Adventures in Music Videos

 

Pixie Lott: Broken Arrow









Pixie and her mum had scoured the planet looking for a director everyone could agree on.  Lucky me: it was the first video I’d done for ages and the last video I edited myself - something I always love doing, and most of the videos you see here are edited by yours truly.  It’s a part of the creative process

I truly love. 


Mark Owen: I Believe In The Boogie











At the time I did this video no one would touch any solo member of Take That with a barge pole.  I’d previously filmed an amazing video for Howard in Cuba which I should have kept the footage for, because we shot in places no one would be allowed to shoot in again, with visuals that were so amazing it was crazy.  Unfortunately a clash between management and the record company made his deal collapse, and a great album (and video) never saw the light of day. 

For this one I had a hunch that filming and playing the track at 8 frames a second would look cool but there was neither time nor money for tests so I just hoped for the best.  So when it came up in the grade (we shot on film)  and looked as quirky and exciting as I’d hoped, I was pretty frikkin’ pleased. 

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 by standing at a distance from one another - and piss over the edge into the still-darkness.  We have to laugh 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 - a rarity for me - 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 but  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.  It was supposed to be a multi-racial tribute to love, not a strictly African-American fantasy, and the released cut of what you see here lacked the abstract loveliness that made it so appealing.  That’s American music for you.  


But at least I got to play with an elephant and so did Puff, and apart from huge amounts of fame and money, that’s sometimes all that matters.

Catch: Dive In





This is one of my favorite videos and one of the most fun shoots I ever had as I had a load of very talented personal 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 featured in “Pee Wee’s Big Adventure” (since then some burger chain’s fucked up the view from the freeway).   By chance there was a helicopter giving people rides for 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.  I love that spontaneous kinda stuff!


Hundreds of dancers 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.

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 “actor-dancer-model”  who took a couple classes at 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. 


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 I’ve done ever.   But then again, I keep saying that, don’t I!

So I suggested she 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.  From then on we changed her look from video to video, and she could be everything she is:  loveable, sexy, playful and camp, all at once. 


I think it was only about 2 or 3 weeks after filming this video that Take That 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 a “Everything Changes But You. 


Which of course looks exactly the same as this - 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 came along. 

When I first met Kylie no one knew quite

what to do with her anymore as she 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

wished they could but she’d 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 shit-hole, and the surrounding areas for miles and miles were scorched from drought.


Scouring the area for miles every day revealed nothing of visual interest.  Finally on a whim I decided to explore a boarded-up building right next to the hotel we were staying in.  It was like a set from Raiders Of The Lost Ark:  a dilapidated and deliciously ornate, once incredible hotel courtyard.   It was so exciting, seeing that amazing disused fountain, the banyan tree, the row of columns in the huge empty pool, the structures dripping with creeping vines - and that very day we discovered a beautiful beach only 1/2 a mile the other direction from the hotel.  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 and 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, and their audience expanded as a result - showing the power of a good video and 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. 

Celine wanted to act, 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, as we all know, 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.

Hating all of that, I wrote something very, very different and luckily they bought into this much more epic and surreal Doctor Zhivago-esque journey, with Mark, the then-sweetheart of the band, looking to reunite with a fictitious lost son.  The finale featuring the film-within-a-film moment at the end had to be put in because the fans were so crazy at the time they would have ripped the guts out of the heroine for being “his”, not being able to separate fantasy from reality.  And that’s the way we like it!  

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










I start with this, my second excursion with the Take That guys, because the video is just so damned beautiful, if I do say so, and I do.  Epic production value and an emotional story, the video actually kicked off with a terrible brief that was to be this council-estate-vibed teenage pregnancy thing. 

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 great adventure for me, and,

in this case, can unexpectedly provide adventures of Super-Cosmic Proportions! 


At the time of writing this, I hadn’t seen this video since I’d made it, and when I did, I realized just how bloody good it is, for 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!  So here’s the Cosmic Adventure Story:


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, the Volcano Goddess 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 proclaimed:  “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 day of the 3 day shoot, and the same thing happened, but this time we were so confident with our inside-track with Goddess 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 liked the slightly muted light:  it suited the shots we wanted to do with the model immediately after lunch.  So, filled with confidence we had Pele on our side, 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 the Wrap it stayed clear for the rest of the day.  The next day the crew and I 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.


Dance Montage




Dance videos are one of those “Emporer’s New Clothes” things.  People make whole careers out of making it a mystery, but really there’s nothing 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 in a bunch of ways.


Don’t tell anyone I told you!


 

I call this a dance montage, but a lot of it is simply about movement.  And for that I don’t need a choreographer - I just get my talent to mimic what I do and as they generally do it better, and look a whole lot better than me, it’s a winner!


And that’s the magic of “cinema”!




MUSIC VIDEO MONTAGE

A well known American music video rep had a look at my site awhile ago, and, with that pumped-up jackassery only too-prevalent in the music industry proclaimed “there’s too much to read”.  Which kinda made me laugh, because I’d assumed that if you didn’t want to read anything, you’d just use the smarts the gods gave you to simply not read it!   Ignoring that fool, I hope you enjoy the anecdotes accompanying some of my favorite video experiences over the years.  My adventures have been awesome, and I kinda think it’s fun to tell you a bit about what was going on behind the scenes because to me, what happens personally is half the joy of what I do.  So read - or don’t - but at any rate,  love up the fabulous ride it took to create what you see on the screen!   

HIT THE PLAY BUTTON TO THE RIGHT OF THE STAR