I’ve been keen for a while to move into music videos, as I see it as a great way of telling a story in a short space of time.
It’s probably why I love watching adverts, you have a 30 second window to tell a story in an enticing and engaging way.
Music videos are like mini films and the standard is so high these days.
I remember looking at Michael Jackson videos with such excitement, they were epic, filled with strong story, performance and style.
And now it seems we’re back there again, look at film directors Spike Jonze and Michael Gondry who still direct music videos. Then there’s past greats like Herschell Gordon Lewis and George Romero who started out directing commercials.
When I was offered the opportunity by music writer/producer Steve Sinclair to direct Love So Fine, a re-release of a popular funk/soul track from 1985, I jumped at it with all body parts. This track was a hit in 85 and written by a collective named The Producers, the members being Paul Hinds, Kevin Ellis and Steve Sinclair.
Steve explained that they were re-releasing the track as a Soulful house mix and that now they had the rights for the track, they were going to be re-releasing some of their old records and working on a new album.
The deadline was tight with only a two week window before the stated release. I came up with a few ideas for the video, one was a studio based idea with loads of dancers, voguing with the use of contact dancers to help emulate the lyrics of the song. I also wrote up a narrative option, a love story between a couple which reflected on today’s society, working hard and not having enough time for one another. The perfect example of this would be at how internet dating has become the most pervasive method of people meeting…because there’s no time to meet up! The record is meant to be an expression of a couples love, how they first met, bringing them back to how their relationship began. Steve and Co first chose the colourful dancing extravaganza option (my innate favourite), but then decided that due to a particular demographic they were aiming for, they wanted to opt with the narrative.
When it came down to the detail of the storyline, Ian suggested some ideas to make it tighter, it resulted in two and fro exchanges of possibilities and really refining the structure of the story. At one point though I had to put my producers head back on because we ran up to about 8 locations. This is what happens when you put two writers together.
I spent two and a half weeks scouting locations, casting and arranging crew. Being the client, Steve and Company chose who they liked from the selection of actors I had put forth after trawling through showreels and selecting those who best suited the role. The producers chose Elan Weedon and luckily my friend/actress/dancer Michelle Langston. I had originally sent a few headshots of actresses who I thought suited the role and unbeknownst to Michelle, included hers in there.
With the vinyl now being a collector’s item, I thought it’d be a great idea to feature a well-known record store as one of the locations that the couple first got acquainted with the track, it was also to show their love for music as they first met when busking in the park and have an appreciation for vinyl records/music from the past.
It turned out to be quite a challenge to find a record store that was not only iconic to the music industry or known to music enthusiasts but that looked good on camera also. There aren’t many left in London so it seems. All of the larger vintage record stores seemed to be based up North.
I remembered a record store based in London called Sister Rays and asked Steve if he knew about them, which of course he did. I thought they’d be a slim chance of filming there, but after a chat with Phil the manager, he agreed I could shoot there before opening hours and, at a reasonable price.
As we had a tiny budget, I had to be some what inventive with trying to find indoor/house locations. This is where family counts, I asked my mother and she agreed and I cost in half of what the fee would be for the commercial hire of a living room space. We were also lucky to have extras, such as the usage of the kitchen and hallway.
For the busking scenes, the underground would’ve been my ideal option, but the fees to shoot were out of my budget range, so I had to think of the next best thing. I had wanted to film in Telegraph Hill park for a while, it has a nice view of the London skyline also. As Ian lived near the park, he did a recce and sent me images to show me how quiet certain areas of the park could be and which side of the park would be ideal.
Finding an environment to create my much anticipated club scene was difficult. I needed to find somewhere that wouldn’t mind us filming there and who wouldn’t charge the earth. I called on my friend and local socialite Monika Kozanecka who is friends with the manager of a nice little Spanish bar called El Toro Loco in Ealing. I spoke with Reza the bar manager who seemed more than happy to lend us his bar after-hours. He even said he’d have some friends who would probably be the extras I was trying hard to find.
I wasn’t too in the know of how I was going to get the extras (for free) and on a Sunday, but I called on a few friends and between Reza, Monika and myself we had a motley crew of people set for the Sunday shoot.
The shoot itself started fast and furious with Michelle, Ian and cramming all of the equipment into the boot of a large Uber Spacewagon, something that would become a regular theme over the course of the weekend. We blazed a path from West London to central at 6AM to get to the store for 7AM with plans to shoot for just before 8AM. We were on a tight schedule because the shop opened at 10AM, but Kit, the record store representative was there to help and welcome us. He also agreed to play the Shop DJ character!
Itzel Diana a dancer who responded to my many dancing calls contacted me the night before, she arrived soon after. It was important to get the story across after all we were in an iconic record store, so we wanted the whole music, love and connection via music to be conveyed. Even our make-up artist Shamirah played an extra! The difficulty was fitting in the past and the present in two hours (along with the fun dancing scenes). The flashback consisted of the couple when they first met and were in the honeymoon period, then the present day where the girlfriend returns to re-buy the record which was broken in a fight.
