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Tuesday, July 24, 2012

The Making Of... Black Rain video for Keane.

So, my film making friend Andy Marsh recently created the official Keane video for their song Black Rain.

As he is helping me out with my feature, Friend Request, I said I would help out on his production in return. Music videos aren't my own personal 'bag' with regards to directing so it was interesting to see how it was drawn together.

As a writer / directior I look at Andy's work as something both similar to my own output (I've done silent pieces too) but also very different (I tend to be more story based). So this blog post is about those similarities but also my observations on the differences - and a few tips I picked up along the way.

First thing to say, which may be a surprise to some, is to mention that Andy did a lot of homework. He looked at most of the previous videos that the band had commissioned and looked for trends, before spinning those off in a new direction while keeping his vision within the "Keane house style".

For Andy, getting the look is key. All else seems to flow from that. Andy is really a big fan of all elements of good Art Direction. We had a good day together looking around the location, trying to get a feel for the opportunities within it. The location is an ex-RAF base, where our film making friends BH24 Productions are based, and it has certain areas have fallen into disrepair so you get a distressed and decaying appearance.

Keane promo

Straight away you can see how the textures there create visual interest. Such visual interest is, of course, vital for what is in effect a dialogue-free film with minimal narrative. Your key tool is getting the audiences' eye to constantly move across the frame and detail helps in that. In my mind I've been calling this, "keeping the eye dancing" but there is probably a proper term used by people in this field.

making of Keane's Black Rain video

The next visual element was costume and make up. Sally Winter created the outfits that seemed ethereal yet also matched the distressed look of the location. Make up was by Francesca Bernardelle who continued the theme.


And the last part of the look comes from the props.  Now Andy collects this kind of stuff anyway, he loves cool looking objects. His previous films have had a shared style. So he gets to reuse them. Just as well as I must have helped to shift over 100 items onto the location. Purchasing or hiring all those from a standing start would be exorbitant. This is a great example of where, as a director, you build up a tool kit that helps you over time.

Now, a big part of me says that this is over the top, the audience can't tell. I was especially feeling that as I shifted around cinema chairs, a piano, a massive radio and countless other items into place for the final scene - as seen above. But Andy is clear, even if things are glimpsed in the distance or on the edge of frame - people 'feel' the richness even if they don't notice it consciously.

shooting Black Rain video

Camera wise, nothing unique was used. Good equipment though, a Canon C300 which can shoot all day and is robust. Operated by Chris Fergusson who knows his way around a camera very well. 720p resolution, shooting at 60fps for slo-mo. It may have been better to swap cameras to go for 1080p giving more flexibility in the edit, but I don't think Andy regretted that in a serious way and obviously the results are great.

So the camera didn't really add a look, nor did the lens and no lighting was used. What did add a look was the smoke. If you have ever used a smoke machine you know the smoke jets out of a short tube. Not very atmospheric. The solution was a "wafting" method where the smoke was then dispersed by waving a large piece of card around. Low-tech, yet effective. My own innovation in this area was to devise a way of putting my large fan in front of the smoke machine, so the blades did something similar when it was set on slow speed.

The falling ash was a special kind of material. Mid grey in colour it reminded me of the shredded foam you get in old-style padded envelopes. Again, the fan came in handy here for getting this over a large area.

The smoke and ash bind it all together for me. They bring constant movement to the shots, which is ideal for a music video, thinking back to the "dancing eyeballs" idea. They break up the wide shots and give them depth and layers by acting as either close up movement or mid depth movement. Plus, they allow the props to become 'hidden treasures' in the shot that appear and disappear into the mist.

We did go a bit too far sometimes though maybe.

Black Rain video promo

Perhaps the only disappointing element was the weather. Being overcast suits the low colour look. But the sun also adds better definition to the smoke, stopping it from being a grey blob. But such things are out of anyone's control on a one day shoot.

There were so many other excellent crew and cast that I could mention, too many to highlight everyone here. I've concentrated this blog post on the visual and art direction elements, as is this where I picked up the most new ideas. Of course, for a successful production you need the great production help and cast also pulling in the same direction.

You can see the film video here...

Here is what Tim from the band said...

We loved Andy Marsh's video for Black Rain. There's a heartbreaking sense of a young boy's dreams gone awry, a yearning for innocent times and high hopes, of love and kindness remembered in the face of violence and fear. Of course, I can't say whether that's what was intended at all! But either way the atmosphere of this story fits beautifully with the sense of the song, and even the sense of Strangeland as a record. The ghostly and surreal mood of the video also works perfectly with the feel of the music itself - sound and visuals complement each other and give each other more power, which is the ultimate achievement for a music video.

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