ADVENTURES IN FILM : RUN THE JEWELL
I'm so behind on doing the Adventures In Film write ups that I've been asked to instead do one for the whole year! So now I'm going through my phone pictures to try and remember what happened in 2014. It's been a crazy one, having shot 16 different videos this year, in 7 different countries. Not all of them are music videos though, so I won't be posting every Tom, Dick and Harry.
After coming back from Bolivia at the end of 2013, I made the conscious decision to strip down my belongings. I don't know why I say conscious, because it's not as if I can sleep-discard, as much as I would like to, because there's nothing I hate more than packing boxes up for a move. In the end, I managed to whittle all my hoarded crap down to two large boxes. Everything I own can now be moved in a normal sized car. I threw away the remote controls to things I didn't have but kept just in case they worked with another TV I might have in the future. I chucked out the batteries, which were used but might have had some juice left in them. I got to grips with the fact there was no scenario in which I would go back to my CD collection. I faced the fact that the old super 8 camera I bought at a market thinking I could sell it for profit was never going to happen. I felt like Russell Crowe in A Beautiful Mind, consciously recognising his delusions and ignoring them. I'm now waiting for the Nobel Price for excellence in Hoarder U-Turning. In the end, I had just two big boxes of stuff, it felt pretty good, I'd recommend it to anyone and it's actually easier than cutting out carbs from your life.
The whole of 2013 in Bolivia, was quite lifechanging, and I actually intended to stay in Bolivia for the foreseeable future. I was in the process of doing my residency also. But in the end, I got my first "proper" commercial job, directing a couple adverts for Lebara in London. It was great fun, working with the same crew as always! Doug Walshe on camera, Gaia Borretti editing, Ameena Kara Callender styling, Anna Thompson doing Make Up and Tim Harrison on the SFX. Here's one of them...
After this I had the urge to stay, I didn't want to go back to Bolivia so soon and started to look into accommodation in London. In the meantime I was pitching on various music videos, with the first music video being for Pearls Negras - Make It Last. The budget was pretty much non-existent, but the track was damn good. I'd met David Alexander who produces their music along with Jan Blumentrath to talk about it some time before. David's production is next level, he also produces for Dominique Young Unique who I had listened to before meeting him, with this track, WAR TALK, being one of my favourites.
The pitching process changes from track to track, but usually you pitch against other directors and wait to see if your script is chosen or not. Sometimes, you do a single bid, which is my favourite of course. Just you and the band chatting to come up with something, with it almost confirmed that you'll be working together. But with this one I was confirmed to shoot the vid without a script, or idea yet written. I got quite nervous when I had just two weeks till the trip and no idea what to do, and a tiny budget. But a few days before going I talked with our awesome DP, Nye Jones, an Englishman living and working in Rio. He suggested that we look at working with a VHS type of look, seeing as we didn't have any money to play with, and instead make something quite rough. I thought it was a great idea, and this then gave me the narrative idea of a tape being recorded over. The actual idea changed over the course of the production from the funeral tape idea, to a wedding tape of their parents being recorded over and their parents going nuts, with us being close to making it about their older brother who puts his porno VHS on to find out they've recorded over that just before he gets to beat one off, but we thought it would be a bit inappropriate due to their age. In the end I went with the original idea of someone's last tape being recorded over.
The production was pretty intense as we only had a few days before shooting, with David, Jan and Anne Santoro producing themselves and pulling it all together amazingly well. They got access to a great location that stores all the carnival floats all year round, so we decided this was perfect for the place that the girls go to make their music video in.
The shoot was pretty grueling in the end, with it being nearly 24 hours from waking up to getting back home, plus the camera we got hold of would cut out when we would hit record! We had to then tape it up in a particular way, and press the button in a certain way for it not to turn off. Our DP Nye was so hands on though, super fast and super talented. I then had my friend Bruno Travers out there who happened to be travelling Latin America so he came along for the shoot. A Gods send also! The whole crew were great, especially the stylist Julia Tartari, who always styles the girls. She just kept pulling out more and more amazing mad clothes from her bag for each change that we did. The girls were explosive on camera, I rarely do performance-based videos, but they put my hairs on end watching them perform.
The VFX was by the main man Morgan Beringer. He nailed it pretty quickly off the bat. I'd sent some references of this kind of style, but pretty much let Morgan go at it with just a bit of direction. Suffice to say we were all very happy with the results! It ended up getting nominated in the Best Urban Budget category at the UK Music Video Awards, which made us all very happy.
