Adventures in Music Videos

 

Pixie Lott: Broken Arrow









Apparently Pixie and her mum scoured the planet looking for a director everyone could agree on.  Lucky me: it was the first video I’d done for ages and producer Kwok Yau kicked ass getting it together in zero time.  Thank god Pixie’s so cool - cause there was no room for any kind of diva shit.  It was a hell of a lot of fun to see how much we could physically cram into one day and still keep her looking like a young Bridget Bardot!

Mark Owen: I Believe In The Boogie










Not too long ago no one would touch any solo member of Take That with a barge pole.  I’d done an amazing video for Howard in Cuba a while back which I should have kept the footage to, because we shot in places no one would be allowed to shoot in again, with visuals that were so amazing it was fuckin’ crazy.    Unfortunately a clash between management and the record company made his deal collapse, and a great album never saw the light of day. 

I’ve always had a love-hate relationship with the world of music videos.  I stumbled into it all accidentally after a mate of mine cut some of my short-film imagery to music, and found myself thrust into an unfamiliar, commercially-oriented universe where my abstract sensibilities had to be quickly grounded and reshaped.  I suddenly had to learn how to make people look their best, find within music I wouldn’t have listened to previously, something likeable - and navigate the personal and professional land-mines that whirl around the industry like hornets on a poop-smeared cracker.


I’ve been rewarded with groundedness and quick-thinking, high-standard-achieving creativity, and a vehement professionalism that I might not have had otherwise.  On top of that I’ve had adventures I’d not imagined I’d have in my lifetime, accolades, and sporadic piles of dosh that allowed me to continue to build the other parts of my craft - not to mention great lessons in honor and integrity that have set an absolute standard of how I conduct myself, my business, my art, and my life. 


It’s also given me a lesson in popular perception.  For me, it’s been just plain strange to see other’s people’s perception of me as a Master of Pop, coming as I do from a musical background of everything but that.  I’ve watched myself be viewed as the “go to guy” for single female artists, then boy bands, then girl bands, then older icons who need to look cool, then a troubleshooter for artists no one quite knows what to do with - and all the while standing on the sidelines, bemused, thinking:  “Do they really think that’s who I am?”


To be honest, none of the artists below are artists I would have bought the records of.   But during the process of listening to someone’s music I learn to love what they do, catch a bit of their soul,  and, understanding that perhaps they, too, are not entirely what the world sees or thinks of them, set out to make them and their music the very very best they - and it - can be.   And along the way, I end up loving the music, despite myself.   


As a result of these lessons in judgement and perception, I love what I do in the fickle funny faddish planet of music video that I touch down upon every now and then.   Some of my best experiences and best videos were for artists who through sheer fate somehow missed the big success they were hunting for.  In the Emporer’s New Clothes world of music videos, artistry and success very rarely match, and that’s a shame, but that’s just how it is.


So hats off to all the hero-artists who make great stuff happen, despite what the circumstances are.  And here are just some of the fabulous adventures I’ve had.


click on the play button >

I’d done 4 videos for Take That previously and somehow Mark and I reconnected.  His ideas were bigger than his budget (Mark is always full of ideas) - but I said that if I was going to do the job, it had to be compact and cool, and he trusted I would pull it off - so agreed without knowing much about what we were going for.   I was fixed on my intuition that filming and playing the track at 8 frames a second would look cool.  There was no time or money for tests, so when it came up in telecine and looked as quirky and exciting as I’d hoped, I was pretty fuckin’ pleased.  As in the old days, I edited this myself - part of the creative process I frikkin’ adore!

Darius: Color Blind











So it’s dawn, and we’re on the top of

this incredibly high, flat, stunningly

stark plateau after a treacherous hike in the half-light.  Somewhere beyond, a helicopter is coming for the first sweeping shot of the day. 



We have about 20 minutes and, knowing that when it happens it can’t stop for anything, the two of us - me and Darius - take advantage of our down time and stand as guys do with our backs turned to one other and at a distance - and piss over the edge into the still-darkness. 

