When you think of the music industry, what kind of roles come to mind? Singers? Songwriters? Producers? Directors should definitely be near the top of your list – they can turn a song into an immersive visual experience with the right music video, and it just so happens that Declan Whitebloom is one of the most talented directors out there.
Declan has worked with some of our favorite artists, including everyone from The Vamps and Lauv to Taylor Swift and Demi Lovato. He’s even worked on movies and commercials for brands like Target and Spotify! With that impressive of a catalog, you can surely imagine how much talent he has and how much hard work he’s put in to grow as a creative.
We recently got to ask Declan all about working with Taylor Swift on videos like ‘We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together,’ what it’s like to work with rising artists, where he pulls inspiration from, and more! So check out the ‘WANEGBT’ music video below and keep reading to learn all about it from the director himself, as well as more about his mind-blowing career.
This interview is part of our Flashbacks & Echoes series, which celebrates the artists, performers, and creatives involved with Taylor Swift’s 2012 Red album! See more posts from the series here.
What do you most remember about your experience working on Taylor Swift’s ‘We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together’ music video?
That’s my favorite video I’ve ever made and it was such a treat getting to work with Taylor on that, on our third project together. We’d developed this trust and she just bought into the whole concept of that whole one-shot thing. And she changed outfits five times, and we really meticulously planned it. And working with Joseph, her stylist, on how best to get her in and out of clothes, and… It was just a magical, magical day. Or a few days, ‘cause it takes ages to build the sets just, particularly in the right places, so the camera could move seamlessly between each set. We had to devise the whole long process. But, yeah, it’s all incredibly memorable and as I said, it was my favorite video I’ve ever made.
One of the standout qualities of the ‘WANEGBT’ music video is that it’s circular in a sense: Taylor starts and ends the video sitting by a window, and it was filmed as one continuous shot. Was that always the concept for the video?
Yeah, this was by design. I’ve always wanted to do a one-shot video and Taylor was up for it. I just thought, “how do we get from the beginning all the way through this whole tale of a romance?” Because that’s basically what it is. It’s the story of a romance from start to finish, through time and space and seasons and all that. So I had to come up with all these different places for her to go, and pick bits of the relationship to pick up on. But all in one shot! So, yeah, it was always devised as a one-shot video and Taylor was so excited about it. And everyone just got really on-board. I remember her mum was there, and I think her dad came, too. It was a dream, it really was.
So many of us have been wondering for years: how was that set arranged? Were there actual rooms or were there backdrops that you could move around for different shots?
That’s a really good question. We built them – we kinda had to build them in a circle, where you end where you started, so we end up back where we were with Taylor at the window. And so I had to devise a story that would take us through this romance and end up back at the beginning. I had to come up with all the different vignettes, all the different story points, and then we built sets that corresponded with those. And I tried to make all the sets a little different.
So you start with the first one, which is her in the bedroom. And then you enter the next one, which was just where she’s at the table with the guy, where he’s listening to headphones. And then he gets up… and you have to hide when people would leave the frame. So he got up and left and ran around, and he went to the bar while Taylor was singing to us. And then we could move the camera over and it turned into a split screen.
With every device, every set, we had to find a way of getting Taylor or the boyfriend to leave frames so she could change or he could change. So we had to come up with something different to look at all the time. During the bar, you know, you have the stuff with the boyfriend when he hangs up the phone. Or in the car, when you focus on the guys from the band who are in the back, so it gives her time to get out and change and get to the next spot. So it was a really… very, very thorough way of doing it. And very meticulous, but it was so much fun.
Speaking of the one-shot concept, Taylor told MTV in 2012 that you shot 17 takes of the video. How did you decide which take would become the final music video?
Yeah, so it was 17 takes to do the video. And it was getting very tiring, ‘cause it’s exhausting. Because one thing, one small thing wrong by anybody along the way – and that includes all of the cast, the camera, the lights, ‘cause the lights are changing as well. Or Taylor’s outfit not getting on right. So there’s so many different things that could go wrong, and they did go wrong 16 times. The 16th time, Taylor said to me, “oh gosh, you know, I think that one’s good.” I said, “let’s just do one more, because I think we could do better.” We did one more and that was the 17th take, and that’s the one we used.
Was there a certain moment of the video shoot that particularly stood out to you?
There were so many moments that stood out to me from the shoot. It was so many great moments, every set was really fun to make and design and build. All the transitions were really great and Taylor was on form, and all the costume changes worked out well. So the whole thing was just such a delight. Trying to pick one thing from it was really hard. I guess the most upbeat moment was when we watched… ‘cause every single time, we would have a take that we thought was good, we would stand around and watch it. And everybody – the whole crew and the cast – would all stand around this TV and we would all watch it together. And then… so, like, 17 times, you’re like, “oh, that bit’s wrong, that bit’s wrong…” So when it comes to the 17th time and it was perfect, everyone just went nuts and it was so exciting. Yeah, that was my favorite bit.
If you had to pick one shot from the music video, which do you feel captures the energy of the video and song the best?
