Archive

FILM

crackenback 1

I started this website to document ‘process’, but my efforts have been slipshod this year. It’s partly that I’ve been doing a bit less (certainly less directing), partly that many projects are stretching out over many months (such as the pending Faux Faux Amis album; I mostly write following a project’s completion – maybe I need to write more during), and partly the reduced time available to a new father.   

But sometimes I just plain forget to write about something. To be honest, I thought this video might never be released – Lou and I filmed it on 17 January 2016, and it didn’t drop until 16 months later, on 18 May 2017. Looking at those dates, perhaps it’s oddly fitting I’m writing about it five months later.  

Emma approached me with the concept – the band performing while a forest is painted behind them, before the band is covered in orange paint. I took that concept away and fleshed out a treatment, including the idea of the band ‘disappearing’ into the painting by the end, and filming in an actual forest.

crackenback 4We were fortunate to film at Gorman Art Centre – their kitchen, in fact – and just down the hall from Tara Bromham’s studio (who alongside Pocket Fox’s Nicola Menser Hearn was responsible for the amazing painting). Emma and Luci are both great on camera and alongside the steady stream of extras that rocked up (everyone’s favourite being Ted Conrick’s talented dog), the one-day shoot was a breeze. I need to single out the catering provided by the band – Turkish pizza in a range of vegetarian options – which has set the bar hopelessly high for all subsequent shoots.

crackenback 5

crackenback 3

Despite the many hats Lou wears on a film shoot – from gear wrangler to producer to camera operator to impromptu extra – she often laments she feels like a third-wheel on set. I imagine getting to fling orange-dyed yoghurt at the talent was both a rewarding and cathartic experience – only bettered if she could have thrown it at me as well (I read this sentence to her and she said, ‘that was my favourite shoot ever’).

crackenback 7

I think we really stepped up our colour palette game on this one – the strong orange and white, against the browns and greens of both the forest and the painting – even the pre-painted canvas is a perfect shade of wholemeal. It’s remarkably consistent and allows the other small bursts of colour to really pop.

crackenback 2

The merging of real and ‘created’ spaces, the crossing over of real and fictional worlds – such as the band disappearing into the painting, and slowly having the ‘worlds’ bleed together, like when the band’s instruments are replaced by branches and acorns – is a (sometimes unconscious) preoccupation of mine.

crackenback 6

I’ve written about this kind of thing before, but just realised I’ve also employed a similar conceit in an upcoming video for Oz-rock royalty The Ups & Downs. In that video, a group of dancers and the band similarly merge piece-by-piece into a cohesive unit, the whole scenario revealed to be warring factions inside the lead singer’s mind. Why I enjoy playing in this realm so much is a question for another time.

crackenback 8This is the second video I’ve done with Luci – we also filmed a video for Pocket Fox’s Cigarette, which is yet to be released. That video is my favourite film clip I’ve shot so far and vastly different in style to anything else I’ve done – hopefully I can write more about it soon!

Advertisements

Install 5

The great thing about launching 12 narrative-linked music videos is that there’s no Actual Way to do that. So for instance, setting up a gallery installation where each video sits within it’s own ‘set’ incorporating materials and visual themes from the making of said videos- well that can’t be less wrong than any other way of doing it.

Often once I have to explain something to an audience, that’s when I realise what the thing actually is. So it goes with This Band Will Self-Destruct, which it eventuates is An Album That Is A Room That You Can Walk Around In. Duh.

Install 1

ThInstall 7Install 8

(The installation was basically lit 100% by the video screens so these room-lights-on photos by Imogen can only do the best they can to communicate what the audience was seeing)

The idea for staging the work this way came of some great advice I got from my long-time band-mate/mentor Julia Johnson, who pointed out that a gallery-style engagement with the videos might give an audience license to take their time and engage with the videos as the One Big Piece that they actually are.

I pitched the idea to Art Not Apart, the annual one-day festival that has steadily grown out the strange mists of the developer-funded-arts-and-culture experiment that is New Acton. In a huge piece of fluke-y luck it turned out that they were using the National Film and Sound Archive as their main venue for the festival, and within seconds my ambitions for the work had quadrupled. The totally rad selection of vintage screens and TVs in the NFSA collection allowed for 12 individual AV set-ups with their own aesthetic pop, and as we looked at the available selections we were blown away by how many natural resonances between the videos and the gear presented themselves.

