Category Archives: On Location

On Location With 311 “Love Song” Music Video

MVWire was on location for the 311 “Love Song” music video shoot from the movie sound track for “50 First Dates.” Here is behind the scenes footage and a brief interview with director Mark Kohr.

Comments from director Mark Kohr

MVWire: Do you find it difficult to create a music video that’s tied to a movie soundtrack?

Mark Kohr: From a director’s standpoint when doing a soundtrack video, you try to do something with a clever twist or tie-in to the movie with the ultimate goal of having a unique visual transition. On this video we had a very short time to prep and shoot so we had to keep it simple. The film was shot in Hawaii and since the band is most comfortable performing we decided to shoot in an original 1960’s Polynesian restaurant/bar giving us a stylistic tie to the movie. The place we found (Sam’s Seafood) was awesome! It was filled with tiki’s from head to toe. By placing the band in the middle of the bar performing, we were able to use the palm columns as an editorial wipe to transition between performance and movie footage.

MVW: What was the overall vibe that you wanted to accomplish with “Love Song” ?

MK: The main thing I wanted to accomplish with this video was that the vibe be sincere. This track is a remake of The Cure’s “Its a Real Love Song” and the movie is a romantic comedy so there was a danger that the true sentiment of the song would be missed. It was important to the band and I that the sincerity of the track come across.

MVW: How was it working with 311?

MK: It was great working with 311. I have worked with them twice before so we have a familiarity with each other. I had them dress in their own clothes, which also helps them be more relaxed. The guys are all very cool and real people. We had a good time.

Credits:

Video Commiss: Daniel Savage/Maverick Records
Production Co.: Bob Industries
Producer: Melissa Larsen
Director: Mark Kohr
DP: Adam Santelli
Editor: Chip Eddy
Colorist: Arnold/Encore


Director Brett Simon Pushes The Boundaries With Polarbear “Belly”

Eric Avery was a founding member and bassist for Jane’s Addiction and for Dave Navarro’s solo album. Polar Bear has broken up, but the re-release of their album “Why Something Instead of Nothing” is slated for February 10, 2004. He is currently working on a solo project.

Comments from artist Eric Avery

MVWire: How did Brett approach you about making this video?

Eric Avery: We’re friends so it was real informal. We had been talking about doing something for his reel. He mentioned that he had made some images with a scanner that had a cool vibe. I just thought it would be a way to help him out.

Brett did the perfect directing job. His original idea could have been too high tech, but by paying attention to the texture and character of the music, he was able to convey the right feel on the video.

Brett Simon has worked with Fur Patrol, French Kicks and Thrice among others. His short films have been screened at Toronto International Film Festival, Telluride Film Festival and Resfest. His videos and installations have been exhibited at venues from Barcelona to Seoul.

Interview with director Brett Simon

MVWire: What was the developmental process to get to where you are at now?

Brett Simon: I studied literature and photography at Princeton. With both writing and photography, I enjoyed being able to create something by myself without a lot of materials. In retrospect, I may have spent too much time by myself; I wrote a really self-indulgent novel for my thesis and I went a little crazy in the process. Filmmaking seemed like a natural convergence of my interests, but I was intimidated by the idea of having to network with producers and wrangle a big crew. When I saw my first dv camera and desktop editing system, I realized I could make movies on my own, without much money.

After graduation, I received a Javits grant and I began studying and teaching in the film department at UC Berkeley. The school gave me access to my first digital camera and I started making short videos that fell somewhere between narrative and experimental. Filmmakers complain about the intangible aspect of video but for me it was liberating. I made something new every couple of weeks. The videos weren’t polished or perfect, but I would finish one and move on to the next. I understood that I was working with new tools and I didn’t want to be held back by “proper” filmmaking. I worked exclusively with video, partially out of necessity but also because it felt more like unchartered ground. I kept telling my students, and myself “We have to discover what kind of stories video wants to tell, and how these tools want to tell them.”

MVWire: Did you have any end in mind or did you just want to see what you could accomplish on your own?

Making was the goal. I really believe that making is a sacred activity. It is something I need to do like eating red meat or f…ing; it is physical. The particulars of what I make are always less important to me than the actual act of making. I feel awful when I haven’t been working; I ache.

MVWire: Why music videos?

Music videos are a perfect place to experiment. One interesting problem or idea can’t carry a feature film; it can carry a video. I like limits: budgets, labels, deadlines etc. Limits help me create; creativity is sometimes nothing more than problem solving. Limits ground me; they keep me from falling into the abyss possibility. My friends who direct commercials are always complaining about all of the limits imposed by the agency. I pretend to be sympathetic but I’m really a little jealous.

MVWire: Where did you discover Polarbear?

Brett: Polarbear is a solo project with Eric Avery. This was his 2nd solo project after Jane’s Addition. Eric and I are friends, and friends are my favorite people to collaborate with. He has a rare integrity and a curiosity about the world that’s contagious.

