I need to make this blog actually work.  Let’s try making it briefer.

So I made a video for Micko Westmoreland with Kevin Eldon in it.  It was fab and we was fab and Micko was fab.   That’ll do.




Obscure Knowledge

Guapo released the album Obscure Knowledge in May 2015.  Mainman and drummer David Smith is also a sculptor and we used one of his pieces for a photoshoot  just before the release.  You can see some pictures and info here:

Obscure Knowledge is a fairly epic piece but it is also surprisingly accessible.  I listened to the album for the days leading up to the album launch gig to develop a good understanding of the piece.  Luckily, Mike Woodman – who was the other cameraman, was already very familiar with the album.

We love you longtime

The version of Obscure Knowledge on the record is 43 minutes long.  This live version was more like 55 minutes.  We trimmed the intro to pare the video down to a nippy 51 minutes.     This made for a few technical challenges, not least of all camera battery life and the fact that most “still cameras that happen to do video” are limited to shooting 29’59” for entirely artificial anachronistic tax reasons.   I wonder in what century someone in government will bother fixing that.

Anyway on most of my cameras I have the Magic Lantern firmware that automatically restarts the camera every time it stops after a couple of seconds.   Excellent feature.

Filming gigs is a plate spinning exercise and filming one very long song makes for particularly wobbly crockery.   For contingency, I actually had two cameras providing slightly different wide shots, with the tiny Sony RX100 IV mounted on top of the Canon 6D.  The quality from the Sony is amazing for such a small camera.  Battery life is an issue, but unlike some other cameras, the RX100 IV can be charged from the micro USB port while it is filming.  So I kept an Anker Powerbank plugged in the whole time to keep it running.

Michael Woodman shot the front-of-stage footage handheld with the Canon 5D Mark II and the EF 24-105 F/4L IS.  I was shooting with the 5D Mark III and the EF 70-200mm F/2.8 L IS II on a Manfrotto MVM500A video tripod.

The other cameras on stage were GoPro 3 Black, GoPro 3+ Black, EOS 60D, EOS 650D and an EOS-M with the dinky EF-M 22 F/2 lens.

Audio was expertly recorded and mixed by Kev Feazey.

Knifeworld: High /Aflame

It’s been a while since the last Knifeworld video. The band has gone from strength to strength and the new album “Bottled Out Of Eden” shows a new confidence and strength of vision. I love it when you see something evolve from the early ideas to the finished product. Kavus had been semi-secretly sharing the title of the album for a while, enjoying its sound and connotations. I was very excited to get a copy a while ago.

Knifeworld had opened with High/Aflame the last few times I had seen them and it grabbed me from the first time I heard it. So I was a bit disappointed when it wasn’t the first choice of track to make into a video. But after a bit of inter-band discussion they wisely decided to go with it and I was very pleased indeed. Hurrah!


One of my favourite bits about making a video is bouncing ideas around, preferably over booze (although coffee also works). Mel, Kavus and I steadfastly approached the topic over lager. I am nervous about taking credit but it might have been me who suggested collaborating with Chris Tomsett. Chris does psychedelic lightshows, principally in Brighton, as Innerstrings. I had photographed some gigs where Chris had done the lighting and loved it. I had also seen lots of other gig photographs where his beautiful work transformed quite prosaic spaces into kaleidoscopic landscapes.

Chris works with a mixture of old school oil-based lights and digital elements that can include real-time footage captured by a couple of HD video cameras. The work he did on this video was digital and included manipulated real-time footage of the band. Chris has a great collaborative style and was happy to be directed and to offer excellent suggestions; above all he was able to create exactly the sort of visuals that we had hoped for. It made life very easy for those of us pointing cameras.


On this occasion, we used none of my Canon kit. This whole video was shot on the new generation of Sony cameras. Most of the footage was shot on the state-of-the-art Sony A7S II, using the Sony FE PZ 28-135mm f/4 G OSS lens. The second camera was the also very new Sony A7R II, mostly with the Sony FE 90mm f/2.8 Macro G OSS.

The A7S II is notoriously excellent in low light and it didn’t disappoint for a second. One very odd thing was the visual hum lines we got with the massive projections. By “hum” I mean slow-moving stripes of colour that travel from the top to bottom of the image. The issue relates to the synchronisation of the projector’s own refresh rate and the camera’s own capture rate. I experimented with different shutter speeds and learned that if we used 1/40s (instead of the usual 1/50s that one traditionally uses when shooting at 25FPS), the hum vanished.

