There’s a strong sense of landscape throughout your videos – including the ones you co-directed with your partner Marc Gomez del Moral – and also in this latest film for Barotti, She Once Knew. Do you develop an emotional link with the locations before you shoot? Where did you shoot this?
I’ve shot this music video in Russia, in the beautiful Astrakhan region, very close to the Caspian Sea. I could not even figure out in my mind how vast Russia actually is and this truly amazed me. I thought I had to somehow capture this fascination in the video. In general I love the sense of adventure I feel when I discover new places and this time it was particularly strong and inspiring.
Besides I love the fact that each one of us can create specific relationships with places and those are unique to each one of us, and never the same. For this reason it is always very important for me to create a connection and to develop a meaningful dialogue between my characters and the places where they live their stories as it can communicate a lot of who they are and what they feel.
Please tell us about the dancer. Where did you find him and how did you go about directing him? Was he choreographed or did you allow him to move spontaneously?
Maksim Tokarew is an actor and a dancer and he’s an absolute natural. I found him through the artistic company I’ve been working with for a couple of years: Asphalt Piloten. We had a nice chat before the shoot and I explained to him the story of his character and what his feelings were. Anna Anderegg from Asphalt P gave him a bit of a direction for the choreography and from there he made his own interpretation. I wanted his performance to be intimate and raw, so at the beginning, being behind him with the camera has been particularly helpful as he almost forgot its presence and focused only on the landscape and the dance. We did several long takes in each location, progressively adding more intensity and physical strength to the movements.
What were the main challenges of making She Once Knew and how did you resolve them?
We were a very small crew, only five people and we had to take care of everything from pre-production to the actual shoot and above all we shot almost everything in just one day. It was very intense! Shooting with a small crew is challenging but at the same time it’s a great exercise. A small crew is flexible, you can go with the flow and it allows you to be especially receptive to the beauty of spontaneity.
What was behind your decision to shoot in black and white – and did you use natural lighting as much as possible?
I wanted to use a documentary approach for the video but this does not allow a total control of the colour palette and the lighting of each shot and I still wanted the video to have a certain aesthetic coherence, so this was a challenge. Black and white in those cases is very helpful, it aesthetically unifies shots and generally I find it elegant and evocative.
I actually did bring some light equipment with me but we ended up using only natural lighting for the video as it was truly amazing on our location.
What is your usual creative process – how do you go about creating your narratives, do you storyboard in detail?
It really depends on the project. For music videos I listen to the song and write down straight away the feelings that the music transmits to me. Then I listen to it again several times until the images and ideas start to pop up in my mind. I write them down and I create sort of an order for them… then I look for pictures, movies, and art works that evoke the same feelings and that are then used as a reference material with which I start the process of writing the idea for the video. When necessary, I like to storyboard everything before shooting as it gives me a great amount of peace of mind and therefore more freedom on set. If I have everything planned, I find easier to be open and to let the actual shoot surprise me.
Do you work closely with a usual crew and production team with whom you have a creative understanding? For instance do narratives evolve working with an editor?
I tend to change the crew I work with for logistic reasons normally but of course I love working with Marc Gomez del Moral as much as I can: we have shot several music videos already and we keep creating personal projects together. I also really enjoy working with Anna Anderegg for choreography and dance, we developed an intense creative synergy by working together on audio-visual installations during the last couple of years.
I’m an editor too so I generally edit my own videos but I find it very enriching working with another editor and having a new perspective on the material. When I do that I still prefer sometimes to make the first cut and then I’m always very curious to see what the next step will be.
Now that you’re working through Wanda, what would your ideal projects be?
I’m really enthusiastic about being with Wanda; their work has been inspiring me for a long time. Abi Hodson and Anna Ryabtsun, the executive producers, make me feel completely understood and support me and my ideas the whole way through. I feel I definitely found the team with whom the perspective of growing professionally looks absolutely perfect. My ideal project now would be to develop content for fashion brands such as fashion films but also commercials and short films.
I also will continue working on music videos of course; I’m actually preparing two more videos for Barotti’s album Rising. We’ll shoot the second one in Berlin very soon. The final result (for Barotti) will be a trilogy around the concept of journey.
Please list five inspirations that have connected with you recently:
I’m a huge fan of electronic music and Apparat’s latest concert at the Barbican was mind blowing.
I recently re-watched Michelangelo Antonioni’s La Notte and it opened my mind, once again.
Ai Weiwei’s exhibition at the RA: the communicative power of his pieces, a part of unique, is literally stunning.
The delicate and enchanting beauty of Barbara Hepworth sculptures.
And last but not least: the beautiful and wild island of Linosa.