We had no budget for this project. I had just bought a flat bed scanner and I was really fascinated by it. I made lots of contact prints and played around with scanned physical objects. I wanted to explore the border between a still and moving image; this has been one of the obsessions of my work. At what moment does a still become a movie? And at what point does the movie break apart into a still? For me it’s a moment of awe and wonder. I went looking for it with the French Kicks video, the Thrice video and with Polar bear. I had the idea of making a movie entirely out of scanned images of Eric’s face. Eric lay on his back with the scanner upside down over his face raised by books on either side. First we shot the different mouth positions of all the vowels, then the basic consonants. You can animate a character speaking with anywhere from 2 to 20 mouth positions. We built a library of about 250 scans. For two days we experimented with different kinds of movements and textures. Eric was incredibly patient lying under the scanner. Each scan was around 30 seconds long and he had to keep still the whole time. Eric made the best of it. He came up with new ideas, new things to experiment with. After he saw a rough cut, Beau Leon at the Syndicate offered to color the video. During the session, Beau created a stunning but subtle way to underscore particular moments in the song with color and contrast.

MVWire: How were you able to create the “sound waves” in the video?

Those things that looked like sound waves are Eric’s fingertips moving over the glass while the scanner light was moving. I compiled a lot of waveforms and synced his mouth to the song, then synced some wave positions to the music. Our eyes are so generous they make us believe those waves are a visual representation of the music as sound waves.

MVWire: What are your thoughts about the song?

“Belly” is a song that gets under your skin. Its brevity, its simplicity, its powerful and beautiful lyrics, the song is a kind of pure expression. It forced me to hold back from throwing in a lot of gimmicky stuff and making it too showy. Even though it’s made entirely of stills, I tried to make the video feel like a single take, a continuous moment from beginning to end. I wanted the viewer to connect with Eric and his music, not with my tools.


Director Chris Milk Creates Chemical Brothers “Golden Path” Music Video

Born and raised in New York, Chris Milk funded his student years at San Francisco’s Academy of Art College as a freelance Avid editor. After graduation Milk moved on to making commercials and founded his own production company, Spoon Fed Films. He won a Gold Clio while still a student, the Oscar of television advertising, and was one of six US directors to be honored at Cannes in the Saatchi & Saatchi New Director Showcase. Milk moved to Los Angeles after signing with Radical Media in 2000. Since then he has used his creativity and dark humor to create ads for high profile companies like Sprite, Nike and Nintendo. The Chemical Brothers “Golden Path” is Milk’s music video directorial debut. The song tells the simple tale of a man coming to a fork in the road where one path leads up the corporate ladder and one path leads to a colorful world of 60s style fun, and of course, only one is golden.

Interview with Radical Media director Chris Milk

Music Video Wire: What was the process in writing the treatment for this song?

Chris Milk: It was a difficult song to write on because the lyric is so narrative that you have to incorporate it into the visual concept or else you’re going to fall flat on your face. It’s almost spoken word, like someone telling a story which is very specific. There was an obvious “see-say” way to go with it, in which you write a story showing exactly what he’s talking about. It was very hard to get away from that since the vocal is so prominent. I figured the record company would probably be inundated with those types of treatments though so I really tried to steer clear of being too literal with it. I wanted to do something interesting and surreal yet still do the appropriate nods in specific places to the lyrics so it all stayed somewhat cohesive. Also, I am big Chemical Brothers fan and I’ve noticed that their videos are almost always some kind of journey. Whether it be a journey that is personal, physical, psychological, or just by train, it always seems to be a thread. I decided to try to do a journey that was spiritual.

MVW: How did you bring the two stories together?

CM: The lyrics center around “a golden path,” which seems to be toward the promised land of a higher plane, whether that be consciousness or heaven though even the song acknowledges that the path might not be all it’s cracked up to be, with the word “supposed.” I wanted to twist it into more of a social commentary, with the golden path being toward power and riches, paved by the “greed is good” corporate American ideal. The song has a very Sixties melody and instrumentation, so I thought it would be interesting to try and recreate that era. The main character is the one kid in the free love generation who chooses the path of riches and power over freedom and love. The date on the check in the video is 1970, the free love decade is over. People are having to get jobs and start working instead of just dancing around in fields. The video’s protagonist is the first kid in the free love generation that goes and gets a job in corporate America instead of rebelling against it. But the life he’s passed up haunts him still. His delusions of redemption begin to manifest themselves through antiquated office equipment and chocolate covered doughnuts.

MVW: How did you accomplish the moves going thru the computer screen?

CM: I shot a computer monitor screen with a 24-frame signal generator through it that showed 0’s and 1’s but in the end it looked like shit and we replaced it in Flame. The final 0’s and 1’s seen in the video spell “the chemical brothers” if put through a binary code translator. The transition was a Flame effect that Simon Scott (who’s incredible ) at a secret company called “Process”, created. He also did the chocolate donut with eyes, and the shot coming out from the giant shirt and pants.

MVW: It looked like you used two different types of film for the shoot.

CM: All the office world stuff is 16mm color reversal and the hippy paradise world is 35mm negative. You have years and years of research, development, and technology in the new Kodak Vision negative stocks, but the reversal stock is basically the same old technology from the 60’s. It’s not widely available and we had to search hard to find all we needed. We actually shot one stock that was the last bit of that particular reversal stock that exists in the world. We used the reversal because you get a texture that is very different from negative. Negative is really, really sharp and fine grained. In fact, for most things it’s too sharp in my opinion. That’s why a lot of videos and commercials, especially in Europe, end up shooting negative then printing to film and transferring from their print. It’s a softer more beautiful look I think.