We have to laugh, perched at the heights with our flies unzipped and our dicks out for only the birds to see - cause we’re both thinking the same thing, but he says it first:  “This is what life is all about, I’m going to remember this forever.  I’m pissing at the top of the world”. 


Yep.  Pissing over a cliff at the top of the world, doing what you love doing.  The shoot was epic, loads of fun, and of course I’m a sucker for a location and great sweeping helicopter shots, especially around those bold thrusting plateaus in Southern Spain and the seas of wheat moving like waves as the chopper flies over. 


Cranes and choppers and cars and a good looking model set against the stark desert and deep sky and the handsome Darius looking like Elvis just ambling along doing his thing.  Suddenly I’m thinking I’m in a Tony Scott movie or something, or maybe I’m Tony himself, it was kind of alpha-male like that.


It was classic and Levi’s cheesy in just the right way, and I didn’t even piss on my shoes while I was basking in that moment of just how great it is, having an adventure, at times of the day you’d never normally consider getting up at, and not even thinking about how much or how little you’re getting paid to do it.

Puff Johnson: Forever More












Puff Johnson shoulda done better:  rumor at the time was that the Big Diva who was number one at the record company and married to the boss gave instructions to bury her, and that’s exactly what they did. 


I love this song, and the video, which is the director’s cut, the non-racist version.  By that I mean that every time a change from the management and record company was ordered, it read something like:  “could you lose the shot of that guy with the white t-shirt”, or “could you change the shot of the girl by the mirror with one of the basketball players” - each instructive coming at me within a respectful space of hours, but soon there was no model left in the video who was not African-American. 


I hate racism whichever way it flies, and the cultural pigeon-holing that results is stupid and dangerous.  They didn’t question the basketball scene, which, frankly, even I don’t know how the fuck that fits with the song.  Anyhow.  I got to play with an elephant and so did Puff, and apart from huge amounts of fame and money, that’s all that matters.

Catch: Dive In





This is one of my favorite videos and one of the most fun shoots I ever had.  I had a load of very talented friends working with me so it felt exactly as the video looks - like a road trip with bright sparks, all doing what we love doing and having a blast - we just got on that bus starting with the Big Clown at the liquor store on Vineland in the Valley and drove towards Palm Springs and filmed in every place we loved the look of along the way. 



 

As the sun was going down we hit the Dinosaurs (since then a Burger King has fucked up the whole view) and there was a helicopter giving people rides for something like 50 bucks, so the DP said “why don’t I jump on that and take our last shot?”.  He stood on the landing gear, roped himself to the helicopter, and we got everyone to party around the bus one last time.


Trivia:  the geek with the blow-up doll standing in front of the slowly moving bus is musician John Oszajca, who was once engaged to Lisa Marie Presley; and the Hair Stylist was Michael Reitz, nominated 5 times for the Emmy’s for “Alias” and is now one of Hollywood’s top hair dudes, working with Spielberg and Abrams.  It must have been the Tammy Faye “do” that did it.

Hundreds of people turned up for the audition.  The choreographer, Jamie King, would set up the most complicated tryout routines, so if you didn’t pick them up immediately and excel at them, you were out.  So we got the best of the best, and Jamie loved his own routine and the song so much he decided to jump into the mix as well.  I loved the energy and sexy jazz of it all and people who didn’t rate Louise as a talent suddenly stood up and took notice.  We created costumes made from material that reflected light back at a certain angle, so it was all in-camera fun, my favorite thing:  I hate sitting in a dark room in post-production waiting for the paint to dry (but I do, anyway!)

Louise: Naked



 

It’s amazing what a few plastic crates, some lights and a good dance routine can do for a girl.  Louise was no slouch as a dancer either, which was refreshing and bloody lucky, and we took this video to LA because if you want  dancers, you get the cream of the crop, not some lazy-arse dude who took a couple classes in Pineapple. 

