A Moment With: Keenan MacWilliam
Keenan MacWilliam is a Canadian-Guyanese director, creative director and artist based in New York. Keenan has directed works for musicians including Tkay Maidza, Ms. Lauryn Hill, Hawa and fellow Canadian, Eva. Her music videos have a cinematic, narrative appeal with a sleek aesthetic style that gives them an added edge.
VSP chats with Keenan about the thrill of directing, living in New York, and how she dresses to her mood.
What are some visual references you pull into your work?
I have a pretty active imagination so it doesn't take much for me to pull inspiration from things around me. It can be literally anything. I'm always surprised by the moments that spark my ideas. Sometimes it's a sound or an unusual word someone uses, a haircut, or even a smell. Then from there my brain kind of just goes into overdrive and next thing I know i'm furiously typing away on my notes in the corner. I recently discovered that I come up with some of my best ideas in environments where my senses are put into overdrive--lights, music, movement. I know for a lot of people working in solitude is best for focus. For me, I concentrate best when there's a lot going on around me. That's why living in New York has been so exciting--even being in line at the DMV is a thrill.
Do you have certain themes you revisit in your work across mediums?
What's a theme? Just kidding... I didn't know I had themes in my work until someone told me I did. Is that wildly unaware of me? At a base level, I'm drawn to telling stories that haven't been told and need to be. It's our time to show up and provide a platform for like-minded people who haven't had a chance to shine.
What are some of the challenges you face while directing?
I could talk forever about being a female director and how annoying it is to have bearded assistant camera guys talk to me like I'm an idiot but I won't because it's been done. It's not even a real challenge for me anymore because I see their mouths moving but I don't hear any words come out! I love my job so much but I didn't choose it because it was easy. There's a high-risk, high reward thrill of directing and creative directing. I think my single biggest challenge is indecision. In this job, there's a lot of pressure to be so sure of ourselves but I'm not always. There are endless ways to do something well and sometimes I get overwhelmed at the possibilities. I'll be on set and all of a sudden I'll be struck with a new idea and I'll want to explore it. There isn't always time for that but I try to create space for myself to veer off path as much as possible.
Who are your favourite designers, and how have they sculpted your personal style?
That's a tough question because I'm always learning about new designers who blow my mind. I'm constantly changing and shifting the way I dress so I can answer how I feel today, but tomorrow is a different story. Right now my favourite outfit to go out in is a random black mini dress, a pair of vintage Freelance boots that my best friend gave me for my birthday and a pair of $20 latex gloves I bought in LA. For daytime and travel I'm usually wearing at least one Issey piece and those same boots or a pair of Air Forces I got airbrushed baby blue.
You experiment with your style and have fun with your looks, what advice would you give someone looking to step outside the box?
I don't take myself too seriously at all. I'm obsessed with exploring characters through the way I dress, so whatever mood I'm in that day I'll go with. Sometime I'm a real estate agent in Bordeaux and other nights I'm one of the forgotten OG Destiny's Child singers. Ask anyone--I love wigs and every time I put one on, a new personality emerges and I'm like--who is she? I think everyone should play and try to access different parts of themselves through their style.
Tell us about a couple of projects you're working on right now, what does the near future look like?
I'm really excited about my next two music videos coming out for HAWA and Tkay Maidza. In September, I'm doing a performance piece on the Highline in New York in collaboration with another artist, Salome Asega and middle school girls from NY. It will be my first time doing live performance art. I can't wait. My near future is lots of fun, I'm going to keep plugging away at my script, and I've been developing a game for the last year and I'm gearing up for the release of that too. Wanna play?