The 28-135mm f/4 is a servo-powered zoom lens, which is VERY unusual at this price point. F/4 is pretty slow, but combined with the A7S II’s excellent low light handling it did a superb job. I think we shot most of the A7SII footage at a whopping 8000 ISO.

Second camera on this shoot was Sue who did her usual excellent job of assisting: quietly pointing out mistakes and making suggestions. Sue and I get on really well and have a great working relationship. She put in a long hard day on the shoot and never so much as rolled her eyes at me.

We shot some footage of Kavus using the Leica Noctilux-M 50mm f0.95 ASPH at F/0.95. Mostly because we could. This footage proved invaluable in the final edit, although you can’t tell it was shot on such an impossibly posh lens because it was “somewhat” processed.


Kavus had some images that were created by the Knifeworld sleeve designer, Steve Mitchell, that he wanted to show at the start of the video. You can see Steve’s beautiful work here.  These were a simple disk with the song title and a new clean version of the Knifeworld logo.   I felt like the disks were nice but I would like to create a three dimensional animated version of the disk.

For this I needed a vector graphic version of the logo to animate in After Effects.  Although the image I was given was a bitmap and quite low resolution, I was able to convert it using Adobe Illustrator with just a couple of clicks.  Very cool.

The Knifeworldworld planet that you see in the animation is Steve’s sleeve art Bottled Out Of Eden wrapped around a sphere.

Here it is:   

Stephen EvEns: Evil Twin

Stephen EvEns is the solo project of Stephen “Stuffy” Gilchrist.  Stuffy is a very talented and busy man.  It was only when we filmed him playing with Bill Drake in 2014 that I got to see close up just how brilliant a drummer he is.

That big second E is emphasize that it’s NOT Stephen Evans.   It’s a gag about “Even Stevens” which seems to get missed every time.  Which is the opening gag in this video.  Watch the titles on the telly at the beginning.  That’s me doing the continuity announcement in my ongoing Hitchcockian efforts to get myself into the videos.  Cockian.

Stuffy and I thrashed out the storyline in pretty swift fashion.  He suggested Jo Spratley as “The Interviewer”.  You may know Jo from the astonishing Spratley’s Japs, among other things (hence the name of the fictional TV show – geddit?).   I asked her to channel Rita Skeeter for this.  Jo is just brilliant in this and required very little direction – she totally nailed it and introduced lots of ideas.  And she looks beautiful.

We shot the TV show in a dance studio in Brixton and then did the domestic part at Stuffy’s friend’s flat a week later.  The flat is full of fantastic objets and I wish I could have got more of them into the video, but there’s only so much screentime.

Stuffy’s performance throughout is splendid and it was a pretty effortless endeavour.

Technical Stuff

As always this was shot with Canon 5D3, 5D2 and 6D cameras.

The opening domestic sequence has a GoPro 3+ Black in the Corn Flake bowl and the milk was shot in 10 x slow motion using a Sony RX100 MkIV.   I bought the lavelier mic that Stuffy destroys in The Pound Shop.

I re-recorded the audio for the cornflakes and milk at home using a Zoom H4N.  Just so you know.


Christmas Card 2015

First up – Happy Christmas!  Here’s the 2015 card:


I’ve thought about doing a “Behind The Scenes” for about a decade. Let’s see how it goes.

Every year since 1994, Sally and I have designed a Christmas Card. Hopefully the cards are funny and festive.  Over those years, these have become fairly ambitious and the process has been elemental in the development of my photography and post-processing skills. Some of the cards have contained a lot of detail and it’s always made me a bit sad that the ultimate rendition of all that detail is an A5 card.

Here’s the site which evolves every year to accommodate the new card.

The card starts with a list of ideas (which must relate to something festive) and a lot of brainstorming with the whole family, usually in late October. Almost always I then declare the final idea and that’s that.

The next thing is a very rough sketch of the layout, usually just pencil and paper.  Then we buy props and start the photography.

Back To The Past

Originally, I was only going to have the HG Wells time machine from the 1960 Rod Taylor film. Ultimately it seemed more fun for us to have arrived in different vehicles, so we added the TARDIS and the Back To The Future DeLorean.  I used a PhotoShop Perspective Warp on the TARDIS to get it to sit properly.   And we added a wreath for festiveness.

