An acclaimed music video and Hollywood movie director, Islington local Alex De Rakoff is turning his attention to storytelling for the little ones. He tells Mark Kebble about Mothership Publishing, a big break with The Bucketheads and why he’s glad to be home
Let’s start with Mothership Publishing Alex – what inspired you to form the company?
My sons, Marlon and Luciano. Having young sons at the time where technology is everywhere you notice these things. As a kid, my mum pushed books under my nose all the time, but I find kids these days are more and more moving away from books and that concerns me. I find a real lack of original stories digitally to be available to a parent.
What’s the ethos behind Mothership Publishing?
I founded Mothership Publishing with Peter Kline as a digital publishing company with the aim of designing interactive stories for kids. Personally, I am on a mission to get kids reading these beautiful, interactive stories all over the world. It works on the importance of storytelling and enhancing children’s imaginations.
You’ve recently launched the Little Big Foot app. What can you tell us about that?
Little Big Foot is a fantastic original story. It tells the story of a young Big Foot who travels from the safety of home in search of adventure, but finds it at home where it all started. It’s beautifully animated and illustrated, and has a really cool original score too.
What do you look for when creating something like this for under 5s?
Initially for me the first thing I look at is it’s a great story to inspire, cool characters they can engage with, and beautiful music to help them float away. I want kids to be immersed in a beautiful world.
Jumping back Alex, it’s 20 years since you started your career in the music video business. How different is the industry today?
The music video and music industry at large is very different. When I started it was really a hotbed of creativity. There were all these amazing artists, directors and producers working on promotional videos. MTV in the beginning was all about the video, now it’s about the programming. There were some amazing directors coming through then.
How do you look back over your music video directing career?
The first few I co-directed with Guy Ritchie, who was my best friend growing up. We were 22-year-old men in a pub and we saw this video by the Beastie Boys and we thought we could make music videos like that. The first video that really got us going was for the Bucketheads, These Sounds Fall Into My Mind [also known as The Bomb!]. I think Guy and I got £1,000 for the budget, so we got our friends into a flat and shot on a Super 8 camera – and then the song became a global smash. It was the dance song that served that year . It was a really fun video. It was that first little break where we thought we can do something really cool and possibly make a career out of it.
The one I probably enjoyed doing the most was a video for The Rolling Stones, a mix by Pharrell Williams of Sympathy for the Devil. It was great to spend time with him and shoot this video.
How did you find the step up to directing feature films?
It’s a different medium and I find it exhilarating and challenging, but I always wanted to be a film director – so I planned my music videos around that. What I tended to do was introduce some kind of narrative into my videos. The biggest thing was working with actors to get dramatic performances out of them.
You’ve worked with some of the biggest names in Hollywood. Who was the most interesting person you’ve worked with?
It’s a difficult question to answer. If I had to choose one in the recording industry it would be Madonna. I was lucky enough to spend a few weeks at close quarters with her on the behind the scenes documentary for the Confessions tour. Her energy levels are extraordinary. We would work from 7am-8pm every day where she built this tour. She was working with dancers, choreographers, set designers – she was the complete vision holder. I remember one day Jean Paul Gaultier came in with all these extraordinary costumes. Everyone was getting dressed up and Madonna would go through them one by one, and the last dancer she came to she would make a comment about the shoe lace being the wrong colour. She paid such attention to detail and it was a really valid point too, she wasn’t just saying something for the sake of it.
Did you always want to get involved in the gaming industry?
Not at all. I never played many games, but had a group of friends that did go off and start Rockstar Games [the people behind Grand Theft Auto]. I directed some commercials for their games early on and then EA came knocking at my door. They had watched one of my features, Dead Man Running, and they wanted to tap into and use the style in their game Need For Speed. Certain kinds of video games need stories to frame them, so they need filmmakers involved.
You moved back to London from LA in 2013 – was this to launch Mothership Publishing?
It was two fold. I moved back as I was asked to do a job here. I became the Creative Director for the new Transformers game and that was based out of a studio in London, so I needed to be here. I have been trying to get my family back from LA for a while! My wife was born in America, as were my kids, but I’m a Londoner born and bred. I always missed being here. I loved growing up here. It’s a city alive with possibilities. I wanted my kids to experience that.
What do you love above living in Islington?
Being close to the Emirates! I grew up with all my friends supporting Chelsea, but my father was a Londoner with Italian roots and was part of a big community that grew up in Islington in the 1940s-50s – and were all die hard Gooners. Now I feel I have moved to my spiritual home. It’s great here for families, there are great restaurants, shops, and the East End is right on our doorstep. Having been in America for 15 years I found it’s changed a lot, but Islington still feels like the London I knew. There’s a real community feeling here.
What are your favourite haunts, both personally and for your family?
The Everyman – we see as many films as we can there; Sefton on Upper Street, they have got dangerously good men’s knitwear there; the Smokehouse; and The Place in Canonbury – they let me sit there for hours working!
See more at mothership-publishing.com