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.
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: http://youtu.be/dQ51rE_ZUgo?t=2m34s
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:
I love the first – and tragically only – Clor album.
After Clor, Barry Dobbin formed Barringtone with Connan Cooledge and Boomer Opperman. Live they are very much a twitchy, convulsive and muscular avant-rock outfit. I’ve seen them three times and they get better each time – I love the way they resolve some of that fiddly trickiness with proper power chords. They’ve had a few setbacks which have deprived us of recorded output. However, they now have a new single out – the double A side Feverhead/Foxes & Brimstone (out on Nick Bourne’s Onomatopoeia label. Nick also releases some of William D Drake’s beautiful music). On record they are much more Clor-y than live: a poppier vibe with multi-part vocals, synth extemporisations and electronic percussives. It’s a tighter synth-bass driven sound supporting the guitar lines. I would solidly recommend both versions of Barringtone – they tick a lot of boxes for me.
Having photographed them live a few times, I offered to do a studio shoot.
You can see some of the pictures here:
Buy the record from norman
Thought it was about time I made a collection of my best and favourite pictures. I should probably do one of the live pictures too, but this is specifically those pictures where someone has, with malice aforethought, actively engaged with me to take them. I hope to do lots more of this sort of thing and will hopefully add some new ones to this collection very soon.
Christ, this is a boring post. Luckily the pictures are süper-awesome-fantastico!
This is the latest video from Mikey Georgeson & The Civilised Scene.
We met up several months ago to discuss the next video. Mikey and I both have young sons and we had both seen the children’s book “Man on the Moon (a day in the life of Bob)” by Simon Bartram. What we liked about it – apart from its glorious artwork and story of an astronaut who can’t see the aliens was the mix of space exploration and the everyday business of keeping the moon spick and span.
The back story to the track is worth reading and is described nicely in the press release: “A couple of years ago Mikey spent a few hours on a spinal board wondering if he was paralysed after the police chased a transit van into his car. It turned out that the van was stuffed with two tons of gold royal wedding coins, many of which glinted on the wet tarmac that fateful night. Bringing rocks back from the Moon then is a song about a certain vision of the absurd and the quirks of fate offered up by that night’s dramatic events.”
Mac (from pop-Z, the record label) and I spent an awfully long time trying to sort out the essential spacesuit for this video. In the end Mikey found the helmet – which is a US Navy High Altitude helmet and my lovely wife Sally crafted the space suit from our big box of space suit parts and sundry fancy dress things. She did a fantastic job and the suit really makes the video.
The video was shot in two days. All the green screen, space ship interior and exterior shots were done in one day, where I was once again assisted by the lovely Sue. The interior shots were done a week later.
I originally thought I was going to have to composite the interior of the space craft in post production. Practical stuff always looks more plausible and it’s so much better if you can do these things in the room. While I was experimenting with lighting I decided to put an ENORMOUS silver umbrella behind Mikey and illuminate it with a big LED panel. This gives a nice blown-out sci-fi background, which along with some big CRT monitors they had in the studio, does the trick. There was lots of shaking the set and flashing lights to give the shot some energy. Mikey was a very good sport about all this.
That’s them on the telly
The scene of the chaps from the band watching Mikey on the telly was done by creating a special 4:3 ratio version of the video with some After Effects processing to make it look like crappy 60s moon landing footage. I synched it to the track along with some footage of the song actually being played live (from the Live At The Ivy house video that we shot in July). This seemed like a great way of getting some live performance into the video. It also meant I could get the whole band in the video despite patchy availability for the shoot.
I then created a DVD of the whole thing and played it back through my old portable telly. So the guys are really watching the footage you see on screen, which is a mix of two performances that is all in time with the track. Except the bit at 3:00 which I composited in later. I don’t think you can really tell the difference, which makes me feel like I wasted a lot of time doing all that clever stuff to get it really showing on the telly. Hey ho.
I spent a bit of time thinking about how light works on the moon and as well as green screen, some of the footage was just shot against a black background with a single very bright light with a snoot. This creates the very high contrast deep shadows you would get on the moon. I think the effect, combined with some fake anamorphic lens flare, is really good.