Time Machines Detail

What’s odd about this year’s card is we had actually had them printed BEFORE the big hullabaloo about Back To The Future. They came back from the printers on 20 October 2015, the day before the date in BTTF 2! We watched all three movies that week and I was a bit surprised to see the bit where Doc Brown proposes 25/12/00 as a date you might visit. No doubt I had remembered this from an earlier viewing.

Back To OUR Past

So, here we are as time travelling holidayers. As well as visiting the birth of Christ I liked the idea of re-using pictures from our previous cards, which is of itself a bit of time travel. So I used alternate shots from the 2009 “The Three Magi” card and the 2011 “While Shepherds Washed Their Socks” card. I have kept all the pictures from all the cards over the years. Often there are literally hundreds of photographs taken so I have lots of choices. I light and shoot the pictures just as if I was doing a “proper” photo-shoot and they are all unnecessarily high resolution images.   A couple of times I have had prints made of the cards at A0 size.  That’s a BIG poster.

The shoots are  less stressful than when the kids were very small, but it is still somewhat of a big production, often done over two days.

Here’s that Nativity scene close up.

nativity detail


Hitler and Butterflies

I also threw in a couple of time travel memes: Seren is stepping on a butterfly in a nod towards Ray Bradbury’s “A Sound Of Thunder”. It’s a well-established time travel trope but you might have missed it. I read the (very short) book just to be safe:


Seren Detail


And that’s why Hitler is there. If you are travelling back in time, there is a “To-Do” list:

  1. Kill Hitler
  2. Witness birth of Christ
  3. Visit Dinosaurs, but don’t step on any butterflies
  4. Check out the start/end of the Universe

and so on.

I worried a bit about having an actually dead Hitler in the picture. Even with a baddie, a cadaver is a bit dark on a Christmas Card. So we have *kidnapped* Hitler, which is why he looks so cross. The body is mine with a re-coloured Hitler head to match it up.


Hitler One Detail

 Hitler Detail

Time Suits

We put a bit of thought into what we might wear.   NASA-style jumpsuits sounded right.  I had actually bought Bryn a NASA suit about five years ago on a visit to the Smithsonian Air and Space museum in Washington DC – I was more excited about it than he ever was.  It wouldn’t fit him nowadays, but it did fit the girls and the dog.   We bought a similar adult-sized one on eBay for the bigger people.  I re-coloured them in post-production to better differentiate us.  I removed the US flags and replaced them with Welsh ones.  I also changed the patches to an embossed name badge and a “Time” logo in the NASA font.







Autograph hunter

Cags does a nice job exuding excitement, hoping to get one of the all-time-hardest-to-get autographs.  Re-coloured, re-badged and with the book title added in post.

Cags Detail


Dog in a Time Suit

YES, we really did put Edd in a suit.  Look how calm he is – he’s such a good dog.  I had to flip him in post for compositional reasons.  I also added a front leg so he didn’t look like an amputee.

Edd original Edd Detail

Me and Mrs Jones

Finally here’s us.  A nice joke about not paying attention to what’s going on because you are always looking at the world through a lens.   Don’t do that.

Ash and Sal Detail

Happy Christmas!




The Priscillas

The Priscillas I

To my eternal shame, when I first saw Jen, I didn’t know she was the singer in a band. She always *looked* like a singer in a band and I wanted to photograph her just because she looked so cool.

I have taken pictures of The Priscillas at a couple of gigs, but this is the first time we’ve done the photoshoot thing. I always say that my favourite thing is taking bendy-perspectived pictures of Girls Who Play Guitar, so this was a blast.

From a technical perspective, these shots are my first using a cheapo fresnel flash adaptor to give the hard shadows. These pictures were both taken with my now tatty Canon 5D Mark III and the still shiny Canon EF 11-24 F/4L. Tidy.

The Priscillas II

The Cesarians: Control

Still from Control 1

Still 1 from Control “Christ was led astray!”

I only saw The Cesarians for the first time at the end of May 2015. They were playing with two bands I love and with whom I have been lucky enough to do some stuff – Knifeworld and Barringtone. So there was a good probability that I was going to enjoy them.

I was hugely impressed and I think their Wrong-Rock/Odd-Pop worked really well in that company. Like most of the bands I enjoy, they seemed way too beautiful, massive and impressive for the intimate world in which I got to experience them.

