On set: Director Aube Perrie and Artist Angèle
I’d like to start by asking you about what you are working on at present. I think you’re in post at the moment?
We’re finishing a music video for a Belgian artist named Angèle. We actually did a music video for her a couple years ago and we always kept talking about maybe doing something new together at some point. She reached out, and sent a bunch of songs a year ago and this felt like the right time.
What kind of treatment did Angèle want? Did she want you to explode your imagination and just go for it?
She released two music videos before the one we are about to release. And we talked during the whole process and for the track we could do together. It’s called Free – in French it’s Libre – and the brief was pretty much completely open. I just knew Angèle had this long-time desire to be an astronaut. But I guess I was not very interested in working around a moon-like environment. But I liked this fantasy she had and I worked around that.
Angèle gets a lift
Can you explain more about how that works in this video?
It’s like you are enjoying a holiday in New York City. This is how it starts. And there is a bus passing and on this bus there is an album promo with your face. And on this ad, there is a big penis drawn on it. And do you remember, it’s like Carrie Bradshaw years ago in Sex and the City. So you see that penis on your face, on that poster, and it makes you want to be as far away as possible from a world with tons of unasked-for penises. So obviously you go to the moon because it’s pretty far. But it’s not the moon, it’s an alternative version of New York City. You enjoy the holiday and you hang out, you grab a pizza slice, you enjoy the low gravity because it’s fun. You also throw up because of low gravity and the bad pizza. But somehow, low gravity makes you want to discover a new power-gifted person within your inner self.
So, you now become this super version of yourself. And here you are, ready to face the reality. You come back to Earth as a not-giving-a-single-fuck person, ready to kick ass. It’s really a story about empowerment, obviously, and swirling penises. And it involved a lot of moon dust.
And you shot the video in New York?
No, we actually shot it in Sofia. They have New York backlots over there. And the backlots seemed like the only way to achieve it, because shooting in real streets seemed impossible with what we wanted to do.
When you’re working, do you do a really detailed pre-production treatment? I suppose you have to, because of your extraordinary sets.
Definitely a pre-production person. Very detailed breakdown usually comes pretty early in the process. Sounds obvious but I would say that the track not only gives you the ideas and narrative but all that you need such as shot sizes, movement, etc… So it’s like the music leaves no choice but detailed pre-production because it says so much. Lots of time everything’s pretty much edited already long before shooting. I don’t let the camera go on a lot which I guess is not so bad when shooting on film. I mean, there definitely are exceptions where you obviously and absolutely want to go wild and push the energy to call on chaos magic. That’s the Thot Shit office sequence.
Tell me about your collaboration with your production designer Louise Mekylla Bachir.
Well, it’s quite simple, because we’re a couple. We’re partners on set, but also in life. When I met Louise, I was not doing music videos and she was not doing production design. So we really started together.
That is extraordinary because your partnership has been so successful. How do you resolve any creative differences?
It’s the same way of resolving things as with the other people we work with. It’s just that you start talking about it sometimes when you wake up in the morning, and sometimes when you are going to bed. So the process starts earlier than usual and lasts longer, but it’s actually very inspiring, and definitely super valuable to us. It pushes you to go further. Definitely.
BTS: Megan Thee Stallion, Thot Shit. See Megan’s Cut above
It’s interesting that your last three major music videos are so different from each other. The way that you moved from L’Imperatrice’s Peur Des Filles to Thot Shit and MK’s Chemical. Completely different vibe, different tone.
Well, the funny thing is that Chemical and Thot Shit were actually done right at the same time. Because of tricky schedule issues, we had to shoot Chemical a few days after shooting Thot Shit. So I was pre-producing Chemical while shooting Thot Shit, which was pretty tricky. I guess they are so different because it starts with music, and the music with those three is so different. But for some reason, they all appeared to me as having a great storytelling potential. And it’s always, I guess, an inner fight. Because sometimes you wish that you could always do the same, very defined thing, becoming better and better at it. But I always felt I wanted the exact opposite of that. Not being stuck in one thing.
I guess there is always this moment in the process where you look at what you’re doing and there is a lot of self-doubt. And this is where working with your partner becomes super valuable.
Are there ever any surprises in the edit? Or does it just sequentially come together: you know what you want and you get it?
There are always surprises. Magic can happen at any time in the process. And you have to be open to the idea to even see it, notice it. But I definitely come back to the edit room with a very specific idea in mind. And yeah, everything usually fits right where it’s supposed to fit. I like to write very much in sync with the music, even if it’s narrative, even if it’s movements of bodies. So it’s a lot of, “This fits here, this fits there.”
