Kinga Burza: The Making Of Music Video Royalty

THERE are lots of legs in the music video for Katy Perry’s ‘I Kissed A Girl’. Long legs, legs in fishnet stockings, legs in short skirts and high heels. Sexy legs.

There are no girls kissing, however, just a lot of innuendo of the lipstick lesbian variety – Katy having a pillow fight with girls in lingerie. Katy running her hands over her own body. Katy stroking a cat.

It’s suggestive without being sleazy or leering – not Terry Richardson-style brazen raunch, but teasingly provocative. You can kind of tell the clip was filmed by a woman.

“I’ve never had a problem with sexiness, I think there’s nothing wrong with that,” says the clip’s director, Kinga Burza, stirring a latte in a Paris cafe. “But the female and male gaze are very different. At the time I was doing it, I was just like, ‘I want her to feel good.’ I don’t want to expose any of my artists in a way they feel objectified and uncomfortable.”

The Los Angeles house where ‘I Kissed A Girl’ was filmed in had been used exclusively for adult films before Perry’s shoot. “It had awful stains everywhere and mirrors over each bed,” Kinga recalls, “but our turnaround was so fast we had no choice.” My producer basically said to me, ‘It’s either this or the production office,’ so we cut around the unsavoury angles!”

•••

"I was used to doing low budget stuff and suddenly you’re getting flown to LA and put up in a hotel. Even though Katy Perry was a complete unknown at the time, it was a whole other level of responsibility."

‘We Need To Build Your Reel!’”

KINGA has been based in Paris for the past six years, but she was born in Poland and moved to Australia a year later, living first in Melbourne and then Sydney before heading to London in 2005, at 25.

She may not be a household name, but Kinga has directed music videos for the likes of Lana Del Rey, Peaches, and Dua Lipa. In 2008, ‘I Kissed A Girl’ was nominated for five MTV Video Music Awards and helped launch Perry’s career. At the time, Kinga had been making music videos for just three years. “I was used to doing low budget stuff and suddenly you’re getting flown to LA and put up in a hotel,” she says. “Even though Katy Perry was a complete unknown at the time, it was a whole other level of responsibility.”

It was the zenith of a dream run in Kinga’s early London years. She’d arrived with pretty much no experience after deciding on a career in music video directing just a couple years earlier.

A child model since the age of 11, Kinga had a gap year in Paris to make a go of it at 19, but the experience fell short of her expectations. “Actually, I’m not that comfortable in front of the camera,” she says. “I like the idea of the image and creating a fantasy but I realised I didn’t want to be part of someone else’s fantasy.”

Back in Australia, she enrolled in a Bachelor of Arts at the University of New South Wales majoring in theatre and film and for an assignment, made a faux video for a Bonnie “Prince” Billy song. “I realised how fun that was, it was the first time In my life I made something I was proud of and wanted to share and show people,” she says.

She started making amateur music videos for her friends, including then-boyfriend Jack Ladder. This was in 2004, before Facebook and YouTube. “The only time you’d see a video was at 2am in the morning,” says Kinga. “But that was really exciting. It was a one-moment-only sort of thing.”

The hierarchical world of film was still difficult to penetrate in Australia, however, and Kinga was impatient to skip the bottom and jump straight to the top. She was working in retail at Scanlan and Theodore when her colleague and friend Kym Ellery suggested a trip to Europe. Ellery returned to Sydney afterwards and began carving out a career in fashion; Kinga decided to stay in London. Her world had opened up.

“Going to London I felt like I was invincible – I felt this amazing opportunity to do whatever I wanted. I felt like I could do anything and nobody knew me, and I could say anything I wanted in an interview.”

“I guess the whole time I was like, ‘When are people going to find out I just got lucky and that I’m winging this?'”

She talked her way into a meeting with the executive director of production company Partizan, home to Academy Award-winning French film director Michel Gondry, a couple of weeks after arriving. She was offered a job at reception, which she declined. “I was too embarrassed to say I wanted to be a director because I didn’t have anything to show her. She said, ‘Why don’t we just keep in touch?’”

By this time, Kinga had moved into a sharehouse and one of her housemates was Martin Craft, aka former Sidewinder member M.Craft. She convinced him to let her direct one of his clips, (‘Sweet’, starring a young Rose Byrne) with a small budget and went back to her contact at Partizan. They said they’d produce the video and the executive director signed Kinga on the spot. “She said, ‘We need to build your reel!’”

Kinga began making videos for lots of of-the-moment acts, including Tilly and the Wall; a very fresh-faced, pre-EDM Calvin Harris (for ‘Merrymaking At My Place’); and The Teenagers, the French indie pop band who broke through with the tongue-in-cheek, highly inappropriate ‘Homecoming’ in 2007.

“I’ll always have a soft spot for that video because of the organic, innocent way it came to life,” says Kinga. “I connected with the band through MySpace, literally made it [the clip] for pocket money, with a Super 8mm camera I bought on eBay, with film I bought online, with kids I casted from MySpace and a minimal crew of three others that I somehow connected through magazine credits.”

“It’s always so immediate, what’s going on at that time, and I feel like my responsibility is to show the best version of that. For the artist, you don’t want them to look back and regret it.”