Still from Control 2

Still 2 from Control – Wagnerian robot violins

I took some pictures on the evening:

Anyhoo a couple of weeks later we met up to discuss videos. The track “Control” is probably the most commercial track from the excellent “Pure White Speed” and a good choice for a single.

The song seemed to me to need smoke and slow motion. I also like to try to offer a nod to a band’s existing visual identity and I really liked the photo montage they had created by Tom Sergeant. So that was two things I fancied doing.

Still from Control 3

Still 3 from Control – homage to Tom’s montage

Slow Motion

I needed to think about how I was going to pull off the slow motion. I am a Canon user through and through. I love their lenses, but Canon have been criticised in recent years for falling behind in camera innovation. To do slow motion you need high frame rates and none of my Canon cameras will do full HD video at high frame rates. Even iPhones can do somewhat ropy 10x slow motion at 720P so how hard can it be?

I looked into hiring a Sony FS700, which would let me use my Canon lenses with an appropriate adapter but would cost a lot of cash. Fortunately, Sony very recently released two new essentially consumer-grade cameras that can create full 1080P HD video at 250 frames per second, the RX10 II and the RX100 IV. I tried both and decided the cheaper, smaller RX 100 Mark IV would do what I needed. The camera will record thirty minutes of 1080P at 100FPS – which allows the creation of smooth 4x slow motion. It also lets you record two-second 1080P clips at 250FPS, creating 10X slow motion. The camera records for two seconds and then takes 20 seconds to write the video to the SD card. So the camera is busy for that 20 seconds while that happens. The card needs to be at least 64G SDXC for the 250FPS stuff. Like the FS700, you can trigger the recording of the clip AFTER the moment has passed. This takes a little getting used to, but works really well. The camera is placed in a Standby mode. You point it at the action, and once the moment has happened, hit the record button and the previous two seconds of action is processed into a 20 second slow motion clip on screen. You can cancel at any time and the clip will still be rendered and saved up to the point where you hit Cancel.

To make a worthwhile effect with slow motion, you need to run at at least double speed. This meant that for the main lip-synced performance, Charlie and Justine would have to sing along with the track at double speed. This is harder than it sounds. They both spent time practising with the speeded-up version before the shoot which really helped.

Jonathan Ecky helped out on this shoot.  Jonathan and I talked about how slow motion allows us to see emotion play out in a microscopic way.  I asked the ladies to give me a tiny facial moment during the two seconds that acrid smoke filled the space in which we were filming.  I asked them to “look into the face of God” but only a little bit.


We used a smoke machine for most of the shoot, but I also brought along some smoke grenades. I got mine from Wolf Armouries, an Airsoft shop near Kings Cross. Smoke grenades provide a LOT of smoke in a short time which was ideal for what I needed. Note that coloured smoke grenades can stain and the grenades throw off a few sparks. But they’re safe to hold with gloves and aren’t terribly noxious. We all survived more or less intact.

Still 4 from Control

Still 4 from Control – a very smoky, sparkly and resilient Justine.


Here’s the full two seconds of Justine rendered at 10x slow motion:


Über Ultra Wide Angles

I’m a sucker for distorted perspectives.  Previous videos have featured other Ultra Wide Angle lenses, but this is the first outing for my brand new Canon EF 11-24 F/4.0L.  An eye wateringly expensive lens but the widest rectilinear full-frame UWA lens available to mortal Canon shooters.  Only 1mm wider than my next widest lens, but the optical quality is fantastic.  I love the combination of ring lights and UWA lenses.  Yes – I do this a lot.  Yes – I’m going to keep doing it.

Still 5 from Control

Still 5 from Control – Textbook Chaos Engineering

The Cesarians’ album “Pure White Speed” is now out.  Buy it.

Here’s the video.

Ash x

William D Drake: Distant Buzzing

William D Drake and Affectionate Friends

William D Drake and Affectionate Friends

Friday, 13 December 2013

An awesome Friday the thirteenth.  William D Drake was playing his second “Christmas Do” at Schott’s Music Store near Oxford Circus.  I took some pictures:

At the end of the show, we got talking and discussion moved onto possibly making a video for a song from the forthcoming album.  Bill asked if I would like to come to the studio to listen to the inchoate album to see which song might make a good video.   “Hmmm.  I’ll see what I can do.”    Not really – I was cock-a-hoop.    Silly question really, isn’t it?