This is a tricky one if I had to pick one shot from the video that captures the energy of the video and the song the best. Wow. Because it’s all so intertwined, it’s hard to say. There’s stuff that stands out, like how… is it Caitlin, the fiddle player? Where she falls over on the bed at the end when everyone comes in. I think that was kind of fun.
I mean, Taylor in the split screen when she’s on the phone with the boyfriend, that’s great. But, you know, she’s so great, Taylor. Such a pro. I don’t know if I could say there was anything that’s “better” than the rest, because it all had to work together. And I have to say she nailed it. She was very rarely the… when something went wrong, it was almost never Taylor, it was usually something else. She is the consummate professional.
Were there any challenges you faced while working on the video, whether it was during the planning process or on set?
Challenge-wise, I mean, the whole thing was a really big puzzle that you had to figure out how to get together. How am I gonna get from here to here, and have Taylor change clothes? Yeah, so it was all a really big conundrum. But also, I kinda love puzzles! So it was terrific… I mean, it was all a big challenge, but part of doing something that really turns out great is rising to that challenge. We had nothing that wasn’t completely worth it. Everything that we went through was completely worth it.
When the Red (Taylor’s Version) era came around, Taylor became a director in a new sense with her ‘All Too Well’ short film, marking her first time directing a film. How involved was Taylor in the creative and technical aspects of the ‘We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together’ music video?
So, yeah, Taylor’s a director and a very good one as well. It was always gonna happen. She was always super involved, even from when I first started working with her on ‘Mean.’ She knew what she wanted and, you know, was very, very, precise in that. She’s incredibly smart, as well as being an awesome singer-songwriter. She’s got an incredible vision and artistic sense, and as soon as I saw that she had been directing her own stuff, and now this short film, I was like, “of course.” But, you know, when she’s collaborating with somebody else like me, she would never overstep. You know, she would let me do my thing, but she would contribute in the right way. And it’s with ‘We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together,’ and ‘Mean,’ and ‘Ours.’ They’ve all been collaborations. Very, very close working collaborations.
You previously worked with Taylor on the anti-bullying video for ‘Mean’ and the adorable ‘Ours,’ which came out in 2011. Was there anything different about working with her this time around?
Yeah, so I’ve done three videos for Taylor: ‘Mean,’ ‘Ours,’ and ‘We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together,’ and it was… I think ‘We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together,’ she was the most involved, because there were so many decisions to make. But she’s always involved. She’s always right there and wants to… you know, it’s her music, it’s her. So she’s got a very clear vision. She wouldn’t have a director just take over, and I wouldn’t want that. In terms of anything being different this time around, no. She’s fully available all the time to talk about stuff and run stuff, and she wants to see everything. So she’s always been that way, and I think from ‘Mean’ to ‘Ours’ to ‘We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together,’ I think we thought that we were really making something special on this one. So the stakes were higher, but that’s just because we wanted so much from it, and we delivered.
Out of all the music videos you’ve worked on with Taylor, which is your favorite?
Each of the videos I’ve made for Taylor – ‘Mean,’ ‘Ours,’ and ‘We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together’ – have their own things that I feel very attached to. For instance, ‘Mean’ was the last video I shot on film. It wasn’t digital, we actually shot that on film, 35mm film. It looks gorgeous and it was my first time working with her, and it was… God, a real treat. ‘Ours,’ we shot in Nashville and has a great comedic vibe, which Taylor is a natural-born comedian. That was such a hoot to make. But ‘We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together’ is probably my favorite because of how complex it was, and how well-regarded it is, because it always gets voted on the “Top 10 One-Shot Music Videos Of All Time…” You know, the only disappointment is that it didn’t win, like, the Best Video Of The Year award I think, that year. But hey, it’s still on the top of my reel.
When did you know you wanted to be a music video director? Was there a certain moment where it really clicked that you made it?
When I was a kid, my brother was a music video director in London, and he used to do videos for bands like Soul to Soul, he did one for Lauryn Hill. He was a big deal in music videos when I was…. you know, 10, 12, 13, etc. So I used to go to sets of his and stand there and watch him directing. And I was like, “God, I wanna do that.” So even from a very young age, that’s something I wanted to do.
And I realized that I’d made it when… God, that’s a good question. I don’t know. I’m not sure you ever realize you’ve made it. You just keep on doing the best work you can. Have I made it? I don’t even know!
You’ve worked with stars like One Direction, Hilary Duff, and The Vamps over the years, which is amazing! Do you have any favorite memories from working with a music superstar?
I have so many memories! This is my favorite thing to do, ever, so every single time I’ve worked with a band or a singer, I’ve found something special about it. Every single one. Like One Direction, I get to go back to London and work with them, and ride around on this bus all day long. Hilary Duff… she’s hilarious and we had an absolute hoot making a couple of videos for them. The Vamps, we went to Morocco, which I’ve never been to, and they’re super nice guys. So every single time I’ve worked with anybody, bar none, there’s always something really great that you can find in a project. No matter what it is.