Kinga went to a Kate Nash showcase, where she was offered a small amount to make the singer’s debut video, ‘Caroline’s A Victim’. This led to her doing the clip for its follow-up ‘Foundations’, a UK number two hit, for which Kinga won Best Pop Video at the UK Video Music Awards in London 2008.

For Kinga, who’d only been with Partizan for a year at this point, it all felt a bit too good to be true. “I guess the whole time I was like, ‘When are people going to find out I just got lucky and that I’m winging this? I didn’t really know what I was doing but I guess that’s sort of the charm of it all. You look at photographers becoming directors these days, they don’t know what they’re doing but they have a vision and an intuition. And I think I got a little bit lucky.”

There weren’t many female music video directors around at the time, something that Kinga thinks worked in her favour. After ‘I Kissed A Girl’, Kinga became something of a go-to director for female indie-pop stars at the time, including La Roux, Marina and the Diamonds, and Ladyhawke.

“I guess I’m meant to be known as the girl who makes girls look good and feel good,” says Kinga, who has a three year-old daughter with her husband Deck D’arcy, bassist in French indie-rock band Phoenix. (You can hear Kinga leaving a voicemail in French on their recent track ‘Fleur de Lys’.)

“It’s quite uncomfortable to watch some of these videos knowing I have a daughter and one day she’s going to look up to these artists, I’m talking about any Rihanna video,” she laughs.

•••

"The good thing about making music videos, you do it for three weeks and you put it to bed. I like that you do something really crazy and can do something the complete opposite the next time you film."

‘Do I Want To Be In This Music Video?’

WHILE artists or commissioners sometimes approach directors directly, usually there’s a pitching process where you might have up to 30 different directors vying for the same job. After (usually) receiving a brief from the client, directors prepare a treatment, or pitch.

“It might be a 20-page document or it might just be a couple of lines,” says Kinga. “Of course I research what the artist or band have done before and what their current vibe is, but it’s also important not to be too strategic and to allow your intuition get lost in the music.

“I often listen to the track over and over and over until I can’t listen to it again and often I’ll take a shower, and then the idea comes! I jot it down, offer some reference images and it make into a PDF. Sometimes I talk with the commissioner or the artist beforehand which then makes it more a collaborative project.”

The best video clips, Kinga says, provide a “a documentation of a time or an era”. “It’s always so immediate, what’s going on at that time, and I feel like my responsibility is to show the best version of that. For the artist, you don’t want them to look back and regret it.”

Music videos and film more generally have always been a strong interest for Kinga. Like many kids born in the ‘80s, she remembers getting up super early or staying up ’til late to watch Rage or Video Hits

“Even back then I remember recording it and making my own tapes, I made my own mix tapes, and that only happens when you want to be part of that world,” she says. “I would say for me, the thing I always tried to ask myself was, ‘Do I want to be in this music video?’ It’s something I still ask myself now, when I’m making them, like, if I was 15, would I want to be inside it? And if I said yes, I succeeded.”

She cites Italian-Canadian director Floria Sigismondi, who has directed The Cure, Marilyn Manson and Sigur Ros, as an inspiration – “her aesthetic is opposite of mine I guess, really dark” – as well as the work of Polish director Krzysztof Kieślowski, particularly his 1993 masterpiece Three Colours: Blue, starring Juliette Binoche.

“The way he is able to evoke an emotion or explain something through his imagery, it tells much more than is written in the script, and the music especially in that film, he’s really unique,” she says. “Watching his films is like looking at a painting, it stays with you.”

Kinga, who also shoots commercial videos for brands such as Chloe and L’Oreal, enjoys the variety and relatively quick turnaround of her work.

“The good thing about making music videos, you do it for three weeks and you put it to bed. I like that you do something really crazy and can do something the complete opposite the next time you film,” she says.

After more than 10 years of making music videos, though, the idea of directing a feature film has increasing appeal. “More and more as I get older I feel like I have something deeper to say,” she says. “Maybe not next year, but probably sooner than I think.”

"I guess I’m meant to be known as the girl who makes girls look good and feel good."

Five clips that inspired Kinga to start making her own.

‘It’s Oh So Quiet’

Bjork

“I adored the album, but then the video brought life to the track in a way where it couldn’t be listened to in the same way. It needed to be seen after that. I remember the juxtaposition of the handheld first shot of the dirty sink and then the dreamy slow motion of her colourful world. It was a journey of surprises perfectly timed to the ever-changing track – the dancing extras, the dancing mailbox and the crane shot at the end. Broadway musical revisited in a modern and relevant way for that time. Perfect.”

‘1979’

The Smashing Pumpkins

“Because it’s the first time I noticed a camera being rigged to a rolling tyre, a 360-degree pan from a car roof, a kid’s body etc, and it felt revolutionary and exciting. Because it’s a coming-of-age of story about American teenagehood when I was coming of age. Because I loved that album so much, and because I wanted to be in it.”

‘Bad Ambassador’

The Divine Comedy

“Because it’s a whack idea perfectly executed and feels timeless. I don’t want to give it away. If you haven’t seen it, watch it, it’ll make your day.”

‘Black and White Town’

Doves

“Because I was captivated by Lynne Ramsay’s early work and those incredible portraits of British suburban youth that stay with you forever.”

‘Where the Wild Roses Grow’

Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds/Kylie Minogue

“Because it’s the ultimate pop video performance, because Kylie makes an incredible Ophelia and because each shot feels like a dream.”

Something Else