Monday, 30 December 2013

I bloody love Christmas.  But this was the best day of the holidays.  I spent a few hours listening to the incomplete recordings of what would become Revere Reach in the studio with Bill and Ben Davis.  Bill was keen on Distant Buzzing (which didn’t have any drums at this time).  I told Bill he needed to make The Blind Boy longer because it deserved to go on for a lot longer.  He never did.

Over the next few months I saw Bill at several gigs.

Sunday, 27 April 2014

In April 2014, we filmed Bill’s band playing some songs, including tracks from the album in a not-very-secret location.    This was a very special day.

Tuesday, 17 February 2015

In February 2015, Bill brought a copy of the completed album to my house on CDR.  I sometimes have to pinch myself when this sort of thing happens.  My wife thought that The Blind Boy was a bit on the short side.  Distant Buzzing sounded fantastic in its completed form.

Bill came to my house

Bill came to my house

The nature of the song made me want to do something jittery, “excitable” and exaggerated.  I had recently bought a big bright ring light, that combined with a full-frame fisheye lens gave a nicely stylised look.  I also wanted to fiddle with time so made a version of the song at 150% the original length, allowing me to speed the performance up to give it the panicky nervous energy I wanted.

Thursday, 26 February 2015

I made a little demo.  I usually do this to make sure I am on the right track.  While I was recording the demo, my beautiful boxer, Edd, stumbled into the shot.  Looking at the footage, I decided that the bit where Edd interrupted was my favourite bit.  You can see the genesis of the look of the video in the demo:

We set a filming date of Saturday 18 April.  I asked my friend Jon Brain to assist with the video.  Jon had been tremendously helpful at the “Live in the Studio” shoot.  He’s clever, funny and creative and has an excellent eye for detail.

Here’s a bit from an email I sent everyone on March 26 – I love looking back at these things and seeing how they compare to the eventual product:
I will get close-ups of each of you*,but the key element will be a number of intercut performances, using the same (single) fisheye perspective as the demo with the band framed behind Bill.
One of the performances will have interruptions (a bit like how my dog, Edd, interrupts me here).  These will include Dandy the dog and Richard’s Sarah providing Bill with a cup of tea in “glamorous assistant” mode.  May also include Jamie Kelsey-Fry doing a bit of schtick and/or James Stevens reprising the consultant in shouty mode.  These bits would all be brief interstitials while the “real” performances were continuing.

*I bloody never.

Bill and I had an unscheduled photo shoot two weeks before the video shoot date when I had a model cancel at the last minute.  It was great to spend some time together to talk about the video and to get better acquainted.  Some of the pictures are in this album:

Wednesday, 15 April 2015

I met Bill for a coffee.  With just a few days to go, I asked him how he would feel about reprising his role as “William D. Drake, Cardiac c.1985”.  We had already agreed that James “The Consultant” Stevens would be up for being in the video and it seemed too good an opportunity to miss.  Anyone who knows me, knows that my love for Cardiacs is profound and abiding.  I love everything Tim Smith has ever done; his video work is every bit as inspiring as his music.  Astonishing really.  I watched the Seaside Treats video the night before we met and thought “Wouldn’t it be AMAZING….”  Every time I see Seaside Treats I feel like I am watching a masterclass in music video.

Anyway, I was delighted that Bill was up for it.

“Will you shave your beard off?”  – “No problem”

“Can you remember how to do the make-up?”  (adopts theatrical pose) “I could do it blindfolded, Dahling!”

Saturday, 18 April 2015

We shot the video at Brixton Hill Studios.  The energy in the room was excellent and everyone was up for it.    Lighting the room was tricky.  The Jinbei EF100 LED heads I use provided most of the illumination.  Jon Brain came up with the idea of putting an LED panel behind Bill to light the back of the room.  The only camera was the Canon 5D Mark III with the now-discontinued Canon EF 15mm f/2.8 Fisheye lens.

Serendipity (Doo-Dah)

Much of what we did was as planned.  What wasn’t planned was Jamie Kelsey Fry’s bit.  Here’s how it went:

  1. I have had a bit of experience of artists not knowing their own songs. So I printed the lyrics out in A3.  Just. In. Case.  It’s not all bloody glamour you know.
  2. James had brought the cardboard horsehead with him. People who attended the Alphabet Business Convention will have seen this in the flesh.  He’d made it for a family thing.
  3. Jamie had brought his excellent striped jacket and a reindeer onesie. Wha’?

