In the creative industries, there are few truly original ideas. Instead, it’s about how you use pre-existing techniques in order to create something truly engaging. As Pablo Picasso famously once said, “Good artists copy, great artists steal.” While working as a creative director, Jacobi Mehringer was told that it’s best to hold onto his references as they can often be the competitive edge. But he decided to go against the grain when setting up Eyecandy, a visual reference library featuring a bounty of amazing techniques perfect for inspiring your next film, music video or advertisement campaign. With crash zooms, Dutch angles, POV, drone shots, split diopters and tons of other incredible techniques, I quickly got lost in and amazed by the sheer creativity on display. I was happy to spend some time with Mehringer as part of DN’s Film Industry Insights series to learn all about why it was important to share, the difficulty of finding all the right references and some of his favourite techniques and directors.

[The following interview is also available to watch at the end of this article.]

Can you start by telling me a little bit about your background as a creative director and why you decided to start Eyecandy?

I graduated from university in 2016. I grew up in Portland, Oregon, and interviewed at Wieden+Kennedy Portland when I graduated, and met some creative directors there. They were basically like: “Don’t be the creative that stayed in Portland. Go to New York, expand your vision.” So I went to New York; you get to meet everybody in New York, and I basically spent about ten years growing and honing in on my tastes and talents and learning from some of the best people.

And along that journey, especially in advertising, you are collecting references. You’re seeing some of the best work in the world, work that you want to emulate, work that your peers are doing. And you know, as an art director, you’re collecting the references and you’re kinda keeping them to yourself. That’s actually what you’re told to do. You’re told that the references that you curate are your competitive edge because when you’re selling a film to a client, what’s easier than being able to say, here’s this reference of what I’m thinking?

You want to keep it to yourself. Especially if the goal in the creative industry is to steal and emulate.

What makes Eyecandy interesting is that anybody could have done it. I truly mean that. I think every art director probably has a very big arsenal of gifs and references in their library. One of the reasons I like keeping Eyecandy free, is I’m talking to people that have amassed hundreds of references and they’re just willing to give it to me because they’re like, “Oh, he’s not making money off it. He’s not doing anything bad with this.” It also feels like people are waking up and they’re like, “I’ve amassed 1000 references, but maybe it doesn’t have to be this thing only I can have.”

Do they think they’re losing something if other people have access to this knowledge?

This might be an Oregon reference. You might be like: “What are you talking about?” But in Oregon, we have a lot of mushrooms. Not “let’s have fun” mushrooms, but chanterelles and portobellos and edible mushrooms that you have with meals. And people will find a spot in the forest and they won’t tell anybody. It’s not even their property. They’ve stumbled upon 40 acres from a neighbour they’ve never talked to and they’ve found a perfect location where there are 100 chanterelles that go for 40 bucks a pound and they’re not going to tell anybody because that’s their spot. In reality, when you pick and cut them and throw them back in the woods, 100 more will grow there.

It’s a habit. I do it too. Sometimes I’ll see a reference and I will fight the urge to not put it on Eyecandy because I might want to use that for one of my own projects. And if other people use it then it won’t be as fresh. It’s human. You want to keep it to yourself. Especially if the goal in the creative industry is to steal and emulate. It’s really cool that industry leaders are doing what we do. They’ll look at other music videos and other artworks and kind of emulate that style themselves.

What was it like finding all of these gifs? It must have been hours of digging. Where did you look?

I started thinking about Eyecandy in July 2022. It launched in April this year. So it was about a year of amassing more than what was normal for an art director to have. I launched with around 400 references. The nice thing is that within each reference, there are maybe 10 clips you can get out of it. For example, with a Cole Bennett or Dave Meyers music video, there are 20 references you can get out of there. So I had about 400 filmic references – music videos, art projects, films, TV shows – and out of those, I started rewatching them and slicing them up into really short bite-sized moments.

I’ve noticed that there are a lot of music videos and brand videos in there. Do you think that traditional feature filmmakers can learn something from this world when it comes to style?