By ‘we’ I mean installation producer Nick McCorriston and TBWSD Designer Supreme Imogen Keen. The over-the-top tech demands and space design reqs, not to mention the absurdly tight time frame, were almost 100% outside my skill set. I was so so lucky that NickMc was free and keen to put it all together, his extensive experience at You Are Here festival (among many other things) has made him an elite-level creator of weird tech-heavy shows on limited resources. Of course it was amazing to have Imogen carry her fabulously coherent and rigorous design parameters from the videos on through into the final exhibition space, she really made it sing as if all was planned from the start. My favorite parts of what she did were the totally whimsical touches like having one video presented in a portable back-pack and having a display case set up with costumes from the shoot.

We took care to try and have each video presented in a way that resonated with their form and content. For instance, you had to watch Lightbulbs inside an isolation booth that made your surrounds as claustrophobic as the band was in the vid. The soap-y teen-pop aesthetic of Doomed was ramped up by having it playing on a kids’ laptop covered in stickers. The late-night-public-access-am-I-really-seeing-this of Anywhere was shown on a tiny CCTV screen that you had to kneel down and peer at.

 

One of the vintage TVs could only play black-and-white, so Luke did up a black-and-white version of Save My Brain, the video that had been working least well in the edit. Turned out it was meant to be a black-and-white vid all along. So much of this project has been defined by these happy accidents, or maybe they’re just the natural emergent outcomes of collaboration.

We had dozens of people through on the day and it was a real thrill to see them work slowly around the room, taking headphones on and off. The fact that this version worked so well on such short notice makes me very optimistic for what version we might do now with a bit of lead time. It’ll be hard if not impossible to find screens as cool as this version had though.

 

 

 

 

 

Regular readers know that Luke and I have been juggling our usual foolhardy amount of different projects over the past year. Well, lurking behind all of those projects was perhaps the biggest thing we’ve worked on as a team, something so sprawling and multi-pronged that we’ve waited until every part of it was done so that we can now launch it with an obnoxiously strident three-month rollout.

It started with me applying for an ArtsACT grant to fund three of my ongoing EP-In-A-Day series, where I create a band for one day and arrange then record four live versions of four original songs while Luke shoots a video for each song. So I got the grant, and that shot of encouragement was all I needed to instantly decide that the whole thing has to be bigger, weirder and again I say weirder.


Maybe there’s someone else making full-blown narrative music videos where the sets, costumes and performance are created and captured at the exact same time that the final live take of the song is arranged and performed for posterity. I don’t know that there is but their might be. Either way, that’s what we did, twelve times across three days across one year. We roped in a raging house party’s worth of incredible musicians, producers, actors, dancers and filmmakers. The core team of myself, Luke, Sam ‘Eardoll of Millions’ King and Adam ‘Recorder of our whole lives’ Thomas was completed by Imogen ‘really maybe the best production designer alive’ Keen, who I will be aiming to have at the centre of all my projects for the rest of time. 

As a team we made four complete and distinct units of Music Video in three 14-hour sessions, an effort that took incredible goodwill, cooperation and skill from all involved. The narrative of the videos started as a loose thread of existential angst and ramped up into a starkly-rendered character sketch; one man’s doomed attempt to defeat his own mortality through pop music, and his loved ones’ attempt to snap him out of it, help him calm down or maybe even enable him further. 

