The director of Superbalist’s latest TVC, Travys Owen, on working for free and doing good work
Words: Dylan Muhlenberg | Photographs: Nick Gordon
The room went cold when Travys Owen showed a first draft of Superbalist’s latest television ad, Stay Outside. By his own admission it was quite rough, but Travys had a plan and knew that, like an oil painting, this piece would be slowly built up in layers, he just needed more time.
The time spent locked in post-production doing VFX compositing makes for an ad with a slightly surreal and off-kilter feel. The aim is to depict the abundance of Superbalist’s athleisure offering, yet look closer and you’ll realise that things aren’t always what they seem. This fantastical world is a result of Travys’ technical prowess and how he’s worked as everything from an illustrator to designer, retoucher to photographer, which makes for a very hands-on approach.
“It’ s been a journey,” says Travys, commenting on his current role as director. “I think I’ve got to where I am by all the things I’ve done for free. I’ve worked for free for photographers… worked for free for designers… worked for free for musicians… And now it’s starting to pay off.”
Moving to Cape Town from East London by way of a design and illustration degree at PE Technikon, Travys felt as if he’d landed in New York and quickly secured himself an internship with his design hero Peet Pienaar.
“I actually did my thesis based on his stuff. So there was no question as to whom I wanted to work with. He taught me how to think in a completely different way and hone in on one style. To try and do one thing really well.”
Peet calls Travys one of the most talented designers he’s worked with, and that, “like most great creatives in Cape Town he’s not from Cape Town. This made him push harder and that’s what made him move up so extremely fast. He has an extremely good and natural eye and can make anything look cool.”
The unpaid internship resulted in a paying gig doing animation for Peet’s agency, The President. Meanwhile Travys maintained a steady side hustle approaching local musicians he admired and eventually found himself collaborating with PH Fat on a jarring, Hitchcock-inspired, black and white video for ‘House of Clashes’.
Leaving The President to focus on his own studio, Travys was working around the clock doing retouching and illustration work when he realized that he needed to make more money and started assisting photographers on set.
“The film industry is weird, you need to get in somehow, and my in was through fashion photography. I ended up really enjoying it, and then decided to stick with it when I saw how many photographers were starting to direct stuff.”
When Petite Noir’s agent reached out to Travys with a budget to direct a video for ‘Best’, Travys built a dream team in order to make the best possible product. It’s this long-term high-return investment that got Travys his Superbalist gig and is still paying off now.
“You do things for free to find out what you like. It’s almost like spending money to make money. If your time is money then it’s almost like gambling. It’s been quite a process. It’s been interesting. I’ve never done this in a commercial way. When I worked with Yannick it was a lot easier because that was my baby and I had two months to do it.”
"Working with Travys was great," says Yannick Ilunga. "He is wise. We had great synergy. The video was very important for Noirwave too."
Understanding how he needs to do commercial work in order to fund the jobs he wants to work on for himself, Travys will often work for free or put his entire fee into the production. Like his commission for Hunger Magazine where he used the budget to construct elaborate set builds, employ top stylists and create the type of work that ultimately served as a calling card to commercial clients. And although he’s still shooting the odd fashion editorial here and there, Travys is quite picky these days and is adamant that he’ll stick to directing.
“There’s nothing bigger than this. This is what I want to do, what I’ve always wanted to do. I think that nowadays we’re all trying to do a million different things, trying to be a million different things. These jack-of-all-trades. What I was doing until I realized what I really wanted to do. Which is this. Making TV commercials… and music videos… and shooting amazing editorials for international magazines. Hahaha, okay that’s not one thing but these are the things that I want to do.”
Sure there’s space to expand on your skill set, to do more, and if you’re good at everything you’ll be really busy, you’ll always have work, however, Travys has realized that if he focuses on his style then that’s what he’ll be known for, and what he’ll ultimately get hired to do.
“It’s been a journey. It’s been cool. It’s fun.”
Thing is, Travys Owen has only just turned 30, the real journey has only started, and we’re curious to see how far he goes.