Mass Appeal’s Director’s Chair turns the lens on the creative minds behind some of the hottest music videos.
You may not know the name Jason Ano but you’ve definitely seen his work. In 2010 Ano met a then unknown EDM DJ by the name of Skrillex and set out on tour to follow the DJ’s journey. Ano had no idea that Skrillex would get signed to Atlantic records, become the most popular EDM star of the year, and win six Grammys. The culmination of that footage became Skrillex’s first video “Rock N’ Roll,” which currently has over 70 million views.
Ano also dabbles in some hip hop visuals, working with local artists Black Dave and Aaron Cohen, and more famously, he directed A$AP Rocky’s “Purple Swag.” We caught up with Jason during one of his rare returns to New York City to talk about recognition, motifs, and the power of music videos.
Mass Appeal: Where are you from originally?
Jason Ano: Greenpoint, Brooklyn. Actually, I grew up in Manhasset Long Island. I spent my childhood in Queens then went to Texas for my teenage years. Eventually I came back here for school at Columbia and I’ve been living in Brooklyn for the past seven or eight years. I haven’t really been home though. Just been on tour the past three years.
MA: What do you do on tour for artists?
JA: I do videography. Mainly mini-documentary stuff. I’m a road warrior, man.
MA: What was your first experience with music videos?
JA: Here’s a funny story. This is how crazy it gets. I first met Skrillex when he was up-and-coming, about early 2010. He just came out with “Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites.” I was doing photo stuff at this venue and he asked me if my camera could do video. I didn’t even know at the time but I said, “I think it can.”
After that he invited me to hang out with him. I did this mini-documentary of him getting signed to Atlantic Records and he started blowing up. He asked me to go on tour with him to shoot his first music video; “Rock N’ Roll.” It took me about seven or eight months to shoot.
In the middle of that tour, my boy Callendar hits me up like, “I have this dude A$AP Rocky, would you want to shoot a video for him?” Literally, this was my first day off. I was back in New York tired as fuck and didn’t want to do shit. He wanted me to go to Harlem that day and I said fuck it I’m just going to go up there and do something. So technically my first video would be “Purple Swag.”
MA: Did you hear the song before you went to meet Rocky?
JA: I heard the song on the flight back to New York. It was pretty cool, I didn’t really think much of it. Callendar is my boy though, whatever he says is going to be big I know is for real.
I did that entire video in one day on super short notice. I sort of had an idea of what I wanted to do with it. My big thing stylistically is culture. There is a lot of new shit going on in terms of culture. All these norms of what rappers are and what music videos should be about is changing. The premise for “Purple Swag” was it’s okay to be weird. A white girl with grills, the dude with the Jeremy Scott sneakers riding around on a bike, you know? It’s okay to be weird.
Ever since that video that’s been my motif. Capturing culture and reinforcing the idea that you can be weird, and it’s cool.
MA: That’s a great motif. “Purple Swag” definitely broke Rocky’s career too.
JA: The funny thing is, right after that video I was back on the road with Skrillex and I had no idea the video blew up. I was at Coachella, there’s no service there and you’re completely separated from the world, and some guy comes into my tent and says, “Yo, Drake just tweeted this ill video.” When I checked it out it was “Purple Swag.”
MA: Are you and Rocky still close?
JA: I mean he’s on a different level man, but we cross paths here and there. The best night I’ve ever had in my life was when Skrillex had his New York takeover a couple years back. He played a bunch of secret shows and there was this warehouse party where Skrillex and A$AP Rocky were together. I showed up and all of us were in the same room. I was like “Rock n Roll,” “Purple Swag,” 2011, we just killed this year.
MA: What was the first music video you remember loving?
JA: “Bring The Pain” by Method Man. It was shot by Diane Martel who did a lot of the old school ’90s stuff. That was memorable to me. The fact that you can penetrate a lifestyle, so it’s not setup, and just go in super gully and capture those moments. Those videos were awesome to me.