I then went to Bilbao, Spain, with Dobi Manolova who produced Angels. We had been invited to screen it at their closing ceremony. It went down a storm! We were even put on local TV and interviewed about it, which was quite strange. Since then it's gotten into a few places, with the latest being British Shorts Festival in Berlin, on the 15th of Jan, if anyone is there and wants to see the Angels' spermy goodness, cum along!
I then got back to the UK for a brief stint and came close to renting a place, but luckily didn't go through with it as I then went off to New York to shoot Naughty Boy - Home, which without me knowing would end up being the start of a long trip away from London again. I packed my bag for what was meant to be a few weeks but ended up as 6 months. I was pretty content the entire time with just my trusty postman bag.
The trip over was very exciting as it was my first shoot in the USA and my first time in New York. But all I kept thinking about as I started to see the city from the plane was Seinfeld. Bruno got me into the show ages ago and I got quite addicted. I couldn't wait to go and see Tom's Diner. I also had some moments straight from the show, like servers not noticing me putting in a dollar into the tip jar, so I would wait till they were looking and very obviously place it in. I didn't have a George moment of pulling it out to place it back though (Episode 20, Season 7 yeah?).
One of the best moments was seeing one of the Toynbee Tiles in person, accidentally. I stopped in my tracks and my heart stopped. If you don't know about them, watch the documentary "Resurrect Dead: The Mystery of the Toynbee Tiles". These weird tiles are all over the USA, somehow firmly in the ground, with a cryptic message. I won't spoil the story, watch the documentary...
The shoot was great fun, especially the Japanese Karaoke scene. The camerawork is all hand held by Ivan Abel, our great DP, who had a bad back after the shoot. Kate Stein was wonderful, doing the styling and art direction. We then had Demetrios Stavracos on make up, who I'm itching to work with again, and Benjamin Di Giacomo was the VFX artist who managed to do all the eye deletion in such a short amount of time! The whole production was great, lead by the fantastic Nerenda Eid producing for the great crew that is Residency. I had the pleasure of staying with Nerenda when I came back to NY for a bit, with a highlight being shown the chicken shop that Jay Z used to work at! Here's the video...
During the pre production of Home, I was waiting on the a script for Cold Specks to be approved. Once it was, I booked the flight to leave in the early hours after wrapping the Home shoot, so it was quite a manic time. It was the first time I had worked so back to back on two different projects with a short amount of pre production, about 5 days for each. But it was a really good learning curve and since those two I've done a few which are quite intensely close.
Toronto was great, I felt really comfortable there, whereas NY is quite daunting. Toronto is a place I could imagine living in quite easily. I arrived and went straight into a casting session on very little sleep, but it was one of the best casting sessions I've been in. Every one who walked through the door had such a good look for the video, it was hard to decide the final cast in the end. Hats off to the casting director Olivia LeBehan and producers Rory Halsall and Vimla Mangru. The shoot happened there due to the strange, but amazing set up that Canada has. They have state funding for music videos, touring and album recording for their national bands. But the requirements are that the people employed need to be from Canada, or at least the large majority, so that the money goes back into the Canadian economy/people. So this was the reason we had to shoot Cold Specks in Canada, which I was very glad for, as the crew were superb. Can't wait to get back out there!
The idea itself is based on a dream I had ages ago which I had written down and sprang to mind when I listened to the track. The dream was of these soviet era looking soldiers walking sadly through a dense forest carrying briefcases. An assassin would then pick them off and once killed, I saw that they had a painted portrait of them in the briefcase, which the assassin would then hang on the nearest tree. It was this kind of gentlemanly war ritual. They knew they would die and came prepared and the assassin had the respect to honour their death by hanging a kind of gravestone on the tree. The extra characters were then added from listening over the track and shaping the story through it.
After this I then went back to NY for a little bit to see the city, but ended up hooked on true detective and spent 3 days out of about 10 locked inside watching it whilst eating the best burritos I've ever had in my life. Dangerous. After my True Detective and Burrito grief hole sessions I went to LA to see my good mates there.
