“Ascension Day”: TURIN BRAKES music video shot on the Panasonic AF-101

Before you read my post here are some words from Turin Brakes’ Olly Knights on the track and the video…

‘We have loved Talk Talk’s work for years, especially the final two albums but have never dared tackle their intricate and difficult music ourselves. However with the spirit of a new year ahead and the suggestion of a future Talk Talk tribute album of which we were to provide a track we decided to do our own version of “Ascension Day” and instead of competing with the hugely layered original we felt a “demix” was the best approach, something that played with silence and space and allowed the truth of the song to stand out loud and proud. Phil has echoed this sentiment with the video for the track…. He knew we had no money and no time and a tiny crew so he took those limitations and managed to create something larger than the sum of those parts, avoiding any tricks or linear narrative he’s allowed the song space and time to breath. This is NOT the language of the majority of music videos and after making at least ten of them over the years with budgets bigger than most people mortgages and all the ball aches that come with that and major record label involvement it’s safe to say this has been the most refreshing and creative video experiences to date and we hope it’s just the start….”

Below is the video and underneath that is the commentary track I have done. You can download it or stream it. It’s MUCH longer than the video so the way it works is get the video loaded up but don’t play it, then play the commentary and when I say press play on the video do so and when I say press pause on video…etc…!

Turin Brakes: Ascension Day from Philip Bloom on Vimeo.

Turin Brakes: Ascension day commentary by PhilipBloom
This is my first proper music video that I have shot and directed (I also edited and coloured it). I did shoot a music video for Monarchs in Austin last year but it was totally unplanned, spontaneous, let’s make a video right now deal. I love that video but have wanted to do a more controlled formal one for some time. I have had many offers but my schedule has always been so rammed I just have had no time  to do one.

Turin Brakes are one of my favourite bands of the past ten years. Ever since their “The Optimist LP” I have been hooked. Beautiful songs with incredible vocals and strong music. If you don’t know of them, get onto itunes now and get some of their back catalogue! Here are a few of their past tracks/ music videos and are definitely worth checking out!

Olly Knights from Turin Brakes contacted me quite some time ago via twitter actually (do follow him as he is quite funny!), he is a camera geek too, and loves his GH1. We chatted a fair bit ever since and always planned to do something together, but again I was just out of the country so much it never happened. Anyway, with my building work on my house dragging on and my desire to stay home more this year i was in England all of January so we decided to make something happen. To cut a long story short after having been approached to do a track for a possible Talk Talk tribute album the guys recorded their cover of the very intense album track “Ascension Day” We had a tiny crew of myself as Director and DP/ Operator. Suresh Kara as co-Director. Karen Abad as 1st AC and Jon Connor/ Cristina Valdivieso as 2nds and BTS/ stills photographers.

Turin Brakes are one of my favourite bands from the past decade, beautiful music and their albums have been a regular feature on my ipod ever since The Optimist LP. We have been talking (mostly on twitter!) for quite a while about collaborating on something so in between my foreign jaunts we decided to make this video. They recorded the song especially for it, a cover version of an early 90’s track by Talk Talk.

We originally planned to shoot out on location outside, down on the coast somewhere, but the unpredictability of English weather at any time of the year to be honest and especially this cold winter meant an indoor location was the best bet. Way more controlled and much warmer/ drier!

I brought my friend Suresh Kara from Documovie.co.uk on board, initially just to help out as he has recently invested in the AF101 and wanted to see it in action as his had not arrived yet. But as the I realised the amount of work that would be needed to do this music video in the one single day we had with a location that had to be lit I got him to co-direct with me so he could watch performances when I was making sure dolly moves where right etc and I was operating the camera not just the DP.

