Meet the Makers

Putting Shoot to Kill Media in the hot seat

They’re just like Riggs and Murtaugh in Lethal Weapon.

Except they’re not cops, no one’s close to retirement, and the Danny in question isn’t Glover. So, they’re almost nothing like Murtaugh and Riggs, then. They will, however, Shoot to Kill—even if you have diplomatic immunity.

They are Ryen McPherson and Danny Lairamore, the founders of video production outfit Shoot to Kill Media (—where Adult Swim’s subversive influence is felt in product training videos and steakhouse commercials end with women being branded. (At least before executives put the kibosh on that original cut.) They are, essentially, trying to find the oblique angles between art and commerce.

Witness the most recent big fish the duo has landed—a commercial for STK at Cosmopolitan, where the concept for a “female-friendly steakhouse” is spun as well-heeled women in the throes of a meat-and-liquor orgy.

“There are more ways to consume video content now than I could count,” Lairamore says. “As those channels multiply and become less and less aggregated, I think we’re in this revolutionary period for how people consume content. … Shoot to Kill is not just a video production company, it’s a way of thinking. It’s about creating a conceptual hook.”

Although it’s extremely unlikely that either of them will be called on to karate fight Gary Busey on someone’s lawn, there’s a little Lethal Weapon in the pairing after all. Lairamore, 28, clean-cut and buttoned-down, went to Loyola Marymount’s film school and thought about writing and directing features before transitioning to editing and post-production.

McPherson, 27, scruffy, tatted up and peering out from under a knit beanie, turned to cutting-edge skateboarding mag Big Brother and gonzo 1962 Italian documentary Mondo Cane for inspiration. He learned his craft by starting to film his own docs when he was 15. He started traveling at 18, working over the years through South America, Mexico and Africa. At 21, he was hopping freight trains in search of documentary footage.

They came together in 2008 working for online video company Deep Rock Drive, broadcasting interactive live concerts on the Internet. By the end of that year, Deep Rock had folded. McPherson and Lairamore did the sensible thing and started a new company in the midst of a brutal recession.

Fortunately, the party business picked up in the face of economic troubles, and Shoot to Kill was landing more club videos for the Palms. Then came the music video for Serge Devant’s “Take Me With You,” in August 2009, which went to No. 1 in Russia.

“Once they started to see what we could do even with $3,000, it changed everything,” McPherson says. “Now people are giving us $60,000 to make commercials. … Now we’re at that point where I really feel like—and we have people working with us, we have a whole team of filmmakers when it comes to the bigger projects—if we got $100,000, we could do great things with it.”

Shoot to Kill had already produced the intro video for DJ AM’s Friday night residency at Rain. When Z-Trip’s Revolution launched following AM’s death, McPherson, who had worked with graffiti artists in the past, jumped on the Shepard Fairey street art angle, and got the job to design visuals and lighting cues for Revolution. They’ll be doing the same for Rain’s latest Friday night offering, Clash.

“We hit our stride in 2010. The work was coming in consistently and we felt like we kind of reached that tipping point in the last two years where we were no longer pirates doing freelance work,” Lairamore says.

Now they have a suite of commercials under their belts that includes the STK spot, as well as King Ink at The Mirage. They’ve done music videos for Lydia Vance and Markus Schulz, and concert production for Brandon Flowers and The Black Keys.

Yet commercial production and videos may wind up being an intermediary stop for the filmmakers, the same way they were for Spike Jonze and Michel Gondry.

“We don’t really know what this year is going to hold. We’re already up to our ears in work,” Lairamore said. “We don’t come from this world of nightclubs and nightlife. It’s more of a means to an end for us. There is a huge market for it, and we’re going to fill that market. We’re going to do it better than anyone else. At the same time, we want to move on—he’s big into music, I’m into writing great TV shows, film, that kind of stuff. This is kind of a steppingstone.”

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