Grammy-nominated Nova Scotia director on creating music videos with a social impact

TORONTO — Nova Scotia director Andy Hines still gets emotionally overwhelmed remembering the day his Grammy-nominated music video “1-800-273-8255” went online last summer.

It was the wee hours of the morning when the reactions began to trickle in from strangers onto his iPhone. Many were young adults shaken by his seven-minute clip, which follows a black teenager struggling with his sexuality and clouded with thoughts of suicide.

“The first thing I saw was this young kid pacing around his apartment complex, really taken aback,” the soft-spoken director recalls. He said the teen was processing his thoughts about the anti-suicide music video out loud for his camera. His vulnerability stuck with Hines.

“I could never make a video like that,” he said. “It takes so much courage.”

The heart-wrenching reactions multiplied into the dozens — and then hundreds — in the days and weeks that followed as viewers tearfully spoke about managing their own suicidal feelings.

On Sunday, the Avondale, N.S., director will learn whether “1-800-273-8255” wins best music video at this year’s Grammy Awards. The song, written by rapper Logic and featuring Khalid and pop singer Alessia Cara of Brampton, Ont., has itself been an impetus for conversations about suicide.

The video, which stars actor Don Cheadle as the teen’s disapproving father, Luis Guzman as his high school coach and Matthew Modine in a bit role, has amassed nearly 195 million views on YouTube.

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline in the U.S. says the song also led to a surge of phone calls to its support services after its release and those figures held steady in the months that followed.

“You always hope you can make something that speaks to (people),” the director said, “but we got some really tangible reactions.”

Hines, who mainly creates hip hop videos, says he strives for his work to make a wider social statement.

He won an MTV Video Music Award for Big Sean’s “One Man Can Change the World,” which paid tribute to the rapper’s grandmother, one of the first black female captains in the U.S. Army.

Around the same time he was introduced to Logic through executives at Def Jam Recordings. The two instantly became friends and began collaborating on a number of projects.

A couple of years later, the rapper approached Hines with the basic foundation of the ”1-800-273-8255.” He encouraged the director to run with the idea.

Hines started to reflect on his own experiences, the lives of people he knew, and tried to put those thoughts onto paper.

“I write at night. When everyone is sleeping I write these stories. They are coming from my heart,” he said.

One of his primarily goals is to reject the established stereotypes and expectations of the hip-hop genre by telling human stories. He pushes his artists to feature women of colour in their videos and refuses to glamorize guns.

“People try and get me to put guns in my videos sometimes and I just tell them the guns didn’t show up (on set),” he said.

“A lot of artists don’t want to work with me because that’s corny or I’m corny.”

His next project is with rapper Classified, a fellow Nova Scotian, which he says will address ongoing issues affecting Indigenous women across Canada. He hopes difficult conversations will continue to be stoked through music videos, a medium he believes has largely faded in relevance over recent years.

“The format is dead,” Hines said.

“So if you’re not doing something different with it, it’s just going to be content, which there’s a lot of these days.

“I don’t want to just be making stuff to put on a music blog.”

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