Olly Knghts and I now go back just over 2 years. Our first music video together was for his band Turin Brakes, and it was called “Ascension Day”. Shot on the Panasonic Af101, it was pretty much a performance video set in a really cool house and cut back and forth. All shot in one day.
It was a huge pleasure working with him and Gale. After this we kept in touch with plans to do more, but without any new songs, it was hard to do new music videos. Turin Brake released an EP a couple of Christmases ago, and one of the tracks was a haunting cover of the Dick Van Dyke track from Mary Poppins “Chim Chim Cher ree” (you may have heard it used on the FOX Fringe promo) I made a video for it in Amarillo Texas, shooting on the Red Epic, consisting of intimate close-ups of homeless people. The proceeds of all sales went to the people featured in the promo and other homeless charities.
By this time we had become good friends. Whilst chatting over a drink after my London Workshop last year, Olly told me about his solo project. An attempt to re-discover his love and ability to write songs. I said we need to make a documentary of this and of course we did! This documentary and the above mentioned videos can all be seen at the bottom of this post.
To promote the first track to be released off the album which was given away for free, the title track “If not now when”, I shot a few narrative scenes to cut in with the documentary performance part to create a simple but striking music video. This was all done on the hoof, utterly spontaneous. Doing things like that are fun. Just going out and seeing what you can get. This is all fine for a little video made for a friend but not practical or possible if you are working for a client/ label. You can’t just say “let’s make it up!”
The first proper single release from the album is the track “Bitten by the frost”. We first talked about a music video for this back in November when it was yet to be confirmed whether it was going to be released or not. We had some vague conversations about what we could do, but nothing that excited either of us apart from the possibility of shooting on an available RED Epic Monochrome. No idea/ concept though! Then work and other stuff took me away for quite some time, returning early January. By this point the release was confirmed, and Olly wanted us to make the video.
I honestly hadn’t given it much though whilst I was away, but now it was thinking cap time. I had an idea. I went over to Olly and Rachel’s house for a curry and explained it to them…below is the result of that conversation and two behind the scenes videos by intern Jack Daniel Mills. After them I will go into more detail about how the idea came about, the pre-productions, the issues, the shoot and the edit.
First off this from Olly…
For me “Bitten by the frost” is about what all my songs are about, the current angle on my human condition and maybe in some ways everyone else’s. It’s about the ying\yang of desire and drive fighting it out with the emotional numbness and mundanity of the sheer plod of every day. The video plays on these ideas…
I knew I wanted something that felt a bit Lynchian (is that a word)? I loved lost highway and so many others, those moments that are so close to mundanity yet offer a glimpse of a surreal and darker side.
Phil clearly has a hugely cinematic eye, in fact I think he’d find it hard not to make something look like it belongs to a movie, but with this idea he was really stretching his own directing talents and was very serious about making something more ambitious than before.
I can link back to your previous blog about full on music videos with massive budgets and crews, as for me I didn’t want the lack of big label support to stop me making something special, it was just at my own cost, which as a creative I wanted to do.
Thoughts about the shoot and of course how it turned out as this of course was a high concept and the way I shot it meant it would either work or fail. No middle ground. Maybe the foley?
The shoot itself was actually really quite draining, I never realised how tough just standing still could be, so many set ups and such quiet intensity, plus as usual we had basically no budget at all, which required the usual heroic amounts of energy and invention (not that having a big budget doesn’t require that too, but you might have a little more luxury around)
I loved working with the small but super talented crew, especially James Miller, who I think is a fantastic artist in his own right and works so well with Phil, also the actress Hannah Franklin who was as cool as a cucumber (but prettier) having been slung straight into the deep end last-minute, she was brilliant!
We had to rely on friends and family too, my wife Rachel and the wonderful Sarah Estela both went beyond the call of duty to make it happen, the kindness of virtual strangers was also required and as often can happen when approached positively and politely they were more than willing to help out!
I love the video, I truly do I kind of can’t believe it worked, considering how many things could have cocked it up, the endless locations with little to no control over them? I had to trust Phil implicitly, and he pulled it off…
The foley being added was a big concern as I wondered what it would do to my song, I reserved judgement until Phil could show me a version and when I saw it the strengths were obvious, it added a new depth and pushed the video more into short film territory which I loved!
My only question is what next???
