Interview: Midland’s Cameron Duddy Reflects on Directing Videos for Bruno Mars

A natural passion for music and film was instilled in Cameron Duddy when he was young. It was only a matter of time before Duddy, bassist for country band Midland, merged the two art forms. “I always saw the world through the lens of a camera,” Duddy tells American Songwriter in a recent phone interview before Midland’s show at Red Rocks in Colorado.

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As the son of cinematographer Christopher Duddy, whose impressive skills landed him behind the camera on Titanic, Thirteen Days, and Terminator 2, Duddy grew up watching movies with his dad. The two often talked about topics ranging from story structure to the technical aspects. As a kindergartener, Duddy experienced one of his favorite on-set memories when he got to visit the set of Terminator 2 where his father worked as a camera technician. He and his brother were taken out of school for the day to watch their dad in action and meet the leading star, Arnold Schwarzenegger.

“There were a lot of those instances growing up where we didn’t really understand how formative those memories would be,” he shares. “It’s always been part of my life and music is an extension of that. Those two things have always coexisted together.”

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Music has long been just as formative to Duddy’s artistic identity as film. The first album he truly identified with was Green Day’s groundbreaking debut, Dookie. He also soon grasped onto Nirvana, Metallica, and Pantera. The 10-year-old started writing “knock-off Green Day songs” in a spiralbound notebook in an attempt to recreate the angsty attitude of the songs he gravitated to.

“Songwriting came out of curiosity,” he explains. “My chemical makeup, for whatever reason, it wasn’t enough to listen to it, I wanted to figure out how those guys did it. On my mind was music and making short films.” 

He started to combine the two art forms in high school. He admitted that “the only class I applied myself to” was video production, as his fellow classmates became his video crew. He and his friends would film each other and turn the footage into makeshift music videos or short films, but he cites the “first real project” he did in film to be a recreation of the Beastie Boys video for “Sabotage.”

“I figured I was gonna do movies and music, I was very specific about those ambitions,” he notes. “I have to go seek out information if I’m curious about it on my own.”

Opting out of going to film school, Duddy instead harnessed his craft by staying in touch with his friends from high school who did go to film school which gave him access to equipment. He also got hired at a camera rental company that gave him a “really important understanding” of the technical side, learning how the cameras operated, how to build them, and how they run. But the most valuable experience he got was through trial and error. “Being able to go film short films and little projects and music videos, those two things were my school –just going out and doing it,” he affirms. 

His tenacity is a major factor that helped turn his hobby into a profession. Before becoming the guitarist of Midland, Duddy started his career as a music video director for Bruno Mars. Duddy’s wife, the photographer Harper Smith, was hired to take Mars’ photos and Duddy volunteered to shoot B-roll. Letting his creativity and tenacity take the lead, Duddy took his role one step further by making a music video out of the B-roll that impressed both Mars and the label.

“It’s preparation meets opportunity,” Duddy observes of how he started working with the superstar, revealing that they’re only two months apart in age and share the “same understanding, same language, a lot of the same background. … He took a shine to me, we understand each other and hit it off. He ended up bringing me around the world to be his tour videographer and I really applied myself to that job. There were times where I should have been filming, but instead, we were having a chuckle over beers. I was more involved behind the scenes than I probably should have, but I always delivered.” 

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He proved that point when he co-directed the video for “The Lazy Song” with Mars. The kitschy video that shows Mars flanked by a team of monkey mask-wearing dancers earned a nomination for Best Choreography at the 2011 MTV Video Music Awards and has been viewed more than two billion times on YouTube.

“I was able to get other work from ‘The Lazy Song’ and start directing music videos professionally,” Duddy says of the song he calls “ an accidental complete success.” It also helped lead to other opportunities. “It paid the bills. Because of that video, I had a credit that was worth something.”

His working relationship with Mars was elevated when he co-directed the video for Mars’ smash hit “Locked Out of Heaven.” “I threw my entire soul into it,” Duddy asserts of the video that won Best Male Video at the 2013 MTV Video Music Awards. “That was the beginning of a run of Bruno Mars music videos that really put me on the map and opened a massive door for me in the music video world. I was at the top of the heap very quickly.” 

His exceptional work with Mars led to Duddy directing such videos as Britney Spears and Iggy Azalea’s “Pretty Girls,” Jennifer Lopez’s “Ain’t Your Mama,” and Fifth Harmony’s “Work From Home,” among many others.

“I do think in terms of visual storytelling. So when I’m writing a script and I’m writing it through a certain point of view, that oftentimes is where the camera is. So I think that because my dad is a cinematographer, I have that built-in perspective,” he explains of his process. “I just happen to also think in terms of how the camera’s moving and what the camera movement tells you or is meant to evoke, and I think that’s probably because my dad and the exposure to that language… I’m following the story of the viewer and I care what happens to those people… All that stuff is evocative and I feel like really gives you a feeling.”

In 2014, Duddy formed the country group Midland with bandmates Mark Wystrach and Jess Carson where he got to marry his passion for music and film. He directed the video for the band’s debut No. 1 hit, “Drinkin’ Problem” which earned a nomination for Best Group Video at the 2017 CMT Music Awards. Acknowledging how both music and film are “story-driven mediums” that are “hard” to do, Duddy says that meaningful films and music are the result of when curiosity meets tenacity.

“Even the easy songs that come to you, or the easy script that you write, the one that happens quickly, or seemingly comes out of thin air requires your ability to catch the spirit, and you have to be tuned into a certain frequency to do that,” he proclaims. “You have to be able to foster healthy headspace and understanding, be a student of what is good and what is not good. You have to continue to be curious and listen and watch and read. I find myself always curious. They’re both very rewarding when they come to their full potential.”

(Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

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