Behold, the video for Slow Turismo’s scarily good Breathe. Again I wrote, directed and edited (Lou and I produced).
My initial pitch was to tar and feather the band, ending with them playing the song. However, they were adamant they didn’t want to appear in the clip, no matter the idea. When they arrived on set, and saw what we subjected Brendan to, they were pretty happy with their decision. I’d still love to feature them in a clip though – maybe next time.
This marks the third part of my psychosexual trilogy, beginning with Cracked Actor’s Lemon On Your Lover, and continuing into PROM’s Half In Shadow, Half In Light (for a couple of happy-go-lucky guys, Nick and I have some odd predilections). The dancers are dressed in highly stylized crow costumes (again, ably provided by Julia Johnson). They could probably also find work as cat burglars, Irma Vep-style. For me, the idea of a couple of birds attempting to turn someone else into a bird had a perverse appeal. There’s also the subtext of two women torturing a man – a hazing essentially, where he’s tied up, stripped, beaten, and rubbed down, in order to conform to the cult. There’s no explanation provided, for either the literal action or the symbolism – we begin in media res – a conscious decision to stimulate questions from the audience, and allow them to fill in the gaps.
I love trying something new every time I shoot – in this case, it was a remote location, and working with dancers.
The remote location is actually only ten minutes from my house – a section of Kowen Forest accessible by Sutton Road. Still, with no onsite power or facilities, Lou and I had to be thorough in bringing along every conceivable thing we would need (it took two cars). A few weeks prior, I spent a really fun morning scouting locations. I took my camera and stopped at half a dozen places, looking for somewhere suitably ominous… that was also accessible. The highlight, beyond discovering the perfect spot, was finding an unidentified animal skull (we used it in a sequence that didn’t make the final cut). Our location, as you can see, was gorgeous – I loved the ghostly grey of the spindly trees, and the dense covering of orange pine needles. The earthy tones contrasted perfectly with the blacks and whites I had in mind for the costumes.
The two dancers/avian spectres are Jessica Pearce and Alison Plevey. I met Alison through You Are Here – we both competed in the Artist Olympics. I was bowled-over by her (as many were) in the solo tour-de-force Johnny Castellano Is Mine. From then on, I was looking for an opportunity to work together (I pitched the band four ideas for the video, two of which I wrote with Alison in mind). Alison choreographed the performance and enlisted Jessica to join her – they played the role to perfection, alternating between mischievous and sensual, otherworldly and vicious.
Our beleaguered protagonist, Brendan Kelly, is one of the leads from my sitcom pilot The Real. He’s such a relaxed presence on film, and I knew he could easily portray the vulnerability required. My only worry was that the role is confronting – not every actor is happy to re-enact archaic forms of punishment on screen. However, after reading the concept document, he accepted without hesitation – I met with him a few weeks beforehand to make doubly clear we were going to strip him and cover him in “tar” – dude didn’t even blink. I’ve seen the video at least a hundred times, but watching it again just then, I’m still blown away by his performance.
This was one of the most stressful shoots we’ve yet to pull together. I kept an eye on the forecast for the weeks before the date, but the night beforehand, I had to concede to Mother Nature and cancel the shoot – the Bureau Of Meteorology was predicting a 90% chance of a thunderstorm. Lou and I ended up taking a day off work the following week to film – our only chance to capture it before we would have had to re-cast or abandon the concept (the band were tied into a promotional schedule which afforded little wriggle room). It was only through the generous flexibility of our performers that we were able to proceed. On the day, it didn’t rain… but it was bitterly, bitterly cold. We tried our best to keep the cast warm with hot water bottles, blankets, and thermos’ of coffee, but there was no avoiding the chilly conditions. Again, to their credit, our tenacious talent never once complained. I remain incredibly impressed with all of them.
Another ‘first’ was adding an overlay of film grain to the footage. This gave it a smoother, cinematic feel – more Evil Dead than The Blair Witch Project (I don’t know if there’s a way to film in a forest and not automatically tap into some horror tropes). My dad had built a DSLR stabilizing rig out of PVC piping when I first got my camera; this was the first time I’ve made extensive use of it (thanks Dad, and umm, sorry it took so long). I used it to get all of the voyeuristic shots, peeking around trees and through branches. Horror is not a genre I’m particularly familiar with – my naiveté probably made it easier to just hook in.
As popular culture becomes increasingly fractured, the audiences for arthouse and mainstream cinema less frequently mix. The exception remains music videos – while many people aren’t interested in arthouse cinema, they’re happy to sit through something completely fantastical and outré if a song plays underneath (or if Scarlet Johnansson is in it). As an artform, music videos often obey the rules of music more than video, in that mood and texture can be more important than structure or narrative. In the same way you can’t ‘explain’ a saxophone solo, music videos are allowed to follow their own logic, so long as the spell is not broken. I don’t have much interest in the short film format, but I could happily make music videos forever.