MVW: Did you do anything special with the reversal stock to specialize the look of the video?

CM: Yes, we pushed the reversal stock one stop. It makes it look even grainer and fuzzier. The blacks kind of bleed a little bit and the grain is really chunky. I’m in love with this look. It was all in an effort to try and replicate the film look of the 70?s. The office is supposed to be the miserable reality of this poor drone so it?s got that green, yellowish tobacco tinge to everything. It is not a happy place to be. Matty Libatique was the DP and he did a great job with it.

MVW: And how did you use the 35mm for the “hippy world” ?

CM: The hippy world is straight pristine 35mm Vision 250D negative stock transferred by the illustrious Mike Pethel at Company 3.

MVW: Were those the only two stocks you used?

CM: There is one other shot in there that is super 8 that was done out of necessity for the size and weight of the camera. That?s the shot where they are swinging each other around in a circle and it cuts between the girl and guy?s POV looking at each other. The girl and the guy actually held the super 8 camera out in front of them and then spun around in a circle.

MVW: I understand that you had a bit of a disaster when the film was processed.

CM: Yes, we finished the shoot and after developing the 16mm reversal footage we went to telecine. We?re watching it and then all of a sudden it gets shittier and shittier and then it just turns to solid shit. There is literally solid brown film going through the telecine. It had gone through the chemical lab process incorrectly apparently. We had negative insurance which paid for a re-shoot. We ended up having to re-shoot about two thirds of the office day. That was incredibly painful, trying to go back and re-create performances that you were very happy with the first time. It took us a full day to re-shoot everything.

MVW: I’m sure you had to psych yourself up for the re-shoot!

CM: It was really difficult to do that. Usually on a shoot you?re running on pure adrenaline and everything is moving very fast. On this re-shoot it was such a downer I was drinking red bull so I could stay up. I was miserable. In the end though, I was far wiser than when I had shot it six days earlier because I had already started editing what I had and I knew exactly what I needed. At the end of the day I probably got a better video from doing the re-shoot, but it still didn’t make it any more enjoyable. Lesson learned, there are no bargains when it comes to processing your film.

MVW: Where was the location of the field for the hippy world scenes?

CM: It’s a kid’s baseball field out in Calabasas, in the west end of Los Angeles County. That time of year grass is completely dead unless it has been watered and the only places that water are golf courses, which are difficult to get on, and the movie ranches, which are incredibly expensive. Disney, Paramount, and Universal all have ranches and they are great, they look like a lush green valleys, but they want many thousands of dollars a day, and we just didn?t have the money. This was a difficult shoot because we never had enough money. I waived all my fees and put it back into the budget, as did Radical. Everybody else worked at reduced rates. It was the only way to get the video made. So we found this little park with a baseball field in Calabasas and it was perfectly green with these strange rolling yellow hills all around. It was interesting and kind of surreal having the drastic separation between the green field, the yellow hills, and the blue sky. You can see it in a couple of the wide shots. We also decorated the trees with bright streamers and I think all and all it came off pretty well for no money.

MVW: What was your experience working with the band?

CM: It was sort of a dream experience as far as dealing with a band and record company was concerned. I wrote the treatment, the label loved it and got it to the Chemical Brothers. The Brothers said ok, great do it, and make it wicked. I was like, are you sure you don’t want any changes, or I can send you e-mails and pictures as I go thru the process. They just said, no it’s cool, just make it really fucking wicked man. The band and the label were in England and there was not the budget to be flying them back and forth so it was just me alone on the shoot. No band, no label. It was great to feel that trusted by them. I’m eternally grateful to them for that.

The guys are really not that interested in being in their videos tough. They’re just looking for a cameo. I put them in as conjoined twins on the employee of the month wall. The subtext of it is that they win every month and they can’t be beaten because they are conjoined. They count as one employee, but they rack up the phone sales of two people. It’s really all quite unfair.

MVW: Did you edit the video yourself?

CM: No, I worked with an editor named Livio Sanchez who is at the White House. He?s actually an editor that I have worked with before in commercials. He is an amazing editor and an incredibly astute storyteller. This video really required someone who had a great sense of storytelling since it?s really more of a narrative short film than your typical performance driven music video. It?s not about finding the best cymbal smash, it?s about crafting a little narrative and making it all flow together.

MVW: How extensive was the storyboarding?

CM: I had every single shot, and every beat of the song storyboarded. If you look at my storyboards they’re almost exactly the video. I had the video edited out on paper long before I ever shot a frame of it. I needed to do this because, first of all I didn?t have enough time, and secondly I didn’t have enough money. You only have a set amount of hours of the day you?re allowed to work before you get into over time pay and quickly blow the budget. This budget could not be blown because certain people (i.e. myself and radical) would have to start paying out of pocket. There was literally no margin for error, and consequently no margin for extra shots either.

