MIKE PISCITELLI x BANKS

INFINITE . BANKS . LOVE

Director: Mike Piscitelli

Original Feature: Promo News

How she’s blossomed. Having called the rise of BANKS back in April 2013 we almost feel like a proud parent. As must many. BANKS has once again upped her game with silent subtle style. This time Mike Piscitelli took a gamble and the BANKS made good; focusing solely on the artist has paid dividends. Outfits twist yet stick as mirrors welcome us to the world of BANKS. A reflective delight.

So we caught up with Mike Piscitelli to find out how he got the best out of BANKS, how he kept the camera hidden from shot in a room of mirrors, and why styling was important to the project.

Luke Tierney: BANKS has been on everyones lips as well as headphones for the past year, have you been a fan of BANKS for a while? How did this project come about? 

Mike Piscitelli: I had heard of Banks but I was not familiar with her music or her at all. i-D had sent me the track to see if I would be interested in writing on it and I was instantly into her music. Then I googled her and learned what a cool and thoughtful visual approach she had taken with her photos and videos and I got to writing…

The concept centers completely around BANKS, did you know she would be up to the task beforehand?

With all videos I think you have to take a leap of faith that on the day of the shoot the stars will align and the artist will be in a good mood and rested. To be honest I really had no idea if she would be up to the task since we didn’t speak till day of… luckily, she brought more than enough to her performance to keep the clip engaging all the way through.

To what extent were shots preplanned?

There was a small shot list planned but there really wasn’t a way to know exactly how it would look shooting through one-sided mirrors until we had the set built. Since this was a pretty modest budget we didn’t have a ton of time to prep this job and the set was only built the day before the shoot. Luckily I had an amazing producer, (Logan Adermatt) DP, (Michael Stine) and art director (Bryn Bowen) that were able to run a few tests with me the night before to make sure the idea would actually work the way we had planned.

The infinity room is beautiful, where did you shoot the promo?

We built the set and shot the video at Evidence Film Studios in Los Angeles.

Was it tough to keep the camera hidden in a room made of mirrors?

The entire video was shot from the outside of the set using one-sided mirrors. In the treatment I wrote “There will be a true honesty and subtly that exists throughout her performance since she won’t be able to see when the camera is actually shooting her but she will be able to see herself.” I was into the idea of an artist getting to see her performance in real time and how they might interact with themselves. It turned out to be a bit more challenging for BANKS in the beginning not knowing where the camera was, but as the day went on and she was able to see the footage she became much more comfortable being so isolated, and her performances became more intense.

Styling subtly adds another dimension to the performance, especially through colour, how important was styling for you? 

Since this was a video that came through i-D, the fashion was a key element. As soon as my treatment was approved I started talking with Alastair McKimm, i-D’s fashion editor, about where he wanted to take BANKS’s fashion. It was his idea to put her in three identical outfits but in three different colours, and I think it made the final product so much better. Maya Krispin (stylist) pulled the final outfit and somehow managed to find it in three colours.

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DANNY SANGRA x CLUB KURU

 FRAME . FLASH . MEMORY

Director: Danny Sangra

Club Kuru has become an instant favourite over here at word is cheap, moody grumblings have never looked and sounded sweeter. We have Danny Sangra to thank for the visuals and thus for pushing Club Kuru in our direction. He has managed to match the song beat for beat, shot for shot, perfectly encapsulating the tone and feeling. Edit, location and styling dominate. A continental paradise implodes as the climax builds distorting now muddled memories.

Possibly our favourite video of the year so far, at least top three!, we had to get in touch with Danny to find out; how best to shoot on a budget, what the importance of the edit was and just who is Club Kuru?

wic: The track demands (perhaps post seeing the promo) a cinematic love engagement as moody vocals meet minor chords. How did the project with Club Kuru come about and did you instantly know what you wanted to do when hearing the track?

DC: It was a mutual friend (Jess Jobst) who told me about Club Kuru. She thought it would be perfect to make a video for and told me to listen to his stuff. I hadn’t made a music promo in a while, however  as soon as I heard the tracks I was in. It immediately felt cinematic. The problem was (typically) how to do cinematic on a budget. Jess had a styling in mind and so I knew we had to find a location that we didn’t need to build.

Where was the promo shot? There are a tonne of perfectly framed shots, how long did they take to find?