At heart it’s me presenting songs to you so there’s all the usual attendant nervousness that comes with that. Still, so many wonderful people did so much good work on this that  I can’t wait for you to see the results. The first video drops this week, and announcements about the live launch event will be right on it’s heels! 

glitoris-wall-8

Glitoris tapped me to direct their debut video, released today to coincide with the U.S. presidential inauguration. The brief was simple – film the band recording the song and have the video ready the following week.

glitoris-wall-5Turning it around in a week and using the video itself to document the process foregrounds the immediacy and urgency of their message, and cleverly takes the pressure off themselves to ‘go big’ for their debut video. In time I’m sure they will do far more ambitious and elaborate clips, but this is one hell of an 0pening salvo.

glitoris-wall-2

glitoris-wall-6

Adam Thomas and I again shared camera operator duties. I love working with Adam, for his technical knowledge and facility, for the fact he’s upbeat and indefatigable, and especially because he has great ideas and is a problem-solver.

glitoris-wall-10

We had five hours in the studio with the band (in which they also had to record the song!).  The studio space was cosy with little light, and no room to discretely place any additional ones.

glitoris-wall-3

Adam and I attached some small lights to our cameras, swallowed hard, and leaned into the rawness. Thankfully, the band are all magnetic figures and did most of our work for us. This is also the first serious workout I have given my Sony Actioncam, and the fisheye shots in the video are some of my favourites.

glitoris-wall-9

The band gave me creative carte-blanche, and it made aesthetic (and practical) sense to give the piece a worn VHS quality.

glitoris-wall-4

I’m especially pleased with the intro, which went through several rapid iterations. I loved tweaking the footage of Trump, a man obsessed with other people’s perceptions of him – I treated it as a digital caricature, enlarging his jowls and tinting his skin an even more acidic orange than usual.

glitoris-wall-7

I’m eagerly awaiting the reaction to the final segment, involving a ‘she-wee’ and photo of the great leader.

glitoris-wall-1

Spookily, it was conceived and filmed two days before news broke of Trump’s alleged interest in water play. Was it clairvoyance on Glitoris’ part? Or do they have contacts within the underground global intelligence network? We may never know…

Last year Alison Procter put a call out for filmmakers interested in doing a short documentary featuring her sister Suzy. Nick responded, bringing me on board to direct.

suzy-project-suze-smiling

We met with Alison and Suzy, and Alison outlined her idea. Suzy has cerebral palsy and an intellectual disability, and doesn’t communicate verbally. As a result, it can be tricky to know how best to interact with her, especially upon first meeting. Alison wanted to film a video that outlined some of Suzy’s quirks and idiosyncrasies so people know what to expect. It’s a great idea, and the video ended up being a mini-profile delving into Suzy’s likes, dislikes, eating habits, and other personal information.

Alison was very conscious this subject matter is often tip-toed around, or conversely, dealt with in an overly clinical manner. She didn’t want to create ‘inspiration porn’ (her term), or kid-glove some of Suzy’s more difficult behaviour. The video had to be irreverent and funny, while still being informative. She sent Nick and I the following for inspiration – she loved the tone, and the way it treats a light-hearted subject seriously (our mission was to do the opposite essentially).

Nick took all this away, along with some other information from Alison, and wrote a script – a ‘how-to’ guide on becoming friends with Suzy. Early on, Nick had the idea of having Suzy’s ‘voiceover’ performed by a deep-voiced man (I think we all had in mind Morgan Freeman). This would set the tone from the get-go, and let people know we were taking a less precious attitude than your typical film featuring the differently abled.

The script called for Suzy to interact with a variety of her friends. For the filming, Alison graciously hosted it at her house (fabulously situated in the Scullin Cultural Precinct), and invited several people to come along for Sunday lunch. Everyone was incredibly generous with their time, patient with the film crew (i.e. me) and magnanimous about being filmed.

suzy-project-chatting

The actual filming was chaotic – from kids (being kids) to changing light, to just figuring out how best to film so many people in such a small space (we filmed in a one room ‘chalet’ in Alison’s backyard). I had prepared a shot list, but barely got time to look at it as I ran from one thing to the next. The most reliable part of the whole day ended up being Suzy. She is a natural in front of the camera, and indefatigable. Directing is an endurance sport – you are typically the first to arrive, the last to leave, and the one with the least downtime during the day. But on this shoot, I had Suzy with me the whole time as well.

suzy-project-on-couch

When I found out Suzy also regularly goes dancing, I felt that should be represented in the movie. The following Saturday I attended the Belconnen Arts Centre and filmed her class going through the motions (that’s a dad joke, but I’m allowed now).

