Words by:

Avesta Keshtmand is a British-Afghan filmmaker living and working in London.

Last year, Keshtmand was one of five unsigned British directors to win a place on Three Minutes – Crack Magazine’s incubator scheme funding five music videos by rising talents. The scheme is produced in association with our production company Ground Work and made possible by Burberry, Shure and BFI NETWORK.

Growing up on the pirate frequencies of grime and UKG, Keshtmand’s gritty, impactful style is tailored towards artists who have something to say. Having assisted London director Bafic on a number of multidisciplinary projects, her work has an experimental style built on clear ideas and distinctive presentation. For her Three Minutes video, Keshtmand found a new visual language. 

Emma-Jean Thackray is the Leeds-born, London-based bandleader, composer,  multi-instrumentalist, vocalist and producer whose limitless approach to music-making sits at the heart of her explorative, off-centre jazz sound. Inspired by both Alice Coltrane and The Beach Boys, Thackray’s debut album Yellow will be released later this year. Through ecstatic pop hooks and intricate instrumentation, Thackray paints a bold picture of a future where all music carries meaning for the body and mind. In her own words, Emma-Jean wanted to create a “nourishing listen, and a record that people could connect with spiritually, beyond the notes and the words.” Lead single Say Something, and its video directed by Keshtmand, serves as that vision in microcosm.

Inspired by the themes and aesthetics of sci-fi, psychedelica and B movies, Thackray and Keshtmand tell the story of an outsider at a dinner party full of mass-produced foods and judgemental side-glances. Lost in her own world, Emma-Jean is then transported to somewhere more natural, flowery and free.

Shot at Purpose Group‘s Tottenham creative space and working with industry-leaders like colour-grading house Company 3, Greenkit lighting, Panavision camera hire and Glassworks VFX, the visual brings the music to life with a cinematic sheen. Reflecting on the collaboration, Thackray says: “Musically, I love when my compositions are a vehicle for others to improvise on and bring their own personalities to the sound world, and visually this is how we worked too. I gave the idea, the seed, and the director and producers took things to another level and together we’re all part of the bloom.”

Watch the video in the player above. Now that it’s out in the world, we spoke to Avesta about working on the project and being a part of the inaugural Three Minutes scheme.

© Jerry Dobson

What was your response when you first heard Say Something?

It wasn’t what I expected. I think I always assumed that I direct grime videos and things that are really true to my upbringing, but I was really happy when I first heard this track. It was a really nice opportunity to show my range as a director and not be stuck. I was so excited to mess around with it and see where we got. I didn’t know Emma before but I can definitely be added to the fanbase now. I can’t wait to hear the album.

Were there any moments or lyrics in the song that captured your attention?

The lyrics are so direct, there are no frills, which I love. That’s what I try to embody when I make things and think about things. I always think about actually saying something, so I really appreciated the message behind this song. I also love various bridges – it gave me room to really switch things up throughout the track. It was fun to work with.

Bridges as in structurally in the music?

Yeah. Normally you’d get verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge-chorus then you end. But with Emma, she’s been really inventive and has multiple different sections where the timing changes. There were loads of moments to try different things for all those changes.

How were the conversations with Emma-Jean about the track?

They were really good. With Emma, the main thing I really enjoyed was how she was so in charge of her own vision. She knew what it was and she knew where she wanted to go, I felt really comfortable sitting with her and talking about things. We talked about sci-fi movies, her likes and dislikes. I like to be considerate when I’m directing and working with her gave me a real chance to be compassionate and work out how I could best realise her ideas with my skills.

There’s a nice balance in the video of fantasy with some quite clear human themes…

Yeah. We didn’t want to allude to anything against beauty or expressive dressing, I’m a big fan of that! It was more about using symbolism to portray a story that Emma and I could both really relate to – feeling a bit left out in a crowd of people who are different to you. We wanted to imagine being able to manifest your way out and into your own world with your soul tribe.

How did you capture that slow-moving, stagnant atmosphere for the dinner party?

Steadicam was the main thing – that gave us so much room to reimagine how it could look. At first I had a shot-list that was very static and classical but once we got the Steadicam I was having so much fun watching the Director of Photography go round the table. Because Emma had such amazing sci-fi movie references we had ideas about food and makeup which pushed the idea of this strange and supernatural world. 

What was it like directing all these different elements like styling, set and lighting?

The team was so good – I just had to tell them what my idea was and they would bounce ideas off and come up with amazing things of their own. Emma really trusted me so once we had the team it became easy. It was really fun being able to mess around and find the best way of telling the story. It was daunting at first but if your team is good you don’t need to worry, you just trust them. 

How was the shoot day itself?

Not every shoot day goes to plan, and I like to feel really calm when I’m working. I don’t want to continue this idea that directing is a stressful role. When things go wrong, we just made creative decisions. Everyone was an expert in their field so we could come up with the right response. It wasn’t about what was happening – it was about our attitude. I think it went a little late but that’s just the nature of production!

Can you identify some specific references you used?

We referenced the sci-fi movie Logan’s Run but we took it into our own hands and thought about ourselves and how we can imagine a whole other world. It’s about being stuck inside and what happens when you’re unable to branch out and explore the earth around you. Even with the food, we referenced Soylent Green and factory foods versus things that felt freeing and outdoors. For the flower set we looked at Kanye West’s Sunday Service performance at Coachella and we also looked at Richard Mosse’s photos of Congo.

What was it like creating something of this scale through the Three Minutes scheme?

It was amazing. I got the opportunity to work with so many amazing people who are great at what they do. I also realised an idea that I wouldn’t be able to do at this level in the position I’m in. It’s really helped me feel excited to make more things and see what I’m capable of. It’s also helped me realise my style. It’s not just about the final video, it’s everything that came before it.

When you haven’t worked with budgets or been paid, you can see yourself as lower than what you can be. It’s really helped me realise that I deserve to be treated fairly.

Are there any moments or aspects of the Say Something video which you’re especially proud of?

You’re always going to have a critical mind as a creative, you’re always going to want to make things better but you have to say stop at some point. I’m proud of everything. Not just the video but every person involved in the video both before and after. I’m proud of it all. And it’s just nice to make something… and be paid for it! I really struggled to access this industry from the position I’m in but this has really given me an opportunity to see a future in it.