We filmed in Trieste, Italy. Laurie Erksine (Club Kuru) knew the area well. We had some specific ideas for scenes. I knew the key elements of story I wanted to shoot. Then we just drove around and found places that looked interesting. As I was shooting it myself. It meant the minute I saw something we could stop and film. Then move on. I shot as much as I possibly could. I didn’t have any lights so I used natural light for pretty much for all of it. Did the best I could with what was available.

I recently read an article about what is in the briefcase in Pulp Fiction. Of course we want to know, what’s written on those documents?

Haha it’s better if Laurie told you that. Those are his words and wouldn’t sound as good coming from me.

The cast and clothes really round off the look of the promo, subtle glamour, was this the aim?

Yes that was the aim. Jess Jobst and Kat Hawker worked out the styling and Sarianne Plaisant dressed the sets to make sure everything felt part of the same world. We wanted a slightly Talented Mr Ripley vibe mixed with late sixties cinema styling. Jess and I would pass back and forth films and trailers. The area already felt like it could be a Godard film setting (e.g Le Mépris shot in Capri) so it was down to the styling of everything to emphasize this.

The editing adds to the emotion throughout helping set the tone, especially at the end, was this always the plan?

From the beginning we knew that the film wasn’t going to be a straight forward narrative. This video was all about the edit for me. The video wasn’t about the narrative making sense it didn’t have to. The idea was to show the destruction of memory loss. The track builds up and so the edit matched the rythmn. As I cut the video I pushed the edit into two extremes. The uncomfortably long to the crescendo of single frame flashes.

Who is Club Kuru? Was there a chance of him/her/them making an appearance?

He’s the guy in the video!

BEN DICKINSON x VIC MENSA

CLUB . ON . REPEAT

Director: Ben Dickinson

Original Feature in: Promo News

Ben Dickinson’s video for Vic Mensa’s Down On My Luck takes on that familiar Groundhog Day keeping it completely refreshing with a very entertaining new spin.

This time, it takes place in a club. We’ve all been there, those great nights you never want to end – and the terrible ones you wish never happened. It is this familiarity that makes the promo so accessible and enjoyable. It’s a social critique on a good night out, or a bad night turned good.

So we asked Ben Dickinson where the idea came from, how Vic handled the concept and to hear about Ben’s exciting upcoming feature, Creative Control

wic: The track fits the visuals perfectly, how did you come up with the idea for the promo?

BD: The idea came to me quickly, maybe after listening to the song twice. It’s a great song, very complex, and I was inspired by the innovative structure, the repeating phrase “down on my luck” seemed to function as a RESET button, and Vic develops the idea further and further each time he begins anew. It’s like a stream of consciousness that keeps getting interrupted, and every time it gets interrupted it changes. It reminded me of the painful process of learning from experience.

How many takes did you go through to take your concept from an idea into reality?

I think for some of those longer shots we were doing 15 or 16 takes. Honestly Vic nailed it every single time, but there was a lot of other moving pieces. If we’d had unlimited time I would have gone Kubrick and done 50 takes. But you don’t get that kind of time in music videos. Fortunately the looseness serves the video well.

How did Vic and everyone else for that matter handle the, what I imagine was an, incredibly monotonous process? 

I don’t remember it being monotonous, although maybe Vic remembers it differently! Honestly there were so many things to remember in each set up for Vic, for the steadicam operator (big ups to Dave Ellis), for the extras, that it was pretty engrossing. It was like playing a video game, and getting a little better each time. It was exciting.

The manipulation of speed is key. Was this achieved in-camera or in post?

We shot the entire video at 60 fps while Vic rapped at 24 fps, knowing that we would speed most of it up to 300% but dip back down to slo mo for key details. Easy trick.

The dance routine provides a nice shift in focus. Was that the plan?

It was inspired by the song! There’s a breakdown there and Vic says “get down!”, so you know, you wanna see some folks get down. The dancers are the DANCE CARTEL, recent frequent collaborators of mine.

What else have you been up to recently? Plans for the future?

I’m finishing my second feature. Its called Creative Control and it takes place in the near future when Augmented Reality is becoming ubiquitous. Check it out!

PAXI x TOM VEK

 ART . DECO . EDIT

Director: PAXI

With a new album releasing on the 9th of June the importance held on Tom Vek’s – Sherman is of the highest order. Fortunately for him Paxi has come in and sliced to success. Performance videos rarely capture any kind of creative interest so it was a pleasant surprise when Tom delivered the odd protagonist whilst performing in his own unique way.

