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A Conversation With: Nina Ljeti About Directing Music Videos, Having A Band and Her Creative Path

Janset: You are a multi-disciplinary artist who has done… almost everything. You have directed a feature film, starred in a performance art piece with Marina Abramovic, composed music for a Gucci short film, you’re in a band and you have directed music videos for our beloved musicians Phoebe Bridgers, Wallows and Soko. How did you end up chasing this creative path?

Nina: Oof, I would say it just sort of happened. I moved to LA to write and direct my first feature (Memoria), but I knew I didn't want to limit myself to that. I was always curious about experimenting with different mediums so with the release of Memoria, I got into making music videos and directing commercials. That's also when I started a band with my friend Jacob Loeb. Janset: You can totally say that you can’t pick a favorite but which one has brought you the most joy out of all these projects? Nina: Definitely can't say. Though I get the most personal satisfaction/liberation from writing and performing in Kills Birds.

Janset:What was the hardest part about following this career path? As creative jobs require two times the luck and hard work, did you struggle a bit before landing on these amazing opportunities? Nina: I'm lucky to say that I didn't struggle as much as I thought I would simply because I met the right people that helped me launch my career. A stroke of luck. But at the same time, I'm an immigrant here in America so I don't have any family connections or roots. Even now, with all my accomplishments, I still have to hustle, and it can still be hard at times. Not to mention that as an immigrant you're also dealing with feelings of loneliness and separation from your family. That adds to the challenge. Janset: What are the biggest inspirations behind your work?

Nina: Chris Cunningham, punk music, Paul Thomas Anderson, thrash metal, emo kids from the mid 2000s, anything 80s and anything cringe. And this video:

Janset: Can you tell our readers a bit about how the music video shooting process works? Do you come up with the concepts on your own or follow a specific vision that the artist has provided for you?

Nina: Most of the time I come up with the concept. Occasionally I’ll collaborate with the artist on an idea just to refine it to their taste. It’s really important for me that the artist feels represented and proud of what we create, so I love collaborating with them if they're into that. Once we have the concept, I’ll direct it and then edit the video. In the case of Phoebe’s video, I also shot it and did the effects. Janset: Phoebe Bridgers, Mac Demarco and Soko are names that we deeply care about in this platform. How was working with them? Were you completely starstruck?

Nina: Phoebe Bridgers is so incredibly talented. It was such a joy working with her because she really is a unique artist in this industry. I feel lucky that we got to make something together. Mac DeMarco was a friend of mine before we worked together but nonetheless I was really excited to collaborate with him on the Crowded House video. He’s a great actor. I think he's going to win an Oscar someday. Soko was the first major artist to ask me to make videos for her, so I'll always be appreciative of that. I'm still proud of what we did for "Ocean of Tears." Janset: What do you think is the hardest part of being a director, having most, if not, all the responsibility weighing on your shoulders to produce a video?

Nina: I actually don’t think that the responsibility is the hard part. I think if you communicate with your artist/client/crew clearly and respectfully, then you can work together to make a kickass video.I would say the hardest part actually is dealing with labels and clients that don't respect your work as a director. For example: I find it offensive when a label asks directors to pitch on a video with a 1-3K budget. Not only do they have all these expectations for what the video should look like, but they're asking you to pitch with ten other directors and they're not even offering an adequate budget to make the video happen. All that says to me is that the label is expecting a director to essentially make something for free because they don't want to invest the appropriate amount of money. No label should ever ask any director-- new or established-- to make any video for less than 5K. (And if it's 5K, then the director should be allowed to do whatever they want without having to pitch). Janset: I absolutely loved the music video that you directed for Alexandra Savior. What kind of camera and equipment did you use to shoot those lovely frames?

Nina:Thank you! We shot that on a 16mm camera. We had no other equipment except for a single light that we used for some night sequences. Tehilah DeCastro was the DP on that and she really knocked it out of the park. Side note: Alexandra was such a joy to work with. She really made those shots stand out. Janset: You make lots of other things besides shooting videos. You have made a lot of short films, commercials and mixed media for single covers. Do you find it overwhelming wanting to produce so many creative things in various domains ?

Nina: Sometimes, yes. So many ideas and so little time to execute them all. I worry that I'll die before I get to see all my ideas come to life, haha. But I'm trying to teach myself some patience. Janset: How do you think being on stage, in front of an audience and being behind a camera is different? Are you more of a stage gal or do you prefer staying behind the scenes and organizing things?

Nina: It's so different! When you're behind the scenes, your work speaks for you. When you're on stage, you have to speak for yourself. I would say that I enjoy being on stage with my band more than most things in this world. However, there is a certain magic to working on projects where there is harmony between the crew and artist. A lot of my videos also have comedic elements to them, so those sets are a lot of fun. The video I did for Wallows and the commercial I directed for Tsingtao are definitely up there as being some of my most memorable experiences on set. Janset: As a musician and a director for music videos, what do you think is the biggest problem in the music industry that we have to overcome?

Nina: With streaming platforms, musicians aren't able to make enough money to survive. And labels no longer see the financial benefit of investing money in music videos because they really only exist on YouTube now (where there's endless content to sift through). Because of that, directors and artists aren't given appropriate budgets to execute video ideas the way that they would like to. What results is lower quality work, an unlivable wage for music video directors, and an artist that is frequently disappointed/feels misrepresented. I wish labels could see the potential that music videos still have to once again be an extension of the album itself. There's a lot of artistry to the medium that can really help complete the experience of listening to an album. Janset: What advice would you give to up-and-coming creatives who are reading Tonitruale?

Nina: My best advice always is to trust yourself and focus on your goals. Take advice from others, but don't let it cloud your instincts. And be kind. There's not enough kind people in this industry, and I think the more that we love and support each other on the way up, the better the conditions will be for all of us. With that said, don't be shy. DM me if you ever have any questions, and I'll try to answer them all xx

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