Oh wow, I found a 2016 blog entry I wrote but forget to post! This concerns the EP In A Day 3 sequence, which ultimately became the grant-winning, NFSA-showcasing (and increasingly ambitious) This Band Will Self-Destruct.
Presented below for your immediate pleasure:
I said to Nick the other day – half-joking – these sessions have started to feel like The Five Obstructions, except we are now onto obstructions 13 through 20. There’s only so many ways to make a music video out of an in-studio band performance. To counter this, we’ve spent more time ahead of filming generating ideas to differentiate each song. In the first Ep In A Day, all the songs were filmed with an identical camera set-up; the challenge was making each unique via editing and post-production tricks. In EP In A Day 2, I went in with specific ideas about filming/framing each song differently – for instance, I knew I wanted to film only close-ups of each performer’s face in My Own Little Girl, and I wanted a single take for Song To Be Played In The Event Of My Death.
For EP In A Day 2, the point of difference is wardrobe, set design and lighting. Nick engaged the services of Imogen Keen, one of Canberra’s best and most in-demand stage designers. I came in with some strong ideas, and over several meetings between the three of us, we hashed out four different set-ups.
At a You Are Here meeting a couple of years ago, someone said they always throw out their first idea because it’s invariably terrible or lazy. I could not disagree more. To me, a primary idea is undoubtably stronger than a secondary one, and I remain a firm advocate in the adage ‘first thought, best thought’. Lightbulbs is testament – literally, I had Nick hold a lightbulb. It’s not without precedent – I love concert footage of Tom Waits with a similar apparatus to what we used.
The remaining band is filmed (and lit) by a roving spotlight attached to the camera. The song is lyric-heavy, and Imogen struck upon the idea to highlight the words – these hang in cut-up segments strung above the performer’s heads – a point of interest in the inky darkness. The band is in white, providing a unity and simplicity to the set-up – it also helps them stand out against the background.
My one concern at the outset was length – at nearly eight minutes, I worried the lighting gambit wouldn’t be enough. Thankfully, Nick is an increasingly magnetic screen presence – the clip leans on his ability to deliver the song direct to camera.
My Captain Obvious tendencies also resulted in a warmer/brighter light each time Nick sung ‘sun’ (get it?). Aside from the lyrical connection, it gave needed variation to the palette. Some makeshift strobe lighting at the end complemented the rhythmic change in the outro, serving as a adrenaline hit (and recalling the lighting in numerous metal videos).
When coming up with ideas for music videos, my process is to listen to the song a few times, writing ideas as they come. Most are junk, but rough diamonds always emerge. Typically, I get one strong visual, and then build outwards. In Lightbulbs, it was Nick holding the bulb to his face. In this case, I saw the band looking towards a camera above, spinning as if in a Busby Berkeley sequence.
It didn’t make it into the clip, but something Technicolor and Busby Berkeley inspired (albeit on a Playschool budget) was the genesis for this bright and camp video. The set design is an abstraction on an under-the-water theme – the blue balloons are the ocean, the green netting is seaweed, the pink metallic streamers are… I don’t know, coral? I don’t know if it’s because the song is the most up-tempo of the group, or if it’s because it was the last performance of the day, but the excitement and energy of the band is palpable. The last things we filmed were the band goofing around – this included everyone swapping instruments and miming along. A special shout-out to drummer/bandleader Grahame Thompson for his fully committed lead singer performance – probably the funniest moment in a day full of them. One day the footage of that incendiary performance will emerge (slash be leaked by me) and leave all lesser front-persons running for their mothers.
My other idea for this clip – and one of my favourite things I’ve filmed – is a mimed story about a relationship played out through the studio window. I still can’t believe how well this worked out – in most art-making you aim bigger than you need, knowing you will fall short. This is the rare occurrence where reality exceeded my expectations – all credit should go to the performers Aaron Kirby and Fiona McLeod (and to Nick for casting them). I explained the concept to Aaron and Fi and then they invented their own routine, far funnier and personal than what I envisioned. It’s a mid-video Easter Egg and I love how it is not referenced or explained in any way – just a slice of vaudeville sandwiched into a live performance.
Talking with Imogen and Nick in our pre-production meetings, our most elaborate ideas were reserved for this clip. I remember looking over my notes and having a panic attack – if we’d proceeded with what we had in mind, this clip would have taken all day to shoot.
Essentially, our raft of visual ideas needed set-up and filming independent of the actual song recording. In many ways, this is the natural progression for the series (the closer the sessions move to full-blown music videos, the happier I am – it’s more my wheelhouse than documenting live performance). In other ways, it’s a digression (and a distraction) from the central premise of the project.
However, removed from these philosophical concerns, it remained unfeasible to add more set-ups to what would already be our longest and most exhausting EP In A Day yet. We did keep the coolest one though – the idea of opening on a wound bleeding through a shirt. Imogen came up with the apparatus (and brought the blood) – however, in testing we used up two of our three white t-shirts. We got the shot on our third and last try, but I think our second attempt looked better on film. Unfortunately, the second attempt was with cameraman/stand-in Shane Parsons wearing the shirt – this meant I couldn’t use it for the opening, but I did end up using it (reversed) in the closing of the clip.
Another high-minded idea was an overarching throughline across all four videos. Eyelash opens the sequence with the band waking up, beginning in a seated/static position, and with a desaturated palette. Deadly Game Of Cat & Mouse is the last video – thus we start with the least animated and conclude with the most animated (emphasis on animated, DGOC&M being the most cartoonish). We don’t integrate this throughline as successfully in the other videos but I like that we were thinking of these things, and it’s something I want to explore further in other sessions (and other projects).
When I heard we had a set designer, this was one of the first ideas I had – to dress two different spaces and have Nick perform in one and the band in the other, only revealing at the end they are performing next to each other. The rest built from ideas Nick and Imogen had about making one space warm and earthy, the other cool and silvery. Nick performs a series of costume changes while singing the song, which also must have come from him or Imogen – while Nick always rises to these challenges, it’s a big ask for a performer and not one I’d be inclined to suggest.
On the day, camera maverick Shane Parsons had the idea to film Nick’s section in portrait. It’s a novel (and cool) idea which also serves to further differentiate the two segments. Filmmakers rarely monkey with aspect ratios and split-screens (especially during a piece) – I think part of this is that it dates a film to a specific era. Knowing this, and still using it for aesthetic effect, is increasingly in vogue – Grand Budapest Hotel is one of the recent (and most successful) examples. More and more music videos are tinkering with framing (particularly portrait vs. landscape, noting their audience use smartphones to watch their content). Recent great videos from Chance The Rapper, Pusha T, and Charli XCX all shirk from using the entire widescreen/landscape frame available to them. For Going Home, I wanted to treat the frame similarly – to not feel obliged to fill it up entirely and to mess with people’s expectations around size and spatial relationships.