Paxi has been a friend of word is cheap for a while now so it was inevitable that we sat down (over email) and thrashed out the what’s what of her latest promo. The editing, colour, location and most importantly, what Tom Vek brings to the house party table.

word is cheap: Is this your first project with Leap Films? How did the project come about?

PAXI: Well, the project actually came about through a personal relationship with Tom. Last year I saw a funny lo-fi video he released where he’s playing with a remote control toy car. I thought it was rare and hilarious, so I decided to contact him. We got talking and exchanged emails, etc. and then I waited for around 7 months for the new album to be ready. During that time I also shot a smaller budget video for our mutual friend Rory Attwell, Then, when the new material was ready, Tom got back in touch and we went from there. So we didn’t go through the traditional pitching route as you would with a rep or a production company. I prefer working this way. I’m an independent video maker and I like to be in control of my own process where possible.

That said, I’d like to thank Leap for being so supportive of this production. They kindly offered to put their production manager on it, and helped out with logistical issues that would have been such a headache for me. I’m terrible at taxes. The worse I am with taxes, the better my videos are.

The editing is incredible, was the two-shot merging technique pre planned?

Thank you! I’ll relay this kind compliment to my dad, and he will call his nearest 40 relatives and tell them. Yes it was pre-planned. It started out as a lo-fi idea that ballooned into something more stylised – proof that when DPs and directors have too much coffee together, ideas can run wild.

The location plays an important role in setting the mood, how was it picked?

I was looking for an empty Art Deco hotel lobby and was about to book Cafe Zedel when my good friend took me to THH. I don’t know this city too well, so I’m grateful for the help on that one. It was a great find because it has so many different areas. I shaped the rest of the idea around the locations in there – which was scary because our contact at THH was answering about 1 in every 10 emails, so we thought we’d turn up and they would be like “what shoot?” Then my production manager would strangle me. Then there’d be no video.

Lighting and colour play a big part what was the influence behind this?

There’s a real sinister tone to this track,  and it needed something colourful but surreal to compliment it. I didn’t have many references for the lighting. It’s more fun not having to scroll through the internet looking for the exact thing in your head. I quite like those shots that are unplanned, because it means the DP and I can work more with the scene and with our imaginations. The only thing we knew we definitely wanted was a big flashing blue light – like a swimming pool vibe.

What was it like working with Tom Vek, if you were to work together again would you follow suit?

He is amazing. You might have this image of him as an impossibly cool guy with amazing taste in everything and great one-liners every 2-3 minutes… and that’s exactly what you get when you meet him. We had fun editing in my studio, and he has a good balance of being involved in the project while respecting creative decisions. And also you get corporate lunches. I would definitely work with him again. Or at least accept more corporate lunches. Tom sometimes turns up to your house parties if you work with him too. Bonus!

INTERVIEW: CHRIS TOUMAZOU x CLOUD BOAT

LAUNDERETTE . DRAMA . UNFOLDS

Director: Chris Toumazou

From the man that’s never done a promo by the book its of no surprise Cloud Boat’s latest is as odd as it is gripping. Style takes over substance as a loose plot ensues. Everything is set up to go one way, the clothing, venue, characters, yet you are led in a completely different direction as Cloudboat’s track drifts past. The perfect soundtrack to an unusual scene.

Having previously directed for other interesting acts, TROPICS and My Panda Shall Fly, Cloud Boat knew they had a trusted talent in Chris Toumazou. Leaving much unanswered in the Promo we knew we needed to catch up with Chris to find out what’s what as well as how the project came about, and the importance of art direction.

wic: You often work with “cool” acts, how did this project come about?

CT: “Cool” acts is an interesting reference. I think it’s mostly down to my taste in music really and working with artists/labels I actually like. I’ve always been interested in alternative types of music to mainstream stuff, it just so happens it’s ‘cool’ right now I guess. The artists reached out to me personally as did their manager, who I’ve worked with before on Tropics ‘Home & Consonance’.

Is it a conscious choice to work with a certain type of artist?

Yes, definitely. I try to reach out to artists personally, but we get a lot of tracks to pitch on through COMPULSORY (my production company). We seem to have a very good relationship with the record labels we like, so we’re in a privileged position, thanks to doing a few videos that became successful.

The promo is itself quite alternative, is there a definitive story occurring in your mind?

I think for me there is always something going on no matter, how abstract the content might seem. A lot of the concepts or ideas come from a feeling or an emotion I try to base the song on, and then craft something from there. It’s always interesting seeing people’s own interpretation though.

