Ace Norton is a Director based in Venice, CA. Over the course of his career, Ace has directed videos for clients and artists such as Mercedes, Gucci, Jennifer Lopez, and Foster The People. We had a chance to sit down with Ace to learn more about his career.
How did you first get into directing? What has the journey been like, from shooting your first video to now shooting for large commercial clients?
So, I’ve always been interested in film-making, kind of since day one. I grew up wanting to be a skater, but I broke my tail bone of jumping off a set of stairs. I wasn’t able to do physical activities after school like soccer or basketball, so I got a small, cheap 8 mm camera, and I'd stay at home after school and just started making films with all my neighborhood friends. It was a way to kill the time, alleviate boredom, experiment, and have fun. My interest started there: collaborating with friends, creating, making mistakes, and being silly.
I was interested in music videos growing up as well, watching Michel Gondry videos. It was just something that I wanted to do. I felt they were doing the most interesting style content, those 90’s music videos. I wanted to do something similar to that. So, I went to USC film school, and I dropped out the third year I was there. I knew I wanted to do music videos, so I’d sneak into the animation department there with my old student ID that I still had, and I'd animate music videos for all my friends’ bands. I was a hustler. I’d go to all the local venues and say “hey, can i make you a music video” and they’d give me a $300 budget. I did a bunch of those and went to a bunch of companies and no one would sign me, and so I decided that I would start my own thing. One thing led to another, and eventually, somehow Partizan saw my reel. I was 21 or 22 at the time. They had me come on board and I started directing for them. The rest is history.
We loved you recent video for Lycra. What was the experience like creating something this challenging from a logistical standpoint?
It was for a Chinese client, so the language barrier was kind of difficult. The client was Lycra, which is a spandex and flexible fabric brand. Technically, it was really difficult. The lighting per se wasn’t too difficult, but more so the rigging. We had to rig the dancers from the 15th floor and bring them down. They could only be on the wall for 10-15 minutes at a time. If the wind was too high, it was very dangerous. There were a lot of variables in terms of environment and rigging. We shot the video in half a day. Normally, with basic filmmaking, you block out the scene. But, with this sort of thing, it was a performance, which we captured. It was no different from shooting a live show and covering it from a couple of different angles and cutting it together in the edit.
How has living in Venice and seeing the changes that have ocurred here over the last 20 years impacted the way you create content?
I think that Venice beach has always inspired me. I grew up around a one mile piece of sand that has artists living with architects, tech people, skater punks… it’s just a melting pot of different cultures. I think that for me it was always normal seeing that. I like to experiment in different genres. I'm not always doing fashion or horror. I like to play around with everything, so maybe it has inspired me in that way. I think it made me relaxed. I’m a pretty easy going... relaxed director. So, I don’t know. Maybe it has something to do with living by the beach.
I don’t think [Venice changing] has affected me as a director, but it has affected me as a resident living here. It kind of sucks because you see all the people who used to live here: they’re being bought out, SnapChat moved in, all your favorite bars are being gentrified. They're not there anymore. Actually, now that you said that, I am writing a script about gentrification. It’s a horror movie about gentrification. So, actually it has helped me a bit.
How do different types of content compare for you? What unique challenges/rewards does directing music videos vs. commercial projects present?
It’s a different animal. For commercial projects, an agency hires you to execute their vision. So, as much as you want to think it’s your idea, it’s kind of not. You’re there to support them and to make them feel confident, whereas most of the fashion/music video content comes from my brain. You have ownership over it a bit more. There’s less politics for the most part, but you’re not going to make a living doing that. So, you have to find a way to balance it.
Knowing what you know now, if you were to give your younger self one piece of advice, what would it be?
Don’t put so much pressure on yourself. Know that if you’re persistent, and you have a vision, and you’re really hungry about it, you’re going to make some great things and you're going to make some stinkers along the way. Just stay focused. Don’t worry about failure so much. You know? There will always be another job. You’re gonna be fine. If you’re a baseball player, there’s no one who is batting 1.000. You’re still an all star if you are batting .300. No one makes every shot.
What is your dream project to direct?
Probably this movie I’m trying to make. That, or these little fashion films. A dream client would be Gucci. They’re wild and funky… and they have budgets.
How accurately do your projects convey the original vision you have? What project was the closest to your vision, and furthest?
I’d say it just depends on what the project is. For instance, with the Synchronicity video, I embraced the darkness of not really knowing where things were going in the edit, and things turned out for the better. We basically went with this theme of things working in synchronicity at the same time. We shot a bunch of seemingly random scenes and cutaways, and we really figured it out in the edit. We knew the intro, and we knew the end. But, everything in the middle, we had no clue where it was supposed to go. That’s something, for instance, where we embraced the fact that we had a big question mark.
For the Simian Mobile Disco video, we knew the theme and we covered it, but we relied entirely on the edit to get from point A to B. Ones that are really accurate are mostly the commercials. For the commercials, you have to storyboard the entire thing for the agencies, so it's a big process of approval. I’d say 80-90% of the commercials that I do are pre-planned to a tee.
Can you tell us a bit about your company, Commondeer?
I started it a long time ago, when I was at Partizan. We had a lot of really great directors on it. We kind of started that way. We had Hiro [Murai] on it. We had David Gelb, who did Jiro Dreams of Sushi. It kind of fell apart for one reason or another. We kind of went our own ways and signed to different companies. I wanted to do something bigger than just me and my career. I wanted another venue to help other filmmakers. I decided to revamp that company and bring it back from the graveyard and started again with my producer, Lars Ruch.
How do you hope to see your work evolve over the next 5 years?
I hope that I’m doing the same thing, but just on a bigger scale: Movies, bigger fashion clients, and bigger commercials. I’m also working on Commondeer, so hopefully that grows as well.