We shot the video on the AF101…actually that word video…it’s funny, it’s a word I don’t like to use. Not because I am being pretentious but it always has felt like such an ugly word, it just reminds me of interlacing and VHS! Film is a beautiful world associated with a beautiful medium but these days films are mostly shot on video so it’s all blurred. But we don’t call Music promos “films” we call them Music Videos. Funny that…anyway I digress. Why the AF101? Why not to be honest? It is my latest, newest camera and I had not shot anything with it since I was in Japan and shot for one day around Kyoto and then it was with a pre-production camera. Also I had these lovely new lenses for it and not used them. Initially it made sense as I was planning on overcranking to 50fps and getting the guys to sing at double speed but when I decided that it was going to be much more static I decided to go normal speed 25p.

Me and the band before the shoot

The song “Ascension Day” is very dark and intense so I wanted the video to compliment it but not in a heavy handed way. The location was a blessing. We had the whole 4 floors and loads of different rooms to work with. Most of them were unsuitable but the ground floor, basement, 1st floor sitting room and top floor bedroom were spot on, although all had electrical issues with wiring…We dressed the rooms with some of the very eclectic furniture that was throughout the house and made the most of the parts of the house that had quite distressed run down walls. This is a song about the end of the world and death but I didn’t want it to be overtly dark and gloomy, the song itself says so much, I wanted the visuals to enhance not overwhelm the song so there is a real contrast between the different locations. The very dark and moody basement, almost bunker like waiting for the nukes to hit, to the very odd ground floor with the lockers and distressed wallpaper and “Olly’s” Rocking Horse! Also the clean more sterile mirror room which gave a real contrast to the rest but suited Gale. Gale was to be the serene calm member of the band whilst Olly was going to be the more agitated, distressed character. Both gave great performances, Olly does agitated very well!

I played on framing and composition heavily. It’s an uneasy song and I wanted the framing to be uneasy. I wanted some unconventional framing with lots of negative space and some extremely close ups to bring you back and forth in the video. We criss-crossed locations too, cutting between them to keep the video moving and give it a sense of pace. I am not a huge fan of the cliche of fast cuts in music videos so I wanted the viewer to be able to take in the visuals and hear the lyrics so there was a deliberate pace to it that I felt suited the song. Also with the lighting and colour grading, each floor had it’s own unique look which I will go into later.

Me and the band halfway through the shoot!

I had never seen the location until we were let in at 9am on Sunday. I had seen pictures but that was all. Far from ideal. But at least the pictures gave me some food for thought. So when we arrived I ran around the house to get a feel for where would work and for what bits. My documentary/ news background helped enormously as I am so used to arriving somewhere new and making it work quickly!

We started off on the ground floor first, dressed the set  and lit it using the available light, the practicals from the mirror and two Kino Flow 4 bank divas with 3 Daylight and 1 Tungsten bulbs in. I like my lighting to look as natural as possible, so I wanted them to look like it was natural light on them. Kino’s give off a wonderful soft light.

So kit wise downstairs I used the Kessler Crane Flex Track, a Wally Dolly with my Vinten Vision 8AS tripod. The two kinos as mentioned, my panasonic HD-SDI monitor and an excellent new monitor from Bon which has live vectorscopes and waveforms…Lense used were the Voigtlander 25mm F0.95, Olympus Zuiko 14-35mm F2, 35-100 F2, and an SLR Magic Toy Lens 26mm F1.4! The Toy lens is excellent, but looks utterly inadequate on the AF101 as it is SO small! It was actually Olly’s wife Rachel’s lens and I used it on quite a few shots as i loved the look, a real soft distorted Diana lens type look, not as intense as a lensbaby.

Olly downstairs
The toy lens on the AF-101

The Panasonic monitor
The 14-35mm Olympus F2 on the Philip Bloom Kessler Crane Pocket Dolly
The Bon monitor

For the intense close ups I used the Voigtlander F.95 25mm which has a really short hyperfocal distance like a macro lens. Although I had to get very close to Olly to do these. The barrel distortion on some of the shots caused by the lens were deliberate which you see later on in the video. Described in more detail on the commentary track.

