Filmmaker, cinematographer and music video director Jon Jon Augustavo (MFA ’12 Film), recognized for his dynamic and evocative narrative style, is a three-time MTV Video Music Award-winner best known for his collaborations with rap duo Macklemore & Ryan Lewis on their Grammy Award-winning “Thrift Shop” and chart-topping hit, “Same Love.” The latter alone has generated more than 125 million views on YouTube.
In fact, of all the work he has done, Augustavo is proudest of “Same Love,” a marriage equality anthem whose groundbreaking rise on the pop charts was noted by The New York Times. “I originally thought I just needed to make a great story,” said Augustavo. “I didn’t think there were any social ramifications. But we put it out right before the vote for same-sex marriage in Washington,” a reference to his and the band’s support for Referendum 74 on their home state ballot in 2012. “And months afterward, the emails I received, the people I met who said that it was so important to them — I’ve never had that experience in my life. I could stop making anything right now and I’d be happy to at least have done that.”
Meanwhile change has been proceeding at a rapid pace. At the federal level, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act and California’s Proposition 8 in 2013; and across the country, 19 states now have the freedom to marry. During the 2014 Grammy Awards global telecast, “Same Love” was performed as nearly three dozen gay and straight couples exchanged wedding vows.
Augustavo’s impulse toward strong visual narratives began early.
“I grew up in a fine art environment. My parents are both artists. I painted, I did all the general fine art things you do. But when I was 13 or 14, my dad got me a camera and I just started making random videos of stuff. I wasn’t a storyteller, but I wanted to show people things. I’m not sure where that comes from,” he said. “It’s just something I’ve always liked doing, showing people moving images and seeing if that can get them to have an emotional reaction, a sort of cathartic thing.”
Before coming to Art Center, Augustavo graduated from Washington State University’s Murrow College of Communication, worked briefly as a TV news writer/producer, then switched his focus to making music videos with artists in the vibrant Seattle scene.
“I started to have a little bit of success at it,” he said, “but I realized that if I wanted to get better and if I wanted to get into filmmaking, I needed to learn more.”
Augustavo enrolled in Art Center’s Graduate Film program and began honing his voice as a visual storyteller. “It seems like a very simple thing, but in fact, using moving images to tell a story is difficult,” he said. Among the professors at Art Center who helped him become a better filmmaker, Augustavo lists Victoria Hochberg and her narrative directing class, and Jean-Pierre Geuens, “who challenges you to look at things in a different way. Obviously, everybody needs the technical things, but it’s always good to have a teacher who asks you to watch things outside of the box.
“Art Center College of Design is the kind of school where you get what you put in,” he said. “I took tons of classes outside of film: fine art, photo, design. Art Center has a lot to offer that will affect you in the film world whether you realize it or not. So, all gas, no brakes,” he advises anyone enrolling in the program. “Just get out there and always be shooting. If you’re not working on a production, then do something creative, because if you’re not grinding, there are tens of thousands of other people around the world waiting to take your spot.”
Whenever he can, Augustavo works with peers with whom he collaborated at Art Center. “If you’re looking to meet people and build a great team, it’s a great school,” he said. “There’s a certain amount of freedom that can allow you to blossom if you’re willing to be open to working with other people and engage with your professors. I know I can trust these people to deliver above and beyond strangers for hire.”
Augustavo doesn’t plan to stop making music videos (other directing projects include Mike Posner’s “Top of the World” with Def Jam artist Big Sean and English rapper Tinie Tempah’s “Children of the Sun”) but he is increasingly involved in feature films, working from his own scripts and others. Augustavo is submitting his poignant original short film, How to Disappear Completely, to festivals. “It’s something to show that I don’t just do flashy videos,” he said. “A nice Pygmalion story,” the film began as part of his portfolio project at Art Center.
“I’ve experienced a lot of success pretty early on,” Augustavo added, “which has been great. But as an artist, you have to understand that there is business involved, and you have to balance your creative with the ability to understand that other people get to have an opinion. You can’t always be just an artist. But if I’m not paying with my own money, it’s just convincing people that what you can do is what they want.”
Striking a balance between fine art and commercial work, he said, “is my goal in life.”
Lynne Heffley is a Los Angeles-based freelance journalist who writes about the arts.