Category: behind the scenes

Directing and shooting Wintersong by Daryl Kellie

I’ve worked with the amazing Daryl Kellie quite a few times now, in fact, we lived together for a year back in 2004! I created most of the video content for his DVD/album Wintersong released summer 2014 and back in September he called about the possibility of shooting a music video for the title track of the album, obviously I jumped at the chance.

After a few chats about the songs meaning and the looks that Daryl liked we settled on a performance based video that cut to beautiful nature shots that mimic the story of the song. The idea was to express the new life that comes around with winter as a marker of a new start and nature awakening as the days get longer. We would effectively show this through the nature shots, mostly of the sun poking through branches and what not. And also in the close up shots of Daryl’s lips where the sun rises throughout the 3 minute video.

The first shoot was the interior performance by Daryl with Tom Nichols on upright bass and Kris Lousley on drums. We actually shot this in Daryl’s kitchen which, although large as far as kitchens go, was quite a struggle to fit in for a performance space. I wanted to light them as if pools of light were spilling in through a window on camera right with the rest of the light being warm tungsten or candles. And so we lit the candles and I used two tungsten lights, both fired through home-made cookies/gobos to exaggerate the ambient candle light.

I then placed two daylight LED panels on camera right to represent a window, I wanted everything pretty dark so most of the set up was restricting the light flow/spill.
Filming Daryl Kellie
Filming Daryl Kellie
As I had lit the space for the wide master-shot there was little adjustment needed in the lights as I moved in for the closer angles, just a case of pulling in some of the LED panels to get a softer look at times.
For anyone interested, my approach was to get the ugly wide master-shot in the can then move in for medium (on slider), then close-up, then even more close-up, then slomo shots. That way if anyone suddenly came down with food-poisoning or whatever, I’d still have enough for the performance part of the video.

To film Daryl’s lips and show the sunrise we filmed him on three occasions, the first was just after sunset with an LED panel to create the pre-sunrise blue look. Then we filmed him at actual sunrise then finally about an hour after sunrise and among a little shade. I feel like this subtle narrative helps tie things together nicely.

Most of the rest of the exteriors were filmed of Daryl strolling around a park near my flat on a day that happened to have beautiful light, it wasn’t as cold as we would have liked but it actually ties in with the meaning of new life a little better as it’s not so deathly cold.

Almost all of the nature shots were filmed in my backgarden where the sun pokes through the trees beautifully. The water droplet shot had to be faked because of time constraints and so I stuck a 500W tungsten light straight into a macro lens while a twig fresh from my freezer was clamped in front of it, job done!
Fake Sunrise

I’m really pleased with this video and Daryl has been getting some great feedback, we’re due to be shooting another very soon, so be sure to keep an eye out for it on Daryl’s YouTube page:

Kit Used:
Sony FS700
Canon 5DmkIII
Canon 16-35mm f/2.8 mkII
Canon 24-70mm f/2.8
Sigma 70-200mm f/2.8
Canon 50mm f/1.8
Canon 85mm f/1.8
old 200mm macro lens
LED panels x2
Glidetrack 75cm slider

Directing a live performance video around symmetry

My long friend Dan Baxter and I run a channel called The Live Sessions where we film and record artists performing one song either in a gig setting or often in a stripped back on location setting. Either way our goal is to get amazing audio and beautiful cinematic visuals. For a while we had talked about the aesthetic of shooting a duo performing around a single mic and playing with the symmetry that this offered.

As if by magic we were offered the chance to work with Irish duo Hudson Taylor, two lovely guys with great voices and great song-writing. For the shoot Dan Baxter had secured The Kings Head Members Club and we had the pick of four of their upstairs rooms.

One of these rooms not only had a beautiful tiled floor but also an amazing stained glass window with just enough space to fit the two guys around, we had found our symmetry! We set up Hudson Taylor to perform perpendicular to this window, facing each other with a single mic between them (though we did stick an extra small mic on each of their guitars).

The camera angles were super simple: master wide shot looking back to the window, medium shot from the same angle, tight over shoulder into singers face, tight over other guys shoulder into other singers face. Lovely and simple.

I wanted the light to be motivated and feel real. To achieve this I put a daylight LED panel above the wide camera to add to the light from the window and then a tungsten LED panel left and right to give the boys an orange hair light that looks like it came from some of the lamps in the room. The hair lights had the barn doors almost completely closed so that they just skimmed the back of each of them.
You can see most of the set-up in this shot, you can also just about see (on the screen of the 5DmkIII) how we cheated by leaving light stands in the master shot, then grabbed a 30 second plate with no light stands to comp in later.
Filming Hudson Taylor

For anyone interested in the audio on this shoot, I broke it down in this blog post for Rode Microphones.

The Edit
I did consider having most of the video rest on the wide shot because I love the composition of it so much but I chose instead to do the opposite and save it as a treat for the viewer that reveals itself just occasionally. It feels like this makes more sense with the song and makes the wide shot even more special, I love it.