It was then that I got the Odesza track sent through. I'd chatted to Harrison from the band some time back, but it was one of their first singles so the budget was too low to do the kind of ideas I had when I listened to their music. But I loved the music, so we said we'd chat again in the future, and then the Say My Name track came through. It was through Ninja Tune, so it also meant I got to finally work with Maddy Salvage who I'd spoken to years ago but we'd never quite manage to work together. They really pulled out all the stops to bump the budget up so we could make the script properly, so I am forever thankful to them. The idea came about pretty much on the first listen, but in a different form. But in my head, it was always this very up close and personal piece where the switch happens, seeing an actress descend into madness.
I had been chatting to Pat Scola for a while about shooting together. I met him out in Poland for Camerimage and we had a hilarious drunken breakfast at 8am after a long night out, so it was great to finally have the chance to work together. I also had the chance to work with my good friend Paris Pickard, a super talented Art Director in LA, so it felt very much like a family from the get go, with us even casting a couple friends too. I was staying with Brandon whilst there, and thought he would be perfect for the male lead, but still felt it important to do a casting session for the label, I breathed a sigh of relief when he nailed it on the first go, and he brought SO much to the table on the day, an absolute pleasure to work with. Then there is of course Stephanie Hunt. I got her contact through my good friend James Lees, who is like my Los Angeles guardian angel, always hooking me up and helping me out with crew, cast, tips, advice... he knew Stephanie and got us in touch, and as you can see in the finished piece, she was nothing short of incredible and a pleasure to work with.
This piece was also with Residency, this time produced by Marieta Blaskova, who did wonders with a pretty limited budget for what we wanted to achieve, super producer! They got me hooked up with Eight VFX, the London office, and we had Stephane Allender come on board to do the VFX. The grade was by H at Electric Theatre Collective, he brought a really psychedelic edge to the whole start of it, which went so well with the idea. There are actually all these occult inspired fake product logos throughout the start, which Paris designed, with an old friend Chris Shilling doing the final slick graphic work on them. They are there as a kind of reflection on the whole extreme conspiracy theory scene. I guess some would consider me a "conspiracy theorist", though I'd called it realism, but the satanic hidden messages in pop videos thing I really don't buy/get. So I thought it would be fun to play with this a bit. Anyways, fun times...
After this I went off to Bolivia! It had been a while and I missed all my friends dearly, so it was quite magical to come back. I had gotten work there to shoot three commercials for Salsas Kris who make sauces like Ketchup, mayo, etc... There was a very funny moment when with my friends from LA where they asked me what I would be shooting in Bolivia. "A mayo commercial" I told them. They all laughed, I wasn't sure why. Later they asked again, and I said, "I told you, a mayo commercial". They laughed even harder. It turns out that in LA, which has so many shoots on all the time, it's a running joke to just say that you're shooting a mayo commercial when asked what you're working on! They didn't think I actually was.
It was a lot of fun and hard work, with us making three commercials in three days. One of them was one of my favourite ever actors, Winner Zeballos, the lead in Seekae - Another, then also Nayeli Miranda the lead in Cloud Control - Dojo Rising, and Edgar Zabala the father in the cloud control video also. The agency are called Rock & Roll, a young and really creative crew based in Santa Cruz, Bolivia. I love those guys, they're really on the pulse and are pushing the boundaries in the Bolivian advertising world. The DP on all the Bolivian commercials I did is the mad talented Santiago Moga. We became great friends, despite him being a vegetarian. The sound design was by Hannes Wannerberger who did it from London as is a wonderful sound designer who just graduated, previously studying under Tim Harrison. Alvaro Manzano produced, 1st AD'd and did the beautiful color correction, absolute legend. The rest of the amazing production team were Juan Pablo Richter, Cami and Angie Vargas. Then there was Cristian Morales editing, and he did a superb job on it. Though it's not a music video, it could be fun to watch, seeing as it has three previous music video actors in it! By the way at the end the narrator says "wear your stain with pride"...
Then just before I was meant to go back to London we got another commercial! This time for Tigo, one of the national mobile phone networks. Both jobs were through the wonderful Color Monster, the production company who did the Cloud Control and Seekae video with me. They're like family, so even though it was a lot of work, we had such great fun the whole time.