Another reason for the extensive storyboarding was because there was such a specific linear storyline I was trying to tell. Every shot depends on the shot before it to live. You can’t get to the computer curser shot unless you show the guy in the computer room, you can?t show the scene with him pulling his head out of the copier unless you show how it got in there. The shots all rely on one another to make the story work cohesively and if you don’t get one shot the whole thing begins to fall apart. I know because I tried to cut my shot list down (about 80 shots spread over two days), usually you can, but in this instance every single shot was critical to tell the story.

MVW: What’s different between directing a performance driven video and a video with a linear storyline like this one?

CM: Well, I speak to this with the authority of having done only one music video. But, with a performance driven video you have the luxury of cutting back to the band if your narrative gets in trouble. If you’re doing a performance video and you don’t get the shot of the guitar solo in front of the waterfall, it’s all right, the guitarist might be pissed, but the video still makes sense. In this video there is no performance, so if you don’t get a shot, you’re missing part of the story, and the whole thing starts to fall apart. Also, if you have two specific actions that synch with two specific moments in the song you have to have enough story to fill up the in between part. A good example is one where I actually screwed up. The copier machine opens on a “Roar” in the song. The coffee pot overflowing hits on the line “like the mouth of a volcano”. In between those two points is about 7 seconds. I messed up and did not have enough shots for those 7 seconds so I had to linger on the copy machine room forever, waiting for him to walk in. It sort of works, accentuating the banality of this guy’s life, lingering like that (we did it a lot intentionally at the beginning of the video) but that shot still bugs me.

In the end, I really wanted to match each musical moment of the song with a specific visual so the whole narrative sustains and complements the music. That’s what the great videos that have really stuck with me in the past have done. It’s basically reverse scoring. You’re scoring picture to music. Guys like Glazer, Romanek, and Cunningham are the masters of it. Sometimes it’s hard to believe the band didn’t actually score the director’s visuals in some of their videos.

Credits:

Label: Virgin Music UK
Commissioner: Carole Burton-Fairbrother
Production Company: @radical.media/music
Director:Chris Milk
Executive Producer: Scott Spanjich
Producer: Kyra Shelgreen
DP: Matty Libatique
Off-Line Editor: Livio Sanchez – The White House
Telecine/Colorist: Mike Pethel – Company 3
Special F/X: Process
Flame Artist: Simon Scott


Red Hot Chili Peppers “Can’t Stop” Music Video

Director of Photography Jeff Cutter has worked with several of the most noted music video directors to date. We spoke to Jeff about the challenges, inspiration, and creating the stunning yet simple look for the Red Hot Chili Peppers ‘Can’t Stop’ music video.

*see the Red Hot Chili Peppers ‘Can’t Stop’ music video

Interview with Director of Photography Jeff Cutter

MVW: What were a few of the challenges you faced shooting this video?

JC: The biggest challenge in this case was that we had a lot to shoot and not a lot of time. The concept basically was to give a feel of an art installation space; everything was sort of blank, white walls, metal doors, really uninteresting. We were hoping for a place that would have existing florescent lighting so we could come in and turn on the lights and have everything lit. Unfortunately there were no lights in the space at all. There were a lot of skylights, which was a problem so we had to cover them. We were not ever going to see the whole space in its entirety in any single shot so we just used each little area as if it were another area of some giant art space so what we ended up doing is creating our own mobile florescent light ceiling. We built a 20 x 30 grid then we rigged like 30 – 40 foot Kino flow doubles underneath it in a pattern as if it were a ceiling. We put that on an 80-foot articulating arm Condor and we would literally just roll that around and stick it over the top of whatever little area we were shooting. Each time we went to a different space it felt like we were in Home Depot, it had that weird, raw quality, but that’s what we were going for: the unlit, unflattering look. So that was the biggest challenge, in that nothing was lit, we had all this stuff to shoot and not a lot of time so we had to figure out how to do it.

MVW: What was the inspiration for the “Can’t Stop” music video?

JC: This artist named Erwin Wurm inspired the video; he did these art pieces called, “One Minute Sculptures.” There were people posing in these awkward positions with everyday objects like buckets or pots on their heads or inside trash cans. They would just hold these poses against very blank rather uninteresting backdrops, so it was inspired by his work. The band would assume all these positions and all these weird scenarios with all kinds of different things. Like one was Flea playing his bass with the giant purple dinosaur mask on. There was one with yellow plastic buckets on feet and arms and head, so it just became these very sort of surreal, abstract things, which threw the Chili Peppers into that environment that they had a lot of fun with. So there was that, and all the vignettes, and there was the band performance. It had the same kind of vibe as far as the space went: on a stage that the art director built, the interesting glass and metal and florescent tube stage floor in rectangle pieces that all moved around and then the band just got up on that with the same top light look. With the exception of two setups, we basically used the same florescent source above everything.

MVW: How did you like working with RHCP?

JC: They were actually very cool, they were very in to the ideas and Anthony in particular was very open to anything. Things that would often at first seem difficult he would make the most out of them. There was one interesting setup that was a jagged, brick wall that was cut out in big portions, so he could be bricked into this wall. Things like that could be very constricting and restricting but he just welcomed it and did an amazing performance.

MVW: The look was clean and simple as far as the lighting was concerned.