I would love to take this symmetry further in a really minimalist setting, I’m keeping my eyes peeled for locations and duos to work with.

In the mean time, here’s Dan Baxter squished in a corner straddling a tiger getting one of the tight shots:
Dan Baxter getting the shot

Kit Used:
Canon C100
Canon 5DmkIII
Canon 24-70mm f/2.8
Sigma 70-200mm f/2.8
LED panels x3
Rode NT2-a mic
Rode NT5 mic x2

Shooting a music video in a few hours

During the pre-production for Four Wheel Drive’s Hammered Again music video they decided that it would be great to lead into the launch of the extravagant Hammered Again video with a straight up down and dirty performance video. This video would be for their song No Money Down, literally about having no money but having a great time regardless.
Four Wheel Drive have gassy ass!
And so they called me with the idea to shoot a performance in their rehearsal space the next morning, of course I was up for it! I had a bunch of listens to the song and noticed that it has a really nice clear structure from verses and chorus’ that could play well with an edit that used different focal lengths in different parts of the song. And so I set off with a camera, tripod and a few lenses.
On the way to shoot.
Setting up
The band wanted the room to look shitty and so they set up their kit accordingly while I rigged up the five lights we had available. I had to choose a place for the lights and keep them there because we had only a few hours in the room. The best option seemed to be to stick one either side of Will (drums), one next to Paddy (guitar) and the fourth next to Ben (lead guitar). The fifth light was some naff disco thing that I stuck behind the drums that actually added some nice movement to things. Lucky for me I found some kind of LED torch probably meant for a mechanic that I was able to hang from the ceiling right in Jamie’s (bass and vocals) face. Which not only lit him really nicely but also picked him out as it was the only daylight coloured lighting.
Shooting No Money Down by Four Wheel Drive
Once set, we ploughed through the song a bunch of times as I picked up all the shots I needed. I started with the widest (8mm fisheye) thinking that the band might still be warming up a little but you can’t see many details in a fisheye shot. Then I moved in for 24mm, then 18mm handheld of each member, then the 70mm shot of the teeth.
I did the edit later that day on my laptop and had it ready to go in just a few hours!

The band loved the rawness of it and it worked as a great lead up to the narrative video we shot a few weeks later (read about that video here) using no performance element. I particularly like the way the focal lengths fit with the structure of the song and help to show more or less of the room, almost making it a fifth character in the performance.
Four Wheel Drive reviewing a shot
Kit Used:
Canon 550D
Sigma 8mm fisheye
Canon 18-55mm
Sigma 24-70mm f/2.8
Manfrotto 055xProB tripod
Home-made shoulder mount
Crappy stage lights
Fog machine

Making something beautiful in under 30 minutes

I was recently asked to film two performances and an interview with solo artist Natasha North for SubTV. The interview would be between just her and presenter Ivan Berry and the performances would be just her on her own on guitar or piano. The challenge was that I had to do all of this on my own, including audio, with one light and all within an hour.

We filmed the interview first and this served as a great way of loosening everyone up, Ivan is great at that. Moving onto the first performance, Natasha perched herself on the edge of her couch with an acoustic guitar. I stuck my light up on her right as she was leaning to her left so the light grazed across her face. I also had a horrible little LED panel in my bag that I rested on the back of the couch as a hair light. She gave a great performance over the two takes and I filmed in close so as to allow me to move the camera a little more. This video is embedded at the bottom of this post.

Thankfully we were able to run over by around 20 minutes and so we quickly switched to her beautiful upright piano for the second performance (embedded above). I’ve always found it a bit tricky filming people at an upright piano because they are essentially singing with their face up against a surface. On this occasion I wanted to be brave and make the viewer wait to see Natasha’s face. And so I set up my one light above and behind her and clamped a 5DmkIII to the light stand and opened it up to f/2.8 so that her hands on the keys were just out of focus.

The other angles were the fillers to give the audience something to work with and I found the light balanced quite nicely with the ambient light of the studio. Natasha gave two great performances and I handed the footage over to Dan Baxter who did a lovely edit including slow fades that really suite the song.

Here is the first song Natasha performed:

Kit used:
Canon 5DmkIII
Canon 550D
Canon 16-35mm f/2.8
Canon 24-70mm f/2.8
One LED panel

Shooting a music video with drunk people

Photo by Chris Brown 07
A few years ago the awesome Four Wheel Drive got in touch about a music video. Their idea was for us to follow them on a night out and document what crazy drunken antics ensue. This would have been cool but we naturally started to talk about how to inject a narrative other than just the chronology of the night.

