Q & A with Filmmaker and Director Levi Turner

Photography by Jake Moran

Filmmaker and director Levi Turner has come a long way from filming skate videos with his friends in Indiana. Now creating videos and documentaries for some of Brooklyn’s most revered hip-hop lyricists, Turner has built up quite the portfolio of inspiring work that has reached people all over the world, showing that your geographical standing doesn’t dictate how far you can go when you follow your passion.

I got to sit down with Levi at his old stomping grounds to catch up with him and get to know a little bit more about his journey as an artist, versatility as a director, his current creative mindset and what project he is most proud of in his more than fourteen years of filmmaking. 

Tune in below to get to know more about the Indiana native.

Jake Moran: First of all thank you for being here. Can you share where you are at right now with your artistic expression?
Levi Turner: I am in a really interesting place right now creatively. I feel like I am exploring a lot of new waves of creativity and goals I am setting out to accomplish as an artist. I’m currently living in Brooklyn, New York and do a lot of work with Joey Bada$$. He and I have been building with each other for a long time and have a great relationship. Throughout that relationship I’ve been able to explore my own creativity in a lot of different ways. I’m very focused right now on building a foundation for what it is I do and the artistic direction I take on music videos, documentaries, short films and photography. My main focus as a creator is telling stories from all perspectives.

JM: Can you give us a little insight to your roots in videography and photography?
LT: There was a digital video production class in the sixth grade that I took. My mom had a digital camera so my younger two brothers and I just started making videos with that. Literally just filming my brother doing kickflips on his skateboard in our garage. That led me to start making skate videos at the skatepark where I grew up. I started meeting other kids that made skate videos and soon enough we had our own little community. I did it all throughout my teenage years and have so many memories of my early years of filming at the skatepark. It came naturally. I never had to force it and just ran with it.

JM: You’re lucky to have found something that is creatively fulfilling and that you’re passionate about so early in life! Some people search their whole lives and never truly find what that “thing”. 
LT: Absolutely although I would say that I am still looking in some ways. I don’t think I will ever settle into one thing professionally. I am always looking for new experiences and new art forms to indulge in. I guess if I had to settle, it would be me having a small cabin secluded in nature and building out a sprinter van, traveling and telling stories. It isn’t that I am not satisfied. I appreciate my journey but I am always looking for something new. I’m still searching just like everyone else.

JM: Your versatility as a filmmaker and story teller is inspiring. I saw a very tranquil sixty second video you made of rain falling on different types of plants, then I saw the intricacies of and scope of the ‘Left Hand’ Music video you directed for the group Beast Coast. You never seem to box yourself into a specific aesthetic. 
LT: I really struggle with sticking to one thing. Sometimes I love it and sometimes I hate it because it can feel all over the place. As a creator, I don’t feel like there is one piece of work that can define me. I was raised in Indiana where I was always around nature. Now I live in Brooklyn and am always around buildings. I tend to gravitate to things around me and lock in on that. I never want to tell myself that I can’t do a project because it doesn’t fit a certain aesthetic or image that I have created. 

JM: It is very freeing as a creator to not feel like you have to put out a specific brand of work. There are many artists who cater to their audience instead of to themselves and their own creative expression. 
LT: Oh for sure. Whenever I start a new project, expressing my own creativity is always in the forefront of my mind. Obviously it’s awesome if what I create resonates with other people, but I never want to feel like I am creating for other people because that can get draining and that isn’t why I started making videos. I started it because it fulfills my creative needs and makes me feel fulfilled.

JM: Your form of creating when it comes to Videography & Photography is very straightforward and raw. There aren’t a ton of fancy edits or filters. It all has a very documentary and natural feel to it.
LT: Definitely, and that is why I gravitate towards film. It’s the most accurate representation of that very point in time. I was shooting today in my old backyard. I had one exposure left and it was great because I didn’t feel like I needed anything more than one exposure. One picture and that was it. I love that because it forces me to shoot with the utmost intention. Film photography is just so much more engaging to me as an art form and it really forces me to be present.

JM: Our city is overflowing with talent, but it is a relatively small market here in Indianapolis and the lack of support for the creative economy by our City are holding us back from being known and respected for our creators. Being in a creative field as you are, did you feel like you needed to move out of the city to really achieve what you wanted?
LT: I think I thought that at one point. I just felt like there were so many opportunities outside of Indianapolis that I wanted to strive for. I think the breaking point for me was when my Mom became a flight attendant and I could fly anywhere for free. I used that as an opportunity to make relationships and connections with people in different cities and that ultimately led me to working with other amazing creators. Now that I have left the city and done all these projects, I do look at Indianapolis in a whole different light. I think that if the right creators were here and built a foundation and all came together something pretty incredible can be built here because the city does have a lot of talent. Sometimes you have to leave to see the value of something. But Indianapolis has given birth to some dope talents in recent years so I think it’s only a matter of time before there is that national recognition.

JM: You’re a pretty busy person who has his hand in a lot of things. You’ve directed numerous music videos for Joey Bada$$ and Beast Coast including Left Hand’, Distance’ and The Light’. Do you still have the time to just go out your door to walk around and photograph for yourself?
LT: I am making it more of a priority to focus on things that I personally care about. Whether that be walking around shooting or planning projects and stories that have nothing to do with my paid gigs. All of those videos took a lot of technicality and energy because there are so many people involved. In order to do bigger ideas like that you have to be able to delegate jobs and tasks to other people for it to run smoothly. Sometimes it’s ten to fifteen people on set that I have to manage because I am at the point where I only focus on achieving the vision I have for the video now that I have a team. Big projects like that are awesome to do and I love every second of them, but it has also made me really appreciate the things that I love to do for me as well, so I am trying to focus a little more on my personal work.

JM: You’ve done so many great projects of the past couple years. To end this interview I would like to know if there is a particular project that stands out to you as one of the most important things you’ve done creatively, or do you treat all of your projects with the same appreciation separately?
LT: I value all of my projects the same, I love the music videos I’ve created just as much as I do the sixty second videos of nature that I’ve created. I view them as separate but equal entities. All that matters to me is ‘Do I love this at this moment?”. If I had to give an answer I would have to say the ‘Left Hand’ video. I have always admired Joey Bada$$, The Underachievers, Flatbush Zombies and Pro Era. And to think the first big budget video I got to shoot was for all of them on one song was so special to me and I want that video to show any kid that comes from a small town to know that they could do what they want. I’m from Greenwood, Indiana. If I can do it then truly anyone can.

You can keep up with Levi on Instagram and check out his work on Vimeo.

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