I used a few tracking shots in here, but as I said before I wanted most of the it to be static. There was no motivational movement going on for me in the frame that shouted out “move the camera” but there are some dolly shots and some camera tilts and pans at the right points in the song. I really don’t like movement for the hell of it. It can easily be overdone, like shallow depth of field. It has a time and a place. This video has a number of Shallow DOF shots, mostly on the macro but also lots of deep DOF shots too…

Having Karen Abad as my 1st AC was a joy. She really knows her stuff and is a very talented DP. Her help was essential for the very short amount of time we had to shoot this. By the time we started rolling we had literally 5 and a half hours before we had to stop and pack up to be out by 530pm. That is a huge challenge as each room needed lighting and track laying, although both the K-Flex from Kessler Crane and especially the Wally Dolly are simple to set up, the Wally Dolly is very easy to pick up and move quickly as it is just straight track. Karen got the lights I needed set up and tweaked under my direction. She was a joy on set and took a lot of pressure off of me!

Karen Abad

For more info on my thoughts on each shot and the thought behind them please listen to my commentary as I describe each one in detail.

So what was the AF-101 like to shoot with? It was a pleasure, the ability to focus easily (although no digital punch in is a shame) and the HD-SDI outs were a huge plus, also the image is very pleasing indeed. I was getting very nice dynamic range even though it is hard to tell in the graded version. Here are a few frame grabs before grading…

I shot with a pretty flat picture profile although I still haven’t found the perfect one. Mostly I was at 200 ISO. I did go up to 1000 ISO a couple of times. 1600 was a bit noisy to be honest for his sort of thing. The AF-101 is definitely more noisy than the Sony F3. My little short I did with my sister was pumped all the way up and is clean as anything! I really do want that F3 but it’s a lot of cash!

So in the end I used 4 lenses. The Voigtlander F.95 25mm, The Olympus F2 14-35mm and 35-100mm and the Toy Lens.The majority was on the Voigtlander and the 14-35mm F2.

Although as you can see the clean images above look very nice, although a couple are a wee bit under I wanted to give the video a more bleached contrasty look but also give each room a different feel, which the lighting did first off but the grade then accentuated, always light! The basement was the most extreme, I made it very cold and harsh. I graded with Magic Bullet Looks and used Stu Maschwitz’s Guru Preset 50/50 for the main part although with a lot of tweaks. You can get Magic bullet looks for 20% off with the code bloom20 at checkout from redgiantsoftware.com and get the preset pack there too. Also check out Nick Campbell’s vintage film pack. It’s awesome

The turnaround was pretty quick on this. I shot it on the Sunday and had it up the following Friday morning. Not because I was under pressure to do so but I like to get things done and not sit on them too long. I would have had it up earlier but I was shooting every day that week and editing this in the evening. The editing was a real challenge and I talk about it a lot more in the commentary. I now know how to use multicam very well!!

I am extremely happy with the performance of the camera but I really could have shot this on any one of my DSLRs if I wanted to including the GH2 (it probably would have looked identical!)  but I am glad I chose the AF-101 for it as the SDI out and other perks made it a pleasure to shoot with and every time I shoot with it I get to know the camera better and get more confident with it.

At the end of the shoot with the band!!

At the end of the day, for my first “proper” music video I am extremely pleased with how it turned out. I learnt a lot from it too. My vision was realised from conception through to the end product. Most importantly the band love it, hopefully their fans and you lot will too. But it’s always going to be impossible to please everyone, the lack of narrative will irritate a few for sure but I don’t think it needs it, it’s a performance video with a distinct style and feel to it, the deliberate pacing will delight and frustrate in equal numbers…everything is subjective and everyone has different opinions. If we all thought the same way how dull would life be?

I look forward to doing more music videos in future and will start calling them music films then too 😉

Any questions drop a comment on this post and I will answer. Do check out the photos below by Cristina Valdivieso and Rachel Knights showing all the gear, the locations, the band and some right daft photos. I will have  a little BTS video up soon too! Phew!