It just seems like yesterday when you hit the scene running with Clock Opera’s Once And For All and now this stunner for Javeon’s track Lovesong. Yes it is about love, but raw jilted fucked-up love. How did you come up with the narrative, was it your reaction to the lyrics or did you work closely with Javeon?
The song definitely elicits a strong response. The lyric is a surprising one given the silky quality of the vocal. Here’s a guy who is being pulled into a situation but is resisting it. He has the power.
Having had these initial responses I worked closely with the label to work out what the parameters of the video would be – how far they were willing to push the concept. I love bouncing ideas around with labels and artists, often in articulating ideas you can better reject or work up things.
The real kick off moment was when the guys at PMR sent me the proposed artwork for the single. It’s this really raw image of a girl’s face, her eyelashes caked in mascara, at that precipitous moment on verge of crying. That was enough to trigger the idea of a wedding gone wrong, all the love and closeness spinning out of control and erupting into a fight; after all where there is love there are the inverse emotions also.
I wanted to keep the story open and metaphorical, not too directly narrative, with all kinds of backstories that I decided to hint at and let the viewer guess for him/herself. I thought it was pretty fitting to be shooting in one of the most deprived boroughs in England; Newham. There’s a real grit to the area, and a tight knit local community which we found in abundance at the local working men’s club where we shot the promo.
I love the tradition of British realism in film, and its narrative intensity, but I’ve wanted to try something slightly more abstract for a while and hopefully that’s what I’ve achieved here.
Where did you dig up the cast? Were they stunt performers? Was the choreography of the fight rehearsed until you had it working perfectly?
Initially I was only supposed to choose eight stunt actors, but with the help of the unbelievably talented Casting Director Kharmel Cochrane, I ended up seeing at least three dozen individuals, sixteen of which I confirmed in the end because they were able to embody the toughness of the characters I had always imagined.
The film wouldn’t have been possible without everyone’s good grace and dedication to the story. I was also incredibly lucky to work with an amazing stunt co-ordinator who helped bring a perfectly synchronised fight to life – it’s like a moving piece of art, and quite incredible to behold all those different moving parts working together in some violent harmony.
We worked into the night days before plotting and developing the timings. But the answer to your second question is no, we didn’t really get to rehearse until the day simply because of the quick turn around and availability of the actors, it was nail biting stuff as to whether we could pull it off.
And what were the complications of directing the brawl?
The biggest challenge was staggering the actions and details within the fight scene when shooting at 300fps, which is just over 12 seconds of filming in real time. It was imperative they didn’t block each other from the camera’s line of sight so you get to enjoy each drop of blood, punch, grapple, tug or throw.
In other words the choreography of each nuance had to be incredibly tight. The complexity is really effecting – as a viewer I don’t think you can actually absorb everything that happens as the shot starts to get wider and wider. It definitely warrants a few watches. You’ll see something different every time, or at least that’s what I tried to achieve with each character in a cast of sixteen involved in an entirely different set of fights, flights and interactions.
Love the reverse shot of Javeon’s reflection – did that idea emerge while you were editing?
I assume you mean the one of the drop falling? No, that was a spontaneous moment that came to me during the day. We had 14 hours to get everything done and with the complications of the heavy rain at the start of the day we lost another two to begin with. When he was lying there in the water – for two soggy hours – it became clear that there were a number of beautiful images that could be achieved through the reflection of the water. What emerged is a really strong and graphic image, and I think it serves to anchor Javeon really firmly in the film.
What were the major challenges of the shoot and production?
Well given that we were shooting in one of the best summer’s that England has experienced in years, the rain took us slightly by surprise, and originally I had envisaged a blue sky making the dark events uncomfortably incongruous – initially the puddle was supposed to be more blatantly full of her tears, again I like that this is less clear in the final version.
In the event, the rain was actually a blessing in disguise – the heavy grey clouds looming over the characters adds a atmospheric intensity, and the rain falling as they speed through the streets of East Ham adds dynamism to the shot.
What did you shoot it on to get the slo-mo feel?
We shot on the Phantom Gold and Red Epic. The Phantom because (apparently) it holds up even better than the Phantom Flex, and the exteriors that were predominantly shot at 100fps on Red Epic because of the comp shot at the end. I thought about doing a pull out in post, but in the end we decided to go for the stark static lock off shot that’s in it now.
One of the stand out things for me about the film is the performance of Katy Sage as the bride. Her ability to convey the complete devastation of a broken heart is compelling. Her face carries the film, with its simultaneous beauty and hardness. I’d love to work with her again.
The aim of this piece was to contrast her vulnerability with the hardness of her destiny, reflected in the violence around her, and stark urban environment. Hopefully the story will continue!
Production Company: Somesuch & Co
Director: Ben Strebel
Head of Music: Tash Tan
Producer: Adam Farley
Label: PMR Records
DOP: Ben Todd
Art Director: Kate Evenden
Stylist: Sara Sensoy
Casting: Kharmel Cochrane
Stunt Co-ordinator: Jessica Jackson Smith
Editor: Ryan Boucher @ Marshall Street
Grade: James Bamford @ The Mill
Post: The Mill
Bride: Katy Sage
Groom: Javeon McCarthy
Commissioner: Caroline Clayton