Moonwide on the widest screen
I decided very late in the process that I wanted to produce the video in the cinematic 2.35:1 aspect ratio to make it look more Hollywood. It took about an hour to re-compose the whole thing and I really like the effect.
Anyway: You can buy the song here http://mikeygeorgeson.bandcamp.com/album/rocks-back-from-the-moon
Here’s the video:
I have wanted to create this image for a long time.
When Laura contacted me I thought she might well be the gal for the job. I have to say she dramatically exceeded all my expectations; Laura is ridiculously sexy but she also brought a ton of intelligence, humour and playfulness to the shoot. She also has a far greater knowledge of poker than me.
I had booked four hours for the shoot, forgetting Hofstadters Law: “It always takes longer than you expect, even when you take into account Hofstadter’s Law.” I often feel like I’m in an anxiety nightmare during the first half of photo shoots: time is screaming by and nothing much seems to be happening. “Why am I in my pyjamas?”
It’s been a long time since I created one of these specifically-planned, heavily composited images. Actually the closest thing I have done in recent times will have been my Christmas cards. (I’ll put a link up at Christmas for you.)
My excellent bionic friend Sue came along to assist. Sue is always an asset and I hope we’ll do lots more shoots together. I feel a little bit about The Chaos Engineers brand like Mark E Smith does about The Fall. “If it’s me and your granny on bongos, it’s The Fall”. Well, if it’s me and your bionic Mum assisting, it’s The Chaos Engineers. So Sue’s a Chaos Engineer whether she bloody likes it or not.
Much time was spent on lighting and set dressing while Laura made herself into a beautiful nun. Unusually for me, I shot this tethered, meaning the camera was on a tripod and I triggered and monitored the images from my laptop rather than using the camera’s viewfinder. We took about 450 pictures to get the one image – there are a couple of variants but this is one of those things where it’s all about the one definitive image.
I think we nailed it, but I must, shall and will shoot with Laura again to get some more images of this amazing young woman.
Click on it to see it full resolution.
This was shot with my ever more combat-worn Canon 5D Mark III and the fantastic EF 85 F/1.2L II
Knifeworld have been signed to Inside Out which means the new album “The Unravelling” should get a bit more exposure.
I’m not a record reviewer, but it is an eclectic, coherent coming-of-age of a record. It’s pop music for people who like surprises.
The sleeve and enclosed booklet are very beautiful, created by Steve Mitchell of 57 Design. I am really pleased with the individual portraits of the eight band members – dammit I’m proud of them (there, I said it).
We took them in Chloe’s back garden on an evening in April. It took me 80 minutes to drive the eight miles from my house. Kavus always makes me feel better about the world so my incandescent traffic rage quickly evaporated.
I literally cannot wait to see the vinyl version. You should buy it – you get the CD included! This is not the picture off the album, but is being used for promo stuff. It’s my favourite from the set.
This picture was taken with my Canon 6D (NOT the 5DIII!) and my trusty, discontinued EF 15mm F/2.8 Fisheye
(most of my stuff that people think is fisheye isn’t. This one is. )
Destroy The World We Love video
Kavus and I thrashed out the idea for the video in the usual way. We filmed the band on green screen in a studio in Shepherds Bush. We had more time than normal – I tend to work worryingly quickly – and we were able to iron out details over a few weeks. It was a great experience all round and I’m really pleased with the results.
The main device in the video is an animated version of Steve’s sleeve design. He kindly let me have the original Photoshop file so I could animate the individual layers. I did more of this video in After Effects CC than most of my work but it is still mostly Premiere CC. My PC is a few years old, but has 32G of RAM and it did a handsome job. Don’t believe the Apple hype, I say (but I am poor and clever so not really in the Apple demographic). I rendered this video to proper HD TV standards – it would be shame if it only ever gets seen on YouTube – so do let me know if you are off the telly and want a copy. 🙂
Enjoy it here:
So, nearly a year and a half since the last one, I was filming Joanne Joanne at KoKo (that’s “The Camden Palace” to the elderly). This was the Saturday Night “Guilty Pleasures” evening – which seems to be quite a hoot.
Koko is the biggest venue that I have filmed at and this meant I needed some changes.