JC: Yes, the whole thing was to make it seem as unlit as we could so we rolled that light around and the only thing we did was we bring in 20 x 4 grids and grif-ons and just use the grif-ons passively as white sources. It needed to feel like you are in a white box to a certain extent. The problem is that it was such a massive space that we might be shooting against the white wall but we did not have any other white around us. You are against the wall and you bring in the top lighting source but it still seemed very top lit because there were no bounce back since there were no white walls. So we basically had to create our own white wall in a way. We rolled in about 40 feet of a couple of 20 x grif-ons on either side and got 40 feet of white wall basically on the sides and did the same with the front on either side to get white walls on the side and did the same on the front. We had the full grids and punched like 10k’s through the full grids just to pick it up a little bit. With the exception of two sets we pretty much did that for everything.

MVW: What was the focus of the discussion when you talked to Mark before the shoot?

JC: He had already found the location and he told me he was hoping it would have florescent lighting, but it didn’t. So it would be great if we could come up with a way to light things quickly and easily. At first, I thought of using helium balloons because you blow them up and walk them around and they’re so quick.

This warehouse was about 40 feet high and maybe 2 football fields long, massive space, of which we probably used only about half of anyway. Well, we talked about the helium balloons but he just wanted it to have that florescent quality, which he didn’t think we would get with the balloons. So that was when I talked to my gaffer and key grip and we started tossing around ideas about what was the biggest florescent grid we could use on the Condor.

MVW: What type of film stock did you use?

JC: The film stock was the film stock that I had used before, but I did chose one that was a low contrast, de-saturated stock 5277. We didn’t want it to be rich blacks and vibrant colors. That was actually one other thing Mark had talked about when we did the prep, was that everything would be essentially white or gray, no blacks, with the exception that there would always be one object in the frame that would be one vibrant color: like an orange bucket or a pink shirt. So there was one color that would pop and everything else was a white/gray world. The film stock helped with that, it is called Kodak 5277, which is a very low contrast stock and very de-saturated.

MVW: Did you work off of a storyboard?

JC: No, not really, it was more like a shot list. Mark had a shot list more detailed to the performance. He knew exactly the pieces that needed the coverage, etc. Then when we got into the various setups, he listed what the vignette was. You know one vignette was that John would be playing the guitar under this giant sack filled with pink Styrofoam peanuts in a tube, and they just rained down on him while he was performing. For something like that Mark knew that was the setup but we did not know how many shots it would be until we got to it. There were some things only played in wide shots and some only in coverage. So when we got to the shots we lined them up to see how many pieces we needed. We were not that precise with boards and we tended to stay a lot wider too to allow the band to do the things they might do rather than binding them to a tight frame.

MVW: Did the band do much ad-libbing to what was prepared?

JC: Yes. There were things that Mark thought would be cool and we would set them up then you’d be like, “Oh I don’t know,” then one of the guys would just jump into it and they would spring a whole new level to it just with their performance. Also, the way they would interact with the various props and the things they would do was spontaneous.

MVW: Were most of the setups focused on creating the unlit look of the video?

JC: Yes, more or less. There were two interesting things that we did which did not fall in that general setup. One was John playing his guitar in what seemed like a sea of lamps. There were about 100 lamps all different size with different shades and Mark wanted every lamp to be on its own dimmer. We did the setup and talked about whether he should just be lit by the lamps or if there should be other lights on. Then we just turned the lights on and had him stand there and it was so beautiful without any extra light that we just let the lamps light him and when the lamps were dimming up and down on John as he was performing it was very interesting. We started with just a black frame and then as the song fades up, the lamps just behind John turned on and created a silhouette. They were just dimming up and down, and then we brought the lamps in front of him up. In the end we just reversed it going down back to blackness.

MVW: How did you set up for the shot?

JC: My gaffer got a dimming board. We did something like this before and usually you would need to get a board operator, somebody who comes in and programs it. Usually you talk to the board operator and he programs it but if you want to change even one little thing which always happens that means the board operator has to go back in and reprogram it. So we decided we would just do it manually and have a bunch of guys controlling the switches. At first Mark was skeptical, but we had about 6 guys each controlling about 8 switches apiece: 4 switches with each hand. We just did it like the old school and once we got the rhythm going it was just beautiful.

Then there was another setup, which we had not talked about, but Mark just had this inspiration. It was a setup that was like a kaleidoscope where it starts out with a shot that is outside a three walled, triangular box. It is basically 3-4 x 8, horizontal panels that were elevated 4 feet off the ground so when you crawl underneath them you are inside of a triangle that is all mirrored. Mark wanted to be able to shoot inside it or cut a hole in it and shoot into it so you could see the millions of reflections. We cut a hole just big enough for the lens to slide through one of the mirrors so that we could have the camera outside looking in and you wouldn’t see it. Mark also wanted to have a kaleidoscope of colors inside, so we took it on the Condor. The hard part of it was that because the mirrors didn’t extend to the floor you could still see the floor going out underneath. That meant you couldn’t just throw light down the top without controlling it because it would spill out all over the floor and look messy. The idea was this internal light source inside this box and you would cut to the exterior and just see his legs dancing around and then, coming back to the inside, you’d see the colors. We got a Condor and rigged 6 different colored lights, but ended up just going with 3 of the primary colors: blue, red, green. They were more vibrant than the other colors, and we rigged the lights on dimmers and hung them on the Condor. The rigs were like black tubes that extended from the Condor for about 12 feet down to a pyramid, more like a giant snout to keep all the light from spilling anywhere but onto the top of the triangle. We worked that with a dimmer too, so the lights were pulsing at different colors. That was a difficult setup to do.

