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Music Laura Alston on making reggae artist A#keem's new music video

Oct. 15, 2020
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After hearing "When I’m With You" by urban reggae artist A#keem, Laura Alston vowed to him that she would make a video for the song. The result, which premieres on Adolescent Content today, is an intimate exploration of the lush landscape of Grenada through the lens of one couple’s relationship. To mark the video’s release, we spoke to Alston about how it all came together.

Adolescent Content: A#keem is based on the island of Grenada, and you used to live and work primarily in New York. How did you become involved with this project?

Laura Alston: In summer 2019, I left my job and life in New York to travel abroad, which ultimately landed me in Grenada, the home of my late grandmother, right before the pandemic hit. I’ve been here ever since, settling into a fulfilling life surrounded by beautiful nature, rich culture, and amazing, creative people. 

A#keem was one of the first friends I met who showed me the ropes, took me on adventures, and shared all the musical projects he was working on. Over the course of the year, A#keem’s team grew bigger and bigger, and this video is a testament to all of us working together to make his song and my vision huge.

Adolescent: Set on Grenada, the video portrays the relationship of a young couple. What was your vision for the narrative? 

Laura: I wanted to tap into real love, which is what the song is all about. Love has many ways of showing itself but for many we just want to spend quality time with our significant other. Nikita and Marcus, the couple in the video, didn’t have to act out the scenes because it came from a genuine place. I wanted the journey they took to be relatable and represent [the idea that any day can be fun with your loved one by your side]. The narrative also shows the beauty of Grenada, from its waterfalls to its people to its beaches, which you can’t help but fall in love with the moment you touch the island. 

Adolescent: There are moments of stillness when the camera is totally focused on its subject, which felt indicative of your background in portraiture. Can you describe the interplay between photography and directing, as well as the other mediums you create in?

Laura: The boundaries of mediums are blurred in my head because I view art as this evolving entity that has no definition or standard but is driven by the individual's desire to keep growing, to keep questioning. So you can see the interplay of my photography style within my directing because I can’t separate the two, nor any other medium I experiment in.

Adolescent: Let’s talk about the collaborative process of directing the video. What were your conversations with A#keem and the rest of the production team?

Laura: At this stage in my creative career, I am working from a place of passion… I tend to gravitate toward people who have the same mindset. With A#keem, I first and foremost am a real-life fan of his music—like, his talent blows me away. So when he let me have full control with the video for “When I’m With You,” I hit the ground running making treatments, securing sponsorships, operating as a producer through my company Artfullyours, and pulling together the perfect team of people that I know would get the job done because they too work from a place of passion. 

I want to big up each team member because they all were amazing: A#keem, Nikita McIntyre, Marcus Croney, Teddy Frederick, Harry Varley, Juma Mawuto, and Kitaka Mawuto.

Adolescent: Going from working in a city to doing so in a natural landscape, was there a shift in your approach to directing? How did your surroundings influence you, creatively speaking?

Laura: There is definitely a shift for the better in working in a place like Grenada because the people here are so friendly and inviting. Yes, big cities have access to more resources, but there are also so many roadblocks that can dampen your creative spirit. Being in Grenada has allowed me to think more freely and the creative scene here is incredibly talented, so it’s an inspiration to meet new people who are killing it at what they do and are welcoming me with open arms.

Adolescent: Woven throughout the storyline are clips of locals. What was your experience of having and documenting these interactions? Do you recognize a difference between recording rehearsed scenes and spontaneous or improvised ones?

Laura: Everything felt natural. I’m a huge planner. I will plan everything but a person’s interactions because I don’t want to fake that—that’s the core of how I make art, letting people just be themselves. Other than location-scouting a week before the shoot, no scenes were rehearsed. In fact, none of the locations that we had identified in our scouting were places we actually used in the film so there was a lot of spontaneity in showing up to a location and seeing how things went. 

Adolescent: In your own words, your work “centers on race and identity and engages with themes of autonomy and empathy.” Can you talk about representing these themes in the video and about the duality of directing while allowing subjects to retain their autonomy? 

Laura: I want to use my platform to center the stories, music, and lifestyles of Black people because our culture across the globe is so rich yet underrepresented and underfunded in film. This drive to show a genuine reflection of my identity and those around me is why I lean toward the creative arts, especially video, to tell these stories. 

The “When I’m With You” music video comes from a genuine place because even though I conceptualized the journey the couple took, the interactions you see are real. After the cameras cut, [the couple] is still the same, as are A#keem and all the people who were seen in the video.

Adolescent: Will you be directing more in the future? What's next for you? 

Laura: As I close the chapter on this project, I’m starting pre-production for a larger film endeavor. The work never ends, which I’m super thankful for... With many projects in the works, I recently started a GoFundMe to help launch my very own creative studio which will be the hub to amplify Black stories in the Caribbean, Africa, and diaspora communities through art. If you like this video then I urge you to support more projects.

Check out Laura Alston’s work on Instagram or her website and stream A#keem on Spotify.