ADVENTURES IN FILM : PAINT THE DARK
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The band and I first started talking about doing a video for one of their tracks in late 2012. After we had exorcised our million dollar budget ideas, we started pairing things down. The idea we settled on eventually came to us, as often the best do, surrounded by laughter and a few pints together. We wanted journey, a story that affects the life of the lead character along the way. Once we had that settled, we moved onto the kinds of images we all loved. Nature reared its head immediately and we agreed it had to be epic and it had to somehow involve a forest. It soon became apparent that our sensibilities were all in line with each other.
“The song is about remaining optimistic and finding strength when the world and all it’s devices seem to be against you.”
So we knew the kind of journey we wanted our hero to make - A spiritual and physical journey, one of escape, re-connecting with nature, and a shedding of the noose, as it were. It was seemed to me that if you start a video with a guy climbing a mountain, you need to end it by showing him getting to the top. The quintessential businessman carries a briefcase, and I thought that him throwing it off the top would be a superb final act of defiance. The modern day businessman, desk-bound and stifled by his surroundings, was the perfect visual juxtaposition to the beauty of a mountain and everything that would bring with it. He would look immediately out of place, and that would create a visual tension.
“I guess the briefcase embodies burdens we all carry. Despite the character’s desperation to overcome his burden, he feels ownership and responsibility over it. He needs to deal with it in a certain way to find solace.”
It seemed very fitting that our city-worker was a visual endorser of the modern day noose, the tie around the neck. The chorus begins ‘I’m trying to run away with a lariat around my neck’ - And that’s what we were showing in the video. So we sort of accidentally stumbled into a very literal take on the song with our idea for the video, but one that was also perfectly aligned with the themes and imagery we were keen to explore.
“I came across the word Lariat in a crossword then found out it’s another word for a lasso. I love the way the word sounds, and for me it evokes something more than it’s meaning alone.”
They see me rollin'
So that was the beginning and the end, with the middle very much up for grabs. There were certain things I was really keen to see happen. Obviously once we had introduced the guy to his environment he had to begin climbing this thing in earnest, and I was really keen for that sequence to involve him taking his briefcase off and using his tie to strap it around his back. Using his symbolic noose to aid him in his journey felt like a good way to turn the tie from a negative into a positive. I also wrote in the scene with the crow as I really wanted the guy to find a dead animal. I also that by finding the dead crow it would help connect him with nature in an incredibly visceral way and give him a new perspective on life to power him through to the end. I think Ben, one of the band members, decided to call our stuffed crow Colin.
The warpaint moment after he buries the crow for me signifies a total immersion in his surroundings - At this point you know that he is in no way a businessman any more and has become at one with his environment. It’s also a little bit crazy and I liked hinting at the idea that this new found freedom has cost him a little bit of his sanity. It reminded me of the bit in Apocalypse Now where Martin Sheen has warpaint on his face and you know he’s gone a bit nutty.
Ideas in place, Casting was the next important step. I needed someone who could play the ordinary man in extraordinary circumstances. I also needed someone who was physical, as clearly the climbing of a mountain would be no easy feat during the shoot. I scoured the web for the right man and found Edwin Flay, an actor with a background in climbing and physical comedy, which was a massive unexpected bonus that meant he would also have a great sense of understanding of timing and the physical form to convey emotion. He said he was up for getting stuck in with the physical stuff, which was music to my ears.
Picking the right location was also obviously key. Rich, one of the band members, was recommended a lake and mountain combo called Llyn Idwal in Snowdonia in Wales. It looked great, and although it was quite far we knew that Wales would provide for all sorts of beautiful imagery, so we decided to go for it. What we couldn’t afford in budget we would make up for in beautiful locations and simply let them do most of the visual legwork. We all knew that we would at least come away with some incredible looking images that resonated with our collective sensibilities, and hopefully pull off this narrative too...
Crew-wise it consisted of myself shooting and directing, and Emma Trachtenberg on hair and makeup. The hero’s journey starts with him in a crisp suit but I knew that by the end he would be disheveled, filthy and covered in cuts. I knew that we would be shooting certain elements out of order, and needed to be able to set and reset various stages of his journey, so Emma was there taking care of the scratches, cuts, grazed hands and levels of filth on his once-white shirt.
With all the elements in the right place we set off down to Wales in a rented 4x4 that consisted of Edwin, Emma, myself and the three band members. The journey was a very comfortable six hours with us all cramped together, boot overflowing with our camera equipment and clothes. We drove straight to Llyn Idwal, stopping at a couple of services on the way to stretch and snack. One of them was a diner called OK Café seemed like a good thing to get a photo outside, sharing my initials with it.
We eventually arrived in the late afternoon at the lake/ mountain and got pointed the right way by some touring ramblers. Being a city boy, I hesitated before asking them what happened when it went dark on the mountain. They just laughed and said ‘You better be off it before then.’ So, no street lamps. Great. We got Edwin into his suit and got to it. As we explored the terrain over the two days I checked off story beats we needed to get. If we saw something that looked great, I’d find the most appropriate place for it to slot into the story, we’d find an action or make a tiny sequence of it, and shoot it. Edwin’s background in climbing and his bravery massively came into play and I was so thankful for his fighting spirit even while the weather gods decided to gently dribble all over us.
The first day was coming to an end and I had in the back of my head the final sequence where he throws the briefcase off the mountain, and I knew I wanted it at sunset. We hadn’t been able to actually climb to the top of the mountain by the lake as it was just far far too high for us to get up. I had shelved this sequence for the next day but as we were coming down the mountain I saw an amazing ledge with a great big drop under it that would work perfectly for our ‘top of the mountain’ sequence. As we were walking down the mountain the light had started to turn into this gorgeous orange sunset and we stumbled into this ledge at the perfect time. I immediately knew it was now or never so we quickly got warpaint on his face and shot him running up to the top of this ledge and throwing the briefcase off the edge. We did it a few times from a few angles and then suddenly, just like that, the light was gone. It was like a perfect gift from the film gods to us, and we just went for it. It felt good ending that first day knowing we had a beautiful ending in the bag.
“After a drive to the town of Caernarfon we found our hostel for the night. We realized we all had windburn and looked fairly ridiculous. The showers alternated between being scalding hot and freezing cold – it felt like a Victorian cure for the common cold. We stayed in bunk beds, which added a school trip style camaraderie.”
“The second day brought another early start with more wind and more rain. After an altercation with the Hostel owner about payment, we hopped in the car and set off. We set off to find the most amazing forest areas possible. After a lengthy search and some very bad band navigating we stumbled across incredible woodland. Hundreds of towering Cedar.”
For me, the video reinforced how much I love working on a narrative and doing my best to tell it well. Being able to shoot this video like silent film was really liberating. With our budget that basically got us to Wales for a night and back, this was a labour of love for all involved and I’m really pleased with the final result and everyone’s hard work. One man’s struggle to climb the mountains, one weekend in Wales, and one dead Crow called Colin that now lives outside a petrol station on the way back from Snowdonia.
WORDS / PHOTOS: OLIVER KEMBER & BEN BURROWS
PAINT THE DARK | LARIAT | DIR: OLIVER KEMBER