We had the good fortune of connecting with James Larese and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi James, we’d love to hear about how you approach risk and risk-taking
Without risk there is no progression. As a director it is important to embrace change and the unknown. One can only achieve creative diversity by taking risks and trying things that are outside of their comfort zone. Taking chances and accepting the outcome (both positive and negative) is essential in my occupation in order to grow creatively. Some of the best advice I’ve ever received is that if you stay ready, you don’t have to get ready. It’s about being ready for when opportunity strikes but it is also about staying on your grind and knowing when to bet on yourself. No one is going to believe in you if you don’t first believe in yourself as a director. We are told “no” way more than we are told “yes” and it’s up to you to prove you can do what is required. Proof is in the work and if you stay safe, your work will reflect that. But if you take risks and try creating content outside of your comfort zone, you will not only get to know yourself as an artist but will also gain the confidence of being thrown into the deep end and knowing you will make it out. To have confidence you need experience and to gain experience you need to be flexible and take risks. I can’t tell you the amount of times I’ve had the “fake it till you make it” mentality in order to get a gig. Over time you gain the confidence in yourself that you know that no matter what the circumstances, you will make it out on the other side.
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
(Apologies if this is super long, wasn’t sure how in-depth I should go so please feel free to edit lol…) I’ve always been obsessed with the creative process. Until a piece is considered “done,” there is no limit to its possibilities and that’s where the sweet spot is for me- Anticipation vs. Reality. I never went to school to become a “director.” I started out as a painter and was obsessed with The Renaissance period. When I was 19 I set off to Florence Italy to study and absorb as much as I could from that period. It changed my life and taught me the value of staying true to your vision. I came back to LA ready to conquer the world but the romantic period came to an abrupt stop when I couldn’t get my paintings seen to save my life. No one would give me the time of day and I quickly realized that something just wasn’t clicking. My art turned dark and the content began to shift reflecting my struggle to earn any sort of living. “Cue the starving artist years.” I realized that though I had technical skills to paint, my subject matter, the stories I was trying to tell weren’t personal. I was very superficial and painting ideas I though would be cool opposed to what I knew I needed to get out. Art started to become therapy and my focus shifted from trying to make money to trying to get to the root and connect with myself. That’s when everything changed. I began to embrace technology and obsessed over how to make my art “move.” Something began to happen and I started getting into galleries in LA and then NYC. In 2002 I co-founded an artist collective named, Syndrome, and we began focusing on large scale gallery installations. These installations were experimental videos that were scored in surround sound and accompanied by large scale mixed media pieces that represented frames from the video… Things really took off and over the next decade we began getting commissioned to “do us” and explore our creative freedom. I was finally making money from my art but it happened not because I was chasing the money but rather chasing my passion. During these years I realized that in a collective it’s important to establish a point person. Someone who can lead the forge ahead and think a few steps forward. By default that was me and I embraced it. It was really the early stages of directing for me. We quickly evolved from an artist collective to a design and directing studio with myself as the director. We did everything soup to nuts and had acquired a pretty impressive client list from a range of major record labels, tv networks, brands and live events. Under the Syndrome collective, I amassed my 10,000 hrs of directing and felt it was time to take the next step. In 2015 I left Syndrome and officially became an independent director with a strong focus on injecting originality and creativity into branded content. There is no better time to be an established director. Today is the Wild West and the lines are blurred more than ever between what is a commercial vs. what is art.
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
Well this is obviously a fantasy question during Covid but to me, the best of LA is what exists beneath the surface. The culture of LA isn’t in the foam on top of the triple macchiato but in the beans that made the coffee. I would start with their stomach by taking them to get proper tacos in East LA or Korean bbq in Koreatown. I’d then move to their heart and take them on a beautiful hike in the hills so they can get the scope of the city from an elevated location like the observatory or Runyun Canyon. Then I’d have to blow their mind by taking them from the concrete city of the East to the stress free ocean lifestyle of the West to experience the diversity (and polarity) of this city. Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
My family have been extremely supportive since birth. I knew at a very young age that art was IT for me and they never once questioned that. I was lucky that I knew so early that I was going to be a creative in some form and I think that support gave me the confidence and thick skin to take on all obstacles. When I really began to pursue a career in directing, the man who co-signed me and took me under his wing was director, Chris Robinson. He saw something in me that he thought was worth betting on and under his support, he helped introduce me and opened doors to opportunity that I otherwise never would have been exposed to. He got me in the room but it was then my job to prove why I belonged there.