How Nigel Lyons Became D.C.’s Go-To Filmmaker For Music Videos

Nigel Pic

Perhaps the name Nigel Lyons might not ring a bell to you, but chances are you’ve probably seen at least one of his music videos. 

The D.C. based filmmaker has worked with some of the city’s biggest bands, including R&B group ACME along with rock acts like Paperhaus and Deleted Scenes.  His work has also been featured in outlets like Stereogum and A.V. Club, but despite Lyons’ success and rising acclaim as the music scene’s go-to guy for music videos-he never intended to claim this title.

“Politics brought me here, first off,” he says. While working on a political campaign in his home state of Ohio, Lyons and a friend made several videos that gained viral attention. Soon enough, the National Libertarian Party noticed his work and offered him a job in D.C.

“I kind of jumped on that as a ticket out of Ohio,” he says. “I was working at a Chinese restaurant before working at the Watergate with the National Libertarian Party. That’s what brought me here; a little luck, a little chance.”

Lyons has no formal training when it comes to filmmaking, but he has his father to thank for introducing him to a camera and editing software in 2000. Being a little more on the shy side, Lyons stuck mostly with making videos throughout high school.

“I was not involved at all [in the local music scene],” Lyons laughs. “I did go to shows in Columbus, but not as much as I do now in D.C., that’s for sure.”

During his time working on the campaign, Lyons got offered the chance to do video work for a local business. Through connections, Lyons met Brandon Moses of Paperhaus who mentioned they were interested in doing a video for their 2013 song “Helicopters.” That became Lyons’ entry point into D.C.’s music scene.

“They had the concept down, which was great. I liked it; they had some ideas, I had some ideas and we did it in two days. I just directed everybody and threw out ideas on the go,” Lyons says. With its widescreen presentation of the Tet Offensive taking place in D.C. rowhouses, cardboard cutout guns and helicopters, Lyons began to make his mark as a sought-after video director in D.C.  He not only shot and directed “Helicopters”, but also helped to edit the video.

“It was a lot of fun. Sometimes I think ‘I’m not doing a great job’ and then it turns out great and I surprise myself,” he adds. “The reaction I get from people who see my work gives me the confidence to say ‘Oh, yeah, I can do this. I got skills.’”

Paperhaus – Helicopters from NitroDouglas on Vimeo.

Although Lyons does add his creative input into each project, he views making music videos as a wholly collaborative process between him and the bands he works with.

“It’s their vision that allows me to do my directing, filming and post.  If a minuscule budget can be worked out, renting a GoPro or some HQ lenses easily elevates the production,” he adds. “Also, something I believe I do well is listening and bouncing ideas back to the band or artist to open new creative avenues.”

Exploring those creative avenues has led to some unforgettable experiences for Lyons. One of his most challenging projects was rock band Deleted Scenes’ emotionally charged video for “Landfall”.

“Dan [Scheuerman] basically had the idea; he got it from his wife, I believe,” Lyons says. “I really didn’t know what to expect. I was basically shooting on a boat and somehow it came together. That was an interesting day.

One of his most recent works includes R&B group ACME’s music video for “Girlfriend Tonight”, which quickly rose to popularity shortly after its release last month. While the video shows the band effortlessly playing it cool and enjoying a late night at the club, Lyons notes that the work behind the scenes was not as simple.

“‘Girlfriend Tonight’ was probably the most work I put into a video in a long time-plus it was a grooving song,” he says. “Right before we are about to roll, I realize there’s no lead girl for the video!  Having never met the guys prior to the shoot and with no pre-production-we ran into a problem. Luckily this beautiful girl Sara is there by chance, and Che and I have to convince her to be the lead babe.

The post-production process was also grueling for Lyons, but in the end-it was all about getting everything just right.

“Editing this video was tough on my end. It meant working 15 to 20 hours crafting the story to get it just right, which was exhausting. But in the end, it turned out to be a nice visual story. Add in the bangin’ song and you’ve got a winner.”

When he’s not working with local acts, Lyons freelances and also shoots a variety of documentaries, which have ranged from homelessness to following a unique psychic in New York City. He has also entertained the idea of doing his own feature film, based in either D.C. or Ohio.

In the meantime, D.C. bands and artists are knocking on his door to work with him on their next music videos. Local rock bands like Shark Week and Young Rapids have been in talks with Lyons about their future projects, and he is also interested in working with experimental outfit Laughing Man along with Paperhaus again. Lyons is also looking to collaborate with more hip hop and electronic acts.

“I want to see who floats towards me as much as I link up,” Lyons says. While he’s excited about the recognition, Lyons also notes that he wants to make smart choices on his next projects. In the end, he has enjoyed his work and has been very proud of the creative direction he has taken.

“Music videos are vital these days, because as we all know too well, video is everywhere,” he says.  “If you’re lucky, a video can even catapult a band or artist.”