Following the success of his 2016 documentary ‘Ciph’ highlighting the career of New York mainstay, DJ Cipha Sounds, 22-year-old filmmaker and director Nathan Miller releases his latest film LDN, taking his subject matter back to his roots in the U.K. Following the release of LDN on Nathan’s Youtube page yesterday we bring you an in depth chat around the process of creating a contemporary documentary.
Who is Nathan Miller and how did you get into documentary making?
I’m 22 years old, studied media in college back in 2012. I always had a passion for film and I left college, took up money to get a camera, shot a couple dead music videos….I did a documentary called ‘Prologue’ which was my first piece, that was back in ‘013, that got a bit of reception then I went to New York and shot a piece called ‘Fife’ and that was with DJ Cipha Sounds from Roc Nation and then when I returned from New York, the people at SB[TV] had reached to me saying “you should do a theme of London” but to be fair, it wasn’t just SBTV, it was a bunch of people so those guys and friends around me where like “you should something for the scene”, I was at a New Gen show watching Dave perform and I was kinda tipsy and I got gassed, I was like “you know what I’m trying to do, the next piece is going to be about London’s youth scene” and that’s the piece you just watched.
What were your first thoughts about what you were trying to capture before you went about contacting anyone? Did you do mood-boards, brainstorm with people or did you have a clear direction?
Nah man, I’m quite a spontaneous person. That thing with SB was like a little piece in the puzzle that made me think of it but why I really thought of it was the New Gen show so the minute I said I was going to do it, initially I was thinking of doing a piece that would shadow one artist from London, one from New York or one from Toronto. But then one of my boys said why don’t you do a piece where you get someone from North London, someone from East, someone from South and someone from West and I was like if I do that, I’m missing out on a whole bunch of other people that I really like so the first thing I really did was hit up a few people that I already knew personally that were making waves in the scene from Vicky Grout, Kojey Radical, Daniel OG, Nyge, just people that you can reach you know what I mean and then J Hus was like one of the first people who I didn’t personally know who agreed to be in the piece and once you get one, once you get two, once you get three, the ball keeps on rolling and then come second trailer, people were reaching out to me asking “are you shooting” but it was very spontaneous, I kinda just came up with the idea and then made it happen.
Did you set the shape of the narrative or did it evolve itself and you curved it in when it came to editing?
Yeah man, if you see the actual timeline itself, the timeline was a good sixteen hours and there’s a lot of stuff that could’ve been used, the documentary could’ve gone in a lot of different directions but it’s one of these things you learn when you do these kind of things, you can have a hour-long interview with somebody but the minute they start talking with a little more passion about certain things or they make a lot more sense about a certain thing, it kind of just fits into its own place. I had Semtex on the documentary, he was very good at giving context in regards to how he used to be, stuff like that and then you like at someone like Elf Kid who’s really excited when you start talking about Giggs, it’s a matter of finding those common threads between people so then if you have 5 people talking about Giggs or 5 people talking about Skepta, maybe I can use those 5 things together to have a little section about them. The structure happened just by people repeating answers basically.
You’ve managed to get a full snapshot of the current UK scene including Grime artists, UK Rap artists and More creative artists such as/Kojey Radical what made you choose the selection you did?
About that, when I first came up with the idea, I said that I’m not going to get the people that you would expect to see. From the get-go, there were people who were ruled out being in the doc. Initially, if I could have got my way, Daniel OG would have been in it, Little Simz would have been in it, Kojey is already in it but you would have seen a lot of faces like that, I mean you know they’re repping London but they’re not the go to people.
What were the barriers to making that a reality/having your way
Just timing, people’s schedules and things like that. I know people are going to watch it like “what’s he’s passionate about”, believe me, a lot of people were gone back in the day and the ones who are in it are the ones who made it happen.
We Like the way you made the doc around what artists are doing day 2 day, it’s active, real life.
Yeah it was, all them studio shots, that was when we were working on Nines’ album so you’ve got stuff like that. You’ve got again on stage with Tef [Youngs Teflon] and all of 67 and 86 then you’ve got like literally on the back of the bus with Belly Squad and Vicky Grout, there was no setup ting, let’s act like we’re doing something, it was always come down to the studio to just capture this.
What were your top three experiences?
Erm…erm…I’d say…it’s so hard to do, I’m just going to say the ones that pop to my mind right now, I’ll say number one was probably getting on stage with J Hus, that was in Bristol, that was crazy, that was when I was looking at the crowd and I was looking at the footage and I was like “yo, this has gone really well”. Number two would be chilling in the studio with Nines whilst they were working on his album. I really like Nines and so…he isn’t even in the doc like that, he’s in the featuring credits but he’s not in the starring credits but to be able to hang out with him for the whole day, it just heals up the process that goes on behind the scenes. What’s another one, the third one, the third one I guess would be going to a party with Youngs Tef, Teddy Allstar, 67 and Endblock. That was fun and random.
