Archive

FILM

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!

On Friday, Faux Faux Amis played the opening party for the Ainslie Arts Centre. It was a chance to share our new projection visuals. Here’s a teaser:

The soundtrack is a portion of Good Night, time-stretched to 12% of its original speed.

Kev has a rotating disco light he sometimes takes to gigs – when I asked him to bring it to the shoot, he went all-out and borrowed an additional two multi-colour scanner units. We ran all three concurrently while dancing to the Chemical Brothers . Layering the film and dissolving between takes adds to the Exploding Plastic Inevitable feel, psychedelic and unsettling. I also drew Ruffmercy-style onto some of the footage. The result is relentless, patterns and faces and colours in a constant neon swirl, a nightclub from a Winding Refn flick.

RIVER - Luke McGrath

NICK-  The River That’ll Carry Me Home is a song I used to play with my old band Big Score. Big Score essentially had four lead singers and I learnt that trading off lead vocals is a great way to add a breathless energy to a track , as well as get away with murder in terms of song structure. This track would probably be repetitive as hell if it was just me singing it, but with the whole gang weighing in it feels like it goes for about a minute.

RIVER - Nick McCorriston

Once I put a band together with so many incredible singers it was a no-brainer to do this one, but the fact is the multi-voice thing wasn’t on my mind when wrote it. It’s the same character singing every verse, a weird sort of half gormless Pollyanna/half jester cynic guy, a song character I associate closely with my mid-twenties.

little girl - Sam McNair

The character singing My Own Little Girl is even more obnoxious again, at least by my reckoning. Writing in an unlikable voice in one of those tricky  balances and I’d been waiting for just the right band to play this one with. Of all the numbers I’ve done for this project so far this is the one that I’m a bit nervous about.

RIVER - Sam King

LUKE – I’d thought The River That’ll Carry Me Home would be the first salvo of EP #2, and so envisaged the shot of Nick walking into the studio as being our take on the opening of Stop Making Sense, where the camera tracks along David Byrne’s feet.

I’d imagined Nick arriving in the room just in time to sing the first line, but the way it played out lets the arrangement breathe, and we get to know/see each of the musicians before the song takes off. The handheld shots feel intimate – complemented with a few post-production light leaks, it gives the clip a warm and funky vibe.

From a director’s point of view, My Own Little Girl is my favourite of this batch. It’s certainly the boldest, conceptually – a live music clip where we don’t actually see anyone playing their instruments(!). The clip is composed entirely of close-ups of the performers’ faces.

little girl - Matt Nightingale

Ben Lane warned me it might be too intense, and just after we finished filming it, I had a small panic attack – if it didn’t work, we had no back-up footage. Thankfully, it does work – mostly down to the relaxed and natural presence of the performers. It’s the visual equivalent of someone whispering a secret into your ear.

Wishing - Nick Delatovic

NICK- So last year I failed to get Arts ACT funding for a live-in-studio solo album. As a cheap alternative I organised a one-day session with some of my closest friends and collaborators from the Canberra music scene, and we arranged and recorded four tracks. As an indulgent twist I got Luke to shoot us as we cut the songs live and then make a music video for each. Nick's Dead - Nick Delatovic

A year later and the #EPINADAY format has become a key part of my musical output and I’m acting like I planned it all from the start. It’s turned out to scratch at least 5 different itches:

-Instant gratification (here’s my song-bam!-here’s the studio version)

-Another stream of skills development for Luke and I as film-makers

-A chance to put together a different fantasy band line-up every time

-A chance to work in a completely different style every time

-A format to work in which, it turns out, is really fun for all involved Nick's Dead - Nick Delatovic

So my plan is to build each #EPINADAY band around a single artist that I’ve always wanted to record with, but in this case there was a slight exception. Matt Nightingale and Jacqueline Bradley can tell you that I nagged them for ages, putting this session off until a date that they had free. Constantly busy, they’ve played a gagillion gigs between them and they specialize in the country/trad style that I wanted to bring to this session, but above all they are the Accompanist’s Accompanists. I’ve rarely seen any musicians so completely adept at serving a song and supporting a lead performer, and between them they seem to play every musical instrument. it was downright luxurious having them take my songs in hand, the arranging of all four songs seemed to take ten minutes. Wishing - Sam King

