Meet the Cork man who made Westlife's new video

From starting out in an ad for condoms to directing Westlife’s latest single, Lochlainn McKenna’s career looks destined for big commercial success, writes Marjorie Brennan.

When I speak to Lochlainn McKenna, he tells me the video he has directed for the Westlife single Better Man is at about 3.5 million hits on YouTube. One day later and it’s well over the four million mark and rising. Not bad for someone who only started making videos a few years ago.

The 25-year-old, who was born in Cork city and grew up near Mallow, is now based in Dublin. He originally had screen ambitions of a different kind, catching the acting bug in school, at Coláiste an Phiarsaigh in Glanmire, when he and his classmates made a short film in transition year.

I was the lead and I got a notion then that maybe I could act. I was cast in the school play as well and I thought I would push on and pursue it further

He didn’t waste any time in pursuing his ambitions. “I actively went out and sought work when I was in fifth and sixth year. I started doing workshops and went looking for roles in short films around Cork. I had such notions of grandeur, I swear,” he laughs.

McKenna, who also goes by the professional name Locky, went on to do drama and theatre studies in UCC, but even then he was restless to get working. “I was very career-focused. I was so determined to work that I was constantly going up to Dublin for auditions, I wasn’t really around much. I kept my head down and attended all my classes but I think it would have been better to have embraced the time being a student as opposed to being so determined to work the whole time.”

He went on to act professionally for Druid Theatre company and then starred in a short film, as well as a HSE ad campaign for contraceptives. “I did a lot of auditions for commercials in Dublin. I eventually landed that one for the HSE, for the ‘Johnny’s Got You Covered’ campaign. It was funny, people just kept on saying ‘I saw you on the contraceptive ad’. It ran for about four years, I couldn’t get away from it,” he laughs.

McKenna was also picking up work with the Irish film and video production company StormLight at the same time as he was looking for acting jobs. Then that side of things started to take over.

“The acting kind of organically stopped,” he says. “I wrote a script for a short film that I was also going to direct so that I could have a role for myself in it. I was chatting to the producers and wondering how I was going to act in it and direct it and they suggested I just direct it instead. It was all organic. I never once thought that I would direct anything. It had never occurred to me until I did it,” he says.

“I’d speak to other filmmakers and they’d go ‘Oh I love this scene in the Godfather when they blah blah blah….or ‘I’ve been using my dad’s Bolex [motion picture camera] since I was seven’. I had none of that. I wouldn’t consider myself to be a cinephile at all. I love film but I wasn’t bred on it.” McKenna began to produce online ads for StormLight, and also honed his skills on other interesting jobs.

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“One of the highlights when I was working there was when we did a production services job for The Real Housewives of Orange County. They come over to Dublin and we produced two episodes of that, which was absolutely mental. They were brought to a farm in Wexford, they were all wearing wellies. One of them whipped off her top in a pub in Temple Bar. It was interesting,” he laughs.

McKenna wanted to get into doing music videos and the perfect opportunity presented itself when Brendan Canty, who had directed the video for Hozier’s smash hit Take Me to Church, ran a competition to encourage budding video-makers.

“I wanted to do music videos and I was approaching bands and artists but I didn’t have anything to show them. Brendan was running a youth music video competition as part of the First Cut film festival, where you were paired with an artist and then you went off and made a music video.”

McKenna gave the competition his all, seeing it as his calling card for a future career.

“I approached it like making a professional video. I was paired with a track by the Cork electronic duo, AboveDat [DJ Stevie G and Ian Ring]. I put €2,000 — all the money I had — into it and I went off to London and I shot it there.” The video for the song, called Better, is a raw and striking depiction of one man’s hedonistic exploits over a weekend and it ended up winning the competition.

It’s probably the most important thing that I’ve done really, without it I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing now

- says McKenna.

He went on to work with the electronica producer and DJ, Daithí, and his video for Daithí’s song In My Darkest Moments won three categories at the prestigious Kinsale Shark awards for creative advertising last year.