Joe Cocker: Have A Little Faith












It was freezing cold and the middle of winter and I had a bunch of actors sinking into ice-cold waters, blasted by wind machines, and still able to deliver this insanely lovely and delicate tender quality.  The pseudo-narrative was based on some obscure Canadian play but I got to run with the themes and imagery, which is when I always get the happiest results.


Joe was only available for about 4 hours so we had to build the narrative around the bare-bones of his presence.  Having witnessed Joe in Oz in the 70’s puke in a bucket behind the drummer as he performed, it was great seeing a sober and very very lovely man. 


The song’s been covered time and time again, and I personally think this is the best version of it, and one of my favorite videos ever that I’ve done.  I can’t separate the song from the film, but I think this really is one of my Class Acts - the perfect interpretation of a song and what it wants to say. 

I suggested that instead of going one way or the other, what we should do is let her become a kind of an Everywoman, someone who could transform herself into whoever she wanted to be.  And that’s how my first of 8 videos with her - “If You Were With Me Now”, the duet with Keith Washington - created the Kylie-as-chameleon she is today. 

In that video she was shades of Marilyn Monroe, a classic modern French heroine, abandoned bride, sobbing starlet and even an evil Lana Turner type.  From then on we changed her look from video to video, and she could be everything she is:  love-able, sexy, playful and camp, all at once.  After that she could be who she bloody well wanted to be,  which is someone who can turn it on like no one else can when the camera is on, which is, essentially, Kylie.


I think it was only about 2 or 3 weeks after filming this video that Take That, who I’d done “Pray” and “Babe” for, saw it and, being too busy on tour to be arsed going through the process of video treatments, said “we want exactly that”.  Being someone who never re-creates the same video I really didn’t feel great about copying myself, especially when it was something I’d only just finished - but a very short time later I found myself taking most of the same cast and crew and even the same props into the same place and shooting “Everything Changes But You”.  Which of course looks exactly the same, except Kylie wears a push-up bra in hers and that makes all the difference. 

Kylie: Give Me Just A Little More Time








I’d done something like 6 videos for Kylie by the time this track track came along.  When I first met her, no one knew quite what to do with her as she’d just done “Better The Devil You Know” and was suddenly all sexy but before that she’d always been this sweet goofy kinda thing and everyone was panicking because while they knew they couldn’t turn her back into Miss Happy Face, they kinda wish they could but she’d kind of backed herself up into this corner. 

The boys were in Acupulco for some TV thing so we joined them there and I scrambled for the next 3 days trying to find locations and formulate exactly what is was I was going to film.  I had some vague idea of how I’d portray the elements abstractly to create a feeling of hope and faith, in a pagan religious, earthy way.  Luckily the guys were open then.  I’ve always found that the best ideas are abstract and impossible to convey in existing images or the written word, so it was lucky that they just went with the flow.


We’d brought a lovely girl from LA to be in the video.  I knew I wanted her to be like an abstract earth goddess, but that was it.  As the days passed and we steeped ourselves in the Mexican vibe, with the additional creative inspiration from my hair, makeup and art department heroes, things just kinda bloomed, which was great, because in actuality Acupulco is a fucking shit-hole, and the surrounding areas for miles and miles were scorched from drought and offered nothing visually.


The evenings were brilliant fun - I had my posse from LA and the guys from the band were smart and enthusiastic and just plain fun as we chowed delicious dinners, sculled Margaritas and had water fights in the warm pool.  Problem was the days left before the shoot were whittling away and we were panicking trying to find any locations that inspired us, although every day on the way to the car, right next to the hotel, we passed a condemned building and every day I wondered what was behind the wooden walls that enclosed it.  Finally on a whim I decided to explore it and could have kicked myself for not listening to my intuition - it was like a set from a movie about an abandoned civilization:  a dilapidated and deliciously ornate, once incredible hotel courtyard.   It was so exciting, seeing that amazing fountain, the banyan tree, the row of columns in the huge empty pool, the structures dripping with creeping vines - and then when we discovered a beautiful beach only 1/2 a mile the other direction from the hotel - well, since then, I always make sure I look right under my own nose before expecting the best locations have to be at the end of a series of arduous journeys.