As always Sam King made producing the session while also playing guitar look effortless. It’s at the point now where if I get stumped on an arrangement (which is often) I just throw it to Sam, to the point where he describes his role as ‘producing, guitaring, intros and outros’. Sam McNair was our drummer and while I’d seen his band The Burley Griffin play a bunch of times I actually hadn’t met him before the day. I knew he had the specific genre moves I needed but his skill and versatility went way past my expectations, plus he’s a fun guy. I’ll be hitting him up again in future for sure.

Wishing - Nick Delatovic Sam McNair

Audio-Hunk Nick McCorriston (my collaborator on a bunch of projects as well Tech-Maven for You Are Here Festival) moved back to Canberra just in time to record the session, and the returning film crew of Luke, Shane ‘Crazy-Legs’ Parsons and Adam Thomas were augmented by your-pal-and-mine Ben Lane. I’ll let Luke talk more about their end of it.

As usual we did four tracks, the first two are already online. Song To Be Played In The Event Of My Death is the newest song, and therefore my current favorite (songwriters will understand). It was a classic title-first job, the lyrics and vibe are my best attempt to create something that I would actually be happy to have serve as my epitaph. That is to say, it’s very meaningful song to me, which makes the off-the-cuff breezy breathlessness of the take feel all the more appropriate.

Wishing is a song I wrote in fifteen minutes and have no facility to critically assess. I always intended to rewrite the lyrics (I suppose to give it a more clearly delineated central metaphor or something) but when it came down to it I realized that I like it just as it is, for better or for worse. Obviously it’s the most ‘country’ track in the session so it was a total thrill to play it with a band that could lean right into the genre trappings. Nick's Dead - Nick Delatovic

LUKE – For each song of the last EP, we filmed four angles at all times –  a wide shot, a close-up on Nick, and two roving cameras picking up shots of everything else. In other words, we played it safe, ensuring we had ‘coverage’.  It was our first time attempting such a shoot and I didn’t want to leave anything to chance. It was a blessing and a curse – we had plenty of footage for each song, but it all looked the same. The challenge became editing each video to make it distinct, while still matching the tone and emotions of the song.

This time around, rather than necessarily leaving all that to the edit, I wanted to come up with a different filming set-up for each song. That way, no two videos would be alike. It was a bold move – filming without a safety net essentially – but I think it paid dividends. A couple of days beforehand, I ran my ideas for how to film each song past Nick and he was immediately on board – it was another step closer to his conception of making each clip feel like its own autonomous music video.

Wishing - Jacqui

We had a studied looseness to our approach this time which comes out strongest in Wishing. It’s the closest we get to Dogme – all handheld, on location, in colour, diegetic music (of course!), and with just one small LED light hung above Nick (it’s not truly a Dogme film unless you break one rule).  In fact, in contrast to last time, we didn’t use any static shots in any of the videos  – everything was shot from off the tripod.   Shane – that’s Shane Parsons, camera ninja extraordinaire – arrived earlier than me, and filmed all the beautiful rehearsal footage out in the atrium in front of the studio. I love the behind-the-scenes footage in the video, it gives a sense of the warmth, humour and fun of the day. Having this clip kick off the series provides a nice through-line from the first EP, where the last video also showcased behind the scenes.

When I talk about filming without a safety net, Song To Be Played In The Event Of My Death is what I mean. Either we got the shot or we didn’t (full credit to Nick for letting us try). I have long had an idea of filming a ‘oner’ of a band’s performance, rotating out from the centre of the room. I tested the concept at a PROM rehearsal a couple of years ago and loved the results –  your eye urges the camera on to the next thing, while at the same time, you hold your breath waiting for the shot to cut away (or at least I do when watching lengthy single takes). Shane’s had some experience with single takes, so I ‘volunteered’ him to shoot this one (I was filming b-roll from behind a corner, but thankfully we didn’t need to use it). Nick's Dead - Sam King

The camera is moving so fast, it can be dizzying concentrating solely on the footage. To leaven the effect, I thought it might be neat to throw up the lyrics as subtitles (in stately SBS yellow). That way, your eye bounces between the two things intermittently and the dervish movement is less likely to leave you woozy. A one-take like this also reinforces that the band is really playing the song live, without studio tricks or cheats – it serves as a testament to the skill and polish of the musicians themselves.

