You are English but upped sticks and headed to Bolivia? What was behind this decision?
I went independent towards the end of last year to work through my Studio Murmur collective and take a break from music videos. It was good to churn over ideas together again, which ended up with us making a short film called Angels that will be out in a couple of months.
I then thought a change of scenery would be a good touch before going back to London and into the music video world again. I speak Spanish as my dad is from Menorca, and an art director, Nieves Cabanes Pellicer, had piqued my interest in Argentina where I decided to go for a couple of months.
However, Luisa Gerstein of the band Landshapes asked me to direct her video, but she wanted to make it in Bolivia based around these wrestling Cholitas. It was a fantastic coincidence as she had a limited budget, but I was going to be out there already and spoke Spanish. So I went to Buenos Aries, left all my stuff there, packed a two-week bag, did the video, and never left Bolivia! I still have a bag of clothes in Buenos Aires.
You’ve now shot three terrific music videos since you’ve been in Bolivia, please tell us how they came about.
Following Luisa’s video, The Naughty Boy video came about after I wrote to Sam Seager, letting him know that I now had a full crew out here, and he sent me the track to pitch on. I had this Wizard of Oz idea rattling around in my head since working with the lead kid (Franco) on a sort of corporate video for the Bolivian government – despite me being illegal here still. Franco struck me from when I first saw him, this old gentle soul in the body of a seven-year old kid.
The Cloud Control video also came about directly from the lead singer, Ulrich Lenffer. He had recently watched my video for Kwes, and the idea came from seeing a particularly awful clown trying to entertain a room full of kids. He was sweating profusely, making it up as he went along, and the kids were running amok, except for the birthday kid who had to sit in front of the clown, pissed that he couldn’t join in with his friends who were having a lot more fun.
Franco’s sister Nayeli, who was also in the corporate video and came to the casting for Naughty Boy, was so good I re-wrote the Naughty Boy into a sort of revenge film featuring her as the birthday girl performing the track in different situations. She managed to learn all the lyrics in a few days, with me having them written out in phonetic Spanish.
What are the pros and cons of filming in Bolivia?
Bolivia does have some challenges with filming, but generally I’ve found the transition here pretty seamless. Camera rental is a problem, there just aren’t many Red cameras around and not one single Alexa.
This then means the prices are much higher on the Red cameras than in the UK due to lack of competition. Locations though, are a dream. On the Cloud Control video for example we got the police station for half a day, and a real police car with two policemen looking after it for half a day the next day, in return for a football trophy for their staff match.
There is easy access here to different locations without all the bureaucracy you get in the UK for example. We shot in that police station during some of the worst protests La Paz had seen this year. Dynamite was going off in the center of the city set off by the protesting miners, and two policemen had been kidnapped. Despite all this we were left to shoot without any trouble in the station while they got suited and booted to crackdown on the miners.
The co-production has been great too. Studio Murmur is an office-less collective, a sort of temporary autonomous zone, a collaborating film crew each of whom is an artist in their own right outside of their film crew role. Due to the varied and free form nature of our crew, working remotely over here with crew over in the UK wasn’t as hard as we imagined.
Naughty Boy though had some major problems due to the turn around. Gaia Borretti, my long time collaborator and editor, had to edit with these disgustingly low res files I was sending over the atrocious Bolivian internet, during the shoot, due to the mad turnaround. She had to ask many times if shots were in or out of focus as she couldn’t tell with the pixelated rushes
I was sending her. She’s a genius though so she pulled it off as she always does.
The last video for example was shot in Bolivia, for a band in London, with a label in Australia, edited back in London, and graded in Chicago!
What were the key lessons you’ve learnt about working in Bolivia?
To not underestimate the crews here. I’d heard some bad things before coming out, but this is far from the truth. I met a wonderful production company here called Color Monster who I collaborate with a lot now. They work in a very similar fashion to Studio Murmur. So it’s been a joy to work with them and we’re really charged about all the possibilities of future co-productions.
Do you write all your own scripts? What’s your creative process for coming up with ideas and decisions?
Yes I write all my own scripts in music videos and short films, but have started to work with two writers, Varun Raman and Tom Hancock. It is based on an idea I had when I first got to Bolivia, a sort of Mulholland Drive-esque film about a doomed foreigner. I don’t have the discipline to write something of length, not yet anyhow.
I also work with Dobrina Manolova a lot, also part of Studio Murmur, who always checks over my treatments and other creative writings. We will be collaborating also on a feature length script but it’s very early days and we’re yet to decide on what it will be! It will certainly be fantastical though.
For the works that I personally write, they are inspired from various situations. As I had mentioned above, people and locations are a big part of my writing. For example the dancing muscle man in the Follow video for Crystal Fighters was based on a meth addicted street corner dancer I saw in LA once.
A place I have been to or a person I have met can spark off a lot of ideas. With music videos I take walks, listen to the music in different places like shopping malls where I can watch people, cafes, on drives or train journeys etc. Dreams have always been a big part of my creative process also. The time between waking and dreaming, the hypnagogic state, is an important part of the process for me. If I’m blocked on a certain idea I let it rattle around my head as I’m drifting off to sleep and I find this loosens it up a lot, sometimes whole ideas come to me during this.
Where does your heart lie – Bolivia or Europe?
It’s been ripped in two. I dearly miss London and my friends there, but am also so excited about Bolivia and Latin America in general.
There’s so much I would like to do here such as the feature, but also keen to get back to London. I’ve had a fair few dreams now where I visit London as a tourist, where I am lost and don’t know how to get around. It’s been far too long, so I hope to go back for a project sometime soon. But I am far less anxious out here and have averted the usual down moments I would get in London.
Our spies tell us you’ve recently signed to Wanda in London. Will the focus be on music videos?
Yes! Am really excited to have signed, a big part of this owed to
James Lees, a friend and excellent director who is also signed to them and put me forward. I will be cracking on as usual with the music videos, but also very interested in the fashion film opportunities with them. I have been wanting to make one for some time now but haven’t had the opportunity.
The idea of writing narrative scripts for a fashion film is very attractive, and the ability to use sound design which is a big part of my short films, but usually not an aspect of music videos, of course! Then I hope to be able to do more advertising work too. So, all in all, extremely excited about the future with them!
I’ve been confirmed for another music video to be shot out here, the idea is based on a pretty dark Bolivian urban legend, one I have been told is certainly true but always heard in rumours. But we’re trying to work out if the budget is going to work. I’m then pitching on another track, and generally slowly picking away at the feature film.
I also need to start looking around for representation in Latin America to get more work out here rather than always pitching on UK stuff to be shot out here. Then after all this is done I’ll retreat into the Bolivian jungle and lose my mind for a week or two.
Stills photographer on Cloud Control, Serena Noorani