JT McCreery's love of film and story has fueled his passion for directing and informed his filmmaking style across documentary, narrative, and music projects. He has a passion for resonating emotionally with diverse audiences. He believes that filmmaking is a vast empathy mechanism that can inspire and empower. He is based out of Nashville but has honed his craft on projects produced around the globe, from Kenya to India to Haiti. JT loves helping organisations and artists communicate their passion and purpose to their audience through strong, heartfelt narrative and documentary-style storytelling. He believes that hope can be found in seemingly dark places and that, ultimately, stories can be powerful agents for goodness and profound changes in the hearts and minds of every human being.
Name: JT McCreery
Location: Nashville, TN
Repped by: Gear Seven
Awards: Beyond the Short feature, FilmSupply Film feature and selection, 2022 Nashville Film Festival selection
LBB> What elements of a script sets one apart from the other and what sort of scripts get you excited to shoot them?
JT> A lot of my background is in music and doc-style work, and a lot of it has been conceptualised by myself or the team immediately surrounding me. Usually we are the ones trying to make the script intriguing, but when I’ve been involved in music videos or commercial work, it has been super helpful when artists, labels, agencies, or brands have clarity in narrative and tone. When they have some idea of the kind of narrative and visuals they are aiming for and when they can give me just a little bit of a thread to pull on, that can be very helpful. That helps get my mind wrapped around what the client is looking for, how they see themselves, and hopefully we can meet them there and exceed their expectations.
LBB> How do you approach creating a treatment for a spot?
JT> Probably the most important part for me is having a document for every single treatment that I am going to write called the SOC document, which stands for 'stream of consciousness'. If it’s a music video, I’ll spend time listening to the song, or if it’s commercial or doc work, I look through the materials the client has provided, any additional info I can find, etc. I write every single thought that comes to my mind — good, bad, ugly — whether it makes any sense or not. I’ll spend anywhere from half an hour to an hour doing that and then from there, usually themes start to emerge as I read it back. Whatever I get most excited about helps to set me off in a direction, and that’s my typical process. It's the stream of consciousness, it's writing out the full story from the beginning to end, and then trying find visuals and references to really build that out and give it a robust vision of how it’s meant to feel and going to land.
LBB> If the script is for a brand that you're not familiar with/ don’t have a big affinity with or a market you're new to, how important is it for you to do research and understand that strategic and contextual side of the ad? If it’s important to you, how do you do it?
JT> That's incredibly important. Once I start to understand how a brand or artist sees themselves, I start to get excited about how I can help others see them that way. It's huge to know what kind of ideas get them excited, what they might go for, and how I can add my specific take or vision to their existing ideas and self-image. Especially when they have great clarity and vision, it's not hard to get on board. That process often fills me with a lot of ideas on how to help the brand or artist communicate their own image to their audience.
LBB> For you, what is the most important working relationship for a director to have with another person in making an ad? And why?
JT> For me, it's been the producer. I just really have to lean on their ability to corral all of the various elements that are going to go into a shoot, to keep communication high, to keep us on schedule, and to make sure that all the departments know all that they need to know.
I really don’t think I could run an efficient or a non-chaotic shoot without the assistance of an incredibly organized producer. Having someone that I can lean on to take on all of the different details and all the various aspects of the shoot helps me stay in a creative headspace. If I get too overpowered by the details, I will only think through execution and how we need to get the bare minimum for an edit. When that happens, it keeps me from thinking about how we can take it further, and how we can make it better. Being able to react to those moments — whether it be in pre-production, on creative calls, or on set — anywhere an opportunity presents itself to elevate the product, is extremely important to be present for.
A great producer will allow me to find those moments and to capitalise on them, and of course to keep the project in or under budget, which is no small feat on its own. Producers are worth their weight in gold for the many things that they have to juggle on a project, I have no idea how they do it, and that’s why I have to lean on them so heavily. Their skills are so specific and impressive.
LBB> What type of work are you most passionate about - is there a particular genre or subject matter or style you are most drawn to?
JT> I have always really enjoyed documentary-style work where I can tell real stories about real people. I love digging into someone’s story, their convictions, and even getting into the most difficult parts of their lives. I’m energised by the challenge of taking all of that and trying to tell their story well and hopefully, creatively.
I also love music projects. I love the creativity and the energy that surrounds music videos, live performance videos, etc. It's a fun and unique challenge to try to honor someone else’s art by bringing it to life in a new way. I’m finding that I am enjoying the process of working with actors more, as well, whether it be in a commercial space or in a sort of narrative styling. I do find myself a lot of times going back to documentary-style work because I think there is so much to be explored there in the way that you can tell a visual story that resembles narrative and you can kind of blur the line between doc and narrative. At the moment, I think there's a growing demand for commercial work that overlaps with doc work, has longer runtimes, and centers on real stories, and that’s a really exciting frontier.
LBB> What misconception about you or your work do you most often encounter and why is it wrong?
JT> It hasn’t happened often, but I have heard people say that I just want to do 'cool stuff'. Essentially, they say that all I care about is my work being 'cool'. While, stylistically, I do want to push projects to take on more artistic visuals, elements, etc., it's usually because I’ve experienced how that artistic element or technique has emotionally drawn something out of me. It has elicited an emotion or has caused me to perk up and pay attention. Those techniques are tools to help connect with an audience and get them invested in the work. It would be easy to get the idea that I’m just trying to do something 'cool', but I am actually trying to get people's attention and draw them into whatever story is being told by drawing feelings out of them. I think it’s often true that an artist is only ever saying one thing, so when you find new techniques and new ways of communicating that thing, you can’t help but gravitate towards it and explore it. I think it’s just fuel for exploring new territory and trying to just continue to push the envelope for how to tell stories better and engage the audience more effectively.