Firstly, and most importantly, I was aided by Will Brooker. Will filmed from the photographer’s pit (Eee – Luxury!). He was using his own Nikon 7000 with a 50mm lens. He did a great job of “staying on the money” to deliver the close-ups of singer Jo and some really nice crowd shots. This made a huge difference to the final result. Kudos to Will.
Sound came straight from the desk – most of what you hear is the stereo desk pair into the Zoom H4N. In a bigger venue the desk sound is far more usable without further adulteration for the simple reason that the on-stage sound becomes less significant as the front-of-house volume gets louder. So what you hear is what you get.
For this shoot – apart from Will – I had more cameras than the previous JJ shoot. They were:
2. Stage Right: Canon 60D with 24-70. This camera has the Magic Lantern firmware which means it keeps recording past (for this camera) its single 4Gb (or about just 12 minutes) file limit (unlike the later cameras, it does *not* record additional files once that 4G is reached). I couldn’t use this camera without ML.
3. Stage Left: Canon 650D with EF 24-105 F/4L IS USM. Since this show I have also put the ML firmware on this camera.
4. On Mel (Drums): The GoPro Hero 3+ Black Edition. GoPro replaced my original camera recently – they provided excellent service. I had a very early one – I bought it the day it came out – and it seemed to suffer from soft focus. This new one performed beautifully. If there is ANY light, GoPros are awesome. In very low light they’re pretty horrible.
5. On top of Charley’s (guitarist) amp, pointing at the crowd: GoPro Hero 3 Black Edition. The original v3 is very nearly as good as the 3+. With both GoPro’s I power them from a USB power supply. That means I have no concerns letting them run all night, even with their power-hungry WiFi running. They’re fantastic things.
6. From the sound desk, the Canon 6D with the (much maligned, but I think excellent) Canon EF 50 F/1.4 lens providing a wide shot of the whole band. I needed more tripods than I had and ended up putting the 6D on a Gorillapod. I wish I had had a bean bag or similar to soak up the (excellent) thumping kick drum, because the 6D got shaken about a bit and the footage was not that usable. I consider this wide shot a safety thing anyway and try not to use it any more than necessary. But it’s always great to have a wide shot to fall back on if you miss a close up on something.
7. Also from the sound desk, the Canon 5D Mark III with the EF 70-200 F/2.8L IS II USM providing the shot on Jo and Mel. Seems weird using the 70-200 as a relatively wide shot. I would have left it tighter on Jo if I could have.
8. Finally – my handheld camera was the 5D Mark II with the EF 300 F4.0L IS with an EF Extender 1.4x II taking it up to 420mm F/5.6 – on a Manfrotto Carbon Fibre monopod. Luckily there was enough light to run the lens at F/5.6 – that wouldn’t fly in most of the places I shoot (but I wouldn’t need 420mm either). I was weaving between the revellers to get my shots. I tried my best to look “get-out-of-my-way” impressive without being rude. I was mostly ignored.
So this was another insane plate-spinning exercise. That’s a lot of cameras to keep an eye on. I learnt, from this shoot:
A. At loud gigs you need to consider isolating cameras from the bass
B. ALWAYS put new Alkali batteries in your sound recorder. Even if you think the ones in there are brand bloody new
C. Put Magic Lantern on any unattended DSLR
D. Get more people actually holding cameras
E And I can’t stress this enough: If you are handling black cameras in a black area in the dark, take a head torch. I was operating in braille.
F On a related note – if you can – use a single model of DSLR. Why Canon keep moving the controls about is any guess but it’s a lot of fun trying to remember in the dark under pressure.
Anyway – I think the results are smashing:
Arch Garrison is the almost-solo project of North Sea Radio Orchestra’s Craig Fortnam, with James Larcombe. I did some photos for the new album sleeve last year and we talked about creating a video for one of the songs.
The album “I Will Be A Pilgrim” focuses on Craig’s connection with his surroundings. When I saw the lyrics I asked Craig if we could include some pylons in the shoot. He said “the birdsong and keyboards are a sort of sonic equivalent of open fields with pylons” and I think that the outro serves as an excellent sonic summary of the album’s intent.
When I saw the location that Craig had found I knew I wanted to make the opening instrumental 30 seconds a long dolly shot. I describe in excruciating detail the post-production I employed on this shot here . I am very pleased with this bit.
