The Coyle-Larner Brothers keep it in the family
Ben Coyle-Larner, aka rapper Loyle Carner, and his brother Ryan have teamed up to create a potentially formidable directing force. With a slew of great promos for his own tracks providing a perfect training ground, and a desire to "take the plunge" as directors, these multi-skilled siblings are making all the right noises.
The last thing that Ben Coyle-Larner says, as our interview draws to a close, is “I consider Ryan to be a director, and I’m his assistant.”
Ryan Coyle-Larner is Ben’s brother, while Ben you may know better as the Mercury- and Brit Awards-nominated hip-hop artist, Loyle Carner, his stage moniker a spoonerism of his surname. Patently though, Ben's statement is not true, as the preceding hour’s conversation – and the duo’s directing name, The Coyle-Larner Brothers - attests.
Ben you may know better as the Mercury- and Brit Awards-nominated hip-hop artist, Loyle Carner.
It’s early February and the three of us, plus a representative from production company Spindle, and Ben’s excitable poodle, Stacks, are sat in a recording studio in East London, where Ben is in the process of making a new album. But we’re not here to talk about music, at least not just music. Instead, Ben and Ryan’s fledgling career as directors is on today’s agenda.
Unlock full credits and more with a Source membership.
Above: The Coyle-Larner Brothers' directing debut for Arlo Parks' Eugene.
Two days from now, on February 12, the brothers’ directorial debut will be released into the world and they’re both nervous and excited at its reception. The promo, for British poet and musician Arlo Parks’ track, Eugene, is an intimate and stylish exploration of the agony, jealousy and confusion experienced when lines between platonic and romantic love blur.
I wanted to get involved [in directing] for a long time because, in essence, I’d directed a lot of my own music videos anyway.
Shot from above, the promo features Parks and two actor friends of Ben in a microcosm of a relationship played out over the course of a few days and nights in a bedroom. It’s a simple but highly effective film that has a low-key but important Gondry-esque physical effect mid-way through.
I relinquished a lot of the control for time reasons and, also, just through the fear of not being able to do it.
But before discussing the video in detail, what was it that compelled a successful music artist to cross from one sector into another, and from in front of the camera to behind it? “I suppose I wanted to get involved [in directing] for a long time,” says Ben, “because, in essence, I’d directed a lot of my own music videos anyway. But I relinquished a lot of the control for time reasons and, also, just through the fear of not being able to do it.”
Unlock full credits and more with a Source membership.
Above: Oscar Hudson's promo for Loyle Carner's Ottolenghi.
It seems, though, that the partnership with his younger brother [Ryan is 19, Ben is 25] was the basis for taking the directorial bull by the horns. “I grew up on a lot of Ben’s sets and because of that [filmmaking] always interested me,” says Ryan. “I was really into films when I was younger and I think I just always wanted to tell stories. I would always write little shorts at school and I really like the medium of film and being able tell stories in so many different ways. So, I went to college and studied [filmmaking], made lots of student films and then did a little bit in marketing and videography.”
I grew up on a lot of Ben’s sets and because of that [filmmaking] always interested me.
The pair say they had often joked about working together as directors but, talking to them, it feels like their dream always had a grain of a real-life plan to it, especially as Ben was so creatively close to his videos and, it transpires, Ryan was a sounding board for him. “We were already doing it [directing] in essence,” says Ben. “Me and Ryan would always discuss ideas I’d have for my videos because he was always really honest - ‘that's rubbish’, ‘that's good’ - and that meant I could trust his opinion. And we’re brothers so, you know, it was just a natural progression.”
Every time it’s about going, okay, how can we make something that could be quite boring, exciting to watch?
You can see the inspiration for Eugene lies in the videos for Loyle Carner. Carner’s promos have that intimacy and, like his music, often tell personal, quiet stories, and as Ben is always involved in the creative process of his own videos’ concepts, it makes sense that his first as a co-director mirrors that style. “Yeah,” says Ryan, “they’re just a heightened human reality. They’re the things that excite us the most. I think that’s probably where we’d always find ourselves. Every time it’s about going, okay, how can we make something that could be quite boring, exciting to watch?”
Unlock full credits and more with a Source membership.
Above: Georgia Hudson's video for The Isle of Arran.
Loyle Carner promos such as Joao Retorta’s Sun of Jean, and The Isle of Arran and Ottolenghi, directed by another set of sibling directors, Georgia and Oscar Hudson respectively, are influences, with Ben citing Oscar as one of his favourite directors. “He's a good friend of mine now,” he says, “and a really accomplished director, but also very open.” For Ottolenghi, Ben’s original idea was for a one-shot, where he wanted to walk all the way through a train, nonstop. “And,” says Ben, “he was like, ‘why don’t we have an endless train?’ He took it and pumped it with drugs.”
He took it and pumped it with drugs.
The Coen Brothers are also an influence, as is Alfonso Cuarón. “Cuarón’s another favourite,” says Ben. “I just watched Roma again; he has these big, open scenes and has this thing about how every extra should be a good actor. He has these ridiculous scenes where loads of things are happening at once. You might go through for five/10 minutes [and] everybody is believable. Usually [in other films] you see at least one extra who’s just kind of there, holding an apple but not eating it, or just staring into the lens.”
They decided that, while they might not be able to be The Coen Brothers, they could definitely create as a brotherhood.