Then onto the big one, Paolo Nutini - One Day. I had the script and pitch for this done way back in March before going to Spain for the festival, but whilst in LA we got news that it was finally happening. Paolo wanted to know who we would use for the older actress and we passed around some ideas until he said he wanted Joanna Lumley. I've been a fan of hers since I was a child as I would watch Ab Fab with my mum as a kid. I couldn't fathom the reality of this happening, so when we got a yes from her agent, I was pinching myself. I was so excited whilst simultaneously soiling myself with fear. Shoots are always daunting, not dissimilar to going to war, or perhaps childbirth. Not only was everyone asking me "so are you nervous after seeing Iron Sky?", but now the legend that is Joanna Lumley who had just been directed by Martin Scorsese, was about to be in my music video. Iron Sky was just a big inspiration generally, probably in my top 5 music videos ever made, and it also gave me so much confidence in Paolo's taste, seeing that he allows directors to fully realise their ideas. With Joanna I was very nervous... music video shoots are always rather hectic affairs. I'm pretty sure a big Hollywood film is pretty different. But we were in great hands, I've sung James Dyer's praises before, and will do so again, what a fabulous 1st AD. The whole video was in solid hands from the start too with UKMVA Nominee Sarah "Togs" Tognazzi producing, who smashed the ball out of the park. We had to smash through the morning to make sure we had enough time to shoot Joanna's scenes for which we had 4 hours. The first half of the day was all of the murder sequence, which only made up about half a minute of the whole video, but had a lot of set ups. Once we got to Joanna, she was incredible and we all had so much fun. My favourite moment was when we talked about her character, her looking into the mirror and perhaps she's singing to her darker self. Joanna talked about this a bit, and then said "Darling, you know I'm just talking absolute bollocks to pass the time..." and gave me a smile. Amazing!
The idea came about pretty much on the first listen. An older singer looking at herself in the mirror with melancholy, singing to herself before her big performance. The idea then came to have her transform to a young woman each night, by stealing the youth of young women. I then worked with regular collaborator Dobi Manolova on the characters and we fleshed the whole thing out together. The characters then of course went through another process of development with Ameena Kara Callender our costume designer. She has such a strong narrative vision that we got to then bounce ideas around for a second time with the characters and who they are and what they would wear. Lauren Hedges did the casting, which added so much too, getting us so many wonderfully strange and interesting faces. I of course had the amazing Gaia Borretti editing, and on this occasion she actually informed the whole shot list for the murder sequence, as she created a mood edit for the original pitch back in March in which she stitched together different visuals from Giallo films for it. It was a big team effort, as usual. The whole team were incredible, Ben Fordesman nailing the beautiful cinematography and Luke Morrison putting on the delicate finishing touches in the colour grade after we sent the cut off to be printed on 35mm. Oh and I should mention that Juan Tocino who was the roller skater in our Kwes video, plays the assassin in this one! Something I hadn't thought would be interesting till Doug Klinger of IMVDB was blown away at hearing this haha. There may be some other familiar faces in there to some too. Christopher Prior is the lead in Angels and also my first ever music video, Otto Von Schirach - Aliens Visiting Me. There is then William Fontaine, who is the possessed and shivering man in the bowling alley in Angels.
The final music video that we made was for Seekae - Another, with the great Eight VFX on board again, this time with the mad talented Adam Tinning as lead VFX artist, creating the ball sync and trajectory from my scrappy drawings. I'll let Dobi (Producer) talk about the production as I've been blabbering for ages now. But a bit about the creative... I recently discovered the note I originally wrote about this idea, of a man in a room with a bouncing ball that he watches forever that never quite hits a switch. It's an anxious ridden idea, repeating and cyclical. Repetition and the infinite was the stuff of my nightmares as a child. The idea of being stuck in limbo, dying and being conscious but stuck in space forever as my mind slowly turns to mush. I have some ocd things with this, repeating certain things over and over in my mind, or doing certain things more than once, but this was much more of a thing when I was a kid. I don't mean washing my hands, but creating a fictional game or competition for myself such as watching the windscreen wipers of the car. I would give myself the number 10 for example, and set the challenge that the wipers, when moving up, would need to clear 10 lampposts as we drove past them, but if the wiper was down when it went past the lamppost, I'd have to start from 0 again. I would then up it to 20, and so on... I would tell myself "one more" each time, but then reset the game in my head. So this repetitive limbo is something I've played with before in film, but this piece is very specifically based on it. It comes from looking at a DVD screensaver or the old windows screensaver, and how you notice that it never hits the corner. So this man sits there, watching, waiting, but the ball never hits the corner of the windowsill. So it repeats the same cycle of movement, forever, never managing to land in his hand. The trajectory is such that is comes close to his grasp, but just misses, but if it had hit the corner of the windowsill, it would have been just the right amount of extra movement for him to then catch it on its return. Alas, he doesn't and so it ends up back where it was at the start. So you could watch the video on a loop, if you wanted to. Over to Dobi...
