How did the idea come about?
When I heard the track I immediately saw these images of people who looked lost, who were shrouded in darkness but began to move and find the light. It made me think about some faces I had seen in a theatre group called Fallen Angels.
The members of the group were all recovering addicts and their past was really etched on their faces, there was such emotional rawness in their expressions and the way they moved was captivating. I was interested in making something with the group and the idea formed during that whole process really.
Did you always have Paul Bayes Kitcher in mind to play the lead and if so why?
I didn’t have Paul in mind originally, Paul hasn’t really danced much in the last 20 years, as he had retired from performance after his recovery from addiction, concentrating on running Fallen Angels and choreographing the shows. In fact Paul wasn’t very keen to be on camera but he was keen to help me cast from the Fallen Angels group so he set up auditions and I filmed some tests.
During the camera tests I asked Paul if he would mind doing one for me. He reluctantly agreed, there was a caravan we were using and I asked him to sit down in the pool of light that was coming through the door and listen to the track and try to express his own journey into the darkness of drug addiction and his recovery, ending with finding strength and solace. What followed made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. The pain he expressed juxtaposed with the beauty in his movement was mesmerizing.
Afterwards I played the clip back and he watched it open mouthed. He was shocked by his own transformation and the power and truth that was in it. I knew then I had to make the film with him and I actually used a lot from that audition tape in the final edit.
Did the story change much during the edit from your original idea?
Yes it changed dramatically. Originally I envisioned the video with three different characters and I thought I would link them thematically. I took the material from the audition and worked with the super talented editor Liam Bachler at Ten Three, to see how intercutting three stories would work. When we started cutting we found that Paul’s performance was just so powerful and gripping It felt like that should be the focus of the film.
We had also shot some material with a female dancer called Nicolette Whitley which when cut with Paul made you feel there was a connection between the two, like she was his daughter. I thought this narrative might work, and went and shot some material to develop the idea. The narrative thread was that Paul had a daughter and when his marriage broke down he lost touch with her as he spiralled into addiction and she often thought of him not knowing where he was and he often thought of her wishing he could see her again.
This idea seemed to really work. I had shot some flash back stuff and used Paul’s real daughter Ava and the material I shot with her was breath taking and she had an ethereal quality about her that was so powerful. Liam and I played with lots of edits working in the new material of Ava with Nicolette. We got to a point where it all made sense and it all worked and we were happy but it did feel a little bit contrived and so we decided to try something very radical and explore a new narrative that was about Paul losing his daughter instead and she being with him in spirit. I
t was quite a departure, and even though we had such incredible material of Nicollete, who is a truly amazing dancer once we stripped everything back and focused the story around Paul and Ava it felt much more powerful.
How did you get such a stunning performance from the little girl?
Ava is a very sensitive girl, head strong but in touch with her emotions. In the scene where she cries, I told her to imagine she was saying good bye to her father and wouldn’t see him for a long time. They are a very close family and there is so much love between them that this idea of not seeing her father for a long time connected and tears ran down her cheeks as she looked at him. Afterwards Paul stepped in and embraced her and she smiled, it was a very sweet to see how much love they have for each other.
Tell us about the shoot please – was it all straightforward and where was the location?
The shoot was pure guerrilla filmmaking! The artist Luckie is new and so without a big label behind him they only had £500 and hoped to get another £500 further down the line. After filming Paul’s audition I knew I had the performance elements covered but in order to elevate the video I would need epic locations. I wanted somewhere derelict and began searching for a location.
There were some fantastic derelict locations I could rent around London but the cost was really high and I realised perhaps the only way might be to look outside London. I couldn’t find anywhere very suitable and then started to search in Wales close to where Paul is based.
I found the most incredible old disused mental asylum and asked Paul if he would be up for us trying to get in there as I had seen lots of photos online where people had managed to access the building. He said he was up for it. I was over the moon as this place was epic.
Myself, DOP Luke Jacobs and camera assistant Matthew Ham and runner Sang Liu headed up. On the way up I was looking at Instagram photos of the location and saw a great photo of the building on fire. I pondered how old the photo was and then I saw another photo of it on fire posted by someone else and realised it had been ablaze from the night before. We arrived to see smoke billowing out of the place, the road approaching was closed off by the police who told us that the fire services expected it would take another whole day to completely distinguish the fire.
I was devastated and wondering how on earth I could make the film without a location. I emailed a small local production company and asked them if they knew any similar locations. Someone got back with a few suggestions and we headed over to check out a much smaller disused asylum. It was very easy to gain access to it, we sneaked through a gate and wondered around the back and saw the doors had been pulled off. It was perfect and we began filming straight away. Because it was small it felt more claustrophobic and that helped. I managed to cover all the scenes I had planned there and but I felt I was missing the scale I wanted for the uplifting parts of the film where Paul dances.
I knew from seeing the photos of the original location, that the large asylum would give me the epic scale and so we drove up there to take a look to see if the fire was out. As we approached it was eerily quiet, there were no signs of the police or fire engines and the front gates which are normally closed were wide open so we drove in.
It was almost too easy. We parked around the back and looked up at the towering intimidating asylum. We found an open window and climbed in, structurally everything seemed fine, the walls were so strong and well built, they seemed to have survived numerous fires, there was debris everywhere but it looked just as epic as the photos I had seen. I asked Paul if he would be up for dancing and he was.
We filmed in several rooms before we reached the main room I was looking for. This room was the one that faces the main entrance and has towering windows that look breathtaking. As we stood there we heard a vehicle outside and we all froze in fear. Was it the police, had someone called the police? It sounded large though, like a fire engine, was the place still on fire? We peeked out to see it was a fire engine and that it was leaving.
That was the reason the gates were open, they must have been parked around the back and still been putting out the remains. Part of us wanted to bolt it and leave but I knew how important this shot would be so I asked Paul to give me one last piece of movement to the track and then turn and look directly into the camera as if it was Ava and smile at her. We did one take and legged it, it was that take I used in the film when she looks at him with tears in her eyes. Climbing back out the window and jumping in the car we drove towards the gate jubilant only to discover we had been padlocked in!!
Nervously we approached a house that was in the grounds and saw a man who looked very shocked to see us. We tried to sound polite and made up some excuse about wanting to see the building and he said he would need to call the security guard to let us out. I had watched videos online featuring security guards with Alsatians and very aggressive towards anyone trespassing and in the light of there having been arson in the building I wondered whether he would call the police on us. We sat waiting like naughty school boys. When he arrived he didn’t disappoint in his distain and proceeded to give us a good telling off, which we thoroughly deserved, luckily the barking dog remained in the car and we were let out to fight another day.
What was the most challenging part of the production?
I think if you were to ask Paul the most challenging part he would say laying in a freezing icy puddle by the canal with his top off. I really did push him to his limits both physically and emotionally, but when he saw the edit he felt it was all worth it.
Who was the DOP?
Luke Jacobs was and he was very creative as there was no money for a gaffer or lights but he was able to improvise a lot. He would place Paul in the natural pools of light, as well as use smaller hard lights that he shone through and bounced off water, to create a soft flicker, which he increased the intensity of depending on Paul’s mental state in the story. He also had to pull his own focus for most of the shoot.
I’m keen to make another music video but I’m also working on a short documentary about Paul. I interviewed him recently and his life story is incredible and I want to marry some of the visuals I shot to that story and make something that inspires people, as he’s really given so much hope to people he works with.