Dave Ma

Tell us about yourself.
I’m the son of a greyhound trainer; former gas station attendant; former kebab shop server; former coffee bean hauler; and a director/filmmaker. I was born in Sydney, moved to London. Currently sunning myself in California. It’s been a slow lap of the globe.

What is beauty to you and how do you define beauty?
I’m constantly surprised at what other people think is beautiful – so perhaps I’m not a good person to ask. In terms of my work I tend more towards dark abstract beauty. I don’t like conventional things and have always found beauty in things that a lot of people find disgusting. Anything black and decaying is pretty amazing. I’d have to say I feel true beauty when I look at NASA photographs of the universe. I could spend hours looking at galaxies and nebulae. Spins my mind in two.

At what moment did you realize you wanted to pursue film occupationally?
I’ve always wanted to pursue different forms of art – drawing, fine art, photography. But film and stories and documentaries and music videos became really important to me as a teenager. I can think of a few moments… The first was watching Anton Corbijn‘s video for Nirvana‘s ‘Heart-Shaped Box‘. That had a big impact on me. The colours are so vibrant and it was the first time that I felt there was room for something deep and abstract that actually worked as a stand alone piece of film art in music videos. The other was watching Ron Fricke‘s Baraka as a 15-year-old in a cinema near where I grew up in Sydney. It showed there for 7 years straight – every Wednesday night. A girl I dated took me and I didn’t know what I was getting into. Ten minutes in I was mesmerized and shocked that a film could so strongly convey a thematic message without dialogue or script. Baraka made me want to make films that might make someone else feel what I felt watching it.

You’ve directed many music videos and worked with many artists. What experiences have been particularly memorable? Why?
I shot a video in Chernobyl for Delphic. That was insane. We stayed inside the zone of exclusion and filmed in and around the abandoned city of Pripyat. Everyone we met made us drink a shot of vodka with them before we could film them. We’re talking Ukrainian beaker-sized shots. “Best protection against radiation,” they all said. I wasn’t arguing. We spent most of that shoot drunk and I ended up chasing a horse around a field in the rain.

Let’s talk about “Clair de Lune.” A big portion of this MV is shot in a moving car and at dark. Did this pose any challenges in filming?
Nothing apart from the usual problems on a night shoot with no money – cars breaking down, ending up at the wrong locations. Everyone was super committed and made it happen – Rachel Parsons and Kelsey Reinhardt, our two actors were amazingly patient as we made our way through the night. There were a few scenes that we were shooting outside a bunch of houses at 4am. We were rolling a car in neutral down a steep hill with no lights on, which was a bit scary at times. We had to keep the noise levels down and sneak around hoping no one would call the cops. I couldn;t believe we we didn’t have a single run in with the law on that shoot.

What was the creative vision for Flight Facilities’ Clair De Lune?
I spent a lot of time when I first came to Los Angeles driving over the Hollywood hills and into the San Fernando Valley. I started imaging what it would be like to rob a liquor store, lose my shit for a night and drive my car off the highway. So perhaps it was wish fulfillment. I’ve always had an interest in split personality disorders, so the ambiguity of identity and having a side to yourself that could coax you into crossing a line  became an important idea in that video.

In Delphic’s music video, the colors are slightly unsaturated and there is emphasis on stillness in movement, with the subjects looking head on at the camera. What was the inspiration for this video? You travelled to Chernobyl to document the world’s worst peacetime nuclear disaster as it currently stands. What did you learn from the visit? Was the city as you expected?
You’re exactly right. That video was very much an exercise in photography and portraiture. At that time I was obsessed with symmetrical framings. I’d just read an article about elderly people moving back into the radio-active villages around Pripyat (where it’s illegal to live but everyone turns a blind eye). And I wanted to make a video that was really real and hopefully meaningful and could portrayed a part of the world that has such negative reputation – but is actually a beautiful place. We started in the abandoned city and moved outwards in search of life that could be anywhere in Europe.

Your work has taken you all over the world. You started in Australia, and since have been to London, Sweden, and others. What travels have been particularly memorable? Where do you hope to go next?
It’s all been amazing. I’m constantly saying that the best part of my job is traveling or getting to realize things that I wouldn’t normally get to do. Right now, I’m pretty keen to shoot a lot in America. This country intrigues me and I want to explore it. I’d also like to go to Jamaica one day. Or anywhere in the Caribbean. Anywhere warm, you get me?

Where was Spanish Sahara shot? Did the weather serve as a detriment during filming?
That would be telling! That was a crazy shoot. It was like we were heading out into another realm as we drove to the location. There were large eagles or hawks that would literally stand their ground in the middle of the road playing ‘chicken’ with the car. The cold meant we needed a lot of whiskey to get through the day. I think the only real problem apart from being cold was when we found ourselves having to reverse our 4WD backwards down a long winding road that was covered in ice and had a 40 feet drop off to one side. The whiskey made it seem real fun at the time. Watching Yannis get swooped by a massive bird of prey was a special moment too.

What do you like and dislike about the film industry?
I can’t say I do dislike it. There’s always going to be things that suck or pull you off course in any aspect of daily life. As long as you keep making things you feel passionate about then everything will be okay.

What have been your favorite projects thus far? Why?
Apart from the ones I’ve mentioned – working with my brother and his old band Lost Valentinos for ‘Serio‘ is filled with a lot of good memories. It’s the only video I’ve shot in Australia and we filmed around all the places we went as kids. We shot on nothing but love. I spent a few weeks editing it while staying at my brother’s flat in Bondi. Surfing and editing and coffee was a good intense way to work. The drum circle at the end of that video is one of my fave sequences in any video I’ve done.

Who and what inspire you?
Space, Steve GullickNirvana, Attenborough, PT AndersonJoaquin Phoenix, Thirty-Two, Fugazi, my friends that make music, my friends that make music videos.

What songs are on your personal playlist?
Thor’s Stone / Forest Swords (I cannot stop listening to this song!)
Never Run Away
/ Kurt Vile
City’s Full / Savages
Yonkers / Tyler
That Loneliness / Jagwar Ma
Get Free / Major Lazer
Oblivion / Grimes
Gallons of Rubbing Alcohol Flow Through the Strip / Nirvana

What are three things most people don’t know about you?
1. I want to be in a plane crash.
2. I hate it when  anyone says ‘Bless You’ after I sneeze. But I say nothing.
3. My father is Chinese.

‘WHOLE NEW WAY’ // The Horrors from DAVE MA on Vimeo.

For more of Dave’s work, check out his videos.