A lot of people you interviewed are active in the streets, was there any point when you realised that the lives they live is real and you could get caught up in something?
Nah surprisely nah, I was with Morgan Keyz who has seen it before and he was saying the same thing because he’s shot big videos as well and he was saying “did police ever pull up on you or anything” and I was like nah, literally nothing happened. I was in the middle of Mozart estate with Fredo and Ratlin, I went down to Stockwell to meet Reekz, I went to Brixton Hill to meet 67, I went everywhere man, but at the same time, one thing I must say, when I did this project, it felt like I was back in school again because I went to a boy school, it’s kinda like you’ve got different crowds of people, everyone’s got their own little thing that makes them them but everyone’s cool. So you’ve got the hood guys, the guys that dance, the funny guys, you know what I mean. Once they got comfortable with me it was calm, it was all cool. No trouble.
Was the whole project funded and directed by yourself?
Yeah, there was no real budget for it to be fair with you. It was something I started working on, my friend Anthony helped me to shoot some stuff, if I’m going on the streets, chances are Anthony is there with me as well. He was around me most of time we were shooting with 67. This was a piece I just created, I’d say in terms of money put into it, I spent about £700 and the most expensive thing was to travel to Bristol to film J Hus. It may have even gone a little overboard of £700, I don’t even know, it was just something that I was doing.
Who did you have the most chemistry with whilst filming?
There were all very good but if you put it like that, I can’t say top three but ones I’d say I was most surprised about, the ones I’m happiest and took a liking too are Reeko Squeeze, Reekz MB and 67 right now are the ones I took a liking too because you kind of have an idea of…and then when you meet them and listen to them, you realise that they’re cool guys. Elf Kid for example, he was a good guy, he does a good interview, Semtex you kind of expect to do a good interview, Kojey done a good interview but Reekz MB was someone who I didn’t even think could get involved in the project, he was someone who I thought would be really cool to see on screen. I thought he wouldn’t be up for talking too much but we got a good 40 minute interview with him. Reeko Squeeze, I went all the way down to Grove Park to go meet him and he said he doesn’t do too many interviews but when we sat there, we talked there for like 50 minutes and then you’ve got 67 who we were going overtime because they had a show, they had to do a show straight after my interview and they were cutting into their show time. I spent a lot of time with them, even though they got left a bit in the dark, I spent a lot of time with them.
What did you learn about the culture from doing this experience?
Lowkey, I feel like an A&R right now, I feel like I’ve got the source for just creating music and just like from hearing everyone’s views to hearing people from behind the scenes, to hear from the producers, the photographers, the DJs, I feel like I have an idea of the chemistry of what it takes to be successful in the music scene right now. It feels very inspiring to see where people are coming from. The culture is in an incredibly good place, regardless of what people think of it.
I was asked while in London “why do you think it’s hard for UK artists to break in the US” but now I ask that question as a joke, I laugh when I say it and I kind of wait for them to respond the same way I think they will respond, as everyone does. We are not really bothered, the aim’s changed, I think everyone’s found their own sound, there’s many sounds on the streets, you’ve got Afrobeats, Rap sound, drill sound, Classical Rap, Spoken word, the R&B sound, you’ve got all these different sounds. I feel like everyone’s making sounds that they love and making music out of it. The culture’s in a sick place.
How did access to certain people come along?
I used to work at Ace Hotel, I worked there for a good 3-4 years when they launched in 2013 and I actually left Ace Hotel to finish a book because it was taking up a lot of my time, but I found time to stay in touch with Ace. They were the first big company to commission me to do a piece of work for them. Last year, I did a documentary series for them which kind of took me across to the US over the summer and when I came back, we had a great relationship and they let me do some interviews in the hotel, get some slots in the hotel and stuff like that. Shireen Fenner ( Ten Letter PR ) was the one who connected me to 67, my friend told me she does PR for them and when I hit her up she already knew about my work, she’s seen what I do, there wouldn’t be a problem to link up with her. Every single person I’ve mentioned, they’re either someone who’s helped in any stage really. Link Up TV got a special mention because they shared my trailer when it came out on social media and that’s what got more artists involved in it so whether they know or not, that’s why some of them got thanked then you’ve got people who played the roles of setting up artists’ managers and stuff then you’ve got Ace Hotel for letting me do the stuff there.
