An interview with Seattle’s Jason Koenig, who has carved out a tremendously successful career as a music video director — which includes the latest video for the new Macklemore single, “Glorious,” released this week.
Seattle’s Jason Koenig, who has carved out a tremendously successful career as a music video director — which includes the video for the new Macklemore single, “Glorious,” released this week — can hardly believe his good fortune.
A Grammy-nominated and MTV Video Music Award-winning director, Koenig has played a lead role in the production of the Macklemore & Ryan Lewis videos for, among others, “Can’t Hold Us” and “Downtown,” which, combined, have earned some 700 million plays on YouTube. But after “Can’t Hold Us,” the second major single off the rap album “The Heist,” Koenig said he went through the darkest creative year of his career.
Koenig, 33, had trained as a photographer but fell into video after hanging out and working with Macklemore & Ryan Lewis. After the runaway success of “Can’t Hold Us,” “I had the most creatively insecure year of my life,” he says. “I thought I would most likely never get back. I thought I peaked at 28.”
But instead of chasing more fame and a higher profile, Koenig went back into the proverbial lab to learn, pushing himself to understand each and every aspect of video production so that when he went back to make something grand, he’d be prepared.
“I didn’t want to jump back in before I had the experience to re-create ‘Can’t Hold Us’ on set,” he says. “I wanted to learn about the structure of the industry, the roles, the way everyone is supposed to do things so I could apply what I wanted to do and be able to do it in a respectful way.”
A few years later, however, the English singer Ed Sheeran called — some two weeks before the Christmas holiday. The crooner, whom Koenig has known for about three years, had at the last minute backed out a video project for his hit “Shape of You,” in which he was called to skydive. Due to a fear of heights, the idea was scrapped and a new idea involving boxing was born. But since the shoot was to be so close to the holiday, Koenig persuaded the decision-makers to let him shoot the video in Seattle using his own crew and actors. About 2 billion views later, his vision seems to have worked out. “It happened again,” he says, with a calm and reflective sigh.
Koenig’s good luck continues to this day. When Macklemore (aka Seattle’s Ben Haggerty), whom Koenig has known for almost a decade, called about an idea for a new video project, Koenig was all ears. The video for “Glorious,” which features a treatment much like a home movie, shows Haggerty flying to California to surprise his 100-year-old grandmother on her birthday, taking her around to see and do whatever she wished. It’s a close-up, intimate portrayal of familial love, something of a drastic change compared to the vast, big-budget projects that have brought so much success to Koenig — and the video already has over 10 million views. “The approach,” the director says, “was built for that intimacy and authenticity. Immediately I thought Ben’s idea for the video was brilliant — and if it didn’t work, it would have still been an amazing day.”
While his career continues to blossom in almost unfathomable ways — including videos for Macklemore’s upcoming album, commercial work and a budding relationship with world-renowned production company Anonymous — Koenig, in his heart of hearts, remains focused on the important relationships in his life, support systems and sharing what he’s learned. A mentor to a handful of budding Emerald City video directors — people like Zoe Rain, Johnny Valencia, Mitchell Overton and John Peterson — Koenig says if it wasn’t for his career in video production, he’d likely be a teacher.
“It’s the weirdest thing,” he says, “if I empower people with what I’ve learned, if I give it away, it frees up space in my brain to learn more. I am extremely grateful. I’m the luckiest person in the world.”