Self-reflection: Emile Rafael and Joe Connor on set directing their first Supermodel music video, Push
What was behind the decision to collaborate musically and what were the initial conversations like?
Joe: After an aborted attempt to write another folk album (following my first one in 2017), I couldn’t quite get my act together to record some new music. I would chat to Emile most days, just chewing ideas back and forth, and we started to feel that maybe we were looking for the same thing, a sound that resonated with the post-Brexit decay we both sensed.
Emile: It was Covid, lockdown; we had to stop everything, and there was no directing for a while. I started looking at some music sketches I had done over the years. I sent some to Joe, and we did our first track together, called “Have You Forgot.” A small label wanted to release it, and suddenly we realised that this could be something much more serious than a side project.
I think, yes, we are very much pursuing our own projects, but what’s nice about Supermodel is that it has its own voice because it’s so much of both of us. It has its own look and universe that it creates. We thought a lot about this at the start. I can see a possible future where there is a Supermodel production in other outlets.
Joe : I think we’ve both looked for a home for our extracurricular activities, music, art, poetry. Supermodel feels like an umbrella for a lot of exploration.
Supermodel does indeed have its own unique sound – were you always in agreement about the music you wanted to make?
Joe : Actually, the sound has emerged organically. We share similar tastes in music and reference points. The first major decision for me was to speak instead of just sing. I wanted to embrace being Northern for the first time in years, and speaking allowed me to just lean into my voice more, to not sing with any american-isms. The lyrics seemed to just flow out of me, the bits you say to yourself and try to keep hidden.
Emile: Joe is an amazing lyricist, I think, a real storyteller with his words, and it fits so well with the sound. And yes, while we think a lot about the presentation and constantly create a visual universe, the music is where I think we feel free. It emerges very spontaneously, and yet there is a definite Supermodel sound to it.
Joe: I am aiming to be the Northern Keats, Emile is the thinking man’s Dre.
Emile: Lol, that’s one dated reference.
From Supermodel, Push
The three singles all have strong visual narratives – we particularly like the line in Push “I might get sober next October, if I get myself together” which feels very apposite for this time of year. How does the creative process, writing the lyrics and then producing the tracks, work between you?
Joe: I’ve always written lyrics as a sort of daily habit. I do it instead of doom-scrolling. I find that it helps me to process life and understand the little corners of my brain. I’ve always really admired lyricists who plug right into the truth and don’t sugarcoat it. While I don’t struggle with alcohol, anyone living in London or the UK, in general, knows that our culture has a symbiotic relationship with alcohol and substances. They play a significant role in how we socialise, do business, meet new people. There’s a truth to the sentiment that ‘if I could get myself together’ life would be better. Like the lotus flower, growth often comes from out of the mud. I like to dig around in the muddy bits to find truths to write about.
Emile: A lot of the songs start with my musical ideas, and then Joe adds lyrics and other instrumentation too. Although the next single came pretty much from Joe, with my production and musical additions, we somehow manage to be very prolific together, there are a bunch more tracks waiting to be mixed.
Joe: I think that’s one of the strengths – we can both write tracks but it always seems to sound like Supermodel.
Although Supermodel was created as a passion project your parent production companies – Agile, Rogue, Closer and Arts & Sciences – supported you all the way with the production of the just released video for Push.
Joe: I think all three companies support the artists they work with to expand their work and push their boundaries.
Emile: I think they liked the music; that was one big test for us.
Joe : We asked them every week if they liked the music, and they have always said yes, so…we just forged ahead.
Emile: It was actually anyone who worked on this; they got constantly asked, “Yes, but do you actually like the track?”
But in all seriousness, we are incredibly grateful to everyone who believed in this, starting with our production homes.
On Set shooting Supermodel, Push
How did the creative process evolve co-directing for the first time? Did a working balance between you come about naturally, for instance did you fall into your own particular strengths and skill sets or did you work together on every production decision? Any major tug of wars?