WHOLE WORLD - FFA

Whole World Moves Way Too Slow For Me is the last song I wrote for X, and it neatly sums up my views on the creative process. I like to work fast, which sometimes means waiting for collaborators to catch-up; I also value brevity and concision, hence an album of one minute songs or a series of uber-simple cooking videos. The  accompanying film clip required  a sense of speed and urgency – running and singing the song in a single take seemed a perfect way to convey this. Lou, Matt Borneman and I shot some test footage last year, and discovered our excellent location next to Lake Burley Griffin – a stretch of track just wide enough to use a car as a dolly.

WHOLE WORLD Proof - 1

Visually, I thought it could be compelling to dress as the iconic Jean-Paul Belmondo in the final scenes of Pierrot Le Fou (it also nods to the band’s Francophile proclivities). I could claim other subtextual conversations are at play (like how Belmondo blows himself up at the end of the film and I collapse at the end of the song), but, really, I just wanted to dress up as Ferdinand! With my hair out and my skin tinted blue, I excitedly found I also resembled Rogan Josh.

Next, I needed to fill the clip with colourful characters – along with the band, I secured the talents of warrior-poets Nathan Gubler , Nick McCorriston and Cameron Thomas.

WHOLE WORLD TITLES

The opening titles are another homage to Pierrot Le Fou – I was even able to find a ‘Godard’ font, created to celebrate his 80th birthday.

There’s evident irony in a song about life being too slow… accompanied by a video festooned with references to health and mortality. A personal trainer and his client, a pair of surgeons, and even Death himself all make cameos. I’ll leave interpretations to others, though I will point out I love the cosmic justice whereby I literally avoid and outrun Death (who gets pummeled by Mel and Cath!) only to collapse a few steps later. WHOLE WORLD - SURGEONS

My collapse happens as two surgeons begin running alongside me. Even funnier is that they don’t actually assist – Darren and Kev came up with their own slapstick routine, which is so good I want to make another clip just based around their antics.

The take we use is the fourth – we could have kept shooting and added more elements (or refined existing ones) but this take felt like the right amount of energy and spontaneity. Besides, more takes wouldn’t have been in the spirit of the song!  A big shout-out to the unseen heroes of the shoot – Louise McGrath and Kate Hodges, manning the camera and the car respectively.

Faux Faux Amis - Luke McGratj

I’ve now directed around a dozen music videos. Beautiful people have made futuristic love on my dining room table, I’ve tailed a dapper puppet as it wandered the streets of New York, slapped a woman in the face with a fish, and tarred and feathered a young man in a forest. And I’ve done it ALL FOR ART.

Among all these whimsical creations, I’ve neglected to make a straight-ahead, sweaty, ‘band playing in a room’ rock clip. Consider this my entry into that illustrious canon.

Faux Faux Amis - Luke McGrat

Faux Faux Amis - Luke McGrat

We filmed in our regular rehearsal room at Redsun Studios (say that five times fast), but I knew we’d need to tart it up a bit. Fans of the band will recognise the portraits as stills from our live projections. I rasterbated and printed all the ‘big heads’ the day before – well, except Kev’s, whose portrait debuted in our last video. Lou and I then had to piece them all together on the day – each consisted of around 15 A4 pages that needed to be arranged and stuck together face-down. Kev’s portrait was before we’d ironed out our technique, and we got the ordering wrong. I kinda like that his is the Picasso of the lot, especially since it was the only one to be recycled.

Faux Faux Amis - Luke McGrat

I’m a sucker for dramatic, colourful lighting, from Wong Kar Wai’s films through to Blackstreet’s No Diggity. We jerry-rigged the lights by taping red cellophane over the room’s fluorescents, then threw a blue gel over the camera mounted LED ring. I love the combination of the two colours, further heightened by the smoke we liberally pumped into the room (courtesy of friend-of-the-band Joel Barcham’s fog machine – thanks Joel!).

