them because the wax crayon rubs off onto the scanner and creates lines, so we had to wash the scanners every 30 frames or so. My VFX artist had the foresight to set every printed frame with tracking markers so that they could be then digitally synced efficiently. I had the most amazing crew and all of their names are credited at the end of the video if anyone wants to check them out.

FB: Are there any particular music videos out there that you suggest we should check out?

JR: Oh yes! One of my all-time favourites is “Days Go By” by Dirty Vegas. Now that is a good example of telling a story musically and with sophisticated and restrained filmmaking. For example, check out how intentional the camera movement is.

Another one of my favourites in “The View from The Afternoon” by Arctic Monkeys. The raw cinematography and palpable passion in the performance is so beautiful. One of my biggest guilty pleasures is “Fantastic Baby” by Big Bang. It’s a lot more commercial but so satisfying to watch with the editing and performance aspects being especially on point.  Also, and this isn’t a music video, but I’m a huge fan of Gregory Colbert’s “Ashes and Snow”. I think it is one of the most poetic and inspiring visuals I’ve ever seen, especially from a movement perspective.

Jo Roy can be followed on her Official Site, Vimeo, and you can watch the video for Running Up That Hill here. For more interviews with incredible talents like Jo, and to learn about how to get into the film industry – and the creative world in general – be sure to check out our dedicated page!

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