suzy-project-really-dancing

The film was accepted for Belco Flicks and will have its debut – appropriately enough – at the Belconnen Arts Centre. I think this is a great place to debut the film as it is really imbued with a sense of community, those that gather round and support not only Suzy but her family too.

belcoflicks

To complete the film in time, I ended up doing the voiceover myself. I don’t think my voice, lugubrious as it is, sufficiently conveys our comedic intent – it will be interesting to see and hear how an audience reacts to it. If it falls short, we’ll experiment with other voiceovers ahead of releasing the movie on the internet.

suzy-project-pete

As part of the shoot, I filmed interviews with five of Suzy’s friends – there must be about 45 minutes of content, of which only thirty or forty seconds end up in the film. That’s often par for the course (and I’d much rather shoot more than I need than find myself in the opposite situation). A lot of the interviews dealt with peoples’ first impressions of Suzy, what kind of reaction they and Suzy get when out in public, and times when they’ve struggled to understand or deal with Suzy. Alison and I have talked about using the footage for some other project – the flipside to this essentially, something less about Suzy and more about the people around her. It’s a good idea, and would provide a nice contrast and balance to the existing film.

 

Luke- We heralded the new year with the release of the music video for Worked Up, taken from our EP Forever Together.

I wrote our friend Tom Woodward into the video before asking him if he’d like to be involved. When I pitched him the part of a sketchy drug dealer, he immediately accepted, throwing up a stack of excellent wardrobe ideas, and in a huge commitment to character and authenticity (there are no small roles), he suggested he would even get a spray tan. I told him if he was willing to do it, our budget would cover his costs. The results speak for themselves.

tom worked up

Speaking of wardrobe, Nick’s guideline for our clothes was ‘extreme normcore’. He mentioned he was going to wear an old torn-up t-shirt. I said I’d do the same – when I met him on the first day of shooting, we discovered both our t-shirts were torn in exactly the same place. Given the ease of the rest of the shoot, it re-affirmed my belief that these kinds of weird synchronous events are in fact a favourable sign from the gods.

WORKED UP - nick floor

When I have the option I always like to shoot in Queanbeyan (it’s New York to my Woody Allen), and as self-appointed location scout, we filmed at my place (natch), Tom’s place (around the corner from mine), the Wallaby Motel, the local Hungry Jack’s, and the Donald Road Convenience Store (conveniently operated by my Faux Faux Amis bandmate Kevin Lauro).

WORKED UP- store

I’ve long wanted to film something inside Kev’s store – every time I walk in I think of the Quick Stop in Clerks. It’s like a portal into an American film universe – there’s even a slushie machine! Kev was incredibly magnanimous in allowing us to shoot there, even letting us do so while the store was still open (his equally patient customers stepped lightly over and around us, quizzical looks on their faces). That’s Kev’s son Alistair playing the role of cashier – not a huge stretch of his acting chops, but I reckon the kid’s got a bright future.

WORKED UP - emma hair flick

Nick’s outline for the clip called for ‘dancers dancing in a dirty white void with sleazy lighting’. The first thing that popped into my mind was the brilliant video for Pusha T’s King Push.

It’s latter half (a pristine lit background, with Pusha in shadow in the foreground) was my jumping-off point. Once it was shot, I spent some time layering footage and blending it with different attributes, generating several unique looks. I settled on just two for this video (there’s already enough going on!), but I’ve now got plenty of ideas for subsequent clips.

WORKED UP - robbie

WORKED UP 2 - emma

I’ll leave Nick to write about the hotel scenes, other than to say I was incredibly impressed with his fearless performance. Matt Lustri (aka Housemouse) was also a complete natural in front of the camera, and I was surprised to learn it was his first experience in a music video!

WORKED UP housemouse

Parts remind of those music videos cobbled together from tour and behind the scenes footage… except we filmed it all specifically. Nick and I are both fans of ‘music video logic’, which adheres more to the rules of cinema than television, and prizes mood and texture and novelty and style over the straightforward delivery of information. In my opinion, the more we could leave unexplained, the stronger the impact. To do this but still maintain some coherence was a challenge. My solution was to edit the story beats sequentially and then to layer other footage over the top. That way there is still a throughline (from diner to store to Tom’s to studio to motel) with flash-forwards continually hinting at future scenes. I’ve had one person tell me it’s too busy but it’s a favoured style for me and I think the juxtaposition of shots and rhythm and lyrics adds several other layers of meaning than if it was cut in a more undemanding manner.