There was one other setup that was not simple too. We built this 150-foot corridor. They used one existing white wall and then built 10 foot sections of clear white visqueen 150 feet long and 10 feet high and the corridor was only about 6 feet wide. Then each band member wore a backpack like a florescent fixture, so each one would light the person behind them. The fixtures were found in the hardware store. The only other lighting we did was that we brought in just the back-lights to give it a soft underexposed glow so that there would be ambiance, but it wouldn’t be lit up. It looked like they were going through a fairly dark corridor with these bright, glowing florescent tubes and they ran down the corridor and we got these long 150-foot dolly shots.

MVW: What advice do you have for up and coming DPs ?

JC: Shoot as much film as you can, it doesn’t matter how much money you are getting paid. It is all about making mistakes, learning things, getting good stuff, and putting a reel together. The other thing is, sometimes it isn’t just what you shoot, but the people that you meet on these freebies or PSA’s while shooting because you never know who is going to be the next Mark Romanek or Francis Lawrence. So it is also important to meet these people and get on jobs, answer ads. If you do that it’s bound to happen for you. I absolutely believe that, even if your not all that talented, if you try, if you work hard enough and you make contacts and you’re a nice person it will happen for you. It’s just about perseverance.

CREDITS:

Production Co. : Anonymous
Director: Mark Romanek
DP: Jeff Cutter


Music Video Director Sophie Muller

London-born Sophie Muller grew up on the Isle of Man, and studied film and television at the Royal College of Art, where her graduation piece, ‘In Excelsis Deo’ toured won the J. Walter Thompson prize for creativity and toured numerous film festivals. A childhood friend introduced her to management at Oil Factory, for whom she began producing videos like the Eurythmics’ ‘I Need a Man.’ She has since produced videos for artists ranging from Blur, The Cure, and Hole to Natalie Merchant and Sinead O’Connor. Her numerous awards include a Grammy for Annie Lennox’s ‘Diva,’ the MTV award for ‘Why,’ and other MVPA and Brit awards. This year, she was honored at the 2001 Creative & Design Awards in the UK and Director of the Year at the 10th Annual MVPA Awards for her work on the videos discussed here: Sade’s ‘By Your Side,’ No Doubt’s ‘Simple Kind of Life,’ and PJ Harvey’s ‘Good Fortune.’

Muller’s videos often have a rough, raw edge and a sense of spontaneity, along with an often-surreal use of color, juxtaposing bright, otherworldly primaries against monochromatic backgrounds. However, she eschews the concept of sticking with a ‘look,’ avoiding storyboards and always trying to come up with a fresh approach. About her process, she said to MVW that ‘I don’t do story boards, because if I do one, I can’t be bothered to do the video anymore–its like I have already done it. To me, making videos is really exciting and creative, but if I know what I am going to do, it’s not interesting to me. I like to go into it not quite knowing what is going to happen; then everything is fresh and exciting. Every musician you work with is different, and the way they look at themselves and their work is different. I look at that artist and think, ‘You’re different; what can I do with you that I have not done before?’

Sade comments on working with director Sophie Muller

MVW: What is it like working with Sophie Muller on a music video?

Sade: Sophie has immense faith in her judgement at the same time she’s open – she doesn’t have that kind of ego that closes down her vision. She finds things within your music that you have not seen and she capitalises on characteristics within me that I haven’t noticed. She has eagle eyes and she has integrity. I have enough faith in her to let her be pilot and that feels good.

MVW: Are you involved in the creative process when you are working on a video with Sophie?

Sade: Sophie won’t paint a picture from a photograph, if you look at her work you can see that. She involves me from the beginning. She looks for people who have an opinion, who believe in what they do. I don’t think it would be a challenge for her otherwise.

MVW: Do you enjoy making music videos?

Sade: It used to be hell for me because I don’t love the camera. I always saw it as my enemy not my friend and so I have always tended to shut down and hide but Sophie has gradually encouraged me to reveal a bit of myself so it’s not such a painful process for me anymore.

Interview with director Sophie Muller

Sade ‘By Your Side’

MVW: Sade is a very beautiful woman and natural in front of the camera, was there much direction involved with the performance of the video?

SM: It is a tricky one, in that she had not done anything in eight years—there had not even been a photograph taken of her. I think I was being protective the day we did it; I did not want to push her to do something incredibly difficult, but wanted to ease her back in. I proposed the direction as sort of being a journey. To me, it is like a metaphor of life. Because she has been away, yet has this amazing life and has come back to delivered this album. That was meant to be a metaphor, like the flower like she dropped by the roadside saying, ‘Here is my album.’ Then she made like she has gone through this strange journey, which is her life, but it is totally made into a beautiful, mysterious dream. The song was very uplifting in that way.