“All the big advertising companies were there. We were having pints and they were like ‘come to London and we’ll have a chat’. I really wanted to make sure those chats happened so I went over a couple of weeks later and met loads of companies, one of which, Kode, signed me up to do commercials.”

In the space of a few months, McKenna had successfully pitched for the video for Westlife’s song A Better Man, written by Ed Sheeran. The song, a follow-up to Hello My Love, the band’s comeback single, hit number one an hour after its release. For McKenna, it was a big moment and he was conscious of crafting a video that reflected the band’s journey.

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I never thought I’d say this but... Here’s the brand new music video I directed for @westlife - it’s written by @teddysphotos and stars @nickybyrneinsta @markusmoments @shanefilanofficial @kianegan - it was an amazing experience working with the lads and I’m really proud of what we’ve made over the last month. Huge thanks to all the cast and crew but a special thanks to @kodemedia on what was my first job with them, to @element_postproduction for coming on board and getting the production together here in Ireland and to regular collaborator @karl_poyzer_dop for making this look unreal and always having my back! Also big thanks to Mr. @hackett17 for trusting me at the helm. Check it out and let me know what you think! Link in bio. . . . #westlife #kianegan #markusfeehily #shanefillan #nickybyrne #edsheeran #musicvideo #musicpromo #director #irishdirector #windmilllanerecordingstudios #arri #arrialexa #cookes4s #irishdirector #onlocation #setlife #film #filmmaking #filmmaker #popvideo #shooting #ireland

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“There’s no rapping, naked women, flashing lights or money being thrown around,” he laughs. “The song is more traditional Westlife so it was important the narrative honestly reflected that. They wanted a coming-of-age story featuring the band. I set it in 1993, when they would have been around 14. Basically it revolves around the idea of balancing family and a career in music…what happens if you have a young boy or girl who are in love but he puts his music first. I think it struck home with the band. It also hits the theme of being a better man … it’s nice that it comes full circle and it becomes about the girl — she’s the one who is then in the studio working with Westlife. That’s a winning moment.”

The band were shot in the historic Windmill Lane recording studios in Dublin, and for McKenna, it was a dream shoot. “In some ways, it was lacking the drama that you feel it should have had,” he says. “The band were fantastic. They are collaborative but they also know what they want and need, in terms of their overall image. They are consummate professionals. They seemed very happy and impressed with the shoot as well.” There was one person in particular who was relieved when the video was completed.

I showed the video to my mum and she cried when saw it. I think it was out of relief that it hadn’t gone badly, that there was an actual video there to watch

- he laughs.

Once the mainstay of channels like MTV, music videos now fight for space on streaming platforms, which means it has become harder for directors to make their work stand out.

“MTV would be an amazing milestone — I would love to see the video on a music video channel but I don’t even know if you can see a music video on a music video channel any more,” says McKenna. “It is a different world now, we are so submerged in content. Just this morning, I went on Vimeo’s staff picks and watched this amazing video. I could have just as easily missed it and never seen it. I just clicked on a random video and loved it. It’s weird. When we were growing up, we all saw the same videos, and everyone knew them and talked about them. Now there are so many videos to see … they get lost.”

As for the future, McKenna wants to continue building his reputation as a director in the commercial sphere. “I have ambitions of doing feature films down the line but I’m not pushing myself. I need some stability in my life and then I can start focusing on that. I see some of my friends putting so much hard work into features, they really take a long time, it’s a real graft. The plan is to establish myself as one of the go-to TV commercial directors in Ireland and pushing on into the UK.” In the meantime, he has great support from his family, including his younger siblings, who are six and seven.

“They’ve been watching the video and they know the song off by heart. My sister loves Dancing with the Stars and she was asking me about meeting Nicky [Byrne] and did I tell him what to do. Also, because Ed Sheeran wrote the song, they were like ‘wow’. They want me to do a George Ezra video now. I told them I’ll do my best.” I certainly wouldn’t bet against it.

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