So, in the space of literally ten minutes we put Anita into the onesie and horsehead to play the part of Donkey.  I directed Jamie to behave as the frustrated lyricist trying to get a performance out of Bill.  We ran through it three times and these bits are all chopped up to give the finished bit.  I love it when – in the midst of something quite tightly planned – something appears out of the ether.

There were loads of excellent suggestions by the band during the day.  Stuffy suggested swapping instruments with Jon and it was done in a heartbeat.  I loved James’s hiding behind the keyboard.  The ladies all look beautiful despite the wonky fisheye distortions.  Richard’s guitar heroics were delivered without pause.  Sarah performed her role of glamorous assistant with total ease.  And Dandy just couldn’t have been more perfect.  Richard and Sarah had picked her outfit and it just couldn’t be better.  I love the bit when Bill is playing the trombone and Dandy is looking at him.

The last bit we did was the “The Consultant vs. Cardiac Bill” bit.  We had to do this last because Bill needed to shave his beard off and put greasepaint on.  James Stevens was an absolute star and delivered the goods, Consultant-wise.  I asked him to rough Bill up a bit, but he came up with the punch and all of the excellent shtick.  There are nods to Seaside Treats and the Tarred and Feathered and Too Many Irons videos.  I remain in awe of all those videos.  Oh and  Susannah’s Still Alive.  I know it’s a bit cheeky and of course I had misgivings about doing something so overtly referential.  But I hope everyone enjoys it as the playful homage that it is intended to be.

Sunday, 19 April 2015

I stayed up until about 1am on the Saturday night and completed 95% of the edit.  The footage was so good that it really took no effort.  Richard knows me well and that I tend to work somewhat obsessively.  So on Sunday night, he texted me with the message “Come on Ash. Poldark’s finished.  Where’s the video?”   I was almost embarrassed to confirm that it was pretty much done.  It was more or less what you see now.

Wednesday, 29 April 2015

I met up with Bill and asked him if he thought it would be possible for us to get the video shown at the Alphabet Business Convention.   I knew it was a long shot as there was so little time to get it organised.  I loved the idea that people would see it for the first time in that context.  And of course, this was the perfect audience for this particular video.  And that they wouldn’t be able to rewind it and watch it again – to make it like an old school “Event TV” thing.  You either saw it then or you didn’t.

Saturday, 2 May 2015

The video was shown at the Convention at 5:15, before the first band came on.  It was absolutely wonderful seeing it on the big screen and hearing it at gig volume.  I loved sharing it with the people standing around me but I would have been happy to see and hear it like that on my own.  I was hugely impressed that the organisers got it together with so little notice and it was a really magical moment for me.

Here’s some stills from the day of the video shoot.

Oh yeah – here’s the video:


Distant Buzzing is from Revere Reach on Onomatopoeia Records.    You can order it here.




Home Of Fadeless Splendour

2 May 2015 brought us The Alphabet Business Convention.  This is a show celebrating the work of the genius that is Tim Smith.  I don’t use the word lightly – I love Tim’s music above all others and his work as a video director is also astonishing.    Tim suffered a series of debilitating strokes in 2008.  It’s fantastic that he was able to attend the event, which he clearly found hugely affecting.  We all did.

Anyway, I took my cameras along.

I have a few internal rules about photographing bands.  I really like to get some pictures with every band member visible.  I always think “How would I feel if there was a picture of my band and you couldn’t see me in it?”  – I think drummers get a particularly raw deal, often sitting in the gloom at the back of the stage, or  lost behind the singer.

I also like to capture some drama and excitement in the pictures.  That’s the motivation behind my use of ultra-wide angle and fish-eye lenses.

Here’s the pictures on Flickr – I’d recommend watching them as a slideshow:

Home Of Fadeless Splendour!

It was a wonderful event and there were some wonderful people there.

Until the next time!

Ash xx

The Phantom Sound: Get To Me


In November 2014, I was introduced to Marisa Schlussel by Lolo, the keyboard player from Joanne Joanne. Marisa was – and remains – hard at work crafting her debut album under the moniker of The Phantom Sound. She was looking for someone to direct a video for one of the tracks.  Merisa is from California but landed in North London via Berlin – she has a fantastic work ethic and positivity.