What impact do you want the documentary to have on UK/worldwide music fans?
I think for me, I hope it’s gonna do well. The US, Canada, across the board will like it but for me, I’d like for London and the city, from the youth to couple olders and musicians, producers, I want people to watch and when it ends, I want people to be like “we’re doing our thing”. I want people to appreciate where we are as a culture and be inspired to do great things whether it be people looking to get into documentaries, every now and again, I do get emails or DMs saying “we’d like to do some work or what not”, this is based off trailers, I get messages from studios so I hope maybe someone watches it and be inspired to create something like it or greater in more depth. I’d like to shine a light on some people, I’d really like for people like Reekz, the original Squeeze, SNE, Kojey to shine. When we were taking pictures of Reekz, he’d never done a photo shoot before but he does have a buzz in the streets. I want to get a hold of certain outlets for artists, it’s like they only hear about when you get to a certain point because it’s way past their time. If this is a way for some of the artists to benefit and pursue different opportunities, it’ll be a job complete.
How comes you didn’t interview/feature any older generation artists to get context?
There are reasons for this. Noisey did a really good documentary last year and it featured Giggs, JME, Skepta, Jammer, Lethal Bizzle so when I was coming to work on ‘LDN’, I said I don’t want to do a piece with the same features. Channel 4 and SBTV did a really good documentary called ‘Pirate Mentality’ with Frisco and Risky Roadz. All the docs are sick for what they are but when it came to ‘LDN’, I was like this is the new generation, don’t get me wrong, I did think of people like Giggs, Semtex hit me back, Skepta was one of those people who was ruled out from the get-go of stepping into this project, in fact I did an earlier cut of ‘LDN’ and I did have a little section where people were talking about him but as I changed things around, that was one of the things that got dropped. I wanted to shine a light on things that hadn’t been told. Hattie Collins: she wrote the book ‘This Is Grime’, she was meant to be in this at the beginning giving a rundown about Grime and how things change from an academic view, her knowledge is up there because she wrote a book about it. She was meant to be in it but she suffered a loss a weekend before our interview so it became one of those things, you can’t be sitting around just waiting for people to hit you back, you have to keep it moving, Giggs was probably the only one I reached out to.
How far do you hope your doc will go?
The masses, I want it to go onto stalls the next day, sort of like how “Top Boy” was, because I was in college when that came out. For me, I want every school kid or college kid who watched it to be like “yooo, did you see that doc?”. That’s good enough for me.
Any advice for upcoming and aspiring documentary makers and videographers?
I’d say find a subject or something you’re passionate about, save up your money, get a camera and just make it happen. Don’t wait for people to give you the green light, be active and be prepared to make mistakes and learn from those mistakes and it will all work out if you stay persistent.
With people who want to get into film/documentary making, do they need a degree/massive experience or is it just passion and going for it?
I feel like in the field of film making, experience will outweigh knowledge. There is obviously the route where you can go to university and study a degree and whatnot, I’m not saying it’s wrong because you can meet people there who become your partners for the rest of your life but if you’re not in the position to go to university, if you had a passion for film making and you’re making money then you can just save up for a camera and learn off YouTube and attend shows and get shots, that’s how a lot of people just grow. A lot of the new photographers just cop a camera, go to a show, make sure they get there early, get to the front row, take pics and be the first person to upload them. When the artist reposts them on their Instagram, that’s how people start to follow them, the jobs start coming in and then you become an authority in the scene. Then you can do anything that you want, if you look at my position, a lot of people don’t even know me in London, it’s more down to who I know and who knows me not from an audience point of view but from an artist point of view. It’s ten times easier for me if I can reach out to someone and they know what you’re doing, what you’ve done or they’ve seen a piece of your work, then you don’t have to explain yourself as much. If you’re not in that position to do that, if you’re not on that level then hold off.
How long did the project take from start to finish?
I started working on it late September/early October and I’d say I wrapped it up in March. The reason why it’s taken so long is if everything was lined up for me like “there’s a show, there’s a show, there’s a show” it would have been done a lot sooner but because there was a lot of waiting for people to hit me back on email, waiting for a show to happen or I haven’t heard back from this person. All-in-all, it’s took 6-7 months.
What direction are you looking to take next?
After this project, I wanna do some projects in the States, I’ll be doing some work for the Ace [Hotel] again this summer. Do bigger documentaries really, maybe do some music videos. I have a love for the States so I’m kinda ready to set up another project out there and bang that one.
Check out the Documentary below. Follow Nathan Miller on Twitter at @NathanMillerLDN
Transcribe by: Dwayne Bickersteth – @Its_Rants