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20th August 2015
Insanely magnificent
Title of film: The Chemical Brothers, Sometimes I Feel So Deserted
Director: Ninian Doff
Production Company: Pulse Films
The Chemical Brothers have a history spanning several decades of creating wildly wonderful videos with legendary directors. Now Pulse Film's Ninian Doff joins that prestigious line-up with his video for the band’s Sometimes I Feel So Deserted track

The Chemical Brothers create videos with, what feels like, hand-picked directors. How much were they involved with the development of this film?

Their video history is incredible and pretty intimidating. They had final say on everything: choosing the treatment and approving the final edit, but besides that I never actually met them. And once I won the job I was very much trusted to just get on with it which was great.

Where do you even begin with a narrative like this? What was the very first tweak of an idea and where did it come from?

I already had ideas based around dying decrepit robots that could interchangeably swap limbs floating around in my head! Particularly following one strong female lead who is slowly rebuilding herself – I had a bunch of notes on it possibly even for a film. When this track came in I suddenly remembered it all and it just matched up so well. The track works like a cinematic score and even sound design so it helped write the script and pace. It’s one of those magical moment where when the idea appears suddenly you have the whole video worked out in a matter of minutes, It just clicked.

Did you pitch with a treatment to win this video? If so what was it about your treatment that resonated with the band?

It’s interesting as this treatment was a bit of an experiment for me that worked very well. I normally always make traditional treatments of text and images but on this, because the track and the visuals are so linked, I kept finding myself writing “at 1m32s when the track does this she does this…” and it was really hard to read, confusing and dry. So I scrapped it and instead videoed myself telling the story over the track itself. This worked really well as suddenly all the pitch and time changes of the track linked up perfectly to what I was saying and made it really alive and well rounded. I’d never done this before so when I sent it off I was still unsure of whether it was an embarrassing mistake or a moment of inspiration!

Petrol girl – She wins, hooray. How did you go about casting the actors, particularly her?

She’s Hannah John-Kamen who’s already a pretty established actress. She has been in quite a few TV shows and films and just finished a big Sci-fi show in the States (Killjoys). Aisha Walters who is a great Casting Director presented Hannah as an option and we were instantly drawn to her. I loved her look – striking and beautiful but still tough and with presence. From there I reached out and we met up and talked about the project. The first thing I said to her was that this was going to be a tough shoot: long days, very hot, uncomfortable prosthetics and lots of sticky oil! I didn’t want to lie, I needed someone who actually loved working that hard. Her exact response was “the dirtier the better” and we high fived. Sure enough on set she was a total pro – always pushing herself, never complaining and able to give a great performance even when we were shooting at a super-fast pace.

Joe Bell plays the other robot. I described his part to him as being like “a squashed beetle with a cracked shell crawling along a hot pavement minutes away from dying” which isn’t the most glamorous of briefs, but he also threw himself into it. Joe in real life is actually missing one of his legs which allowed us to do some really dramatic in camera prosthetics which he let us go to town on!

Love the detail of “Auto Repairs” on the guy’s jacket which goes by in a flash, but it does contribute to the idea that it’s not a good idea to break down in the desert, especially this one. Where was the location or is it all created within your fantasy and against a green screen?

Well spotted! I love having art direction and costumes that are really in depth, have lots of back story and details, even if you hardly see them. Laia Ateca was the art director and she did an amazing job. For instance you hardly see the inside of the white van in the video but it was a whole story in itself – old burgers, porno mags, “trophies” from earlier robots they’d caught all strewn around. She also built the petrol station set from scratch on the location which otherwise is basically endless dusty rocks. It’s in Teruel in Spain and I don’t want to spoil the magic of movie making so I’ll just say I’m very glad that on camera it comes across as an endless desert!

Did you detail everything with storyboards before the shoot?

I personally drew storyboards for the whole thing – something I don’t always do but it was great on this – and then I also edited them into an animatic for the whole video. That was super useful and meant we 100% knew the film inside out before shooting which is vital when you have to cover as much as we did in a short space of time. However, even though it was worked out to the second in preproduction, I then purposefully then didn’t show my editor (Ross Hallard) the animatic as sometimes that can be dangerous in restricting and limiting creative ideas in the edit as it’s all so locked down. It more fun to start a fresh once it’s shot.

Was it any easy production – were there any major challenges and how did you resolve them?

The shoot was amazing and also hell! Ha ha. Literally the best and worst shoot of my life. The best in that I was so excited about seeing the film I daydreamed so much about come together so strikingly in front of me, and I had a great relationship with the DOP (Ross McLennan) and loved what he kept bringing to it.

The worst because if something could go wrong it went wrong. The list is too big to go into (and I probably need therapy before I can fully talk about it again) but the “highlight” definitely would be when our desert – which apparently is usually constant relentless heat most of the year – clouded over with thunder and lightning clouds and then rained so hard it flooded! Literally giant puddles and small rivers to the horizon. I found out later we were shooting really near to where Terry Gilliam’s famously disastrous “Lost in La Mancha” experience happened, so I should’ve known it was cursed land.

Is there anything else you’d like to share?

It’s just really great having this video come out and see it getting such a good response. So many people pushed themselves hard to make this work for me and to have people really push themselves to realise your bizarre day dream is such a privilege!