Luckily we only found out after the shoot that our crumbling hotel location was a breeding ground for huge deadly poisonous scorpions.  I don’t think our model would have allowed herself to have her hair entwined and body fixed into position in that tree, which essentially was one of their nests!


This video changed for all time how people saw Take That as a band, and their audience expanded as a result - showing the power of a good video and also (which record companies too often forget) - the importance of not being afraid to do something original.  But apart from anything I did,  I hand it to the guys:  they’re like 5 Kylies with the enthusiasm, creativity and personality that can jump into the ocean, or hold a mirror to catch the sun, or let sand fall from their hands as if time is falling away - and make it look like it’s the most natural thing in the whole world.   

Take That: Pray








I didn’t even know at that time who Take That were, thank god.  I had been in the States for months and was oblivious to the videos they’d done before, and the personas they were projecting - so all I had to go by was the song, which really raised my spirit up, I was going through a super shit time then.  “Pray” was to be a little slice of

unexpected heaven. 

Celine was interested in acting, so we designed something classic in which she could play a kind of sexy/tragic Film Noire heroine.  It was fun taking a really simple scenario and giving tiny gestures huge atmosphere and meaning.  Let me tell you, that girl can cry on cue.  Take after take.  Celine is incredible.  In the video there was a worry from the record company about what appears to be a masturbation scene - but Celine to her credit saw the footage, understood the context, loved it and insisted it stay in.   She’s not hurting, not being an actress, but with the right role, I think she could be pretty fucking interesting. 

Celine Dion: Je Sais Pas













Celine is not an obvious sex icon, she’s just not designed that way, nor has she ever been sold like that.  But I’d done a video for her for “Only One Road” in which she truly looked for the first time both interesting and beautiful, in a way that no other video afterwards ever captured, and they came back for more with this haunting, lovely song.

Luckily they bought into a more epic and surreal vision of a Doctor Zhivago-like journey, with Mark, the then-sweetheart of the band, looking to reunite with his lost son.  We had to install the film-within-a-film moments at the end because the fans would have ripped the guts out of the heroine for being “his”, that’s how crazy it was at that time.  

Emma Bunton/Tin Tin Out: What I Am











Emma’s a fairy.  She knows she is.  She’s magical and sweet and open, and whether she’s standing in next to nothing in a freezing desert (as in our video for “What Took You So Long”), or standing in next to nothing on a freezing beach (as in our video for “Take My Breath Away”), or up to her neck in murky water in a studio like this video, she’s a trooper and a talent.

People who know me know that I love getting my artists wet, and I’ve managed to do this with Emma in all 3 videos.  Which makes her my ideal client.  Thanks, Emma! 

Take That: Babe










The second excursion with the guys started with a brief that was this irritating council-estate-vibed teenage pregnancy thing and the band, on the rise even more after “Pray” had ideas about what they wanted, but it was all muddled up. 

Bad Boys Inc: Love Here I Come











I have to include this video just for the sheer tale of it, even though the quality is shit (and no, I am not responsible for those cheesy animated flames!) - because it sums up why music videos have been such a fucking great adventure for me, and why I’m still in the ring - that is, if it’s the right adventure. 


I hadn’t seen this video since I’d made it, and when I did, I realized just how bloody good it is, in its genre.   Fun, fast, kicky choreography, a bunch of great looking guys - and a trip to Hawaii I’ll never forget.  Boy, I can still recall the stink of that sugar cane factory we filmed in!


We had two videos to shoot in 3 days on the Big Island of Hawaii, in the middle of what no one told us was the rainy season.  As a result of this news, on the first night we arrived it was suggested to us that have a traditional ceremony to appease the Goddess Pele, whose Island it was to watch over and who got super-pissed off if you stole her lava and stuff like that.


