INTERVIEW: LGBTQ director Dano Cerny talks VMA nomination, working with LSD, dream collaborators, and the importance of LGBTQ representation in music

The upcoming 2019 MTV Video Music Awards (VMAs), which take place on August 26th, are one of the most LGBTQ-inclusive yet, with artists such as Lil Nas X, Halsey, Lady Gaga, and Panic! At the Disco scoring nominations in major categories.

However, LGBTQ representation amongst this year’s nominees is not just limited to those on screen. Openly LGBTQ director Dano Cerny is up for his first VMA for Best Direction for LSD’s video “No New Friends,” which also scored nominations for Best Visual Effects and Best Choreography. Cerny also directed the video for Bebe Rexha and The Chainsmokers’ song “Call You Mine,” which is nominated for Best Dance Video.

Dano Cerny is no stranger to directing videos for some of the biggest names in music. His resume includes directing credits for “Closer” by The Chainsmokers ft. Halsey, “Hollow” by Tori Kelly, “Dream” by Bishop Briggs, “Good Girls” by Elle King, and “Never” by The Roots ft. Patty Crash. Cerny also worked with singer-songwriter Wrabel on his video for “The Village,” which was dedicated to the transgender community. For the video, Cerny specifically casted a primarily LGBTQ crew to pay respect to the sensitivity of the subject and to give opportunity to underrepresented talent.

Just ahead of the VMAs, GLAAD had the chance to speak with Dano Cerny about his work throughout the past year, his VMA nomination, the importance of LGBTQ representation in music, and his dream collaborations. Check out the full interview below.

GLAAD: Your video for LSD’s “No New Friends” is nominated this year for Best Direction. What was it like working on the art direction for this video and how did the vision all come together?

Dano: It's exciting to get nominated, especially in the directing category. This video meant a lot to me and I really wanted it to be good. I've always been a fan of Sia, Diplo and Labrinth, so getting the chance to work with all 3 was very special. I love fantasy and psychedelia, which was a big inspiration for the concept of this video. My goal was to create a unique world that felt like a place LSD might exist. There was that fantasy element, but I wanted to keep it grounded. We adopted a lot of old school film making techniques such as mixing miniature sets with larger set pieces (created by art director John Richoux) and using a green screen/blue screen. The performers were always interacting with real textures that we expanded with [the] help of visual effects master, Ethan Chancer.

G: As someone who is part of the LGBTQ community, do you think this influences any of the artistic decisions you make?

D: I'm always pushing for representation and inclusiveness in all my work, whether it's a LGBTQ artist or not. Most of my pitches include LGBTQ characters or narratives. Those aren't always the videos that get made but something I'm aware of. I'm always wanting to work with artists who are open in general and have chosen a lot of work based on that. Like Wrabel, Parson James, Bishop Briggs, Pentatonix, etc. On the flip side, I'm turned off by artists who still use homophobic slurs in lyrics or are generally not good people. I always pass on those projects.

G: You’ve had the opportunity to work on LGBTQ-inclusive videos in the past, including the video for Wrabel’s “The Village.” What does it mean to you to work on projects that help to bring attention to LGBTQ issues and artistry?

D: It's so important to be in a position where I can help the cause in any way. Whether that's one kid who watches a video or 20 million. The Wrabel video in particular was something I felt blessed to write and direct. The song was so inspiring. I was moved to tears the first time I heard it. Working with trans actor August Aiden on that video was life-changing. I learned so much. We were all on set the day Trump passed his grotesque transgender military ban. I remember the three of us sitting in the kitchen on location sharing our pain and anger. There was this sense like we could something with the video that could send a message of love and acceptance instead of hate. We had several trans actors playing students and a mainly LGBTQ crew. I really pushed for this set. I wanted everyone involved to feel like they were part of this message. People don't realize the Parson James video I directed, "Only You," also stars a trans actress as the lead. I love that people don't know, it's just not a talking point because we didn't make it one. It doesn't always have to be portrayed as a struggle or an identity piece – it's just as important to see LGBTQ characters in everyday situations and relationships. Bridging the perceived gap.

G: You’ve had the opportunity to work with some incredible artists in the past few years, including Bebe Rexha, Halsey, the Chainsmokers, LSD and Tori Kelly. Do you have any dream collaborators that you’d like to work with in the future?

D: I want to work with artists who are doing cool projects and are not afraid to take risks visually. I'm inspired by the music first off, no matter the genre. I really admire artists like FKA twigs, Björk, Madonna, Kendrick Lamar and Pink – just a few artists who are pushing the boundaries and treating music videos as an art form.

G: This year’s VMA nominations are very LGBTQ-inclusive, with artists like Lady Gaga, Lil Nas X and Halsey nominated in major categories. Why do you think that it is important for this type of increased visibility and representation in music right now?

D: It's crucial that we see ourselves in the mainstream. Lil Nas X is especially such a different artist. I'm excited to see more people realize they can be "out" and successful. I think it's harder for male artists to be seen as fluid, which is a shame. Luckily, there are so many great voices in LGBTQ music right now. It's a great moment that I know continues to grow with my favorites like Wrabel, Parson James, Justin Tranter, Shea Diamond, Maty Noyes, Troye Sivan, etc. I hope we’ll see them all at the VMAs one day.

G: What was your favorite video from this past year and why?

D: I'd have to say “No New Friends” will forever hold a special place in my heart because I poured so much of myself into it. We had little time, little resources and it was a labor of love by everyone involved. It was such a positive collaboration working with Diplo, Labrinth, Sia and Maddie Ziegler (who stars in the video). I’ve also always been a fan of choreographer Ryan Heffington and it was our first time working together, which added another layer of awesomeness. Working on “Call You Mine” with The Chainsmokers and Bebe Rexha is a close second because we had a lot of fun with that twisted, sexy concept.