With Sweet Nothing and now Lover to Lover you have created filmic narratives for Florence Welch where she epitomizes the pain of these tracks – a far cry from her earlier performance videos. Did you collaborate with her on the visual stories or did you have complete creative freedom? Please tell us about the creative process between you.
Amazingly, I had 100% freedom on both of the videos, but for different reasons. On “Sweet Nothing” Calvin & I wanted to do something a bit darker and I have always wanted Florence to play a sexier, raw, realistic character. Because “Sweet Nothing” was a Calvin video, Florence was ok to leave her aesthetic and try something new. Aldene (Flo’s stylist) and I collaborated on getting Florence into a men’s suit and lingerie and once that was sorted Florence instantly became that character, she killed it.
On Lover to Lover, Florence was just excited to do it again. She loved the process of playing a character on Sweet Nothing and just wanted something raw. I wrote the idea and we took it as far as we could. Florence gave it as much as humanly possible and let me guide her through it. It’s the most fun I’ve had making a video.
How do you develop your ideas into film – do you sketch or write, collect references, take photos? Do you keep an ideas notebook?
I start with writing and listening to the music. Pretty straight forward for the most part but I do get fixated on how the music makes me feel. I’ve always written my ideas out in script form so they at least make sense on paper before trying to make them work as a video.
Her despair is palpable in Lover to Lover. And there’s a real connection between the male – Ben Mendlesohn – and Florence albeit a break-up. How did you go about getting these performances? Were there rehearsals prior to the shoot? Was there a tight script that they followed?
I spoke to both Florence and Ben separately about their characters prior to the shoot. On the day we followed the idea that each scene was a different moment in their relationship, we mapped out a few key inspirations and just went with it. They got along so beautifully and Ben was such a compassionate collaborator, he really enjoyed seeing Florence become this character. I think they ultimately we were having fun so it made it comfortable and easy.
The light is a key element to the tone of the film involving a night and perhaps an early morning shoot. How long was the shoot?
The shoot was one full day and one early morning at the beach. Light was definitely a theme and we used as much dawn and dusk as we could. We also didn’t use any film lights, everything was lit naturally in the house so we could shoot with freedom based on the time of day. This is something that DOP Steve Annis and myself have come to do more often than not, when it works it’s the best way to shoot.
Film or digital?
Always film, I will never use digital unless I have to. This was on 35mm.
What was behind your decision to set Lover to Lover in that particular location? And Sweet Nothing in Dalston, London. Do you write your narratives with a clear idea where they are set – are the characters born out of worlds you already know – or do you write and then go location scouting?
Ideas are always a moving target, I wrote both with a clear vision of what I wanted but they evolved into something of their own the moment we started.
I wanted Lover to Lover to have a feeling of isolation and the desert can be a very sad place, the streets look like a place where people once had big dreams but everything is a let down, it’s lonely out there.
And on Sweet Nothing I just wanted it to feel like Gary Oldman’s “Nil by Mouth” and Tim Nash use to live in Dalston, so he helped me find some cool shit.
In Sweet Nothing Florence physically mirrors the knocks her abusive boyfriend is receiving, it’s an uncomfortable but compulsively watchable sensory journey. How did you achieve this – did you storyboard each scene in detail?
We shot Florence first and gave her different violent motivations; kicks, pushes, slaps, punches, etc. Each moment was timed to a musical change. We then mirrored those moments in the fight, noting how she fell, which direction punches were thrown, etc. It was pretty natural but we kept a close eye on a few key moments.
It’s a heady mix. Can we expect to see more narratives with Florence from you?
I want to make a movie with Florence and I know she wants to do more acting, so we’ll see.
If they’re not under wraps can you tell us what projects you are working on now?
I just finished another Calvin Harris video feat. Tinie Tempah last night and this time I brought on my good friend AG Rojas to co-direct it. The amazing Brad Dourif stars in it and we shot the majority in South Central and on Hollywood blvd. It’s going to fuck with your head for sure. Also, AG and me started a company/collective called MAINLINE that we’re launching next month with new experimental films from us and our favorite young directors.