• Making Miracles

    The photography of the music video ‘Future Kings’ by ‘Miracle Bell’

    Simon Eustace pitched the concept for the latest Miracle Bell video to me about ten days before it was scheduled to shoot. A revolving set. Different rooms. Completely different lighting styles. Dance routines. Special Effects. And a fairly modest budget. It sounded fun.

    I met Simon at the Bray Music Video Awards in May. He had won both Best Video and Best Directed for ‘Listen Dear’ by The Coronas. In passing conversation we said it would be great to work together. The following week we did. The video was ‘Love Sounds’ and the band were friends of his, Miracle Bell. We shot through the night on a runway at Westin Airport.

    Like ‘Listen Dear’ (shot by Eleanor Bowman), ‘Love Sounds’ was high concept and strongly choreographed. We followed ‘Love Sounds’ by teaming up to shoot ‘Wont Leave you Alone Tonight’ by The Coronas. That was a departure from the formal style - we shot on a couple of different formats and almost every shot was handheld. For Future Kings, Simon wanted to return somewhat to the more formal style. The plan was for careful, striking composition and lighting. One of Simon’s strongest references was Wes Anderson - you’ll notice in the video we have Anderson-style features such as tracking shots that reveal the set and centred framing.

    Every project needs a driving force, or multiple driving forces as the case may be. In this case I was rather low down the driving force chain, and full credit should be given to Simon, of course, plus the band themselves and not forgetting the producer Michael Donnelly. Mike produced through his brand new company Tidal, and devoted much time and money to achieving a lot with a very tight budget. As with most music videos, the turnaround was quick. After the first meeting we had ten days to prep.

    Lucky for all involved, the band played a key role. Many bands are easy to work with, but Miracle Bell actually do a lot of the work. In this case they found the location and build the set. After consideration, the revolving set had been scrapped (too complicated), and the layout was now dictated by the location (a warehouse in Naas). Simon consulted me on the layout, and my main input was to ensure that we could get the angles we needed. I asked for a window in one wall (intended for a daylight scene which ended up being night) and I also asked that one wall be removable. It’s handy to be able to pull out certain walls to get the right angle (though we never moved it in the end).Apart from the band, another key member of the crew was Jill Beecher, who headed up the Art Department. With a set featuring four contrasting rooms, good production design is crucial, and Jill took care of that. With such a short prep schedule, it’s important that everyone is thinking along similar lines. To help with this, I created a ‘mood board’ featuring still photographs that I felt reflected the atmosphere of each room. In practice, I basically just go onto Flickr and trawl through various searches to find pictures that convey the right mood. It is particularly useful when there are multiple departments involved, and Simon was able to pick out the stills that matched what he had in his head and exclude the ones that he didn’t. It also gave Jill a rough idea of what the lighting would be like.

    The mood board for the cocktail party scene

    The choice of camera and lenses was quite straightforward. I own a Red, and we had shot Love Sounds with it, using two SuperSpeed lenses (35 and 65mm) that Simon got hold of from Filmbase (he works there). We went with the same set up on Future Kings- the project called for a cinematic look which the Red delivers, and obviously we would have blown the budget had we shot on 35mm film. Lens-wise the SuperSpeeds are very nice - they have a slight vintage quality, not quite as sharp as newer lenses yet the colour reproduction and contrast are great. And just having two lenses works fine for me - I like the uniformity it gives the shots. We stuck with the 35mm for most shots, and saved the 65mm for close ups or POVs. It would have been handy to have a wider lens than the 35mm, but we were lucky to have the space to move the camera back quite far from the set. To get a wide shot of the Blue Room, for example, we were basically on the other side of the warehouse.

    Again, in keeping with the cinematic/Wes Anderson aesthetic, Simon opted for 2.35.1 widescreen framing. Normally it could feel restrictive for interior-based films, but because the framing was specific it worked well and even helped us to avoid seeing the top of the set in some cases. Some videos are framed in widescreen to force a cinematic look, but in this case I think it complemented the overall look well.

    The next step for me was to visit the set as it was being built. I measured up each room so I could draw up some lighting diagrams, and generally got a feel for the place. A big question was how to rig the lights. Usually in a studio set up there would be built in bars for rigging lights overhead. Because this was just a warehouse, I had to figure out a way to get a bunch of lights above the set. Apart from that conundrum, the set looked great, especially considering the small budget. Shortcuts had to be made - most of the floors were made from painted wallpaper, and when I suggested that one wall was looking plain they came up with the cheap but ingenious solution of smacking the shit out of it with a hammer - it worked perfectly. I also made sure to ask for as many practical sources as possible. I find that practicals really help guiding the lighting for a scene. If you put a lamp in the corner, you can start building your lights around replicating that, and then keep building. They give you a starting point.

    Comments 5 Comments
    1. Ronan O'Conghaile's Avatar
      Ronan O'Conghaile -
      Fantastic article Piers. Thanks for taking the time to write this up; it's a great insight to the behind the scenes work you had to do.
    1. PiersMcGrail's Avatar
      PiersMcGrail -
      Thanks Ronan!
    1. Ruairiob's Avatar
      Ruairiob -
      Thanks- good article Piers.
    1. markbennett's Avatar
      markbennett -
      God I wish I could make videos as good as yours!!
    1. CRT's Avatar
      CRT -
      This is the kind of budget I wish I had for video... not a lot, just enough to be as creative as I'd like... good article! Something to aspire to!
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