Director Oliver Murray and cinematographers Vanessa Whyte and Toby Ross-Southall hit the road with The Vaccines.
When English indie rock band The Vaccines decided they didn't want to do yet another studio-based music video for their latest song, Tiger Blood, director Oliver Murray knew exactly what the group should do - just be themselves.
"I suggested following them on tour," says Murray. "It was really refreshing that Claire Stubbs, video commissioner at Sony, supported that vision completely."
With the band referencing old punk documentaries whenever they discussed the project, Murray decided to shoot on film, for both aesthetic and practical reasons
"Everyone was fed up with the low-budget 5D music promo look," he says. "We wanted iconic cinematography that felt timeless. It had to feel 'caught'. We needed a small crew of confident shooters who could make their own decisions and capture spontaneous moments. Vanessa Whyte, Toby Ross-Southall and I had all worked together over the previous year and I knew I could trust them."
" A major challenge was, like most music promos, the low budget," says producer Sam Kennedy. "But we got a great deal with the Fujifilm Complete 16 HD package, and Matt Bounsall at Take 2 helped us out a lot with the Super 16mm kit."
Cinematographer Whyte's familiarity with film proved to be an immediate advantage, especially as she was essentially a one-woman camera crew. "Ollie [Murray] and I have been talking for ages about shooting a promo on film," she explains. "I shot Super 16mm on an Aaton XTR with two zoom lenses and a pack of filters. Everything was handheld and I had no camera assistant, so I was trying to do everything at once, running around after the band, trying to get the exposure right and then looking after all the mag loading as well. I just took one stock with me - the Fujifilm Eterna Vivid 500T. I had a limited number of rolls and knew I'd be shooting in a ton of different environments on the same roll and I didn't want to keep worrying about changing stocks. One minute I'd be on the dimly lit Parisian Metro, the next in bright sunshine. Using the 500T meant I could handle all those environments on one stock, switching the colour correction or ND filters in for daytime. The live gig was a really high-contrast situation with the bright lights of the stage and the darkness beyond, but I knew the stock would handle it. I did push a roll in the lab to give me an extra stop for the gig - I was really pleased with the results, great punchy colours and the grain wasn't too crazy. And any extra grain would just mean a better match for the Super 8 being shot by Toby."
Ross-Southall handled the Super 8mm camera in tandem to Whyte's Super 16mm.
"The main challenge actually turned into the best achievement: to improvise and shoot," he says. "But skateboarding backwards downhill on a one-way street in Paris was also pretty hard! I used Braun Nizo Super 8mm camera - it was so fun and playful; it felt like the first time I picked up a camera."
Murray definitely felt that the run'n'gun shoot created a sense of adventure and ad hoc creativity that organically bled into the final piece. "Ness and Toby made sure that at times the 16mm footage was just as spontaneous as the 8mm and the 8mm was as rich and beautiful as the 16mm," he says.
Whyte never doubted for a second that the film stock would prove up to the task and be visually exciting. "I really trust film aesthetically in a way that I don't trust small digital cameras that have a particular digital look and can't handle highlights well," she says. "The biggest challenge for me was actually personal - getting on a tour bus, leaving the country at midnight with a band who don't know you! That's why it was so important to keep the crew small - we needed to break down barriers, build trust and not have a cumbersome set-up that felt intimidating."
"It felt like we were just a group of mates, rather than a film crew," smiles Ross-Southall.
"We couldn't shoot 24/7 like you would with digital and that was great because it forced choices on us," concludes Murray. "We shot what we needed and moved on. I always thought of shooting on film as being difficult - you hear horror stories of shooting all day and it turning out ruined - but it's actually very robust and I was really happy. It's organic, and the grain is always dancing, so there's a huge amount of energy - even in a static portrait. As everyone says time and time again, there's something about film stock that you just can't replicate with any other format."
- For more on Vanessa Whyte, visit www.vanessawhyte.com and www.fujifilmexposure.com/interviews/116/gun-running
- To check out Oliver Murray's work, see olliemurray.com/OLIVER-MURRAY
- You can find more about Toby Ross-Southall at www.tobyross-southall.co.uk