WORKED UP - flower

As always, Lou was the unsung hero of production, manning the camera and doing everything else from applying make-up bruises to operating the disco lights. Plus, she is seven months pregnant! She is far too good for all of us.

The clip ends with a coda of Nick and I carrying our gear (and drummer – the redoubtable Grahame Thompson) off into the night. The music playing is a snippet of Defenceless, another song from our EP and our next video. In a grindhouse flourish, I originally had the clip end with a freeze-frame and the text ‘Babyfreeze will return in Defenceless’ superimposed. At the last second, like Coco Chanel’s advice, I took it off, letting the music speak for itself.

WORKED UP - walking

Nick- The steady development of Louise McGrath into a full-blown film-maker has leveled up the whole Lick Nuke operation. I feel like we’re finally hitting 100% of what’s in our heads and it’s great that the first fruits of that is in support of Worked Up, a track that’s gotta be in my top 3 Luke McGrath compositions.

WORKED UP - lisa 3

I’ve become disgracefully reliant on the shorthand of reference and sensibility between Luke and myself. I’d previously written fully-blown scripts for the videos we made together, conscientiously putting everything down in professional script format (Courier New and everyfing!). This time I just wrote a half-page treatment for my idea and then we talked it over for a couple months. Central to my concept was fulfilling my years-long ambition of getting legendary Phoenix-dancefloor-star Robbie Karmel to dance in the clip (he’s also an amazing artist and you’ll be checking out his stuff right now). Once he was locked in we rounded out the dance troupe with the immortally fierce Emma McManus and Lisa Divissi (Luke and my dancing got cut).

WORKED UP - Robbie 2A lot of my favorite hip hop and pop vids bounce confidently between seemingly unrelated settings and narratives, tied together by the sense of the performers identity. I also love the way a music video can endlessly call back to moments once they’ve been established. With those two elements in mind I came up with three separate ‘story strands’, each of which we shot as aggressively linear and coherent short films in their own right. Then I asked Luke to throw narrative coherence out the window and use the footage as raw material for a dizzying mood piece, cut to the music above all else.

WORKED UP - lisaMy original concept for the hotel scene was way more explicit and more in line with the homoerotic lyrics of the song, but turning it into a solo ‘date night’ streamlined the visuals and created a great set-up for Housemouse’s star turn. It’s funny that sexualised male nudity (and sure, masturbation) in video clips is still a relative novelty, but in this case it was a simple matter of following the implications of the song. WORKED UP - luke and nickIt’s also funny that this video crystallizes the notion of Babyfreeze as a two-piece just as we’ve morphed into more of a collective. The next video will certainly reflect that change!

WORKED UP - strawb

Coolio Desgracias is the rap alter-ego of Simon Milman, known for playing with nearly every band in Canberra from Julia & The Deep Sea Sirens and The Ellis Collective to Los Chavos and Fats Homicide. As Coolio Desgracias, he adopts an outsized cartoon persona, a mix of smart-alecs like Humpty Hump and Flava Flav, with the free-associative funky lyricism of a Kool Keith or Ghostface Killah.

For his latest release – Bulk TV and Heartbreak – he asked if I would shoot a video of his work process. Bulk TV and Heartbreak is a series of instrumentals, recorded and mixed between his home studio and Merloc Studios. I felt it was an opportunity to showcase Coolio the hip-hop scholar and producer, rather than Coolio the lovable rappin’-ass clown. To make this clear, we even included a shot of Simon hanging up his gold chains and dollar-sign ring before getting down to the serious business of beatmaking.

Bulk TV and Heartbreak is chocked with evocative, cinematic music – I was spoilt in having so many great tunes to lay under the video (I made the most of it and used five separate tracks). I also went with a dry, earnest tone, most apparent in the educational lilt of the intertitles. Our next collaboration – a riff on MTV’s Cribs – is in the planning stages and won’t take itself so seriously!