I used a trick I have used before for the pylon shots. I put a GoPro Hero 3+ Black Edition on the end of a carbon fibre monopod and swung it around to get those vertiginous sweeps. I must have looked like a 1970’s Public Information Film waving a big stick around beneath a pylon.
Another shot I really like is the horizon shot at 3:32 – it’s surprisingly rare to find a clear line of sight to pull off this sort of shot and Craig had to yomp a fair way for me to film this bit. At the end of a long day he didn’t have to act much to produce that “up against the elements” gait.
I think it’s a great track and a cracking album and I am really pleased with the look of this video. You can order the album here
I have been a fan of Stars In Battledress since I first saw them supporting Cardiacs in 1999. Tim Smith was and is a big fan of this unique duo; they are brothers Richard and James Larcombe. Elder brother Richard sings and plays intricate phrases on his crystalline ES-335 while James provides the keyboard and piano parts that intertwine and mesh with the guitar parts in a way that defines their unique sound. Like a few of of the bands I follow I find it hard to believe that Stars In Battledress don’t have a global underground following.
I was very excited to have the chance to work on a project with Stars In Battledress, not least because it meant I would hear the new album before most people. I have loved their first album since it was released in 2003 and the second album has been anticipated by “the people who know about these things” for a long time.
This video was very much the brainchild of Richard and he found the location and story-boarded the whole thing. Collaboration is a funny old business and it always works best when you are working with people with complementary skills. Richard has a strong performance background and my role was more cinematographer than director.
One of the things I wanted to try for this video was to run at a fast shutter speed to give a panicked frenetic look to the section starting at 4:19. Normally you set a shutter speed of 1/50 of a second for 25 frames per second video. You an find lots of resources on this online that explain how this emulates the way the shutter works on a film camera. By using a faster shutter – this is at 1/200s – you lose the smooth motion blur and gain a slightly hyper-real nervous sort of a look. It’s been used in lots of famous action sequences and I wanted to add some energy to this section of the video. It’s a risky strategy because you make the decision before you start filming – it is not a post production choice. But I think it really works here.
This is the video I shot for Mikey Georgeson And The Civilised Scene’s single “My Heroine”. Whenever I write something like this I always try to include the sort of information I would want to see – which is largely technical. Don’t hesitate to ask if you have any questions.
Mac, Mikey and I met up a few times to discuss possibilities for the right song and the right idea. At one meeting we had in a Pret á Manger in Holborn, Mikey asked me “What’s the video syntax for envisioning what’s happening inside someone’s mind?” I said, “It’s the Numskulls.” There’s probably a more grown-up artsy fartsy answer that would include the word “homunculi” that I might give on a different day, but it would meant the same.
For those under a thousand years old, here’s the Numskulls:
(I didn’t actually research this further and I’ve just googled that image for this blog. It’s very much how I remember.)
Equally ridiculously, this picture was hanging on the wall in the Pret á Manger so I was able to point and say “er… something like that”.
With this in mind I gave a bit more thought over the following weeks about how it might work.
We shot this over two days. The first day was all green screen. Everyone (apart from Mikey) needed to look like a “kopf-arbeiter” so white boiler suits/bib and braces were employed. Jonny Drums was first in the driving seat and did a brilliant job. Simon Love played my lovely Gretsch White Falcon and was also great – no fuss, no muss.
During the week between the first and second day I was able to start putting the video together and getting a far better idea of how it would look and what else I would need.
Here’s the note I sent mid-week:I want to start with the first 28 seconds (up to the vocal) being Real World Mikey attempting illustrations (which I will present in a montage style) before deciding on the particular head profile image. We will then move through that image to the “band in his head”. I want to return to Real World Mikey for the first round of “Night Fever” lines (2:16), returning to ShowBiz Mikey In His Own Head for the second set (starting 2:32). We will return to Real World Mikey at the VERY end when he indifferently scrunches up the drawing and tosses it over his shoulder. The inside the head will be very high key and stylised and I want the Real World Stuff to be as cinematic and low key as possible.