I wanted the video to show the mundanity of everyday life that the song plays on. My idea was that his life is so mundane that we are literally passengers in it, and we drift through days with little changing, until the whole thing just becomes an endless cycle.
To show this, I wanted Olly to stay in the frame in the same position in every single shot. Only the background would change and I needed his performance to be quietly intense but without too much expression, as we are going for a mundane life type feel. I also needed real everyday things for him to drift through. Bed, breakfast, tube, work etc. But with a twist being that things go a little differently on one day…
With Olly being in each frame, the sense I wanted to feel was that life was passing him by without even noticing it and especially without moving! He would sing the song, and as he does it his we run through his whole week . To emphasise this, the edits wouldn’t be on line breaks but during words at times creating a really fluid feel as we run through the 7 days.
There were four rules for the concept.
1: Olly was always in shot.
2: Olly was always facing front
3: He never moved his arm but either had it flat to his body or holding something in the same hand in the same position.
4: He never moved in the frame
I broke each of these once deliberately. Number 1 was broken on Sunday when my cat Percy was on the breakfast table, showing that Olly hadn’t got out of bed. Number 2 was the peeing scene with his back to us. Number 3 was the flowers scene and number 4 was the penultimate shot when he got up to take his wife to bed. Each was done for a very specific reason and only ever broken once.
The video begins and ends on “Monday,” effectively creating a looping video where his week can play out on an endless loop if you have the video on repeat. Essentially, this week could be played back for the next 30 years of his life the way things are!
So a simple idea but with a strong reason behind it. Simple ideas on paper are not always that simple in practice. To make this work, a lot of pre-production work had to be done, breaking the song down and figuring out what his week would be and where he would be at a specific point in the song.
With a no-budget music video, you don’t have the luxury of a location scout or production manager. My main roles were Director, DP and Editor, but I also acted as script supervisor and production manager. Rachel, Olly’s wife volunteered her mother’s house for bed scenes and the front door scene. My house was the bathroom, kitchen and TV location. Olly and Rachel’s local pub was the Cinema, Exotic Dancing place, Men’s room, Coffee shop, Restaurant and of course pub. This location was hugely helpful as it gave us 6 locations in one. Huge thanks to the Gorringe Park Pub for their generous help! After all, we actually needed a fair few locations and a number of variations of shots at each location. For example, I needed 9 shots on the tube, not 8 not 10, 9! Our locations needed were:
Bedroom, Bathroom, Fridge, Breakfast room, Tube, Office, Dinner table, TV lounge, Park Bench, Pub, Men’s room, Exotic dancing place, Street, Doorway, Restaurant, Cinema, Bus stop, High Street, Coffee Shop and toilet.
Everything was completely mapped out. Completely. It had to be. I couldn’t get Olly to perform the song in each place and then decide in the edit what I was going to do. I had to know when and where each line would be sung exactly. In total we actually had around 68 shots. I actually dropped 4 shots in the end. Due to one technical issue, an incorrect shirt on the wrong day, and a couple as they were not needed.
Orginally it was to be Olly’s wife as an out of focus wife never fully appearing, then I decided late in the day that I had to have a proper leading lady. I had a huge response even though it was not a paid gig from many actors and agents…we were lucky enough to get Hannah Franklin. She was amazing. Perfect for the role, beautiful without being utterly out of Olly’s league , patient and gave a terrific performance in what is a very understated part. I cannot recommend her enough. You can reach her through here her agent below
I didn’t do a storyboard as I felt it was unnecessary, as Olly was in the same position each time, but what I did do was break down the song into time, lyrics and what shot goes where – number each one. You can see a rather mashed up page of my breakdown below. Click on it to see it more clearly.
Each day was assigned a letter and each shot a number for that day. For example on day one there were shots A1 to A13 as there were more shots on the first day to establish the concept, but on day two and three there were just 7 shots each day. The two most mundane days.
Olly was to sing a particular part of the song on each shot with each shot averaging about 2 seconds in length, sometimes longer, sometimes a little shorter…To give myself a little bit of flexibility and for Olly to lip sync easier, he sung a line before and a line after, and we did roughly 3 takes of each. This meant we were able to be fast. As mentioned above, doing the whole song would have taken too long and been a waste of time. This was scripted and it needed to be followed. If I hadn’t done this, it wouldn’t have worked. Apart from my bit of a buffer, I gave myself absolutely no get out of jail free shots. I needed to have confidence in it working, only with that confidence could it work. Scary! Yes reshoots could always be done, but nobody wants that. The only get out of jail I could have done was to shoot Olly looking at camera in each place and not have him lip sync whenever a lyric came on. Not ideal and not what I wanted in this video.
