Director Walter May Turned His Love of MTV into a Career
Photo courtesy of Walter May
Growing up in Arlington, Texas, director Walter May was always a bit of an outsider. The son of a Caucasian father and Filipino mother he admitted in a recent one-on-one interview that he always felt a little bit different. “The South has this duality of being very kind but you do feel a separation,” May explained. “And, me being a kid who really didn’t know how to identify with either side so much, whether it being my mom’s Filipino side or also being half-Caucasian, but not looking Caucasian, not overtly Caucasian, it was an interesting place that helped develop my strength of just being unique in whatever it is that I do because I was just born into it.” Like many teens, he started to find ways to express his individuality in high school. He recounted, “You can see how conservative suburban Texas could be and I was always that kid who would bleach his hair or wear funky, crazy clothes. And, that was all at the point where, when you’re 16 or 17, you start choosing what music you’re listening to and the clothes you’re really wearing because you now you’re actually buying stuff yourself. You really start defining all the things. Once I got to that age, I did like that allure of, wait I want to do things a little bit more quote-unquote rock and roll than other people.” While some people embrace the concept of being rock and roll, May found a way to turn it into a career — not as a musician but from behind the camera. Like most teens in the ‘80s and ‘90s, May became a rabid fan of music videos. “My parents, in my teenage years, didn’t want me to watch MTV. So, of course, the thing I wanted to do the most was watch MTV,” May conceded. “So, I had this fascination with music videos.” While he became a rapper in a local band, May also decided to take broadcasting classes in college thinking it was the perfect training for his dream job of becoming an MTV VJ. “I thought, ‘Okay, that’s broadcast, those guys are broadcasters.’ Not realizing they were just models that they gave jobs to. But, there’s a certain level of broadcast skills they had.” And yet, once he started to immerse himself in the ins and outs of the business, May discovered that it wasn’t the on air hosting that appealed to him. “I realized it’s not necessarily the introing and outroing or even being a radio DJ that I loved about it,” he recalled. “I loved the art form that was music videos. I realized, ‘Oh, I don’t want to just talk about them, I want to create them.’ I was unconsciously studying, ‘Oh, how does this work? Why did that story appeal to me? What were the colors in this and what were the angles?’” After photographing and making videos of his friends in local bands, he soon got a job as an assistant editor for a post production house that focused on commercials. While the advertising world was helping pay the bills, May still fostered his love for music videos. Relocated to Los Angeles, he even got to work with one of his mentors, Wayne Isham, who had worked on videos for Britney Spears and N*Sync, which had been among May’s favorites back in his MTV watching days. He also continued to make videos for his friends. One of them was a young singer-songwriter that May thought had promise. “I went to her show and it was just her and an acoustic guitar. The songs were blowing me away. And, I was like, ‘Oh, my gosh, you’re such a powerful singer and these songs are so emotional.’ We became fast friends and I was like, ‘Hey, I’m editing these commercials now but I want to be a director. So, how about I direct some of your videos. And, I just really believe in you.’ That person eventually became Katy Perry.” May worked with Perry on her early videos and continues to team up with the singer on projects to this day. “We made some very cool, fun stuff early on. And, it was truly a collaboration because she definitely has her opinions and knows how she wants to look and ideas she wants to explore. But this was at a time where it wasn’t the big budgets and we were just paying for stuff ourselves.” “As my advertising career progressed editing commercials and directing these music videos on the side, my goal was to eventually direct TV commercials,” May added. “A project will come along and Katy will endorse Toyota for Thailand or something like that and I’ll direct those commercials. Or, she’ll have an album come out and Wal-Mart wants a commercial and I’ll direct the Wal-Mart commercial. So, she’s definitely been somebody who’s been a champion of me and always has my back as far as including me in things and projects that I can work on with her.”
Over the years, May has realized that he has a passion for collaborating with other talented people like LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Serena Williams and Eminem. And most recently he has partnered with artist Tyler Ramsey on a new fine arts project called "Friendship is Magic." “At the same time when I met Katy, I met Tyler. Awhile back at that time he was casting TV shows and he was this super interesting guy. And, he was just getting into painting. And, I followed what he’d been doing. He’s an abstract expressionist. He takes paint and uses it in different ways to express an emotion or an idea that he has for something.”
May realized he wanted to join Ramsey in what they call a “A Celebration of Collaboration.” As, May noted, “Seeing him work for 10 or 12 years, I understood and saw how he’s mastering exactly what he enjoys. He’s understanding the textures of the paint and what the paint's made out of and how it reacts to each other and what he wants it to do… Some people consider it very easy or simple skill like ‘Oh, I can just splash a bunch of paint around’ and I understand as following him and studying the art of it, how difficult that is.” They each bring unique but compatible skills to the process — Tyler as a painter and May as a graphic artist and photographer. “Every single time that I approach my fine art with him, I tried to bring some sort of technological advance to it, where it’s a juxtaposing his organic style and I’m forcing something created from that and trying to tell messages of how technology and natural roles can coincide. How they effect each other and how that’s where we are as a society now.” Whether it’s through the art of commercial making, directing music videos or creating fine art, May’s goal is simple. “I just want to inspire people… There’s not a service involved when creating art. You’re just trying to invoke ideas when you create art.” To learn more about Walter May visit his official website and check out the Walter May and Tyler Ramsey online gallery.