Mac was fantastic at being the Numskulls, each one representing a different sense. We shot about 60 seconds of each Numskull to get enough for the looped elements. That’s an excellent ratio. I was very pleased with each of the Numskulls which are sped up with the same piece of footage reversed and repeated to give an endless, seamless loop.
Right at the end of the shoot, Mikey popped out to get some tea. He came back with tea and a saxophonist. The sax player in question, Matt, was rehearsing at the studio where we were filming. We had NO time, but Matt was a fantastic sport. He immediately donned the boiler suit and ran through the track with no rehearsal. It was quite astonishing.
Mac also gets the tablecloth credit.
Lighting and Cameras
I shot everyone with two cameras, a Canon EOS 5D Mark III with a Canon EF 35mm f/1.4L USM lens and the Canon EOS 5D Mark II with the always-fabulous-for-video Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM for close-ups. In the end I hardly used the close-ups. I used the CineStyle picture style to create very flat images that I can post process with greater flexibility. I always find it hard to work with a flat picture style because it all looks so crap on the day. But you soon learn that it will be alright in the end.
The room we used on the second day was a bit smaller and I had to use the Canon EF 24mm f/1.4 USM L II for the greenscreen full-length shots. Because of the very wide angle I had to stretch these images in post-production to get them to sit with the previously shot 35mm footage.
The “Real World” section was all shot with a single light, one of my Jinbei EF-100 LED lights in the Lencarta 150cm Profold Folding Octa Softbox. It was shot with as narrow a depth of field as possible, again using the 5DIII and the 70-200 at F/2.8
The “Gimme” section was shot with my widest lens, the always-daft Sigma AF 12-24mm f/4.5-5.6 EX DG HSM. It’s not fish-eye, it’s rectilinear. Innit?
Finally the Ultra-Close-Up shot of Mikey was done using the Canon EF 100mm F2.8 L IS USM Macro lens with an utterly brutal 360-LED ring light I ordered on eBay from some nice people in India. It’s very flattering for this sort of horribly close-up shot – there are no real shadows anywhere and even the mouth is illuminated nicely. But’s it’s awfully bloody bright when you’re close up to it.
This one was done almost exclusively in Premiere CC. After Effects is powerful but I quickly get irritated by its lack of real-time playback. I did have to do some of the greenscreen keying in AE – certainly AE is better for this. As with my last video, this was challenging because of the amount of imperfect greenscreen footage that I needed to sort out. It must be nice working with a proper greenscreen studio but I have developed a lot of strategies for getting stuff to work and I am pleased with this side of things.
During post-production, the main thing that developed beyond the original scope was the sense of increasing chaos in the section of the song from 3:15 to 3:45. This really came to life in the post production and took most of the time.
For the “Gimme” shot, I added moving coloured lights a) because the singing reminded me of a police siren b) It helped bond the Multiple-Mikeys into a single cohesive image.
From the very beginning, I wanted the video to draw on Mikey’s other life as a visual artist. The more we got into the video, the more of Mikey’s graphical work I used.
We wanted a sense of unfolding chaos in the unhinged artist’s head. Mikey provided a rich seam of barmy drawings in the form of his Dawn Drawing blog. First I had to take the over-compressed images from Mikey’s blog:
So here’s one example. As you can see there are lots of nasty JPG artefacts:
I cleaned the images up in PhotoShop. Here’s the tidy version which is cleaner and fatter:
I tried using the Write-On effect in Premiere CC to animate the drawing of the pictures. I was not the first person to discover that this is ARSE-QUAKINGLY slow. I’m not fussy about real-time performance, but this was unusable. So I asked my twelve-year-old son how he would do it. He’s a self-taught Adobe Flash animator. His advice was excellent. I imported the JPGs into Flash and broke the images apart. I then erased elements of the drawings frame by frame, thinking about how they would actually be drawn in reality, creating the whole animation in reverse. I rendered the video as 32-bit MOV files. The 32-bit is important if you need transparency in the video. 8-bits for each colour and 8 bits for the alpha channel. I also re-rendered the complete image as a PNG graphic to retain transparency. I created all the animations in black and used Replace Colour in Premiere to give me options for the colours in that final crazy meltdown section.
It was a real treat working with Mikey, Mac and the guys. I love it when a plan comes together.
Here is is….