The clothing plays a big part in terms of style, was that the aim?

For sure. Art direction is so imperitive to achieve the look and feel of the work I’ve directed to date. I have started to develop a style now and it’s just the case of building, experimenting and adding to it. I always want my work to feel like there is no sense of time, so I’m the kind of person that gets picky if I see a new phone or TV in the mise-en-scene that distracts the video from such a timeless aesthetic.

I worked with an amazing Art Director, Juno Calypso who is actually an artist. I saw her work through galleries, and since then we are now collaborating on various things.

Different characters sing different lines throughout, was this preplanned or did you have decide what made the most sense when editing?

This was all preplanned. As we shot 35mm film, we didn’t have enough stock to mess around, I basically knew what we wanted in the can. We of course experimented a little both in the edit and on the shoot.

SOPHIE MULLER x KATY B

TALENT . ENCOURAGES . TALENT

Director: Sophie Muller

Original Feature in Promo News;

Sophie Muller is the most successful female music video director of all time. Simple as. She is constantly creating, working with many of the world’s top pop stars time and time again.

Sophie’s weapon of choice is personability. Gwen Stefani probably said it best: ‘She has the gift of being able to bring out the artist’s personality, emotion and style’. She is a true conduit – talent that encourages talent.

Sophie’s been doing it a long time, starting her career in the mid 80s. And in 2014, she appears to be busier than ever, with projects for Katy B, Robin Thicke, John Mayer and Katy Perry released since the start of the year.

PROMONEWS‘s Luke Tierney recently spoke to Sophie about her two latest projects with Birdy and Katy B, get some of her thoughts on current state of the industry, and some words of advice to the latest generation of music video makers.

word is cheap: You have a knack for doing more than one music video for an artist. They keep coming back to work with you. Why is that?

Sophie: Well I guess because people love working with me! [laughing] Oh I don’t know. I think I find it strange that someone wants to work with me again, and I really like it. I’m not the sort of person to go: ‘oh I’ve worked with them, I don’t want to work with them again’. I’m like: ‘Oh great’. Because in some ways the more you work with someone the more you can do good work. You know what they can do and what they can’t do. You can learn what they want to do. And you know what they’ve already done, so you can push them further, and it becomes a comfortable thing rather than a stressful horrible, frightening thing. It’s your face, your music, so you obviously have to be happy with it.

You recently did a video with Katy B for Still. It’s really beautiful…

It’s very simple. The video we did before for Crying For No Reason – what I really liked was the colour of her hair. Orange against black. When we first heard this track I said ‘I see this with her on a kind of icy lake wearing white, and the only colour in the whole landscape is her orange hair’. But of course that couldn’t work because we couldn’t find the frozen lakes. So it was reduced down to this idea, so we had to find a white location in order to do a similar feel.

You co-directed Crying For No Reason with Ross McDowell (of Ben & Ross). How did that happen?

I’ve been working with Ross for three years now pretty much consistently. He worked with me on the Sade tour as head of post-production, and every video I do now he contributes in some way from a technical point of view. He was in LA with me, working on a Robin Thicke video, and I was talking to Katy B’s people and coming up with with this idea of a really simple performance… They said ‘we really like the Disclosure video’ so I said ‘that’s so weird that’s my friend Ross’s video, he’s right here!’ And I say ‘Ross do you want to co-direct the Katy B video with me?’ and he says, ‘yeah alright’.

But you only co-direct videos very occasionally…

He’s been on lots of shoots with me and we spend a lot of time together so it wasn’t like: ‘who is this strange person that I’m co-directing with’. It was more that I did I guess the things I think I’m good at and he did the sort of things he’s good at.

I always really envy directing teams. I think: ‘God, amazing to have someone to share the burden or the horror with when it goes wrong and when it goes right.’ At the same time, I also really don’t understand how they work. It’s such a weird thing to have someone share a job like that, which is your vision. But you know it did work with Ross in that way as it was a shared vision.

You’ve also recently done another video for Birdy – very different to the Katy B project. You’ve cast Birdy as a ghost in the Words As Weapons. Was that for you a reflection of the artist?

From very early on I’ve thought she should be a ghost – for a few reasons. I’ve always said that Birdy has this really otherworldly quality, like she doesn’t feel like someone of this world. I think this is the sixth video we’ve made together, and I’m always pushing her, telling her: ‘Don’t be real, don’t be normal, everyone does that. Don’t try to be like everyone else. That’s what’s special about you’.

