VMA Side Story

Seyi Peter-Thomas

How did you get into directing?
When I was a kid, I wanted to be an actor. I had a friend whose dad would get bit parts on TV and he gave me a script of a cop show he was on that I pored over. After an embarrassing summer at theater camp when I was 13, I learned the difference between acting and directing and realized that what I really wanted to do was figure out what the story was and how it should be told. In high school, I made several very trippy short films on hi-8 video that got me into NYU film school. And, shortly afterward, I landed at MTV On-Air Promos. At MTV, I’ve had the opportunity to do an array of different types of work and to experiment and challenge myself.

What is your most recent project?
I just shot a spot for a new MTV comedy where the main character from the show gets de-pantsed in front of his entire school. It’s the kind quirky, cinematic storytelling I love to do. We shot the spot in super slow motion, hitting every pained expression. We figured if we were going to do a dick joke, let’s make it the most epic dick joke ever. How would David Lean do a dick joke?

What is the best part of being a director?
Without getting too mystical, I think it’s the process by which each new project reveals itself to you. Each creative endeavor is its own unique puzzle that you solve as you go. There’s always some new thing to learn, new people to collaborate with, a chance to try a technique you’ve thought about but never done. It’s a job that lets you constantly explore different places and ideas. Also, there are lots of good snacks.

Have you a mentor and if so, who is that person (or persons)
and what has been the lesson learned from that mentoring which resonates most with you?

A bunch of people have mentored me in different ways. Nick Tanis was an amazing teacher. He’d keep drilling story—and, really, emotion—first. I tend to look at everything I do as a little movie. No matter what the subject is, you’re always trying to make an emotional connection with the viewer and tell them a story in a way that is fresh and unique. Every decision gets, kind of, weighed against that.

Who is your favorite director and why?
Always a tough one. I love the Coen brothers. They make movies in different genres, but each one has such a unique sense of style, both in terms of the writing and the camera work. And, of course, Fincher. Whether it’s a three-hour movie or a 30-second spot, you feel instantly that you’re in the hands of a master storyteller. He’s always trying to push the medium to its limits, which I admire.

What is your favorite movie? Your favorite commercial?
I like movies I can watch again and again, that kind of grow with you. There are many. I love the Kia Sorrento commercial that’s out now with the toys. They’re plushies, but you really want to road trip with them. And the track by The Heavy kills. Also, “The Most Interesting Man in the World” Dos Equis campaign. It looks amazing and the writing is so sharp. You leave those spots wanting to see the movie version.

Tell use about your background (i.e. Where did you grow up? Past jobs?)
My mom is Nigerian and British and my dad’s American. I grew up in London until I was 12, then moved to Washington, DC. I was probably the only kid in DC Public Schools who liked Fawlty Towers. I was not an instant hit. My first job was working in a pool hall. There’s a specific process to cleaning a pool table; and, if you need to, you can make it take a long time.