LBB> What’s the craziest problem you’ve come across in the course of a production – and how did you solve it?
JT> It won’t be super surprising because we’ve talked about this in a previous article. But honestly as I thought about it, the fact that we lost a significant amount of talent on the day of while we were shooting 'Switch'. I’ve dealt with problems before, but that was probably the biggest one that threatened the vision for our project pretty abruptly and significantly. I was barely involved when it came to solving it because our producer, Cody Fisher, sprung into action and decided he was just going to start recruiting right there at the skatepark. I was very appreciative of his willingness to go out and find us some talent right there in that moment to salvage the piece. He did an incredible job at that. Big shoutout to producers.
LBB> How do you strike the balance between being open/collaborative with the agency and brand client while also protecting the idea?
JT> That is definitely the eternal balance and struggle. I have to trust that I am in the position that I’m in that they’ve hired me because of the vision I have, the artistic style I bring to the table, and the type of work that I’ve done before. Because of that, I tend to try to not say no for them. I try to push for my vision, initially, while all the while reassuring them that they are going to get what they want and asking them if I’m still tracking with them. It’s important to be checking in to make sure that everything feels the way they want it to feel because, ultimately, we’re there to serve their end goals. I try to let them know, whether explicitly or just through the way that I respond energetically to their ideas, that I value their input and collaboration. I try to listen and make them feel valued and let them know that I’m checking in and looking for what they are hoping for out of this and not just what I’m seeing out of it.
LBB> What are your thoughts on opening up the production world to a more diverse pool of talent? Are you open to mentoring and apprenticeships on set?
JT> Absolutely. I would love to open up pathways through mentorships and apprenticeships for younger creatives who are interested in film. If we had more mentorships and apprenticeships, we could help people understand better what track they really want to be on and what they truly enjoy doing. It would be a shame for people to spend great deals of time and money trying pursuing a career they don’t ultimately enjoy, simply because they didn’t have an opportunity to get some practical experience early on.
As far as opening up production to a more diverse pool of talent, that’s absolutely imperative. I think we, as a whole, are missing and will continue to miss out on powerful perspectives, insights, stories and ultimately some great pieces of art, if we limit our pool of voices. I think that we will have better commercials, better music videos, better docs, and honestly a better era of film-making as we include and amplify more diverse voices.
LBB> How do you feel the pandemic is going to influence the way you work into the longer term? Have you picked up new habits that you feel will stick around for a long time?
JT> As the pandemic hit, I was in the church world and the only way to get our content to an audience was to pre-record and stream everything. My team and I dove head first into full production multi-cam live music production to record our worship sets, with sets having to be unique every week. From this, I got a lot of reps in. That microwaved my on-set time with larger and larger crews as we learned and improved the experience. I got a crash course on multiple fronts. I had to improve communication with my DP, better understand what the grip department needed, make sure I was giving my producers what they needed, etc. I also had to come with fresh vision, monthly, with a brand new look for each new batch of worship sets. It taught me a lot about adaptability and communication, and I absolutely will carry that with me going forward.
LBB> Your work is now presented in so many different formats - to what extent do you keep each in mind while you're working (and, equally, to what degree is it possible to do so)?
JT> Different deliverables converging on one shoot is a very real part of our work right now. Particularly, I think about a project that we did recently with Motorized Precision and how many deliverables we had on one set or out of one shoot. It was pretty daunting. It is definitely something you have to trust your team on to make sure that all things you have to check off the list are being checked off while you keep the communication and creativity high. Ultimately, I think its a huge advantage having other people with their eyes on what the deliverables are, whether that be your producer or someone else. Allowing that relationship and trust to drive what needs to be delivered, while you are able to focus on getting the absolute best out of the setups and out of the the creative you’ve been entrusted with is crucial.
LBB> What’s your relationship with new technology and, if at all, how do you incorporate future-facing tech into your work (e.g. virtual production, interactive storytelling, AI/data-driven visuals etc)?
JT> I’ve been very fortunate to recently get to work with a lot of new emerging technology in the film making space. Namely, that would be xR technology in our LED volume at Arc Studios and with robotic camera systems from Shift Dynamics. It’s a brand new frontier to me that I’m just now scratching the surface of. It’s incredibly exciting because of the possibilities it opens up. It is also daunting at times, though, because of the new problems that it presents.
However, the people who are developing this technology are actively making it easier and easier for filmmakers to get the most out of it. Motorized Precision is a really great example of that. The way they’ve lowered the barrier to entry into robotic camera motion for filmmakers with their new app is incredible. But I think specifically xR technology is a massive frontier that I cannot wait to cut my teeth on a little more and understand better because the possibilities are literally endless. xR tech combined with robotic technology is going to give us some visuals that we’ve not yet even dreamed of in the film space. A whole new world is opening up to us technologically and trying to grasp it as a filmmaker will be an ongoing challenge and an ongoing source of excitement.
LBB> Which pieces of work do you feel really show off what you do best – and why?
Switch - This project is very special to me because I loved documenting the passion skaters have for their craft, capturing them in their element, and getting to do it all alongside the whole Gear Seven team.
Converse x Rooted (Director's Cut) - Getting to collaborate with both of these brands on this 8mm-centered vignette was an incredible experience. This one had a slim crew, a great cast, and a highly collaborative client that ultimately made this piece a unique portrait of our home here in Nashville.
Justice & Peace - This was a passion project that highlighted the need for compassion and empathy, alongside change and accountability at the center of the racial justice conversation. Kristoff's words are powerful and transformative, and ultimately, that's why I still love this piece.
Menna - LIAB - This one was just fun. The concept was exciting to develop, and Menna did an incredible job performing a whole verse and chorus of this song backward.