Awesome project, my type of job - surreal, subtly dark, hard, capsule crew, tricky, forces you to use your brain. No time nor budget for massive errors - dramatic :) We were looking at so many locations throughout the UK, with the shoot date approaching, everything was either wildly expensive or tiny, or a bureaucratic nightmare to get access to. So we were talking with Ian and jokingly I go “Hey, look at this abandoned bath near my house in Bulgaria, wouldn’t it be awesome to do it there”. A photographer had recently sneaked in and taken some pictures. He just went “YEAH!” So we moved the production there. It felt a bit insane at one point as we only had several days before the shoot, and all we knew is this awesome looking abandoned bath existed. I’d never been inside even though it’s a 5min walk from my house, it’s never been open to the public (in my time, it was functioning many years ago). So I started calling friends, one guy knew another as it happens so I got the mayor’s number, called him up, asked quickly and he said ‘Yeah yeah sure’. My first reaction was what do you mean sure? Perhaps you didn’t hear me right - we have no money and we’ll be filming all day. He was cool with it, he just said we’d sort it out once we arrive. So I can safely say I felt v e r y nervous, going there without any sort of formal confirmation. I had this mad anxiety dream the night before the shoot - there was a big storm outside so I guess I was hearing it in my sleep cause I dreamt we got to location the next morning and the guy who was supposed to unlock the building told me “Sorry Dobi, but the storm just took the bath. Just took it of its base, ripped it off and there is no more bath”. Jaw-droppage, as my friend says. It was awesome to have our DOP Doug Walshe and our focus puller Bruno Travers come over, they are so great I feel covered with them no matter on what project
But yeah it went great, we had a local old man open the venue for us, and didn’t have any limitations as to what we were doing inside, we were just left alone. There is a 24hour small cafe nearby, we could plan the details there in pre-production, so easy and cosy, felt like home. That’s what I love about Bulgaria - you do everything yourself, call, ask, arrange whatever you need, nothing’s really impossible cause of things like “health and safety”. If something absolutely can’t be done, people will offer you an alternative - and, granted, it will sound insane at first, but it will work.
I was so happy to be doing it, just lifted me up you know, it was like years ago when we were young, naive and impulsive, good times - just several guys, in my old car, getting a crew together in Sofia, managed to get the perfect actor just the day before filming, pulling off a hard shoot and having tons of fun. We then ended up in a pub in the middle of nowhere where I last went as a child, oh and of course Ian accidentally drank my parents’ 30th anniversary holy water so they’re now calling him Saint Ian. It was jokes. Looking back at it without feeling the huge pressure is amazing!
Post-production was then great, Eight VFX, The Mill and our usual editor Gaia Borretti were perfect. Of course we had lots of support from everyone who worked with us tirelessly, so huge thanks to them, you guys rock!
I also then went off to Bangkok to shoot a cigarette commercial but that's not online yet. It was a strange gig, as I didn't think they made commercials for cigarettes anymore. The moral aspect did cross my mind, but something has to pay the bills. I also remembered David Lynch and his Parisienne commercial. One of my favourite ever commercials I think! Parisienne had some amazing directors make them commercials such as the Coen Brothers, Emir Kusturica, Roman Polanski and Jean-Luc Goddard. Anyway I'll stop trying to make myself feel better. The shoot was really special, going out to Bangkok for the first time and working with such a wonderful team there. Probably the fastest camera / lighting team I've ever encountered! It was also my first job with my rep in France, Swiss Kiss, who I love to bits. Can't wait for the next gig with them! But also to go back to Bangkok to do a music video, should happen at some point I hope.
It's been a ridiculously fun and productive year, so 2015 has a lot to live up to. I also finally signed to a production company in the UK after such a long time being in between places, and decided to go with Friend, which I'm so excited about. A big thanks goes to Joe Dixon for that hook up. So, I guess that's it! Promise I won't leave it a whole year for the next Adventures In Film post and make you have to sit through a long blabbering essay!
Click HERE for photos