Pop quiz: Which sunglasses-clad artist has helped fill arenas and is known for their work with Drake, Lil Uzi Vert, 6LACK, and The Weeknd?
Future might come to mind first, but 24-year-old director Gibson Hazard already has all of those musicians on his CV and Billie Eilish, too. Over the last four years, he’s worked in an ever expanding range of scales, from massive stage videos to viral tour trailers that most people are probably viewing on Instagram. Last night, his work showed up on the Grammys in the form of a series of videos corresponding to the Record of the Year Nominees.
Hazard is relatively soft-spoken, still seeming a bit awed by the pace of his own ascent. He cut his teeth taking concert photos at Boston-area venues like The Middle East around 2016, and decided to pursue music photography full-time after dropping out of Chapman University. He shot a European tour for the pop singer William Bolton, during which he was asked to create vlog content of the group’s daily activities.
“You know how when you haven’t done something before, you don’t think about the right way to do it, you just start and figure it out as you go?” Hazard told me over FaceTime in December. “When I was on tour at the beginning, I’d never made a video in my life.” He got the Grammys gig after the show’s executive producer Ben Winston approached him to help make the often middle-aged ceremony feel more relatable to young fans.
“The idea was to make these short films that told you a lot about all the different nominees and got you invested in their stories and careers, so you could get to know them in a short amount of time,” Hazard explains, citing the clip for the soul duo Black Pumas as a particular favorite; “so you would care more about who ended up winning.” He’s at his best in the frenetic clip for Dua Lipa’s “Don’t Start Now,” which focuses on her early adolescence in Kosovo and her transition to life in London. The videos make use of behind-the-scenes footage of each artist, as well as a mix of live performance recordings and Hazard’s signature free-flying camera.
Hazard wanted to be a baseball player, but Tommy John surgery ended that dream. There are some obvious, broad parallels between athletes and creatives—the need for precision, the ability to adjust and improvise, working well with others—but what Hazard says has most translated from his earliest passion to his current one is the ability to thrive in do-or-die moments. “I love high stakes. I love when I know that something is going to be seen by a lot of people or when there’s high pressure to make something or there’s not much time,” he says. “I love the feeling when you’re like, ‘Holy shit, we have five days to make this and if we don’t make something crazy, we’re fucked. It’s gonna be on national TV.’”
With swooping movements that feel as if the camera is in the cockpit of a stunt plane, ghoulish horror movie imagery, and surreal special effects vistas, Hazard has already established several distinct visual calling cards. He’s had so much success in the music world that people are already making videos teaching his editing techniques on YouTube, the same platform where a then-teenage Hazard first honed his skills. The question is–do they get it right?
“Not at all,” Hazard says with a chuckle. “Though it’s really sick seeing people be inspired to that degree that they want to go out and try to figure out how to do it themselves.”
At small shows, Hazard would make videos for the opener and the headliner, even if he wasn’t actually commissioned or guaranteed that they would share it. Eventually, he landed a gig documenting 6LACK’s appearance on The Weeknd’s 2017 Starboy tour, and wound up making a trailer for the headliner’s Coachella set. He had what he describes as a professional “turning point” shooting Drake in L.A. for the Aubrey & the Three Migos Tour, turning “very minimal, pretty low quality footage” into a West Coast disaster movie, complete with a scorpion laying waste to the Hollywood sign, and sharks swimming through the Staples Center.
Last November, Hazard ventured beyond the world of shorts and trailers to co-direct Lil Nas X’s “HOLIDAY” video. It’s already amassed over 100 million YouTube views. The clip is like a yuletide update on Busta Rhymes and Janet Jackson’s famously expensive “What’s It Gonna Be?!” all shiny chrome and special effects. “I’m super thankful to Gibson for helping me bring my vision for the ‘HOLIDAY’ video to life. It’s honestly my favorite video I’ve ever made,” Lil Nas X says. “He’s crazy talented and has an insanely creative mind, so I can’t wait to see what he does in the future.”
Videos this slick and digital often can feel untethered and placeless, but “HOLIDAY” showcases one of Hazard’s trademarks: his knack for placing audio in creative, yet functional ways. Midway through the first verse of “HOLIDAY”, a toy car being driven by Nas careens into the foot of a larger Nas, and the track becomes muffled to match the action.
“When people think of my style, they think of the zooms and the huge camera movements and the 3D stuff,”he says. “But I think the sound design is really the backbone of everything. I think that’s what makes the zooms and the visual stuff come together and look cool and not corny.”
Hazard’s clever sound design is one of the ways his effects-laden work remains grounded, and it extends to the tour trailers and recaps he was first known for. “When I was watching tour videos around that time, most would be either live clips or video clips from the concert with the artist’s music on top of it. I would always watch them and think, ‘This is cool, but this isn’t what it feels like being at a concert,’’’ Hazard says.
In the clip he made for Drake, he incorporates the performance audio and studio version of “Nonstop,” panning furiously to simulate the different vantage points of attending an arena show. He used similar techniques for a 2018 video accompanying Billie Eilish’s Where’s My Mind Tour, too. Eilish was the only 2021 Grammy nominee that Hazard had worked with before, and he said that collaborating with her on the clip for “Everything I Wanted”–the Record of the year winner–felt like a real milestone.
“It’s definitely like a pretty full circle moment given that last time we had worked together she was doing 1,000-cap rooms and I was running around with my [Sony] a7S, but now we’re at the Grammys and there’s an actual production,” he says of the video, which was inspired by Eilish’s’ struggles with sleep paralysis and her relationship with her brother.
Nearly every Hazard client is a true mainstream star, big personalities whom one might assume would be demanding, but Hazard insists that they’ve all made a point of empowering him, not breathing down his neck. “I always hear horror stories about other videographers on tour who are with artists who are like, ‘You have to make exactly this type of video.’ They’re giving hundreds of notes on everything. They’re pretty much providing the vision and then the videographer is executing it,” Hazard reflects. “Looking back, I was honestly pretty lucky to be with people who kind of just let me do whatever I want.”
But he also points out several things he’s done that cut against music videographer orthodoxy, including his focus on tour trailers that have a longer shelf life than the show recaps so many artists put out. He also stresses that he has different goals than many hot directors, who try to follow the well-trod path that begins at videos and ends with big budget movies: “I never set out to be a filmmaker. That wasn’t even my goal, it just happened,” he says. “ I don’t think it’s going to be something where I do a short and then I do a film and then I’m only making feature films for the rest of my life.”
Hazard has expanded his clientele into the sports and brand worlds, most notably on a well-regarded Kobe Bryant tribute with his friend Jak Bannon. He’s planning to start a studio, and is flexing his design muscles in a collaboration with eyewear company Retrosuperfuture.
Whatever project he takes on, Hazard will bring his drive, his savviness, and his penchant for making the right play in the last inning. He’s been doing it all his life–it’s just never paid off like this before.