Since you first shot the disco-whirl Spinning Around for Kylie Minogue in 2000 a synergetic relationship has evolved between you producing some seminal videos which have become huge hits. How do you see the development and changes of your creative partnership?
It’s been over about 15 years so it’s a little hard to remember. The main thing that has changed about the way we work is the creative development is more direct now between Kylie and myself.
Kylie is the kind of artist who is confident enough to give a director the freedom to create freely, but also I like to be a conduit for an artist, and I try to let them express themselves through me. I think that’s why it works well between us. We have respect for each other’s creativity. The more we have worked together the more interesting and fun it has become. This video (Into The Blue) was perhaps an expression of something a bit more grown up, it was a treat to be able to do that in a music video.
Do you both collaborate together on developing the visual narratives or are the films your reaction to the lyrics? What is your creative process together?
It’s been different every time. Spinning Around was, I think, William Baker and Kylie’s idea and a brief for a Studio 54 vibe. On Can’t Get You Out of My Head I remember writing two big ideas just based on the song and showing them both to Kylie and she was immediate about which one she liked. She’s very instinctive and decisive and knows what she likes and what will work for “Kylie”. She is experienced enough to know which elements need her attention and which to leave to me. She is so busy and so has to work like that. All of this means she’s great to work with, I can use her as a sounding board. It’s definitely a real collaboration.
William Baker styled all the previous videos and some of those conceptually were a three way collaboration between us all, as a team.
For Into The Blue there was no brief at all. I had a very strong feeling about how I wanted to work with her this time and that I wanted for us to work in a different way. The treatment was a reaction to the lyrics and the emotion in the song. So from the point of Kylie liking the initial thoughts we were very collaborative, on all fronts, on finding the right actor, on working out the tone of the story, the details, wardrobe etc.
We are now working on something else together, based completely on a concept of Kylie’s. So that’s different again and I’m really excited about it.
Out of all the videos you have made with Kylie which ones are your favourites?
They are like children. I couldn’t pick a favourite. Looking back, each video is a kind of marker in my life. I like that. It’s part of the reason why I feel lucky to have experienced this kind of collaboration.
Any moments of sheer magic happened on the shoots?
I reckon Kylie would remember better than me. I am always too zoned in to notice stuff. I really remember shooting the close-ups on CGYOMH and having a big discussion with the DP who didn’t want to put the camera so close to her because of the lens distortion. Then when we did turn over, the performance she gave took everyone’s breath away. It’s unusual that someone’s face can take that kind of angle. She is so photogenic.
Have there been any major catastrophes throughout the productions?
I don’t think so – luckily.
Can’t Get You Out Of My Head was a huge spectacular of fantasy and effects – and perhaps was the video that put you firmly on the international map as a music video director. This latest video, Into the Blue, feels less effectsy with more work in camera. Is this the case?
Yes. It’s harder to do effectsy videos now. This was all about being free and improvising and trying to find something more naturalistic (albeit in a stylized cinematic world) and emotional.
Love the way how you build up the emotional strands through different devices like using B&W in Into The Blue. Did you storyboard everything in detail?
No storyboard. I knew which scenes were to be in colour and B&W etc and I had a detailed shot list.
On the day we were very loose and intuitive, I love in music videos, that we can work in an improvisational way. You engage your subconscious, and the performers find things you wouldn’t have written. I am inclined to work like this now, because it’s exhilarating. Kylie and I felt relaxed about that process, because we know each other, and understand what’s needed to create the final video. And also, with a fragmented narrative, it can be a big cheat, it’s a mood and tone, without the discipline of real storytelling.
Clement Sibony who is a fantastic actor mainly in features, was a little shocked at the start of the day, not to have a script, and no rehearsal (we shot on the 4th of January and everyone was away) but then he said how much he enjoyed the freedom of that process in the end. And because he is a very experienced and soulful actor he of course brought so much to this project, which was great for Kylie and me, he was very collaborative.
In terms of film making have budgets changed much since those early days and if so do you feel you make creative compromises?
Budgets have changed. But it has always been a case of trying to come up with an idea that is realistic. It would only be a compromise if I wanted to make some thing like CGYOOMH again, but it’s all relative to what you are aiming for. This was a new adventure, we weren’t trying to reproduce the kind of production value of those previous videos. My aesthetic reference points were all from independent cinema.
The tricky thing these days is the way funding for videos are put together. It’s very hard for production and also tricky for you as a director because the final level of budget is never certain through pre-production. It’s very difficult to plan and organise effectively and get the best out of the money. Luckily I have a great producer!
Sometimes compromises work in your favour. Initially we planned to shoot the whole thing on film, I love the texture of film and it reflected the references. But because a chunk of financing didn’t come through until the 11th hour we had to “compromise” and use an Alexa.
Our DP Richard Stewart showed me the new Arri B&W Alexa which is interesting in a different way and looks very beautiful. We shot those B&W scenes using only natural daylight, but we were able to shoot a scene in almost complete darkness that would not have been possible on film. In the end thanks to Arri we shot on both B&W and colour Alexa and 16mm bolex and mixed them together. Jean Clement (Jean-Clément Soret, MPC) graded the footage in a way that the HD digital image and a very soft film image sit beautifully together. So that worked out really well for us.