Faux Faux Amis - Luke McGrat

Faux Faux Amis - Luke McGrat

A technique I got to try on this shoot was to mime to the song playing at half-speed and then speed back up the footage in post. At half-speed, the song sounds like jokey doom-rock (least it was funny to us on the day). The sped-back-up footage has a manic energy to it, and also allowed Lou (camerawoman and bedrock of this operation) to cover a lot more distance in her tracking shots (essentially, she could circle the band twice as many times). The clip that gave me the idea is Vampire Weekend’s excellent A-Punk (I imagine half-speed Vampire Weekend just sounds like Animal Collective).

Faux Faux Amis - Luke McGrat

The final stylistic affectation is the animation. I’ve gushed before about my love for Ruff Mercy– I’m hoping he’ll interpret my crude imitation of his style as flattery. The clip consists of around 1800 frames – I reckon I drew over at least two-thirds of those. The animation amplifies the already unhinged vibe of the piece.

Faux Faux Amis - Luke McGrat

The first three FFA X videos have been completed!

This clip is a collaboration between Matthew Borneman and myself. Matt spent time in London working in the fashion industry (for photographer Mario Testino no less), and really wanted to do a clip lampooning the “fashion film”. I wasn’t even aware there was such a genre, but Matt gave me a quick education on Youtube. The arty angles, endless credits, talcum powder and gauze netting were all directly lifted from fashion films (and Matt’s brain).  The idea is FFA is merely the soundtrack to a fake auteur’s masterpiece – in going along with the conceit we created a new Youtube account and uploaded it anonymously. I love how it gets into a groove in the first thirty seconds or so, and then is crammed with another three setups in the final half, each more preposterous than the last.
This clip is by Danny Wild of ZONKVISION. I met Danny at You Are Here 2014, where he curated a mini-festival of one minute films. Danny’s style – and interest in brevity – seemed a natural fit. This slacker-fi gem latches on to the songs’s refrain “take me away from here”, presenting a world full of teleportals in innocuous public spaces.
Mel had the idea to shoot a karaoke based clip. Originally, the band was to perform it in a karaoke booth. I thought it might be fun to have a couple of kids (my nieces!) stumble upon the song on SingStar. As you’ll see, it emerges from a mystic Gameboy, which gave me the chance to indulge in some 8-bit design. And Stan makes an appearance, trainspotters!

The Canberra International Film Festival kindly asked me to do a video review of a film in its 2014 season.  They also thrillingly referred to me as a “Canberra identity”!

It was a little nerve-wracking being as exposed as this – I normally hide behind a pink mask (and a made-up voice). Still, I enjoyed it immensely – if anyone hears of any openings on At The Movies, let me know…

The rest of the festival looks great, and I’m keen to check out as much as possible.

I said to Lou the other day that I wanted to make a clip like Lily Allen’s Sheezus or Danny Brown’s ODB.

Though it’s completely obvious now, I didn’t realise they were by the same director – Ruffmercy. Since then, I’ve been devouring all his other videos.

Ruffmercy – real name Russ Murphy – is a Bristol-based animator and director. He’s worked for companies like MTV since the 90s, but it was his video for Dahlia Black’s Fuck A Rap Song that made his name as a director. Inspired by a gif he was sent for reference, he started drawing over the frames of the video, inventing an aesthetic that synthesises graffiti, Ralph Steadman, Basquiat, and every schoolkid that’s added a moustache and a black eye to the cover of a magazine. I love how his motto – ruff, rugged and raw – applies equally to hip-hop and punk. Being a relentless doodler and former stencil artist, it’s a style that immediately appeals.

Messing up film has been an ongoing pursuit for me – I’ve written before (a year ago to the day in fact!), about a Central West gig where multiple projectors where running 8mm reels. Some of this footage was blank frames that had been painted on – it looked amazing. Nearly everything is easier to do digitally these days, but replicating that is not one of them – I ended up buying an off-the-shelf set of ink and paint splattered footage to overlay over my videos, but it’s not the same.

