From Higher for London Grammar & CamelPhat
Can you tell us a bit about your route into directing and how you started working together? We’re particularly intrigued by Vikesh’s background as a science graduate…
Vikesh: I’ve always been fascinated in who we are as people and how we as a society interact and relate to the world and everything in it. I had a particular interest in human behaviour in relation to animals, which led me to studying BioVeterinary Science. I had planned to go on to do the Vet course afterwards, however I felt disillusioned with studying and the academic world and after graduating from the science degree I found an interest in filmmaking and was hooked. It began more as a hobby using a friend’s DSLR and learning as I went along. I decided to start from the bottom as a runner to learn the ropes on set. I was terrible at it, and found myself far more interested in what was going on right next to the camera. A couple of years later I got a job in-house at Smuggler which is where I met Tim. We became friends and our creative partnership started incredibly organically. It was there that Elizabeth Doonan gave us a shot at directing a music video which then got nominated for a UKMVA and really kicked off WAXXWORK.
Higher, your new video for London Grammar and CamelPhat, explores the history of euphoria through the ages. It’s technically brilliant in the way it fuses live action and classical art stills, but it’s emotionally charged, too: capturing the nirvana-like status of the dancefloor and the way music and dance can transport people to a higher plane. Was there any sort of brief, or were you given total free rein?
The original brief was to find something that reflected “the euphoric sound, relentless pace and epic scale of the track.” We kind of took this literally and started exploring ideas around euphoria, and we connected that with the relentless pace of a rave. There was something really interesting to us about looking at the human connection to euphoria – our seemingly eternal search for this feeling – and how this is represented in art. And then linking that to the fleeting moment on the dance floor.
Dan Millar at Sony, who commissioned the video, was really receptive to our ideas which was great. He pretty much gave us free rein to develop things without having to compromise.
Where was it shot, and how did you approach casting – the main dancer’s performance feels totally organic and electric…
It was shot at Erith Studios – a warehouse on the outskirts of London. It was a huge space that allowed us to work dynamically and flexibly.
For casting, we wanted to find someone who was able to just feel the music and go with their gut, rather than rely too heavily on choreographed movement. We were pretty lucky as Timothy’s partner has ties with the contemporary dance scene in London. With their help we did a deep dive into various dancers and dance companies to search for our lead which ultimately led us to Tristan. We immediately felt a connection with them as soon as we met and knew that they’d be perfect for it.
On set, directing Tristan’s performance was less about movement and choreography but more about feeling and emotion. Tristan’s an amazing dancer who really knows how to respond to the music using their body in interesting ways and, in the end, their performance is a huge part of what makes everything gel together.
BTS Higher, dancer, Tristan Carter and producer Dan Matthews
How exactly did you integrate AI into the creative process, and had you worked with any AI tools in previous projects? What was the most technically challenging aspect of making the video?
The most challenging part of making this video was working around the logistics of using pre-existing artworks. On the most basic (and boring red-tape) level, there’s a lot of difficult-to-navigate rules when it comes to copyright, especially with the amount of images we wanted to use. But in a more technical sense, matching some of the artworks as closely as possible with Tristan’s face and body proved to be quite difficult since some of the paintings aren’t exactly anatomically correct.
To work around this, we had to do a lot of photoshopping but also used AI to help generate some artwork. Some images are entirely AI generated, others just partially. It was a lot of trial and error. We’d never worked with AI before and we were careful not to overuse it. We wanted to use it more as a tool to supplement the overall concept rather than become part of it, and opted to use as much “real” artwork as possible.
Stills from Higher
Some of the classical art shots feel reminiscent of The White Lotus title sequences, was that a visual reference at all?
No, neither of us have seen it.
You have a fresh, original aesthetic and distinctive filmic language, do you draw inspiration from any other filmmakers at all?
Between the two of us there are so many filmmakers that we love and are inspired by. But to be honest, it’s quite difficult to pinpoint where exactly we draw our inspiration from as a duo. A lot of our thoughts come from outside of film – from art and photography, to just reading things in books and the news, and other weird places on the internet. Our influences often change from project to project and we grab ideas from so many different places that it can get quite messy in our heads (and hard drives).
This is the third music video you’ve directed, do you tend to start with the narrative idea or the music?
