Vincent Haycock directs a striking and otherworldly music video of Leonard Cohen’s The Hills
We chat to the American filmmaker to hear about the process behind his most recent film, curated by Nowness and Adam Cohen, Leonard’s son.
- 18 June 2020
- Ayla Angelos
- Reading Time
- 4 minutes
Vincent Haycock knew from a young age that filmmaking was something he’d build a career in. Specifically, it was the moment when his mother had bought him a VHS camcorder in 1993 that thirteen-year-old Vincent began creating surf and skateboard videos – filming his friends and people on the streets. “I really liked capturing something unexpected,” he tells It’s Nice That, “and I remember being really attracted to that magic moment when you’ve captured something.
“Most importantly,” he continues, “and I think I’ve only recently realised this, is that it got me hooked on trying to capture life and creating a story and mood for others to experience later.” It was this experiential curiosity that pushed him to start practicing in his medium, which consequently led to him attend school and study graphic design. However, he dropped out and started working at Thrasher Magazine for a few years, meanwhile teaching himself how to use visual effects and editing softwares on the side. “About five to six years later, I was directing at 21,” he says, stating how he’s now been making videos and commercials for almost 20 years, and how the passion for doing so has remained all the same – if not grown over time.
Now, Vincent boasts an impressive portfolio and works with agencies such as Somesuch, Division, BWGTBLD, Soft Citizen, Collider Freeagent and Lark Creative. His films span music videos and commercials, for clients like Florence and the Machine, U2, Kelsey Lu, Sam Fender and Kamasi Washington. As a whole, Vincent looks at a “culmination of everything” in his life as his muse, which can be anything from a big event to a meme he saw online. Travelling, too, and the experience of meeting other people plays an important factor in his cinematic choices. “The more I read or meet new people, the more open I become in new ideas and with trying new things.”
This approach has resulted in his most recent music video, a project for Leonard Cohen’s The Hills – part of a series from his last album, which was curated by Nowness and Adam Cohen, Leonard’s son. Following a simple brief, Vincent was tasked to create a mood. “I wrote the idea and then had a lovely conversation with Adam,” he says, stating how they refined the idea together. “It was a hard concept to do for the money, so we spent some time researching where to shoot and how to do it.” It was a location in Texas that sprang to mind – a place where Vincent had visited before, which meant it was an achievable feat. With Division and Somesuch collaborating on the production, this gave the filmmaker the support to proceed and continue with the casting.
Within The Hills, Vincent directs a striking interpretation of Leonard Cohen’s lyrics, following the protagonist, played by French actor Isaach De Bankolé, as he journeys through the unknown. “Isaach was my choice from the very start,” he adds, “but we never thought it would happen so seamlessly. We found out he was a huge fan of Leonard and it all came together; I feel so incredibly blessed that he came on board, he is such a great collaborator.” Isaach is accompanied by a “timeless and simple” aesthetic, a stylistic choice achieved through the decision to shoot in black and white, accompanied by a poignant set of photographic imagery. “Also, the cinematographer Nicolai Neirmann and myself decided that the camera should be locked off and unobtrusive, so that the acting and landscape tell the story without too much of our filmmaking getting in the way.”
As a whole, Vincent’s intentions are to exude peace and the feeling of “being ok with this set (a metaphor for your place in the world) – a final resting place; peacefully moving to the next chapter.” He continues to explain how, like himself, Leonard was a buddhist and this sparked ideas on the topic of how “suffering is all in your mind”. Letting go and experiencing what’s infront of you and your immediate surroundings can thus alleviate this suffering. Replete with metaphor, the ending scene is what adheres to this notion the most: a burning moment created through the combination of two plates – with one set on fire and the other showing the actual scene. “I wanted it to feel as if the world around [Isaach] simply burned away, like a fake backdrop or set,” says Vincent. “It was important that it felt tangible and almost cheap.”
To make something of the legacy that Leonard Cohen leaves behind is going to be a challenging task. Vincent recalls of the process as pressurising – “there were definitely a few moments during the process where I panicked” – but one that the resolved through the act of focusing on what he thought would be beautiful and, of course, not worrying too much.