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15th August 2013
Very special promos
Title of film: Lorde, Royals directed by Joel Kefali, Special Problems
The Sweet Shop directing duo Special Problems rock out a couple of cracking music videos

Two stunning music videos – Hearts Like Ours for The Naked and The Famous (see Related Content) and Royals for 16 year old NZ singer-songwriter Lorde (real name Ella Yelich-O’Connor) – both with a poetic film language as if the narratives unfold through a tableaux of beautifully and interestingly framed images, but telling two very different stories. We catch up with Campbell Hooper and Joel Kefali who make up the directing duo, Special Problems

How did the narratives evolve – were they your interpretations of the songs or did you collaborate closely with the bands?

Cam: The band (The Naked and The Famous) pretty much give us carte blanche over the videos which is obviously incredibly generous and trusting of them. We throw the general idea their way before production and they’ve yet to flag anything we’ve done.

In terms of the narrative structure for ‘Hearts Like Ours’ it was conceptually quite loose. Each of the scenes hint at a wider narrative but resist any kind of storytelling resolve. It’s like a really faint line drawing – giving away just enough to create a question but not too much that it leaves no room for a personal reading.

This approach can work within an abstract emotional space like music but it’s obviously less akin to commercial film making where the ‘call to action’ is king (or queen). I set a few scenarios in place before production but essentially I allowed the shooting process to gather its own narrative clues. It’s much more scary that way as the risk of failure is high but it’s the only real way to access your intuition – it’s direct to subject.

Joel: The intention with Royals wasn’t to tell a story that went from A to B but to capture a mood, capture a particular (sometimes ignored) slice of teenage life. To achieve this, Ella and I spent a lot of time trading stories of what it is like to be a teenager in Auckland – mine reminiscent, her’s current. Those conversations informed a lot of the content in the video.

There seemed to be a lot of anticipation around Lorde and it felt like this was the only time we would really get to make a video like this, unaffected by the expectation of a record label and fans – so it really was just Ella and me figuring it out for ourselves. The lyrics allude to dreams of riches while being faced with the mundane reality of not having riches, I think some fans were frustrated we focused on the reality and not so much on the dream.

There’s a strong sense of place in both videos, were they shot in New Zealand?

Joel: Royals was shot in Auckland, NZ. The film is as much about the characters as it is the environment. The intention with the framing of each shot was to give the characters and environment equal respect and importance.

Cam: ‘Hearts Like Ours’ was shot over five days in LA and Auckland. I thought that may throw the visual consistency but we made sure we used the same camera and lenses so it kept its integrity. The main difference when shooting is that the light in New Zealand is a lot sharper compared to LA. LA’s climate and, let’s be honest, its smog, creates an amazing soft diffusion over everything. Much easier for the gaffer!

What were the main challenges of the productions and how did you resolve them?

Joel: (Royals) Shooting several days in various locations on two different formats on a very tight budget, I guess the whole production was a challenge in a way. We kept the crew very small, which allowed us the time to shoot the way we did.

The talent were non actors. It was their first time on camera, so to avoid any self-consciousness that may have come with inexperience we shot in a way that would avoid them being conscious of the camera. That was crucial in helping us achieve natural action and reaction.

Cam: As with 99% of music videos the main challenge is always budget! But that’s also its strength. The less money the less someone has something to lose. Our wonderful crews always give us massively reduced budgets for our music videos and I do all the editing, post and grading myself. Otherwise we wouldn’t really be able to do it.

One factor in our current climate of shrinking commercial budgets that corporate clients will never overcome is that, in terms of crew ‘philanthropy’, people believe in music probably more than anything else. It’s a lot more difficult to get behind a chocolate bar or cleaning detergent.

What are you currently working on – would be great to know if you can say!

Joel: I’m currently in preproduction on the next video for The Naked & Famous.

See earlier 1.4 interview with Special Problems here