In Chemical, the prosthetics, the dog’s face and the expressions and nuances mean that we actually believe in the character. How did you achieve that?
To me, you absolutely needed to believe that character and to fall for him; this was really critical. Which was a huge challenge from the start, because many people during early studies said to us, “Oh, you should do something that is going to move with the face of the human underneath.” But there was no way we could do that. I mean, it works pretty well if you are doing monsters. But obviously, a human face is not a dog face and the worst thing for me was having a dog’s face that looked cartoonish or monsterish – that you couldn’t connect with.
We reached out to the amazing prosthetic/mechatronic talents Guy Bonnel and Pascal Molina and were lucky enough to have them on board. These guys are magicians, really. They’re like these weird wizards working in between disciplines. And when you’re doing animatronics, it’s not like you can order this and that; you have to build it all. For example, you take a controller that controls like drones, or flying models, and reuse it for your own purpose. Now it controls an eyebrow arch. They did such an amazing job and I’m just beyond grateful for it.
How did that work in practice?
We had the opportunity of working with Jean-Michel Raad who is a crazy talented designer. With schedule we barely had time for character design and no time at all for testing. But we still had to start with studying the dog. Reaching out to vets and looking at books about dog anatomy. The dog figure carries the most powerful emotions both touching and amusing and to reach for that emotional dog space, you need the most meticulous design, for example you need to have the perfect space between the eyes. You had to, because if you have one millimetre that is too much, it can change the whole face.
It’s basic anatomy and may sound obvious. But the tricky part is that it’s not a drawing, you have to do that in 3D. And you have to make that wearable for a human. From the outside, it looks like a dog, but inside, it’s fitted to a guy. The mask is amazing. You have 30 engines hidden inside the face and there were three actually controlling it live. There is absolutely zero VFX in what we see. It’s real time, everything.
Prosthetic/mechatronic talents Guy Bonnel and Pascal Molina
To have pulled this off, you must also know dogs very well.
Yeah, I had a boxer that was extremely important to me. So when I thought of the idea, right away it was a boxer’s face. Dogs are so great at conveying emotions and they’re the perfect character to achieve what I wanted, which was both a funny drama and a dramatic comedy. We always tend to humanise them so much, and that’s why you absolutely needed to go for the dog in the face and remove the human. We see some anthropomorphic characters that are really a mix between human and animals and this was absolutely not the way to do it.
Tell me about developing Thot Shit with Megan Thee Stallion.
The process was really amazing simply because it was an open brief, you know? With this level of artist, it’s not always the case and definitely it had great potential. But honestly, when I thought about the idea, it sounded insane to try to sell that to Megan Thee Stallion. So the first thing was trying to convince myself that it wasn’t so bad, because the first words were like, “Okay, we’re going to have this senator guy followed and pursued and attacked by all those butts, like all those twerking girls.”
Obviously, now, this makes me laugh, but at the beginning of the process you think of it and you’re like, “Ugh.” But I felt like we had something great, very powerful, except for the original ending. It just felt not strong enough for the music video that we were preparing. So we were very close to the shoot and I thought of an idea, and I couldn’t tell if it was a huge, great idea, or if it was really the worst, most embarrassing idea, because it was like, “Okay, we’re going to put a vulva on his mouth.”
I had to Photoshop it first and everybody who saw it was like, “Yeah, well. Yeah, but no,” and Megan saw it and she said, “Yeah, obviously.”
So she must be actually quite a creative force to have around?
Yes, she was definitely the best partner you could think of for that. Extremely open to ideas, extremely willing to go for it and because of what she is, what she stands for, I knew right away I had to go for something really, really strong. I was extremely inspired by that and the creative force she has.
Tell me how it worked with developing the choreography.
I was fortunate enough to work with JaQuel Knight. He’s crazy talented, one of the best choreographers in the industry over there. He choreographed most of Beyonce’s most famous work. And what he did was a huge help for me. I came up with the intention and we talked about it, what I wanted those choreographies to tell, and he is amazing at making those choreographies mean something.
Obviously, we wanted some chaotic moments, and those women [dancers] are like immense athletes and talents, and they were so proactive in suggestions that we had so much fun just unleashing. But also we wanted to have meaning in those moments. What JaQuel did is that I came to rehearsals and he listed the choreographies, and I could just simply place them where they worked best for us, for what they meant, for where they should be in locations.
On set warming up
In terms of your background, did you go to film school? How did you learn the craft?
I didn’t go to film school. Like a lot of people from my generation, I just watched a lot of MTV2, did a lot of music video tapes, downloaded a lot of music videos when there was no YouTube, and wrote down a lot of treatments at a time when I didn’t know what a treatment was, and sent them and didn’t get answers. I was just fortunate enough to be able to make one of them come to life, in a small music video project of a friend of mine. And this led to another small budget project, which led to another and led to another.
