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The Phantom Sound: Get To Me

Merisa

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.

Techbits
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: http://youtu.be/dQ51rE_ZUgo?t=2m34s

Lights

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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