It was Ryan who introduced Ben to The Coen Brothers and, once they’d made the decision to give directing a go, they decided that, while they might not be able to be The Coen Brothers, they could definitely create as a brotherhood. Of the Arlo Parks debut Ben says that he’d had an idea for a while; “just a camera being above something, where you get a bird’s eye view of a relationship. I told my little brother there was a possibility of doing a video, mentioned this idea [and] we talked about it for ages.”
We were both like, that means we’re going to have to really get on with it, and not just hide behind someone else as a director.
Ryan bought into the idea immediately but, for both of them, the bigger decision was simply about taking the plunge. “We were both like, that means we’re going to have to really get on with it,” says Ben, “and not just hide behind someone else as a director, or give someone our idea and then just not put our name on it in case it goes wrong.”
Above: Sun of Jean, directed by Joao Retorta.
They eventually decided to go for it with a friend of theirs producing, but he ended up pulling out. “At first we were bummed,” says Ben, “but then it meant we had to find a space to really put it together and it all got really serious. We got in touch with Spindle and they really gave us the creative space, and a lot of support [and] we knew it was the perfect environment for us to take that plunge.”
We got in touch with Spindle and they really gave us the creative space, and a lot of support.
The brothers’ process mirrors that of Ben’s approach to his own videos, where he creates a treatment and then draws a detailed storyboard for the film. The difference this time around is that he’s not handing those documents to anyone other than his brother. “I wasn’t capable of being the director [before],” he says. “To not only have the idea but to facilitate and to execute it. It might have been written by me, but I wasn’t there on the day, behind the camera.”
I’d be, like, why are you getting three shots of this if you got it in the first one? Or, why are you filming for a little bit longer once you say cut?
While Ryan has technical training through his college course, Ben has learned the craft of directing by being on set. “We were raised to not go into a room and think that we know everything,” Ben says, “but to go in and feel like we don’t know anything. So, every time I’d be, like, why are you getting three shots of this if you got it in the first one? Or, why are you filming for a little bit longer once you say cut? Over time I realised I understood what directors were looking for.”
Above: Some of Ben Coyle-Larner's initial sketches for the Eugene promo.
In terms of how they work together, Ryan is the more technically-minded of the two, “sitting back”, Ben says, “making sure everything looks perfect”, while Ben concerns himself more with the performances and action. “I’ve approached film from a more technical perspective,” says Ryan, “whereas Ben’s been in front of the camera. Though I wouldn’t say there’s a formal distinction between what we do [as directors].”
I don’t know anything really, but I know what looks right, and I know what feels right.
“I don’t know the name of any shot,” says Ben, “I don’t know anything really, but I know what looks right, and I know what feels right. If it was just me it would just be a jumble of ideas. Ryan is the technical ability and the technical voice that… I don’t know… herds it. But it’s nice because it means there’s a lot of overlap, but there’s no competition. So, if I’m trying to get someone to find the truth in whatever scene, then Ryan is sat back allowing me to get on with it.”
We actually worked really fucking hard, man. We were as prepared as we could be.
What was the most challenging part of the Arlo Parks shoot? I ask. “I don’t remember it being that challenging,” answers Ryan, without missing a beat. “Get a load of this guy,” laughs his brother. “We actually worked really fucking hard, man. We were as prepared as we could be and had the whole thing planned out. We spent four, five, maybe even six weeks being on the phone with each other every couple of days going through ideas, re-writing, changing bits.”
Above: Ain Nothing Changed, directed by Joao Retorta.
It turns out the most challenging part was getting the bed to split. They wanted to keep a hand-made feel to the effect, citing Michel Gondry’s work as an influence. Thankfully for them, a production designer called Charlotte Keene cracked it and the effect becomes an integral part of the story. “It looked like it had just been done like a kid’s play,” says Ryan, “which is what we wanted it to look like. It didn’t look too polished.”
It doesn’t have to be something we would thump at home, but it has to be something that has an integrity to it, be something that we feel moved by.
The performances, too, are key for such an intimate story, and that’s the bit that excites Ben the most. “Where it was going to live or die was the relationship between [Parks] and [the other actress]. So, we linked up about two days before and spent a whole day blocking out. But it wasn’t really to block it out, it was just for those two to spend a day together, to be really acquainted. The reason it was so believable is because they really got on.”
We’re looking forward to this video coming out so that people can see our intent and know what kind of stuff we’re interested in.
As for the future of The Coyle-Larner Brothers, they are open - and looking forward – to being involved in more projects. Ben says that he plans for he and is brother to direct videos for his own music from here on, but that they won’t be limiting it to that. “[For music videos], it doesn’t have to be something we would thump at home,” says Ben. “but it has to be something that has an integrity to it, be something that we feel moved by. It might be me who’s moved, or Ryan, but it’s usually both of us. If we can be moved by something, we get it. And it can be any genre, any story, any situation, but there has to be a reason for us to create this video.
“We’re looking forward to it coming out,” he continues, “so that people can see our intent and know what kind of stuff we’re interested in and, hopefully, see what we’re about so the right people come our way.”
That video has, by the time of this article's publication, had over 100,000 views on YouTube, so it's safe to say the intention of The Coyle-Larner Brothers is to combine their distinct but complimentary talents to make many more carefully crafted promos.