We met up and discussed ideas. We are lucky that we live quite close to each other – a boon in this “digital first” world. Never underestimate the value of the face-to-face. These meetings where we thrash out ideas are one of my favourite parts of the whole video-making process. I also really like to make sure the artist sits down with me at least once during the edit process to make sure we are all on the same page. Electronic exchanges are a great surrogate but no replacement for time spent together in a room.

One of my internal rules is that a video should always include the artist themselves, ideally in a performance context. I think this is critical to connecting with the song and all of my favourite videos include the artist to some degree. Your mileage may vary.

I asked my friend and occasional collaborator Mike Woodman to help me on the project. Mike is great with narrative and always a joy to work with. We met up a couple of times to develop the ideas. Mike was also essential to the actual filming, capturing some of the more dynamic shots in the video.

Merissa found our leading man, Matt Hookings, via another director, Martin Gooch. Matt is a great guy; very talented and incredibly easy to work with. Matt was also able to suggest some actresses for the female role. I picked Jamey May from this excellent shortlist. Jamey projected the sort of versatility and intelligence that we wanted, as well as being very attractive.

We filmed the video over two days in North London. All the interiors were filmed in my house, with my wife being an incredibly accommodating hostess and caterer. Mike and I were both manning cameras and we were assisted by Alex Robertson.  It was a chilly time of year and it took some doing, but we were all pleased with what the actors delivered.

The first draft included a lot of footage of Marisa singing in the same locations as the actors. I had hoped this would provide a cohesion to the video, but ultimately that footage was a bit too prosaic. It lacked any va-va-voom. Marisa and I bounced around a few things and quickly shot the high-key performance inserts that have plenty of that. This allowed us to re-cut the video keeping the best of the narrative video elements and adding a bit of visual excitement and stylistic contrast. Marisa was a great sport about doing the performance shots which had a totally new tone to the previous stuff we had shot. It’s great that we spent enough time before the video developing an understanding and trust so that we could shoot something that different.

Macro Shots

When I was showing Marisa some of Mike’s work, we watched Mike’s short film, Get Well Soon. It’s a harrowing short that has great sound design and cinematography among its many strengths. The DoP, Rory Moles, did some fantastic macro work and Marisa loved it. To achieve a similar look, I used the Canon EF 100mm F2.8 L IS USM Macro lens. This got me *quite* close but not close enough. So I used the Magic Lantern “Video Crop” hack on the 650D. This is an amazing thing that effectively triples the focal length of the lens; the 650D already applies a 1.6X increase, so the lens effectively became a 480mm macro lens. This is explained very nicely here:


I bought two new lights for this video and both worked out great.

The NanGuang CN-R640 LED Ring Light – you will see this branded in different ways like a lot of cheap Chinese kit. I had wanted one of these for a while, but they proved elusive for a few months. It’s a great light – it weighs little and is very bright and cool. I did some (disappointingly empirical) research on how to power this outdoors – on a budget. That’s why I am sharing the info here – you won’t find it elsewhere. this is not as trivial as you might think. There are lots of cheap-ish batteries that will run at the necessary 12V but many are limited to a 2A output. The R640 runs at 36W so needs at least 3A. The only one I could find is the excellent 20,000mAh Anker ASTRO Pro2. This puts out 4A on the 12V line. I did the math(s) and the battery performed exactly as I hoped. It is actually rated at 74Wh (seems a bit arbitrary) and ran for just a shade over two hours on a single charge. Neither the battery nor the light got watm and the combination performed beautifully. It’s not quite as bright on the battery but the included PSU is 15V. You might be able to do better, but it will cost you either in weight or money.

The other new light I bought was the Travor MTL-900 II. This was a bit of a punt. I have tried the Westcott IceLight and I liked it well enough, but it is crazily overpriced for an LED light. The MTL-900 is a close copy of the IceLight’s form factor and functionality. But it costs less than a third of the price.  Unlike the IceLight, it uses standard Sony F550 batteries. The IceLight requires a dedicated power unit that costs more than the MTL-900 on its own. The MTL-900 acts as a recharger for the F550s when plugged into the mains. The build quality is excellent, the light it gives is VERY bright and stable and the battery life is also very good. I have ordered a second.

Here it is:

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