However, what Ruffmercy’s work first reminded me of was the unexpected ending to one of my fave movies, Irma Vep.

I was very taken with the effect, how punk and tactile it felt.

Irma Vep - Maggie Cheung

It’s surprising how adaptable Ruffmercy’s technique is – here’s another video utilising the same approach but with a different vibe.

The harsh and jagged lines, the scratched out eyes and teeth, have been replaced with ballooning squiggles and dots. This completely changes the effect, from violent paranoia to something bubbly and pop.  The song contributes, but there is no doubt how much personality we imbue into the lines and marks themselves.

In the few interviews online with Ruffmercy, I pieced together enough of his workflow to try myself. Armed with a borrowed drawing tablet, I had a crack over the weekend. I tried a mixture of the poppy and grungy stuff over a few seconds of Kev dancing. It’s clumsier than Ruffmercy’s work, but I was encouraged enough by this first attempt.

 

As any animator will tell you, it’s time-consuming work. There’s over 500 individual frames making up this brief proof of concept. That said, it’s the kind of work that can be pleasantly done with the radio or TV in the background. I still haven’t figured out how Ruffmercy times his stuff so well to the music, and that will be the focus of my next test.

Music videos are a natural fit, but I’ve also been considering its use in other genres – as transitions between scenes in a sitcom, or in a stylised action sequence. It’s given me a taste for the possibilities in animation – I also stumbled upon this video yesterday AND OH GOD I’M ALREADY BUSY ENOUGH…

Nick: So I went to Luke’s place for dinner last night and pretty much as soon as I got in the door he surprised me with this, the final of five videos for my EPINADAY. I’d pitched the basic approach for this one (and written the ‘dialogue’ and ‘where-are-they-nows’) but Luke took it above and beyond. It’s easily my favourite of the five.

Nick Delatovic Luke McGrath

This was another song that I used to play with Big Score, and the arrangement owes a lot to Big Score’s Beth Monzo in particular and Nick Peddle. They were the ones who first turned it from an indie chord-chugger to the afrobeat-ish shuffle it is now, so having Nick drum on this take felt like a nice tribute to all those sweaty pub gigs we’d shared.

I don’t know if this is one of my better songs or not but it’s definitely one of my favourites. I wrote it in my early 20s, I used to write a lot of songs from the perspective of an old man back then. Probably a perverse desire to avoid the normal young-person concerns, or maybe just an attempt to ape all the Old Fogeys Of Song that I love so much.

Nick Delatovic Luke McGrath

I had a strong hunch that I’d be personally very satisfied by this project, but I’ve been humbled by the positive response I’ve gotten from those that have watched the vids. Thanks again to the Rogues Gallery who helped me achieve this: Sam King, Julia Johnson, Matt Lustri, Nick Peddle, Shane Parsons, Adam Thomas, Leon Twardy, Adelaide Rief and Luke ‘Beyond Rebuke’ McGrath!

Nick Delatovic Luke McGrath

Luke: Huzzah, the final EPINADAY video!

To begin with, I cut together a performance of the song as per the previous videos. With that as a base, I layered the collateral footage over the top  – with the exception of a couple of brief moments, it completely subsumed the actual performance.

Nick Delatovic Luke McGrath

We wanted to impart this last video with a ‘behind the scenes’ vibe. I consciously left in the bits I would normally edit around – camera wobbles, refocussing and the like – as well as the less guarded moments from the musicians. Combined with the warm film look, it feels like a home movie, perfectly suiting the wistful tone of the song.

Nick Delatovic Luke McGrath

Overall, the five videos totalled around 20+ hours of editing.  As with nearly everything I do, it became a larger task than I anticipated (my skills at gauging time and effort are severely underdeveloped – the silver lining being I jump blindly into a lot of ultimately rewarding endeavours).  Having space between each editing session was a bonus – it allowed me to consider each edit independently, to experiment and choose something that suited the individual songs.

Nick Delatovic Luke McGrath