Then there’s the one with Mary J. Blige on the rooftop, “All I Need.” That’s the kind of stuff that I was really into. Cinematic moments of life – you can’t make that shit up.
MA: What made you want to start making music videos?
JA: I never really wanted music videos to be my career. I really wanted it to be film, like narrative plots and cinematic stuff. But seeing the impact that “Rock N’ Roll” and “Purple Swag” had is incredible; we’re talking about over a hundred million views. Just to see that impact, and compare it to what other filmmakers have done as far as their viewership and their impact around the world, I feel like music videos are a very good platform to spread a message and get noticed.
I wouldn’t say I want to be a career music video person but it’s definitely done wonders for me. I would love to pursue more. If I could break into the high end, upper echelons of the music video game I could do so much. Let me do a Chance the Rapper video, or Odd Future, then I could really show you my chops.
MA: What are the key ingredients to a good music video?
JA: It has to have culture. It has to be a snapshot of time and convey what’s happening in the streets. Also, it has to look cinematic. A lot of videos now look like home videos. The way it’s shot, the color palette and what not. We’re living in a digital world where anybody can pickup a camera and shoot a video. So a key ingredient to me is that it looks like a film, it has that texture and quality to it.
There needs to be a layers to it that give it a specialized look. If you see a Hype Williams video you know that it’s a Hype Williams video. It’s supersaturated, there’s crazy lights, the set design is different. I always want to have a stylistic approach to music videos. There should be more thought put into it. Even though we’re living in an age where there’s no budget, I still feel like you have to give it your all.
MA: Where are some of the best places to shoot?
JA: I like the LA vibe just because when you’re out there you feel like you’re transported to a place where you have to make it. It embodies the industry. There’s a lot of variation there too. You can easily just go to the desert or Hollywood and shoot.
New York is pretty dope too. I hate to say New York because I’m based here but New York is pretty cool. A lot of hidden gems here.
MA: What’s your favorite video that you’ve done so far?
JA: I would have to take it back to Skrillex “Rock N’ Roll.” Only because that video was shot over a span of like a year. It was an embodiment of my journey with Skrillex. It has this personal flavor for me. Every time I watch it I remember everything that happened. It was shot at like 40 different venues in massive cities all across America. It’s a constant reminder of where I was, and where I’m going.
It’s crazy because there’s so many cameos in that video. The whole EDM explosion is in there.
MA: What’s the biggest challenge when shooting a video?
JA: The ability to do what I want to do with little to no resources. That will never get me down though. I will never put out sub-par work because I don’t have X amount of dollars or whatever prop I need.
I had one crazy moment during the Black Dave shoot for “Muthafuck! My Enemies.” We went to a rooftop to shoot a scene where he’s getting shot by a cop and we had a fake prop gun. So we’re shooting the scene and two real detectives came on the roof, guns drawn. We had blunts everywhere, booze, a fake gun that looked real as fuck. I’m thinking holy shit. I don’t mind getting arrested and spending a day but I could tell these dudes looked so gully they would probably just throw my camera off the roof.
After that day I’m thinking I can’t do shit like this man. I need to be assured certain things; safety, protection, and that my equipment will be okay.
MA: What did the cops end up doing?
JA: One of my assistants, Carmine, this sweet talking Queens Italian kid, talked the two dudes out of it. Honestly, it was a video shoot. There’s illegal shit there, but what are you really trying to do man? Do you want to fight crime or break something up that’s so innocent.
MA: What’s your goal when making a music video?
JA: That’s the question of my whole existence. One of my favorite films is “Kids.” It was made in 1995 and people still talk about it. It’s one of those movies that’s a cult classic. My goal with a music video is to try and make it into a cult classic. What I want people to do when they make their music videos is look up mine and try to figure me out.
I’ve seen it happen, especially with “Purple Swag.” Everybody is still trying to replicate my 3D chromatic type look. That’s a sign that I’m on the right path. I don’t care if I’m not super famous, I’m happy with being the dude that everybody has to research.