MVW: The color of the video is very vivid. Also I can’t forget the one shot, the close up portrait shot of her standing with the pale green light on her face.

SM: That is kind of Indian—that over-saturated imagery. The green face definitely was an Indian film reference. We looked at several Chinese films, Japanese masters and beautiful Indian films.

MVW: What was involved in creating that vivid look?

SM: Sade is an interesting artist. She is not a typical R& B or British artist, and I was trying to get her in this world where people think of her as if she is kind of mystical, not as a person you see in the street. I had a lot of discussion with our DP about how to create a world where you can believe that someone is going from point A to point B within it, but it is all fake. I wanted each bit to be different, and wanted to make it like reality, but more beautiful. It was meant to be like a forest, but a bit more peaceful than a real forest would be. The colors are a bit more extreme, and everything was done with the sense that we wanted it to look like reality, but better.

MVW: There is a scene where Sade is walking through the forest. There are rays of sunlight, and she walks through the rays, going from the color to shadow and from shadow to color. That was very stunning, visually.

SM: Sade is very elegant and sensual. I was playing into those strengths rather than dealing with her as I did in the other video, which was more gritty and real. To me this came very naturally to her, and I did not have to direct her as much, because I had set her in an arena where she would be perfect. She is very understated, which is quite unusual in an artist. She does not do very much, but the little things she does say a lot.

MVW: What visual effects were involved to help create the mystical look of the forest?

SM: The forest was pretty much as is. We added a few fire flies, but that was about it. Everything else was actually built to look like that. The only visual effect is the huge field where she is walking; we build a little field and painted it all around her. It’s just old-fashioned painting. There was a little green screen, when she walks towards the city. Otherwise, there are not many special effects in the video.

MVW: The last question is about the end of the video. You mentioned before it was more of a metaphor with her standing in the middle of the forest.

SM: When she was making her album, Sade and I drove down to the studio and saw people standing in the median of the road selling flowers. As I looked at them, I thought it was so sad to be constantly rejected by these cars. No one gave them eye contact, because people did not want to be seen looking at them. We started talking about this idea, about flower sellers, and thought, ‘Well, it’s not such a bad job to be looking at beautiful flowers all day.’ Then had the idea of someone who has been away, and was just standing offering a flower to someone–would they take it if it was free? In the video, she gathers these things that are lifeless–twigs & flowers–and in the end she asks, ‘Does anyone want them?’ Of course, no one wanted to take them. The song has that emotion; I wanted to have emotion, but not someone crying or anything like that.

Gwen Stefani comments on working with director Sophie Muller

‘Sophie Muller is one of my most talented friends. She can and will only do projects that she is inspired by. She is driven by creativity and the love for what she does and as a result she never compromises. I consider her a true artist.’

‘I was a fan of Sophie’s work before I even imagined working with her. She has a very pronounced style and taste that drew me in. I think she has the gift of being able to bring out the artist’s personality, emotion and style. After working with her for the first time on our ‘Don’t Speak’ video, we became close friends and since then we have made seven videos together.’

‘Our ‘Simple Kind of Life’ video is one of my favorites and is the one closest to my heart. When I first wrote the song and I played it to her in my living room (she had been staying with me at the time), it was obvious that she would be the one to do the video. She loves to collaborate and is motivated and inspired by the creativity of the artists she works with. We both had the same goal of wanting to make something that could emotionally affect people when they saw it and we did everything together to try to make that happen. The images needed to reflect the the lyrics and emotion behind the song so to start we scouted locations in east L.A. together. We designed the wedding dress based on a John Galliano fashion show we both had seen and loved a few years back. The extensive amount of preparation put into the video is very important to Sophie and she loves to have meetings to discuss the project in order to make it great. On the set her direction is humble and simple but she knows what she wants and knows when she gets it. A woman in charge in the male-dominated world of filmmaking makes the whole experience that much more exciting.’

‘I think after all the inspiration that goes into the shoot, her true gift is in the editing. She has a way of making every cut have a reason and meaning. The videos have a life of their own and become better each time you watch them. I am always in shock the first time I see them and then after a few more times I am actually amazed. She has taught me a lot and I feel very lucky to have worked with her. With her images of us, she has brought people closer to No Doubt and I am truly grateful.’

Gwen StefaniNO DOUBT

Interview with director Sophie Muller

MVW: I enjoyed the strong composition of this video. The opening scene, with Gwen & Tony holding each other–that in itself could have been a still picture.

SM: I worked with No Doubt a lot. We made about seven videos together, so I know them well. To me this song is an incredibly personal song; there are very few that reveal as much in their lyrics as she does in this song. So I had to do something that was relevant. I couldn’t just make a video about something else–I had to address what the song was about. The chorus is all about this desire to be married in sort of a weird dream-like thing, and I thought I would use a different band member with each verse.