In comes the four wardrobe changes across the whole video and that we were not shooting in the running order of the actual narrative because of the availability of the locations.
I usually find that shooting living room scenes can be slightly bland, unless the living room is as Ian says is ‘ghetto’ or ‘spectacular’, so I tried my hand at set designing (one of many side passions of mine), trying to add character to the room, using colour tones that I love, inspired by giallo, horror or noir film. This is the scene where the busy boyfriend has an argument with his girlfriend who tries to alleviate his stress by trying to seduce him which is the furthest thing from his mind. They then break into an argument, not a heavy one mind you, as much as I wanted the scouring of flesh and trails of gristle slain across the walls sliding down and seeping into the wooden slabs, this is a pop-soul video about love, so I had to keep it within the remit.
The only way to make the living room scenes exciting was to incite the tension and drama between the couple and depict a roaring lovers tiff with dramatic slow motion shots and shoot my favourite straight to camera-style close-ups.
The second day was probably the easiest in terms of time and control. We used an office space through another connection of mine and had free reign of the area. Again, always difficult to make an office look edgy with a budget such as ours, but the elements of the story were covered with as much style as we could muster in accordance to the tone of the track.
Sunday was our last day of shooting, we started super early to get to Telegraph Hill Park before it got busy. We used the Telegraph Hill café nearby as our base for wardrobe change and make-up and shoot through until midday.
We needed to conserve our energies for the final scene of the video – the club scene.
I really wanted to go crazy with the neon club lighting and had bought some club lights a week before and hired in some projection club/sound sensitive lighting from a sound store. This was a crucial scene for me because it allowed for creativity, to firstly make a bar into a club, coordinate extras and capture passion/connection between two people on film.
I really LOVE neon lighting and wanted a strong sense of this without ripping off loads of other videos.
Ian and I sat down and watched cheesy pop videos where the tracks were of a similar pacing and theme to Love So Fine. We came across music videos such as How Deep is Your Love by Calvin Harris, Ain’t my Fault by Zara Larsson and I took a pill in Ibiza by Mike Posner/Seeb. The thing is, a lot of these videos we endured were between £20-100,000K budget!
The story was there, so that was good, but we needed to add excitement and I wanted to play with specific colours and Ian wanted to compliment the different colours so that they matched.
We decided that we would light each shot differently, so that we had a whole range of contrasting colours that matched.
Unfortunately things did not go according to plan.
Here’s what happens when you shoot unexpected drunk extras at a bar, supposedly hired for your convenience!
There weren’t many people at the bar but we managed to choreograph extras in the frame to give the impression of a busy environment. Unfortunately for us, the bar was kept open and we never realised until we were midway filming, when eccentric locals wandered in with the soul aim of getting further inebriated. Then came the unexpected. During a scene with Elan, our key actor, one of the locals decided to pull his pants down and dangle his nether region to the camera. Elan caught wind of this along with myself and Ian. We decided to keep rolling and then when Elan finished his part, Ian lunged towards the exhibitionist with the camera which made him squirm and dodge out of the way scrambling over himself whilst trying to pull his trousers back on.
I guess he didn’t like the spotlight after all…
After the three day shoot Ian disappeared to the seclusion of the cutting room, we’d already spoken about how we wanted it to be spliced together and the majority of this was applied, however we did find that we shot too much and the story actually ran longer than the track which meant cutting some scenes out completely. I knew that the video would have to be fast paced, it’s something I kept stressing about from the beginning and because of the upbeat tempo of the track, I was keen to keep it fast paced without speeding the video up – in fact we had enough footage anyhow for us to avoid this kind of edit. Ian also suggested that I watch The Rules of Attraction and a scene called Victors Trip to Europe which actually reminded me of Requiem for a Dream in terms of its trippy and yet very character involved and driven narrative. This kind of style would work with Love So Fine and I was happy to go ahead with his suggestion.
We delivered on time, it was nerve wracking because although it’s not the video I’d typically direct especially with horror being my niche and comfort zone, it was a challenge to do a project that was completely unrelated and needed to fulfil the client’s needs. Producing is different, in the past I’ve produced corporate product films but directing a music video is something new regardless of directing a few short films now.
As a result we do have a mixture of what feels slightly corporate -TV commercial-like, a touch of 90s with both a cinematic and video feel. It might not be the kind of project I’m accustomed to making on the directorial front, but by god did we get it done with an incredibly fast turnover with the elements of the story still seen and clearly understood.
It was a learning curve and now I know that next time, narrative in music video can be a lot looser than what I was trying so desperately to achieve. Secondly, style, wardrobe/costume, set design and make-up shouldn’t be under estimated and next time with more budget, attention can be put forward to work on elements which boost production value hugely but can also help spark more colourful visions. Music videos after all are like mini films, similar rules therefore apply.
You can take a look at the video which is live on Vevo online.
It must have been quite a challenge, but you certainly succeeded by learning from advertisement which also can inspire to make radio sexier for listeners. Unfortunately the video or trailer can’t be seen here. They will work on it. I hope this promise will be fullfilled soon.