You also notably directed some of the Jonas Brothers’ earliest videos, like ‘Hold On’ and ’S.O.S.’ Do you approach your videos with a newer artist differently than you do for more established artists, especially since the first few videos they put out can really set the tone for their career?
This question’s really good. [I worked with the Jonas Brothers,] yeah, I think I did three. ’S.O.S.,’ yeah, ’S.O.S.’ was a fun one! Two days on the Queen Mary in Long Beach, which was haunted, apparently. [When it comes to approaching videos with newer artists differently than more established artists,] yeah, definitely. I think with new artists, you’ve got to work with them more to try and get performances out of them, because they might be nervous. But in the case of the Jonas Brothers, they were already – even when I worked with them, and I think Nick was, like, 15. He was already a seasoned Broadway performer! So some people come very ready, ‘cause a lot of people have had some training by the time they get to me. You know, I’ve been lucky enough to work with first-timers, but they’ve always had a bit of training first. To get to that place, I think you naturally have to be quite outgoing.
But some people, it’s taken a bit more to get what you want. But on the whole, they all get there and it’s like working with any talented person. You learn how to navigate them. As soon as you meet them, you realize, “oh, okay, you’re this kind of person, or that kind of person,” and then you talk to them appropriately. But I treat everyone with respect, no matter if they’re new or been around a while or, you know, the biggest person on the planet or… you know, the newest artist. So, yeah, I mean, treat everyone the same. I think that’s a good no-matter-what in life.
When you’re working with someone new, where do you typically start? Do you research their music, get to know them personally, etc.?
I’m working with a guy right now. A new guy called Benson Boone who, up until three weeks ago, I hadn’t heard of. And I got the track, which I really liked, and I was like, “oh, I need to find more out about this person.” So I looked up his Insta, because everyone’s on Insta these days, then I started to watch his old videos, and I read whatever I can about him and get a sense of it. And then, today, I actually spoke to him on the phone, and he’s a lovely guy.
So you have to do your homework, you have to listen to the music, you have to look at their Instagram, because that can tell you, in a visual sense, what kind of person they are. And that’s really important – to get to know their aesthetic and what they’re about. So I try and learn as much as I can about a person before I work with them.
What inspires you the most when you’re planning a music video?
This is a good question. When you get sent a song, you also get sent what they call a brief, which will say to you where and when… where they want the video to take place. And if there is any sort of outline – they may say, “we want no story in this, we just want performance.” Or “we want no artist, the artist isn’t gonna be in this.” And then they’ll tell you how much money they have. And then you start to put the pieces of the puzzle together, and you try and find inspiration.
Usually, the inspiration comes when you’re listening to the song, because the song drives everything, right? So there’s a message in the song, the song was written a certain way for a certain reason. It’s about something special. So you try and find out what that is, and try to also tap into what the subtext is. It takes a little doing to try and piece the puzzle together of what’s going on. But then sometimes that can work as inspiration, and you develop something from there, or it can be something I’ve seen at an art gallery I’ve been at, or an exhibition, or it could be something I saw on TV. And you’re like, “oh, that would make a great video!”
Then you see if that will fit to a particular video. So I’m drawing inspiration from everywhere at all times. In fact, you know, ask any of my friends, we’ll go around and I’ll see, like, a dog walking down the street in a funny way. And I’ll be like, “oh, that could be a good thing in a music video,” so I’m very, very fortunate. But it’s also a bit of a curse because I’m always thinking, “oh, that could become a music video!” [Laughs] But, you know, the world is a rich place and there’s always somewhere to draw inspiration from.
You’ve made so many incredible music videos and we’re sure there are plenty more masterpieces to come. Is there anyone you’re hoping to work with soon?
Oh, that’s so sweet! There’s so many people I wanna work with, I see stuff around all the time – different songs, different videos, I’m like, “oh, man, I wish I’d done that.” But there’s artists… I’d love to work with Taylor again, of course. With Harry Styles again. With… even people from Cardi B to Megan Thee Stallion to Billie Eilish! Of course, Billie Eilish lives around the corner from me and I see her outside at the shops. I’d love to do a video for her. There’s so many people and, yeah, hopefully there will be more “masterpieces,” as you say, coming soon!
Tell us what you’ve been up to more recently!
The most recent thing I’ve done is I did a movie! I directed a movie called Stowaway that has Ruby Rose in it, it has Frank Grillo in it, it has Patrick Schwarzenegger in it. That was a real adventure, and my music video training really paid off for that, because that was a small film, a small-budget film, and you have to move very fast to do that. Luckily, that’s what you do in music videos: you move fast, you don’t mess around, and you make it work. So that was an incredible experience! That’s what I’ve been up to recently, but now I’m back and ready to do more videos and commercials and, you know, have more fun.
We don’t know about you, but we had a ton of fun getting to ask Declan Whitebloom about his work! Thank you so much to Declan for sharing your time with us and giving us so much cool info about some of our all-time favorite videos.
Now we wanna hear from you! What’s your favorite video Declan has directed? Let us know in the comments below or hit us up on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter! And for more exclusive interviews, click here.