We just learned from doing it, like many music video directors, I guess, and a lot of doing all the mistakes you can possibly do. These sometimes are the worst times, the most anxious times, but they’re actually the most valuable times. They allow you years after to come to a set such as Thot Shit and realise that though the budget and crew list grew a lot bigger, everything else’s the same. OK maybe the fun grows bigger too.
Wanda (Europe) website
Pulse Films (UK/US) website
Left Productions website
Written and directed by Aube Perrie Director of photography : Raphaël Vandenbussche Production : Wanda Productions Producer : Anis Gaiji, Paul Le Baron Line producer : Anis Gaiji Production coordinator : Chloé Goueilhé Production assistant : Carla Pommaret Commissioner : Elena Argiros Director’s rep : Mouthpiece / Claire Stubbs Art direction : Aube Perrie & Louise Mekylla Bachir Casting director : Marie Gervais Location manager : Damien NotinStarring Jamel Elgharbi, Thea Carla Schøtt & Pauline Vernet Animatronics, mask creation & special effects : Project supervisor : Guy Bonnel (Illumine Creations) Dog hair : Mélanie Gerbeau Mechatronics : Pascal Molina SFX assistant : Kazuhito Kimura Production designer : Louise Mekylla Bachir Production designer assistant : Margot Carreca Set dressers : Elisa Gaches Dufresne, Madé Beau Construction manager : Remi Borgnon Rippers : Antoine Sayn, Evan Sarreira, Shana Sarreira, Alicia Contini Costume designer : Maud Dupuy Costume designer assistants : France Hofnung & Louise Faillot Hair & make-up artist : Jean Buisson-Ramey Hair & make-up assistant : Maya Chancelade 1st AD : Mathieu Perez 2nd AD: Lena Turlot 3rd AD : Sarah-Rebecca Bajavi 1st AC : Camille Autrive 2nd AC : Clémence Pittillioen 3rd AC : Juliette Le Bagousse Gaffer : Paul Texier Electricians : Johan Van Der Voort, Théo Gély & Camille Benariac Key grip : Lola Ruet Grips : Thibault David, Camille Conroy & William Sim Sound recordist : Antoine Reiff Runners : Léo Rodriguez, Bastien Rousseau, Jose Luiz Rodriguez & Christophe Moulet Postproducer : Vanessa Koscianski Editor : Gwen Ghelid Editor assistant : Pierrick Maurice Colorist : Anne Szymkowiak VFX flame artist : Vincent Heine Mix & sound design : Kouz / Sylvain Pierre Megan Thee Stallion, Thot Shit
Written and Directed by @aube_perrieProduced by @leftproductions Executive Producer: @borislab Producers: @nick_callais_ & @iamspark Associate Producer: @adamarmesto Creative Direction: @louisemekylla & @aube_perrie Cinematographer: @Christopher.c.Ripley Unit Production Manager: @EricaPribble Production Coordinator: @MattKovacs 1st AD: @Haitianev 2nd AD: @Lovejoysimi 2nd 2nd AD: @mreconiglio Key Politician: @Skip_Pipo Camera 1st AC: @Ryan Sax 2nd AC: @Pablo.picostco Steadicam Operator: @Parks13 Film Loader: @jksakai Chief Lighting Technician: @mathiasperalta Best Boy Electric: @hotpointslighting Key Grip: @zerogripla Best Boy Grip : Philipwoolridge Dolly Grip: @Thatshafferkid Sound/VTR/Script VTR: @ExtremOvidz Sound Mixer - Chris Truman Art Department Production Designer: @thebritttt Art Director: @Maryflorencebrown Art Coordinator: @ariellabelle Set Decorator: @rayrayeff Leadman: @zpascal Location Manager: Vincent Lopez Location Manager Assistant: Drew Duhig Stunts Student Coordinator: Hunter Douglass Stunt Coordinator Assist: Duane Burkhart Choreographer: @jaquelknight Assistant Choreographers: @dancin_darina @moneswiff Choreography Producer: @jordancsnyder POST: Editor: @kidsister.tv @emiaubry @niles.tv Asst. Editor: @evanthesmith VFX: @mathematic.tv VFX Artist: Fabien Coupez VFX Producer: Guillaume Audibet Color: @company_3 Colorist: @matt_osborne_color Color Producer: @blakerice Sound: @kouz_paris Bruno Porret Sylvain Pierre Beauty: @Bonchpost Flame Artist: @asdfwhat Beauty Producer: Jeff Weidemann