Ace Norton is a Los Angeles-based award winning director of music videos, commercials and short films. Born and raised in Venice, California, his filmmaking style has been influenced by his artist parents and the surrounding melting pot of cultures and creatives. What we love most about him is his out-of-the-box thinking, playful visuals, and his innovative approach to storytelling. His most notable works include music videos for bands that we grew up listening to, like The Faint, The Sounds, and Death Cab For Cutie, to name a few.
His commercials for brands including Coca-Cola, Dolby, and Honda are still true to his unique style and push the boundaries of what is generally considered commercial. Most recently his short fashion film for the New York-based label RHIÉ has won several notable awards at the International, Berlin, and Milan Fashion Film Festivals.
Ace invited us to come hang and shoot photos at his rad pad in Venice, filled with eclectic souvenirs from his already burgeoning career. We love what he’s accomplished at such a young age and can’t wait to see what he creates next.
Was there a defining moment in your childhood where you knew you wanted to make films for a living?
As a kid I wanted to be a pro skateboarder, but when I was 13 I shattered my tailbone jumping off a flight of stairs. For 6 months I had to sit on an inflatable doughnut cushion and couldn't do any physical activities, so one day I asked my dad if I could borrow his Hi8 camera. Instead of skating, I'd go home everyday and make these little short films which I'd direct, edit, and star in myself. They were all pretty bad but it was a fun testing ground, a fun way to kill time and make mistakes. So I guess the whole filmmaking thing sprung from me breaking my ass...
How did growing up in Venice shape your artistic and visual style?
Venice is a melting pot of different cultures, ethnicities and social classes. Skateboard punks and gangsters live next to street performers, fine artists, and millionaires. My style, a lot like Venice, is a mishmash of different styles and influences: I like fashion. I like animation. I like music videos. I like narrative. I like comedy. I like drama.
How did your education at USC enhance / limit your filmmaking practice?
It was okay. There was this one class called 290 where they gave you a digital camera and sent you off in the world to experiment and make 5 short films in 3 months. It was fun because there was a lot of room for experimentation. That being said, film school just wasn’t for me and I dropped out junior year.
How did you get involved with music videos and how does a song inspire or influence your concepting process?
I grew up watching music videos on MTV. When the director’s name would appear at the bottom of the screen, I’d research their names and submerge myself in their work, so I grew up really idolizing all those great pioneers from the 90’s.
The concepting process is always the most difficult for me…it’s agonizing in a way. I’ll just listen to a song over and over and over again until something pops in my brain…there’s nothing too magical about it, it just takes a lot of patience.
We’re probably the last generation that viewed music videos on MTV - has your involvement with music videos changed now that they are almost solely Internet-based?
At the beginning I was all about working with big household names - primarily because you’d get more eyes on your work. But with the Internet, things have changed. If something is entertaining or innovative (even if it’s for a smaller act), it can be as equally relevant because everything is accessible these days. The Internet really levels the playing field.
Your early work involves a lot of stop-motion, animation and physical installations. Where did that stem from and how do you translate physical elements into digital work?
Stop animation came out of budget constraints. We couldn’t compete with the big guys and couldn’t afford lights or grip trucks or camera rentals, so we’d collect our art supplies and just animate. With animation we could create whatever we imagined. Budget was never an issue.
Your style is different, it challenges the boundaries of what is considered “commercial.” What do you like most about directing commercials?
The money is nice...
Any current projects you can share with us?
I’m going to China to shoot a Sephora ad… working on a couple narrative ideas too :)
What has been your most memorable on-set moment(s)?
I vomited out of nerves before directing Norah Jones hahaha
Who’s a dream collaborator of yours (past or present)?
Who are your favorite directors?
Kubrick, Tarantino, Kurosawa, Michel Gondry.
What has been your proudest moment thus far?
Smoking blunts with Snoop Dogg, post shooting with him.
What advice do you have for creatives trying to break into the industry?
Have grit. Don’t let the failures and rejection get to you. Keep moving forward.
We heard that you enjoy cooking. What’s your favorite thing to make?
Sushi or pasta.
What else do you like to do outside of directing?
I surf, I like to cook, I like to hang out with my friends.
Favorite brunch spot in LA / Venice?
I don’t really do brunch but I’ll eat Mexican any time of the day.
Bloody marys or mimosas?