Emile: I think it was one big tug of war. You can just feel it in the video. I think we both have very similar tastes, but we get there in very different ways. So it was more about an approach rather than fighting over a particular decision.
Joe: I love anything Emile does, so I just kept him from himself so that he could do his best work. That was my main job. I found the tussle quite nice to be honest, I like being challenged and having to bounce creative ideas around.
Emile: In a way, I do think the tension brings out a pretty interesting result, both in music and in the visual aspects. I think if we both were super similar in our approach, it would be boring. We’re both strong-minded and obviously have quite a few hours on-set under our belts. I learned a lot, but man, sometimes we really did wind each other up.
Joe : Everything’s alright in the end, if it’s not alright, then it’s not the end. No stress.
Emile: Ah, that John Lennon quote.
Was everything nailed down in pre-production?
Emile: I like to nail everything down in prep as much as possible; I do storyboards, animatics, and I usually don’t stop until the day of the shoot as it gives me a feeling of being in control. Joe, however, is much more open to chance, I think, and works within the set parameters, taking those broad strokes. It really took me out of my comfort zone in that sense, and I could see the benefit of that, finding interesting things that happen on the day.
Joe : I come from a live theatre background, and I’ve always loved work that feels alive. Risk is an inherent part of creating something that has a pulse. You have to have risk, chance, reward, failure, passion, fear…and you have to embrace all of them. Set the stage, tell the players their parts and find the work. Obviously, I can be buttoned down when I need to be on a project, but with Supermodel, I felt that there was so much life and possibilities in spontaneity around a simple story.
90% of commercial filmmaking shies away from this reality. Great work always has a little element of spontaneity to it. If you have the chance to embrace it, like we did here, you must push it.
Emile: We pushed it alright.
Can we expect some live performances soon? Perhaps with astounding visuals?
Emile: Well, I really hope so. Joe just needs to finish his insane job, where he has been living in the desert for the past half year, and realize his true calling in life, which is Supermodel.
Joe : Supermodel was born to be heard live.
Emile: The answer is yes, that’s the next big step.
Directed by: Emile Rafael, Joe Connor
Produced by: Matouš Marcinko, Emile Rafael
Executive Producers: Myles Payne, Mal Ward, Marc Marrie, Kate Taylor, Charlie Crompton, James Howland
Production Manager: Alžběta Novosadová
Director of Photography: Michal Babinec
Editor: Liv Ay at TRIM EDIT
Edit Producer: Noreen Khan
Choreography: Kristina Tukan
Stylist: Tereza Kopecká
Stylist's Assistant: Filip Vlček
Make Up Artist: Phil Noiraude
Make Up Assistant: Anna Ipatová
Set Designer: Matěj Kos
Prop Master: Michal Jalůvka
PA: Adéla Veríšová
First Assistant Director: Matěj Bláhovec
First AC: Filip Kettner
2nd AC: Michal Vojta
DIT/VTR: Lubor Riedl
BTS: Rita Watson
Gaffer: Jirka Vrána
Best Boy Lights: Vít Morawski
Grip: Ludvík Hradílek
Steadicam: Daniel Vagenknecht
Casting: Arwa Salmanova of Simon Says
Cast: Kristina Tukan, Waitress: Barbora Jílková, Medium: Tereza Hofová, Dancers: Tina Breiova, Marek Mensik, With: Hana Janata, Julie Rezková, Veronika Vaculíková, Oswaldo Osorio
VFX: AGILE STUDIO
Post Producer Agile Studios: David Horsburgh, Oksana Steblyk
Online Editor: Joe Corrie
Sound Design: Izaak Buffin at Rascal Post
Sound Producer: Maddy Lebel
Voice Over Recording: Lukáš Mutňanský
VFX Team: Kevin Marien, Thomas Dunleavy, Andrew Loughnane, Andrius Vizbaras
Colour House: BLACK KITE STUDIOS
Colourist: Tom Mangham
Colour Producer: Jade Denn