It really depends on the project. Polly and Sam from OB Management have been great at getting a wide range of different briefs over to us which has stretched the way we work and conceptualise. Sometimes we start with a strong visual idea – an image we want to create or a visual technique that we want to try out – and then build a narrative out from there. Other times we start with a simple narrative before adding layers which push it into something more unique. For Higher we started with a concept and from there we started to layer in more emotion and feeling.
Your previous videos – Berwyn M.I.A. and Eddy Luna Still Breathing – have a similarly trippy feel, blurring the edges of reality and playing with concepts of ‘the self’, identity and out of body – are these themes that interest you as filmmakers?
We’ve both been interested in exploring ideas around our place in the world and society, but also in themes around the surreal and the subconscious. We’re not necessarily only going to exclusively look at these ideas but it just so happened that they came together in a way for our first three videos. Maybe our next project won’t have anything to do with any of these themes at all.
Art classics from Higher
Alongside your videos, you’ve also collaborated on a fashion photography project, Displaced, exploring your experiences as people of colour growing up in the west. How have your cultural heritages influenced your creative approach and aesthetic as directors?
Tim: Who you are inherently influences your creative work and the stories that you choose to tell, even if not obviously. I think it’s normal to be drawn to narratives that resemble your own, but I didn’t actively realise this until quite a while later. Working as part of a duo has provided space for more immediate and active discussion during the conceptualising process and actually verbalising these ideas out loud in a creative context with another person in the room has given me a stronger understanding of my views and my values as a director. I don’t really know how much our respective cultural heritages influence our visual aesthetic, but it intrinsically plays a role in our creative approach and making sure that the stories we tell are told in a way that is authentic to us and the people that we work with.
What are you working on at the moment?
Vikesh: How to be a better human in this ever-evolving society and my jollof rice recipe, as well as a couple of music videos and photography projects.
Tim: Same, minus the jollof rice.
INTERVIEW BY SELENA SCHLEH
Music video representation: OB Management
London Grammar, CamelPhat - Higher
Dir / Edit: WAXXWORK
Prod / 1st Ad: Dan Matthews
Cinematography: Adam Singodia
Featuring: Tristan Carter
Prod Co: Ramshackle Productions
1st Ac: Ollie Pearson
2nd Ac: Lluc Pearson
Gaffer: Kian Altmann
Sparks: Tanya Ringer, Emil Nolan
2nd Ad: Ben Pierce
Asst Prod: Grace Richardson
Shadow: Ade Balogun
Colour: Myles Bevan At Studio Rm
Stylist: Frankie Noller
Stylist Asst: Martha Rothwell
Hmua: Scarlet Walker
Hmua Asst: Ruby Yu
Location: East End Studios – Erith
Camera Rental: Haze Films
Lighting Rental: Pilot Lighting
Additional Paintings: Georgie Dale
Special Thanks: Leigh Mac Laughlin, Mimi Gehin
Commissioner: Dan Millar
Dir Rep: Sam Davey & Polly Millner, OB Management
Dir / Edit : WAXXWORK
Prod : Emma Jane Thompson
Exec Prod : Elizabeth Doonan
Prod Co : Smuggler
Cinematography : Adam Singodia
1st Ad : Tom Wynbourne
2nd Ad : James Williams
Gaffer : Ollie Riches
Art Dir : Joe Munro
Colour : Myles Bevan
Berwyn Stylist : Frankie Noller
Cast Stylist : Justin Hamilton
Hmua : Elaine Lynskey
Sparks : Joe Linton, Henry Martin
Steadicam : Matt Allsop
Focus Puller : Davide Scalenghe Migliarini
Clapper Loader : Dan Howe
Art Asst : Callum Rob
Stylist Asst : Alana Newton
Prod Asst : Khaliq Arif
Runner : Gabrielle Christie
Bts Photo : Isaac J. Cambridge
Vfx : B. Art. Studio
Casting : Talent Talks Agency
Dir Rep : Sam Davey & Polly Millner, Ob Management
Berwyn Management : Hamish Harris
Commissioner, Sony : Dan Millar
Head Of Marketing, Columbia : Joel Quarter
A collaboration with stylist, Rishy Malik.
Commissioner: Lea Ogunlami
Production Company: SMUGGLER
Managing Director: Fergus Brown
Executive Producer: Elizabeth Doonan
Producer: Luca Chapman