Basak Erol on set with Blink exec producer Laura Northover
Although you’re currently based in London, you were born and raised in Turkey. What was your upbringing like, and how has your background shaped your directing aesthetic?
I think people naturally absorb qualities of each place they live in. I am the daughter of a pilot and an ex-bank teller mother from Istanbul. I moved to California in my early 20s. I studied and lived there a very long time: most of my adulthood was in Los Angeles. I often find myself combining contemporary visuals with Oriental details and vast landscapes of America, places I used to travel to often. It comes out of me naturally. So my aesthetic must have something to do with the places that made me. I do find comfort in these visuals. Now I’ve been in London for a couple of years, I wonder if my work has gained a more urban feeling.
You worked as a visual artist before becoming a director – what drew you into the world of directing?
I studied Literature and Design, and then went on to work in the world of design, so directing wasn’t my goal. I was doing videos on the side with my friends, because I like making things. My videos were my creative outlet outside work. I wasn’t sure how people became directors to be honest. I never submitted work to a festival or blog back then – a bit naively. One day, one of the films I made got on MTV’s radar through a friend and they asked me to create films for a series that was in production. That’s when I started looking at it professionally and decided to try.
Basak talking with actor
Let’s talk about your new video, Real Love Song, for Nothing But Thieves. The narrative, which addresses unrequited love and relationships in the digital/online era, is pretty dark – can you tell us a bit about the inspiration/creative concept and how you got involved with the project?
The track came into Blink and Laura, our head of music video, was chatting to Michael Lewin, the commissioner, about me and thought I would really like the brief. It has powerful vocals and energy. The more I listened to it and imagined it with the visuals to go alongside, the more I liked it. I was excited to write an idea for this track.
In their brief, Nothing But Thieves had made it clear that this is not a typical love song. It is rather an ironic one and the video should reflect this with a contemporary aesthetic.
The love described in it is quite the painful and unrequited kind, the kind of love that could turn someone into a miserable being. The lyrics refer to it as “feral” and “dirty”. So I closed my eyes and listened to it many, many times and wrote a narrative with whatever came in to my mind’s eye as I listened to these words and music. Then, I tried to match the emotions and timings in the music to a loose narrative. When I started putting the images in my mind on to the paper with some references, we had ‘the look’ and a clearer picture of the story, but this narrative really evolved through the process. We of course had some limitations due to Covid, time and resources, so we needed to readapt and reassess certain things. With new ideas and solutions, the scenes and characters evolved and it became the video it is now.
The video feels like a high point of the genre mix – animation, live action and VFX – which has become your calling card. Is it a style that you consciously developed, or did it evolve over time?
I always loved the idea of combining live action with animation and I often have an urge to add some surreal elements into reality. I want to live in magic and in those pink clouds sometimes. I think [the] surrealist worlds of fairy tales from my childhood stuck with me even as an adult, but things are undeniably different for us grownups and I am a realist too. This is definitely reflected in my style. I create these worlds with a twist of adulthood and reality.
I studied some cel animation and 3D at school and taught myself some VFX, but I didn’t want to do it all by myself. I wanted to learn about them so that I could work with people who specialize in these mediums.
So, I’d say it’s both. It started as a conscious choice but it evolved and it keeps evolving over time.
Basak Erol at the monitor
The level of detail involved is impressive. How long did the video take to put together, and what were the most challenging aspects of bringing it to life on screen?
The production was about seven weeks from start to finish, and there was a long pitch process before it.
We worked under the Covid guidelines, which is a very limiting situation for a narrative-based video. That was one of the reasons why I wanted to weave animation into the narrative. With animation, we could overcome these physical limitations of storytelling.
Juggling between live action, animation and VFX at the same time was also challenging. It is a lot to undertake for one person, but I had an amazing team working alongside me. When I had to focus more on the VFX, grade and edit, Raman Djafari – the designer of the fantastic illustrations in the video – sailed the animation ship and co-directed the animation. I felt in good hands. From crew on set to animation and post-production, we had incredibly talented and hardworking people in the crew who really smashed it and elevated the video.
It was a lot of work for everyone, it required passion. You can see the names of these brilliant people in the credits – be sure to check out their work!
What’s next for you? Any more exciting projects in the pipeline?
Not looking at the screen for a while is the first thing in my list! Then, there are a couple commercials on the horizon and – I hope – more music videos.
Interview by Selena Schleh
BTS stills by Jake Wesley
See more work by Basak here
Director: Basak Erol
Executive Producer: Laura Northover
Producer: Eleri Evans
Production Manager: Eolande Diaz
1st AD: Clara Paris
2nd AD: Charlotte Miller
Runner: Kitty Rajakulasingam
Runner: Reece Gibbins
DOP: Ben Todd
Gaffer: Helio Ribeiro
Focus Puller: Dan West
2nd AC: Lily Taylor
Steadicam: Jake Whitehouse
DIT: Matt Hicks
Electrician: Matt Simmons
Electrician: James Leech
Trainee: Nela Resler
Art Director: Zoe Klinck
Art Department Assistant: Tea Mulabdic
Art Dept Assistant: Aaron Hackett
Stylist: Taff Williamson
Costume Assistant: Pia Woodvine
MakeUp Artist: Billie Mckenzie
Medic: Mick Leeming
Edit House: Stitch
Editor: Max Windows
Edit Producer: Angela Hart
Illustrator & Animation Co-Director : Raman Djafari
Lead Animator : Raman Djafari, Andrew Clarke
Animator : Irene Corral
Animator: Ucman Balaban
Lead Compositor : Tom Fisher
Compositor : Kemane Ba
3D Animation: Basak Erol
Post Production: Black Kite
Producer: Tamara Mennell
Colourist: Richard Fearon
VFX: Jack Stone