Everyone apart from the band, the management, and the EPK crew were there.  As part of the ceremony we were given an incantation to Pele, should we run into trouble.  It was a cool ceremony, but we didn’t really take it that seriously.  Not really.  Until the next day when we woke to find it PISSING down with rain.  Sheets so thick you couldn’t see through it.  It was over an hour to location and it didn’t stop, nor did it look like it was going to. 


Cameraman Troy Smith and I looked at one another - and started chanting the words we were given - first as a joke, then as an “oh shit, we’re in trouble” kinda thing.  In moments the sky was clear.  It was so dramatic and obvious and definite there was no chance it was just a coincidence.  We shot all day, the light absolutely stunning the whole time, but when I spoke the words:  “It’s a wrap!”, it immediately poured rain and kept raining the rest of the night and all through to the morning.  


Driving through the pelting rain the next day, this time we were all onto it, and as we chanted we could literally see the skies open up to give us another magnificent shooting day - all day long.  But once again when I spoke the words “It’s a wrap” it immediately began to piss down and did not stop.   


This video was shot on the last of the 3 day shoot, and the same thing happened, but this time we were so confident with our inside-track with Pele, we just chanted and expected the best.  By lunchtime however, the clouds were gathering again.  For a moment I found myself worrying, but on reflection we agreed we were liking the slightly muted light:  it suited the shots we wanted to do with the model immediately after lunch.  So we held back from our chant, had lunch and let the clouds linger, filmed the model sequences and when we wanted the sun to come out again simply said the words and the clouds cleared completely again.


This time when I called a Wrap it stayed clear for the rest of the day.  The next day I and my posse left, leaving the management, band, and EPK crew behind , who wanted a few days to film more stuff.


Not being part of the initial ceremony and therefore not having the Goddess Pele’s blessing., for the remaining 5 days they stayed on the Island, it rained, every day and every night until finally they had to ditch the EPK and head back home.


What’s worse is that members of the band took lava from the island back with them.  There’s such bad luck renown for this action  the island actually designates special post office vehicles that each day take packages of returned lava from owners who want to give their “stolen” lava back to Pele! 


A week later, not having returned the lava, the band was mysteriously dumped by the record company, despite two fabulous videos, a great amount of talent, and a huge fan base.


Which leaves me to respect the Gods and Goddesses of this world, wherever I go.


Camilla Kerslake










There ain’t a lot to say about this except it’s damn purty, and sometimes damn purty is just plain fun to do.  Though it seems it’s always at the wrong time of year, so I commend troopers like Camilla here and Emma Bunton for stripping down to next to nothing and pretending it’s summertime and lovely, when in fact they’re  freezing their tits off. 

Dance Montage




Dance videos are another of those Emporer’s New Clothes things.  There’s really no fuckin‘ mystery to directing a dance video, although you’d think there was cause no matter how much great stuff you got on your reel, if you don’t have a dance routine on it, you won’t be in the ring for work that requires one.


But here’s the thing - unless you’re actually a choreographer (who, like photographers, are great at their craft but rarely make good directors), what you do is this:


1.  You hire a great choreographer.


2.  You hire great dancers.


3. You film it.


Pretty fuckin’ easy, right?





 

Although I call this a Dance Montage, it’s really all about movement - and in that zone I don’t need a choreographer, cause I’m pretty fuckin’ amazing at that one.  You’d be surprised how shy some actors and even stars can be, and it takes some know-how to get them to feel comfortable doing stuff in front of the camera, no matter what stage of the game they’re at.   So a lot of times I’m there getting them to mirror my movements as they perform.  And while I might look like an idiot doing it, they got something to pick and up and run with - and most of the time things that look plain crazy or over the top in real life, come out looking amazing on camera. 


And that’s why I get paid the big bucks.