For Canada’s Jonah Haber, directing is all about the unpredictability of the craft. Never knowing what job could pop up that changes your life, taking you to new places and allowing you to explore various aspects of humanity through the art of filmmaking, is what drives this award-winning director. His passion for his craft is evident in every project he embarks on, and as the leader of the set he evokes that same passion and drive in his team.
“Directing is about taking the theoretical and transforming it into the real. What I do is pretty much just interpreting a written word, be it a brief, a script, or idea and transforming it into something visual and experiential. It requires you to think of every little detail that could appear on screen – the color of a wall, the size of a key prop, the time of day, the emotional motivation of a scene – and crafting all these pieces together into a cohesive visual experience. A script can be interpreted in infinitely different ways and my job is to take my interpretation of the script and share that with the audience,” says Haber.
Haber’s interpretation is always strong, which is why he has risen to the top of his industry. Working with many esteemed clients, like Royal Bank of Canada and Microsoft on national commercial campaigns, or popular musicians such as Maisie Peters and John River on hit music videos, Haber has shown audiences everywhere what he is capable of. His film Equinox was selected for dozens of prestigious international film festivals, including the Oscar-qualifying Hollyshorts and Flickers Rhode Island International Film Festival, and he has directed icons such as Astronaut Chris Hadfield, first Canadian to perform extravehicular activity in outer space who also served as commander of the International Space Station. It could be hard for some to pinpoint the highlight of such an esteemed career, but for Haber it was easy: the final hour of shooting the Tate McRae music video “You Broke Me First” for The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon.
“I loved the song and was really excited to be working with Tate on this project. The concept I pitched was also one of my favourite ideas I’d ever written and it involved easily the most complex and choreographed blocking and camera movements I’d ever done on a project by far. There were so many elements that had to line up for the shot to work and I had spent so many waking hours in prep just setting up all of those elements for success. On the shoot day, we already had the day prior as a pre-light but still not everything was in place. We spent the first half of the shoot day getting those final elements in place but still weren’t sure if everything would come together or not. Then finally, in that last hour everything lined up. The choreography, the camera movement, the lighting design and lighting cues, the performance, it all came together. Those 3 minutes of watching the perfect take play out in front of me and realizing I pulled it off is a highlight I’ll always remember,” Haber recalls.
The video was made at the beginning of 2021, in the thick of the COVID 19 pandemic. Musical performances for late night shows were being pre-recorded and videos debuting on the show rather than having artists come to the studio and risk exposure. When Haber first saw the creative brief from RCA records, he knew he needed to be the one to direct it. The song was already a hit, with over 500 million streams on Spotify alone, and Haber knew exactly how to capture the client’s vision.
“When it comes to a detail-oriented director that operates at the highest performance level, there is no comparison to Jonah. He is a true leader with a precise creative vision, and he can execute on that through sheer dedication to his craft and the will to persevere no matter the logistical constraints of a project. Jonah is a creative problem solver who can bring larger than life creative concepts from script to screen, and I am consistently amazed at how he is able to not only come up with such interesting creatives, but actually bring the practical elements to life in order to make these projects shine on camera,” says Producer Sahil Mirchandani, who worked with Haber on the video performance.
The concept involved a rather tricky video gimmick where the feed from the camera was projected live onto multiple screens behind Tate as she performed to create a video loop effect. To implement this, Haber had to be extraordinarily detailed and precise with a variety of mathematical equations, such as the timing of the camera movement, the angle in which the camera captured McRae, her body positioning and performance style, and more. The most outstanding aspect of the video is that it is all shot in one continuous, uncut shot, which is an immensely difficult task even for the most seasoned directors. Haber however specializes in this, knowing how much planning and precision need to go into place to accomplish the desired outcome.
Haber’s hard work paid off. The video was played live on NBC on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon in January of 2021. The season in which the video was featured regularly drew an average of 345,000 viewers per episode, and the video now holds over 1.4 million views on YouTube. It also helped further drive McRae’s career. Her hit “You Broke Me First” has amassed over 1 million individual purchases, giving it Platinum Record status, and has over 250 million streams on international music streaming platforms. McRae boasts over 24 million monthly listeners on Spotify, ranking her among the 100 most-streamed artists on the platform. Haber is proud to have been a part of such astounding success.
“It was really surreal. The Tonight Show is one of those shows that you grew up watching. Jimmy Fallon is a household name and actually being able to see the work I directed airing live on his show was truly inexplicable. It was one of those defining moments in your career where the crossover of the things you watched growing up intersects with the work you’re now doing. It was both humbling and gave me a lot of pride for the work I’d done,” he concludes.
Headshot by Daniel Schrempf
On set photo by @stanimj