It was in April last year that news broke that Bloomberg Businessweek’s much-lauded creative director Richard Turley was leaving to join MTV as its first senior vice president of visual storytelling and deputy editorial director. It was hailed as a huge coup for the network but surprised some that a man who’d been such a passionate, brilliant and at times iconoclastic part of the magazine renaissance was leaving the print industry behind.
Now he is ready to talk for the first time about what he’s been up to since the move to MTV and we found him in freewheeling form when we interviewed him last week, so much so that we’ve decided to publish the piece in two parts. Read on here to find out what he’s trying to do in his new job and his interest in “the clusterfuck of visual content” and check out the site tomorrow to hear his thoughts on London and New York’s respective design scenes.
First things first, how big a decision was it to leave BBW for MTV?
It was a fairly easy decision; I had been restless for a year or so. I’d run out of things I thought I could do with the magazine and found I was repeating myself, which I didn’t think was good for anyone. I needed to reset myself and learn something new.
I’d been talking to a few places but none of those conversations felt right. Then MTV came along. It was a chance to forget a lot of what I was and learn something new. Also fuck, it’s MTV. It’s a lifetime dream come true. That kid who watched three hours a day would never have believed it could happen.
" I’d run out of things I thought I could do with the magazine and found I was repeating myself, which I didn’t think was good for anyone."
What have been your main areas of focus since the move?
It’s been a huge education process. Learning how to make TV, how TV works, how to make things move. Geeking out watching events like the VMAs come together, and the mechanics and of turning the channel black and white for Martin Luther King Day. Hearing the stories the talent department has; they have dirt on EVERYONE. Seeing the social team here – the best in the business IMO – at work. I could go on and on.
Van Toffler and Stephen Friedman (the heads of MTV) have a policy of letting the amateurs into MTV, a system that works because there are a lot of people who really do know exactly what they’re doing. I’m certainly in the amateur category, making it up as we go. It’s an adventure.
How would you sum up what you’ve done these past few months?
Basically for the last year or so we’ve been making televised idents/bumpers each day that respond to current events, participate in live social media conversations, and then sometimes just put weird shit on the screen for the sake of it, treating the TV as a form of social media. The conspiracy theory behind it is that we’re trying to de-brand MTV, using the chaotic visual language of our audience – the freedom, attitude, and urgency of that whole DIY shit that has a powerful legacy with the channel in the past. So there’s very little connective tissue from one idea, everything is inconsistent and we use that as an organising principle.
You talk about “the chaotic visual language of our audience” what do you mean by this and how has it influenced the creative decisions you’ve made?
I mean Tumblr, Instagram, Snapchat, Vine, Twitter. I mean YouTube clips, home edited video, social influencers, unboxing videos, Minecraft, Twitch, Taylor Swift cat videos, pop videos, lyric videos, web video, ISIS videos, Adam Curtis, Fox News, reality shows. I mean TV ads, billboard ads, banner ads, sponsored advertising, integrated marketing, spam, listicles, GIFs, net art, vaporwave, healthgoth, BessNYC, Richard Prince, Charlotte Free, Cassette Playa, Telfar, Cara Delevingne, Disney princesses, “real” princesses, the NSA, UGC, Jimmy Fallon, Kardashians, writing people’s names on Coke cans. I mean Snapseed, To.Be.Cam, Gifboom, Split Lens, Glitché, Photobooth, Generateapp, Skype calls, Tindr, porn, news, information, corporations, commoditisation. Democratisation. Progress. Selfies.
The clusterfuck of visual content that we make and experience simultaneously on multiple screens, together, apart, sharing, liking, consuming. What we’re interested in is making MTV the cypher, to take the same DNA as all of that content, and to experience it simultaneously, with the same visual incoherence.
Or something. I don’t know. We just want to make fun stuff that feels authentic – it can’t feel like some stupid agency bullshit branding play. We hired a handful of kids and we let them loose. There is no fixed creative, no brief beyond make stuff that makes the TV feel topical, current. It’s another way of putting the audience on the TV, which MTV has always been good at.
So the beauty of it is that this thinking is woven into the fabric of MTV – it’s not a big jump. MTV is known for being chaotic. So for me, it becomes as much about connecting the dots between then and now.
I know you’re a big fan of fanzines; do you think there’s a link between the DIY aesthetics of that era and the current media landscape?
Yes I do. Well, maybe not so much the aesthetics, but the philosophy of doing it yourself. Cheap, well-made digital tools have enabled a generation of image creators. It’s made artists, filmmakers, designers, illustrators, photographers and animators out of us all, if you want it.
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