Born and raised in Decatur, Georgia, I got my start in photography and film while in college at Georgia State University. I was working at a small, independently-owned streetwear store in Buckhead. We sold to a lot of celebrities, some local and some internationally renowned, from Elton John to T.I., but more importantly we sold to the dealmakers behind the scenes, top managers and producers in the industry. I managed and ran the website, which served as a blog that posted the latest goods we received, but also was a more in-depth source of updates for the community. It started to gain traction and a following. People we starting to take notice.
One of those people was Don Cannon, a DJ and producer from Philadelphia who had relocated to Atlanta after college and partnered with DJ Drama and “Trendsetter” Sense to start the infamous Gangsta Grillz mixtape series that shook up the music industry in the mid 2000s.
Cannon noticed what I was doing with the blog in terms of content creation and promotion and asked me to come work with him to bring the marketing aesthetic to his brand. I went to college, worked a day job, then spent nights at the studio with Cannon, taking photos, recording videos, working on mixtape and flyer covers, and strategizing on how to digitally roll out his releases weather they be songs or mixtape projects for other artists.
I got my first big break when Young Jeezy decided to joined forces with Cannon to put out his Trap or Die 2 mixtape to promote up and coming album TM:103. Jeezy started as a mixtape artist, so his mixtape demanded as much work as a full album. Cannon brought me on to help create content and promote the project.
Impressed by what I brought to the table, Jeezy offered me a job to work with him full-time, kicking off the “Jeezy era” for me. I quit my day job and, for about 2 years while still attending college, I worked almost exclusively with Jeezy, doing small music videos and behind the scenes content. Eventually our relationship ended and I was free agent of sorts, liberated to work with whoever I wanted.
Thus I entered the “Music Video Era” and for the next 3 years I solely focused on becoming a prominent director. Not tied to one artist exclusively anymore, despite requests for by several, I would do 2-3 videos a month for whoever had a budget. From 2 Chainz to Future, from B.o.B. to T-Pain, I could put every relevant down south rapper on my reel through one project or another.
One artist I had a particularly good chemistry with was Future. We created a lot of good work together, so when he pitched me on the idea of working exclusively with him, I considered it.
He was also willing to pay me a yearly salary and invest in equipment. Unfortunately, our partnership never flourished; our first project together under this new relationship didn’t go well and the video ended up getting “shelved.” Anytime a video doesn’t release it’s a bit of a hit mentally, and as a director, problems that are out of your hands weigh on you.
After that video and reflecting on my last few videos before that, which, even though they were released and one was even nominated for BET video of the year, were consistently plagued with problems, I realized music videos weren’t bringing me the same fulfillment they once did. While I did love what I did, the clients were unprofessional, the budgets were never big enough, and each project was becoming more and more stressful. I was jaded and started to re-evaluate my career choice as a music video director. I needed a break, a change of pace.
While directing music videos, I also did small video projects here and there for Nike, mostly internal stuff for presentations. They had substantial budgets and weren’t hard to produce. One day they called me, but this time it wasn’t for a video project. They were looking for a digital producer to project manage an app they were planning on prototyping. A friend of mine at Nike who concepted the app asked me if I knew anyone who would be good for the job. It would require living in San Francisco and working directly with the UI designer and developer for a month. I thought about it and pitched myself. I was tech savvy enough to figure it out and get the job done, plus getting out of Atlanta for a month and working on something totally unrelated to music videos might be just the thing I needed, not to mention I’d be making some good money.
One month turned into four, but I didn’t care. I was in a new city, working in an entirely new field, so I had plenty to keep me busy. While working on that project, I was pitched on creating some photo content that would live in the app we were creating. Photography! That sounded more my speed. Nike wanted to hire a studio that they could call on 24/7 to shoot products for the app and their small but numerous social campaigns. Traditional studios were too expensive and charged them tens of thousands of dollars in rush fees. If they hired a studio that was briefed on the fact that they would have to do quick turnarounds on a short notice as a part of the gig then they could avoid the rush fee, in a sense. When they asked me if I was interested, I accepted. There was only one problem: I didn’t have a studio, or a crew to work for me.
I knew I had to set up a studio quickly, after all the client would be coming for visits once a quarter, but where would I set this studio up? Not in San Francisco; it was too expensive and I was starting to realize that city wasn’t really for me. Atlanta was too far away, in the wrong time zone for the client and pricey for overnight shipments from Portland. Plus I wasn’t ready to go back to Atlanta.
I decided to set up shop in Los Angeles. It was more affordable than San Francisco, and a quick flight away from Portland, plus I had a handful of friends there. I sub-leased half of a 400 square foot studio in DTLA from a friend, found a photo assistant and got to shooting. Small campaigns turned into larger ones, I hired more people, and eventually moved into a proper studio space, 4,000 square feet in Mid-City. I worked hard to ensure my become a prefered agency for Nike, and I picked up Beats By Dre as a client. In 2 short years I went from Decatur Dan, the Atlanta based rap music video director, to Daniel Hall, owner and operator of Los Angeles based creative agency Where It’s Greater.