Before we filmed it. Myself, Olly, Rachel and my top man James Miller, who was going to operate, came over to test a few things – in particular how wide/ tight the shot should be. Too tight and we wouldn’t see what was going on around him. Too wide and we wouldn’t see enough of Olly. In the end, we settled on a framing and to keep it around 10% wider than we wanted in case of mis aligning of the shot. Shooting in 4K on the 1DC gave us the ability to easily re-frame, but I still wanted to master in 4K so I didn’t want to lose too much. In the end it averaged to about 4% of reframing.
James put some film over the 5,6″ TV Logic monitor and traced round Olly standing up as our base framing, including where he would be. This would be our rough guide. Again, this could be tweaked in post.
Although we had mostly solid locations, some were not. The tube would have to be guerrilla. We also had no office. The public places were also always going to be risky. I tried to remove as many risks as I could to make it as smooth as possible. Nobody wants stress on any shoots, especially really complex ones like this.
We did eventually find an office. Rachel and Sarah went out hunting about 4pm in Tooting on our 2nd/ day and found somewhere, thankfully! The tube was done by ditching the Miller sticks, taking my lightweight Gitzo and starting at the beginning of the line, using our crew as extras, and when it got too busy went back to the start of the line and carried on! We had to shoot this all on a tripod or it simply wouldn’t work!
So although there were a few variables and chances of things going wrong, I was utterly confident it would work.
Everything was lit artificially apart from the tube, the mens room, the pub and the street scenes. They were all available light. I used 2 x Litepanel 1x1s and 2 x Dedo 150 watts. The TV scene was lit mostly by the TV (a music channel gave us enough change of light). We kept the ISO to around 640 on the 1DC for the most part. The morning bed scenes were all lit at nighttime to simulate day, and the lighting of the restaurant scene was lit to match the dinner at home lighting.
The joy of the 1DC is of course the 4K, but it’s also small. Putting it in the fridge was no problem. Keeping it solid was my V-Bag and we viewed remotely with the HDMI transmitter the terrific Paralinx arrow.
We also used a Miller DS20 tripod which was great for getting really high and low and nice and lightweight.
Most of this was shot on the 24-70 Canon L series V2, the Samyang 24mm F1.4 and the Canon 50mm F1.4. I used a Helipoan Vari ND filter for outside.
I used a Zacuto rig to mount the TV-Logic monitor.
Cards were the Komputerbay 128gb 1000x
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Although I had enough cards for the shoot easily, I always put the card straight into the NEXTO DI to give me a simple backup quickly in the field. I DO NOT reuse the card. I offload at the end of the day. This is a simple confidence backup. I now have the newer NEXTO DI air. I like it for its wifi abilities and it has a 500GB SSD rather than the old 750GB so it’s more reliable for me (not that the other one ever gave me grief) and it’s also much faster.
The edit was pretty quick to be honest. I converted all the rushes to ProRes LT 2K using MPEG streamclip and cut it in Premiere. The 2K version is the one you can see above. For the 4K version, I simply changed the name of the folder with the ProRes in and then created a new 4k sequence and relinked all the shots to the MJPEG originals and rendered out as MJPEG original in media encoder. Easy!
I graded it with a mixture of Magic Bullet Colorista II for colour correction (20% off with code bloom20 at checkout at redgiantsoftware.com but mainly in Photoshop of all places, with a LUT wash of two layers once the colour correction had been done. I am trying to add filmconvert at the moment but having issues with the watermark even though I bought it!
All the audio apart from the fridge opening was done in post. I didn’t re-record anything. I just took sounds I had or stuff from freesound.org and created audio for the shots. I wanted this as it added an extra layer/ dimension and made it feel like a short film/ music video cross over. Thankfully, Olly agreed as it took me A LOT of time to do the foley.
Hopefully you enjoyed the video. I am sure I have missed out loads, but any questions ask away below!!
Don’t forget to buy the single/ album!
I will soon be making a 4k version available via wetransfer.com. It will have to be heavily compressed I’m afraid as the original is 22gb. Please download the 2k version from Vimeo for optimum viewing!