I wanted three simple scenarios where she could perform. She is a brilliant performer, and when you have a great performer, you let them perform. You don’t try and swamp them with stuff. Instead of telling them what to do, I just let them do their thing. I put in props and asked if they want to ‘get on this table’ or ‘kick this light.’ Whatever happens, I let it happen naturally happens and I film it; nothing is storyboarded. In those three verses, I had no idea what was going to happen. I thought, ‘She will be able to pull this off, and we will figure it. When you do that, great things happen. Like the scene where she is with the drummer and they are looking at each other–I imagined that she would play into that scene: he might be the guy, and may be the father of the child.

MVW: What was your influence for the dream sequence?

SM: I cannot remember where I got that, and it’s different from how I wanted it. I originally wanted to show her floating above a sea of orange juice. That is the only part of the video where she is on her own, where she has drifted off into this other world and she is floating above it. That is how I imagined it, but it became the way she performed it, with her standing up, less floating, and more sensual. I just adapted it and went with it. I am very unfixed when I do a video–I just go with the flow. Things change all the time–in my head and on the set. I usually react to what I see, rather than make the artists react to what I have written on a paper.

MVW: Did you have a general idea about the treatment?

SM: I had to be a bit more specific with this one, because of the cake scene. That is actually one of the special effects I did that worked. Gwen wanted a scene in which she is in this giant hall full of cakes that just goes on forever. It was a weird, nightmare kind of thing, with her in this world about her wedding and her cake, and she is trying to stop the band from destroying it. But how do you do a scene like that? Instead of making 500,000 wedding cakes, you make twenty and repeat them in post.

MVW: Is there a specific look that you try to achieve with your work?

SM: No. With every video I do, I always try to do something I have not done before. Most people can’t pin down what I do, because I don’t have ‘a look.’ It would bore me to death to create the same look over and over, and I need to go into it not knowing what will happen. Making videos is really exciting and creative, but if I always knew what I was going to do, it would no longer be interesting to me.

P. J. Harvey ‘Good Fortune’

Interview with director Sophie Muller

MVW: What were P.J. Harvey’s thoughts about what she wanted to accomplish with the music video?

SM: She had always worked with the same person in the past, so I was stunned that she called me wanting to work with me. I usually feed off [the artist’s] ideas, so I asked her what kind of feeling she was looking for. She said she wanted to have performance and motion, and in my head, I saw a moving shot of someone standing at a wall. They had sent me pictures she took in New York, and I thought they were great images—she looked glamorous, and it was shot at night. So I got the idea that she wants movement, performance and something really simple. Yet she did not want any story or anything like that, so I thought, ‘How do you bring this photo to life?’ I got in my head, you have a moving camera, moving lights, and moving sound; then she can go wherever she wants, do whatever she wants, and we can just film her. There was some discussion on the day we shot [about how many takes], and we though, ‘Let’s try and do it in one take.’ We ended up shooting six or seven.

MVW: It was certainly very spontaneous.

SM: I had no idea what she was going to do, and neither did she. We just let her walk up and down the street, and she was such a great performer!

MVW: There would be no way she would have been able to pull that off if she was not such a great performer.

SM: I knew she was an amazing performer from seeing her previous work. Sometimes if you do a really simple idea and don’t try messing with it, it turns out stronger. In a way it has an energy about it, because you don’t know what’s going to happen, and you don’t know exactly how she is going to behave. And it’s got a sort of fluidity to it–you could tell we were going with her. She was in control. Usually an artist is at the mercy of the camera crew—they have to be, to hit the lights and so on. But with this, she could do anything. If she wanted a close up, she could come up to the camera; if she wanted a wide shot, she could just move out or go faster, and the crew had to move around with her.

MVW: Have you every shot anything like this before, or would you say that someone influenced you with this type of style or look?

SM: I had an idea that this is what the Paparazzi crew would be like—you know, the hand held camera with the light mounted on it. But instead of us chasing her, we were with her, so it’s like being with in the street. It was a glamorous image, shot at night in the street, and she was dressed in this amazing dress and really high shoes that say, ‘Let’s make out,’ which in itself is quite a beguiling image.

MVW: Where was it shot?

SM: We shot in London. Everyone thought it was in New York because of her album cover, which shows Times Square. We took the idea of it, and somehow they blend together; we chose this town called Houxton, which does not look like London at all, so it gives the feeling that you are not quite sure where you are.

MVW: There are variations of brightness and colors. How did you plan that?

SM: We really did not plan it. We shot it in 16 mil reversal, not 35. I just wanted it to be more contrasting—to look like an old print, rather than negative. It is less sensitive, so you have to be much more precise with your exposure. With modern negative film, you can be three strokes over or under and still get a good image. With reversal, if you are not dead on you are out way over or under; if you get too near the light, you are really overexposed. [The camera man] kept saying, ‘You have to be 2 feet back. You are overexposing.’ That didn’t matter. I said, ‘Let her do whatever she wants.’ That way, we got something that did not just look like another well-lit, well-shot video. It had the style and look we were going for.

MVW: There were also different colors from the street light.

SM: We decided on the location and turned up just as it was getting dark. We knew that the key light would be the moving battery pack light, but we lit bits of the road, too. We knew she was going to walk from A to B and end up in the Kebab shop. We knew she was going to pass this one bit, so I made them put a red light there so she could walk through it. And there were other things, like at the beginning she is already lit by car headlights and the wall is red from the car’s brake lights.