It was really fun to do. We were totally unprepared – we just made the story up in the morning. We found a derelict house in Peckham which was a perfect location. I wanted the people to be art students – they’re cold all the time, which is why they’ve got the coats on. They’re not very comfortable, and then there’s that sound like she’s banging her boots on the ceiling. The DoP Robbie Ryan who I’ve worked with loads, I knew he’d get that one. So I thought let’s do that initial position, and ghost effects, that kind of thing. It was very much messing around.

So off the cuff then.

Totally off the cuff. I only cast the actors the day before. What really shocked me is that when people see it now they think it actually is scary. Especially as I had such a laugh doing it. It’s weird that those things actually work. When you get someone pulling a scary face and people go ‘aaahhhh!’

Within the industry naturally there are changes and trends. So what are your thoughts on the currant climate?

There’s a lot of videos now that get made that aren’t artist-based, and I’ve never made a video without an artist in it. I really love it and appreciate it but I just don’t feel part of that, because for me I love working with artists. When [commissioners] say: ‘oh the artist doesn’t have to be in it’, then I’m just not that interested. People send me the track and instead of me having an ‘oh my god we can do this’ idea, they never happens for me. All my ideas come from talking to an artist, and they never come from the music: what do you want to do, how do you want to be. How do you see yourself being in this, how do you want people to feel about you, feel about the song, what do you want the video to do for you. It’s a really good tool for people to use it to change their opinion about you.

So the industry seemingly hasn’t really changed for me, because the thing where [the viewer] wants to connect to the artist hasn’t changed. The song exists, it’s a piece of music. I hate videos actually, you know, like the fact that they interpret music. Sometimes if I watch a video it ruins the song for me.

What about the opposite? Does it ever make you like the song more?

Oh yes it has done absolutely, it completely has. That’s what you look for, but most videos don’t do that for me. I just find them really boring. But I’ve always loved seeing people be emotional, so when you get that thing with the artist so it works for the song, it does something else. You go through the video and feel closer to the person who’s performing in it. I’m always trying to achieve that.

All the ideas-based directors, like CANADA’s videos for example – they’re amazing but they’re not about the artist. They’re about the filmmaking, and about the song maybe. The fact that I still want to make videos about artists means that things haven’t really changed that much.

Maybe that’s why you have such a great relationship with artists and they want to work again with you.

You’re working with the artists rather than treating them like a big piece of meat. Where you say stand in front of the camera and say ‘OK now bring on the exploding horse’ or something. But I wish I had a list of ideas and go, ‘oh, number 12, haven’t done that one yet…’ I really struggle with ideas.

That anticipates my next question. I was going to ask if there’s anything you hadn’t done yet?

I like the idea of making a good video without an artist in it, but when it comes to it, I just never seem to want to do it. So obviously I don’t want to do that. I still don’t feel like I’ve done everything. There was a time when I’d say ‘I haven’t used a crane yet so I’ll try that one’.

The fact that technology is changing so much is quite exciting. I don’t need a single other person – I could shoot it, I can light it, I can edit it, I can output it, I can grade it, all myself.

Do you think that’s good?

I’m not saying that’s a good thing, but that’s what has changed radically. When I started you couldn’t make a video and not grade it, that’s unthinkable, but on the Birdy one, I graded it myself, because I could. It’s easy. I’m a big fan of digital I’m not one of those people who says I wish I could shoot on film. I have no desire to do that.

My last question, is, do you have any advice for anyone that wants to be like you?

Be like me? The only thing is you have to remain enthusiastic. I still love what I do. You can’t be like ‘urgh I don’t want to go to the shoot today.’ I like it so much that the idea of actually being paid for it is an added benefit. I’d say the only thing that’s changed really radically for me is that when I first started I was absolutely terrified the whole time, on so many levels – the shoot was absolutely terrifying because you think ‘oh my god, how many things can go wrong .’ Now I have none of that, so that’s why I properly enjoy it.

I think the thing is to try to keep your ego in check, and try to make it about the artist. That’s the one that will get them to come back. If you want to make a lot of videos and you want to keep working, you have to think in those terms and not make it like ‘I’m the director and everything’s about me’.

I’m very happy that I’m able to work. I’m very happy that I ever got a job because I never thought that I would. It’s a big shock to me that I ever got any work.