There’s always a comment on Eyecandy where it’s like, “Hot tip bro, you can post more than music videos.” It’s funny, I think music videos tend to lead the industry. And it’s funny because I think I’ve amassed enough of a following that probably two-thirds of people weren’t there from the beginning. And they’re like, “He’s just sharing what he likes.” I have a taste that skews hip-hop music videos and a lot of people are like: “What is this? MTV?”

Music videos are truly where people can have the most fun.

I don’t want to name names or get in trouble, but it’s cool hearing from Hollywood directors on Eyecandy, where they are working on big projects and saying, “What’s this shot?” It’s kind of made me realise that music videos are truly where people can have the most fun because they don’t care if they fuck it up. They’re also short which is a logistical benefit for me. I can cut up a four-minute video. Give me a two-hour Kubrick movie… ugh. If I was full-time Eyecandy I would love it but we are in the process of hiring somebody. We’ve got 80 applications for a curator role alongside me. Which is awesome.

Do you ever get DMs from people saying “Can you feature my work on your site?”

Oh yeah. Probably about 600 requests a day. I respect and admire people who make money off stuff, but I also like that Eyecandy is a middle finger to the need in America to make money off of something innovative. I’ve been called stupid. I’ve gotten offers to buy it. But it’s just really nice to create something nice that people can use. Will I make money off it in the long run? Sure. If I got fired tomorrow, would my moral stance disappear and you suddenly see monthly costs? Probably. But there is something really nice about keeping the crux of Eyecandy free forever. And then if I do want to make money on it, maybe it’s on merch, maybe it’s other stuff around it.

So you have around 60,000 daily users. Do you know how such rapid growth occurred or did you have a strategy in place?

No strategy. I’m completely mystified because it’s only been around for five months. But there’s been a lot of support. I think that if I charged for it… The best was looking at Eyecandy to see where we were in the search rankings. And we were very low, I think below a porn website. There was an ad for and it was like, “Better than Eyecandy.” I was like hell yeah, we made it! But they don’t get it. They’re all charging exorbitant amounts for it.

Eyecandy is a middle finger to the need in America to make money off of something innovative.

Talking of AI, what’s quite interesting is machine learning and AI generation. I saw this video about Netflix and how they’re looking into generating match cuts through their references. And in Florida, there’s Harmony Korine’s new AI tech hub, EDGLRD, in Florida. What do you think the potential for AI is, especially when it comes to taking and using all of these references?

I had this coder reach out to me two days ago, he had this awesome code he’s built that we’re going to try to put in Eyecandy. It’s the ability to identify techniques from my website. And basically, he’s going to teach this program. If you look at match cuts on Eye Candy, there are maybe 100 or 200. This AI program will learn that and then it will scour the Internet and automatically know what’s what, and tell me, hey this video is an awesome example of a worm’s eye POV. That’s huge for Eyecandy. That can be really cool.

But you asked what AI’s role is. I think that when AI is a tool that enables creativity, it’s in its prime. You know, I use ChatGPT daily for research. I’ll ask “What are funny romance songs” and it’ll give me a list of 10, which is awesome. And then I will look at that list from ChatGPT and MidJourney and all that stuff, and it will enable my creativity. I think that AI gets into this grey area when it becomes the creativity. For example, for one of the brands I’m working on, we used MidJourney to visualise the merch. That was a great selling point. Now, if the client said, “Let’s use those AI designs,” my team and I would say, “No, that was an example.” So as a tool, it’s phenomenal. When it becomes the artist, that becomes a little more of a grey area.

When it comes to the art itself, is there any particular technique that screams pure cinema to you? To me, it’s a cool crash zoom or a whip pan or really long take, something that shows me the director has a voice and is really guiding me through the film.

In advertising, as an art director, very rarely do you have an opportunity to be like, “Hey, this is my voice.” No one gives a fuck about it. Your voice should be whatever the brand’s is. That’s why a lot of art directors try their hand at directing because after ten years of doing every voice, you’re like, “Oh, wait, I found my voice.”

I think that AI gets into this grey area when it becomes the creativity.

