Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Viking Interviews Ray Kay

The February issue of Viking features music video and film director Ray Kay. Kay has hit the big time—directing music videos for the world’s biggest stars: Justin Bieber, Lady Gaga, Steven Tyler, Britney Spears and more. Despite his growing success, he is every bit the humble Norwegian whose journey shows that dreams can become reality with hard work and motivation. Read on to see the extended interview between Viking Associate Editor Anya Britzius and Kay.

Viking: What was your life like growing up in Norway?
Ray Kay: I grew up in a small town on the West Coast of Norway, called Haugesund. It’s a beautiful and peaceful town. My dad was a hobby photographer and was interested in painting when I was a kid, so I must have picked up some of his passion for art when I was growing up. I was always running around with his mirror reflex camera and shooting pictures of my friends and developing them in a small dark room we built in the basement. 

V: How did you get started in the business?

RK: During most of my teens, I was aiming to work with some kind of tech business. Art, photography and directing was merely a hobby for me. When I was 16 years old, I started working at the regional TV station as an assistant. It was just a part-time job I could do when I wasn’t at school—not something I considered a career back then. But I had a lot of fun learning everything about TV production, so after a year I had pretty much tried everything I could there: camera work, editing, computer graphics, sound engineering, producing, and even hosting a youth program. Also, in Norway it’s mandatory for guys to spend a year in the military, so when I was 18 years old I was in the military for a year and ended up in a video production unit in the Navy. It was a lot of fun, so I decided to take a break before doing my studies, and work with TV production for a little while. Well, I’m still on that break! After a few years of directing entertainment TV shows, documentaries, TV promos and segments for the Norwegian TV channels, I decided I needed a new challenge. I had always loved music videos, so I decided that I wanted to direct music videos and try to make it in Hollywood. At that time most people didn’t believe that it was possible, especially since I wasn’t even living in the U.S. It seemed almost impossible for me too, but I wanted to try. So I started doing music videos on shoestring budgets in Norway, and built my way up from the bottom. 

V: How did you make the transition to the United States? 

RK: After spending a few years learning the craft in Norway and building a portfolio of music videos, I signed with a U.S. rep and shot my first U.S. videos in spring 2004. When I realized that I could get continuous work in the United States, I moved to New York in the summer of 2004. I stayed there for half a year, and then moved to Los Angeles, where I’ve lived and worked since then. One year ago, I made the move to Miami, and will probably be based in both New York and Miami from now on.

V: What is your favorite part about working with some of the industry’s top people and making music videos?

RK: It’s always been really important to me to surround myself with amazing people, be it friends, mentors or colleagues. If you have successful people around you, you can pick up on their mindset and have a better shot at becoming successful yourself. So working with the industry’s top people has obviously influenced me in a very positive direction and helped sharpen my own mindset.

V: To what do you attribute your success?

RK: A lot of people tell me they think I’m so lucky to be doing this, or that I’m lucky that made it in this industry. Making it in the entertainment business is mostly due to working harder than the competition, although it takes a lot more than simply hard work. The only thing I’ve been lucky with is that I knew that I wanted to direct at a very young age, which helped me plan and head in that direction from early on.

V: Is there a favorite musician you’ve worked with and a favorite video?

RK: Being a part of creating Lady Gaga’s success has been one of the best parts of my career so far. No one knew who she was when I shot her “Poker Face” video, so it was really interesting to be there at the moment when she broke through and see the transformation happening. 

V: Justin Bieber’s video “Baby” has over one billion views on YouTube! How was it working with him, and what was your concept for that video?

RK: Justin wasn’t very well known when we did the “Baby” video. When they sent me the “Baby” track, I fell in love with it and thought this is going be huge, so we got on the phone and pitched that we should do a modern twist on Michael Jackson’s “The Way You Make Me Feel“ video, where Justin pursues his love interest in a bowling alley that’s lit to look like a nightclub. He was fun to work with, although I mostly related to his manager and the record label. Justin seemed to have fun on set, and he entertained the crew and dancers between takes.

V: You are making you feature film directorial debut with Paramornalcy. How is that going so far?
RK: It’s a very exciting project, and will hopefully be my way into the feature world. I have an amazing team for Paranormalcy. There’s a lot of buzz about the project in Hollywood, and I’m glad the industry is as excited as me about this. 

V: Is directing a film something you’ve always wanted to do? 

RK: Yes, absolutely. It’s the most challenging task a director can get. I’m really looking forward to this. But I know it’s completely different than directing music videos, so I’m going to make sure that I’m properly prepared. I will do my homework! 

V: Do you go back to Norway often to visit family and friends? What are some of your favorite places in Norway?
RK: Yeah, I go to Norway several times a year to see my old friends and family. I usually go to Oslo and Haugesund when I go home. I think the most beautiful place in Norway is Lofoten. It’s a chain of islands that people usually refer to as the “Isles of the Midnight Sun.” Go there one night in the summer when the midnight sun is up. It’s simply amazing.

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