It’s really funny with Eyecandy, I’m recognising my voice is like, really simple stuff. I really like long takes, I like docu-style. My favourite technique in the world right now is the split diopter. That to me is amazing, because it’s done in camera, it’s not in post. In post that would be kind of lame. It takes effort from the director; they’re focusing on two things at once, and then there’s the sheer practicality of setting up the shot. You’re getting these two focal lengths in perfect focus. And just how weird it looks. If I saw that as a kid today, I’d think they mashed together two clips and blurred out the middle. Nope, that’s a lens. I love that.

Then you must love Brian DePalma! I watched Blow Out the other day and was surprised how much he used it! Talking of filmmakers like him, was there anyone in particular who just kept popping up when you were looking at these gifs? Who would you recommend to someone in order for them to get a sense of style?

I don’t know if I have any in particular. I really like in-camera effects. Wong Kar-wai. Wes Anderson. Wes is always a tough one. His technique is a lot of crash zooms and that kind of stuff, but there may not be a lot of the techniques that people want to know. I’d say Cole Bennett, Dave Meyers, Dexter Navy, the usual suspects – they tend to always be doing techniques that other directors will then emulate.

There are just so many. Brian DePalma. Edgar Wright is probably my personal favourite as well. Very heavy on practical effects: the quick cuts, the flash cuts, the quick crash zooms, I really liked that. And Valentin Petit, who passed away recently, did a lot of really amazing work in the commercial world. A lot of really crazy effects you look at and you’re like: “How do you do that?”

So in addition to the website and the Instagram page, you also have a Discord community. I’d love it if you talked about that a little.

The idea from one of my followers on the Instagram page was to create a decentralised, anarchic hub for Eyecandy. It’s cool. I go on there maybe once a week, and there are 2,000 people that use it, and I will have missed 40 to 50 messages. There are a lot of different channels. One of my favourites is Eyecandy Detectives. People like me will go in and say, “What the heck is this shot? Who did this? Who’s the director? How was this made?” Originally I’d have to go in and answer that. Now there’ll be awesome answers from the community and there are moderators saying they want to help run it. There are different levels. People can be rewarded for being community builders and reference god is another one they can get if they’re just submitting references. There’s a critique channel where people can submit their work and have the community critique it. There are also classifieds for traditional stuff.

I’d say Cole Bennett, Dave Meyers, Dexter Navy, the usual suspects – they tend to always be doing techniques that other directors will then emulate.

I look at Eyecandy as split across three hubs. The website is the vessel library, that’s the mothership, then out of the website comes Instagram – which is funny, because more people know about Instagram than the website now. And people ask what the plan is for the future: it’s a lot! I want to keep Eyecandy growing and building, and I’m happy people see being featured on Eyecandy as an award. Perhaps we will do that. And maybe, down the road, Eyecandy turns into a Netflix Originals. Maybe we sign directors, maybe we can make content. There are a lot of routes and avenues we can go with it.

You’ve explained how you might expand the website but are there going to be any future ways of monetising it?

It crosses my mind. I have about 60,000 daily users. Add that up if you charge one dollar a month… I could retire. I had a good chat with my dad a while back where I was like, “Did I do the right thing?” He’s always been my moral compass and he said, “Oh yeah.” But I think if I monetise it down the road, I think Eyecandy itself will be free but maybe I’ll build around it. I also have an Instagram subscription, I think two to three hundred people subscribe to it, and all that money goes towards maintaining the website. If there ever was a subscription service down the road it would be 100% voluntary. And it would be under the guise of don’t make me money, make Eyecandy money – allow me to hire someone full-time, allow me to build a website, allow me to build this award show. That will always be the goal. You won’t see me in a hotel off the Turks and Caicos and enjoying a Mai Tai.

Outside of Eyecandy what are you working on right now?

A lot of really awesome projects at work, none of which can be discussed. A lot of sports brands, a lot of gaming brands. I think in general, Portland is in a slump as a city, but there’s going to be a lot of great work coming out of Portland and Wieden+Kennedy soon. And obviously, Eyecandy is my baby and right now we’re meeting with merch people that create amazing stuff. But even that won’t be a profit generator. That will cover the costs of production and that money will go back into Eyecandy.

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