Over quite a few pub meetings we went through all kinds of far out ideas (including building a fake hotel room and setting fire to it) and eventually settled upon quite an elaborate plot where the lead singer Jamie (who at the time always wore a red leather jacket) would get tangled up with a wild woman (played by Gina Snake) who nips out of the pub to buy more drugs and in the process of getting arrested, ends up beating up the undercover police man. Unfortunately for Jamie, she does this while wearing his red leather jacket. Obviously we used the red as a warning and not only tried to keep all of the extras away from any red clothes but also had Dan Baxter play with this red in the grading. The idea is that you get hammered, do stupid stuff, then get hammered again, kind of like Ground Hog Day!
Hopefully as you watch the video you’ll want to crack open a beer and get hammered.

The whole video was shot on location at The Big Red where the band had a residency. Not only was Ben (the owner/manager) hugely patient with us (it wasn’t a closed set, the bar was open to the public as normal), but the bar itself is a great venue. The layout just works, everyone there is friendly, it’s pretty easy to get to and they have free live music!
Photo by Chris Brown 04
Drink, lots of drink
We talked about the band and extras drinking apple juice instead of whisky and not only did it seem a bit naff but also non of the band or extras are actors so it would be obvious that they weren’t drunk, let alone hammered. And so after the pub opened and we had sorted out a few bits and Dan Baxter, Rachael Tasker and I had one last meticulous read through of my treatment and shot list, we started shooting and the band began drinking, at 2pm.
We shot the video entirely in chronological order partly because of the light but mostly because of the alcohol. There were plenty of occasions where we would spend 15 minutes setting up a shot while the cast mingled then shout “action” and expect them to drink, cheers together, neck shots and down entire pints of beer. Consequently by about 3.30pm most of them were completely hammered.
Photo by Adam Berry 04
Photo by Chris Brown 09
Rachael Tasker was with us on hand for crowd control (she is a primary school teacher) and was a huge help, we wouldn’t have got any of our narrative shots if it wasn’t for Rachael rallying people together, giving them water, making sure they were in the right place. She actually makes a cameo as one of the barmaids pulling a pint in the first chorus.

The fight scene
The climax of the video, where the girl beats up the policeman was a straight forward scene with a handful of angles but made so difficult by the weather. It had unexpectedly started snowing, on February the 20th!
It was a nice relief to work with Adam Berry (undercover policeman), for a start he was sober and also an experienced actor, used to taking direction. He was so professional, he was totally down for getting smashed in the face with a sugar glass bottle and even refused to lie on a towel and yoga matt for the shot where he gets kicked.
Photo by Chris Brown 03
Photo by Chris Brown 01
The Police
Like most unsigned bands, Four Wheel Drive were not rolling in money but we were SOOOO glad that they forked out for the police costumes. They were super authentic and really cheap (maybe £150 for the pair), the only requirement was that they were not to be worn in a public area. The pub is open to the public but a private establishment so we were golden. The uniforms totally sold that scene and even on set we would all catch ourselves doing double takes at the two guys dressed up as policemen, they totally looked like real policemen!
Photo by Adam Berry 05
By 9pm we were exhausted and we had the shots, it was an amazing day and really great to see our vision come together in the edit. All of the band and extras were so unbelievably professional, resilient and determined, when we shouted drink, they drank.
Gina Snake deserves a special mention because she was pretty much the star of the video and never complained or even hesitated when we asked her to do some pretty weird things like dance on the bar, punch someone in the face, kiss someone, lick someone, smash a bottle over someone’s head, down another drink and of course looks great on screen.

Post production
I wanted the edit to be energetic but I wanted room to make it even more manic in each chorus. Obviously I cut hard and fast but I also sped up a few of the shots to give them an extra sense of confusion. As we planned the shoot so thoroughly the edit was quite straight forward and the whole thing came together really nicely. Going through all of the footage was quite amusing, I left in a few clips where people drop their drink, can you see how many drinks get dropped?
Dan Baxter did some very subtle VFX to add police lights to my mums car, a police car approaching from afar and some extra rain/snow. He then coloured the whole piece for a hard look with a little grain, just like when you’re hammered!

We filmed almost all of the video on a Canon 5DmkII and used a 550D for the slomo because our 5DmkII (kindly lent by Nick Kent) only did 24 or 30 frames per second at the time. Almost all of it was shot on a shoulder rig I had built with a handful of shots on an 8 foot jib.
We lit the whole thing with one 500 watt tungsten light (operated by Dan Baxter), mostly shot through a photographic diffusion umbrella and just moved it around the bar to act as a kicker against the practical lighting already there.
Photo by Chris Brown 06
24-70mm f/2.8
50mm f/1.2
85mm f/1.2
70-200mm f/2.8
Kit for Hammered Again music video
As expected, the band were totally chuffed with it and threw a launch party at The Intrepid Fox, Soho which we attended and got properly hammered to a great response by all.
Photo by Adam Berry 04
All behind the scenes photos taken by Chris Brown and Adam Berry.

Filming with fake sun on a real budget

My long friend Dan Baxter and I run a channel called The Live Sessions where we film and record artists/bands performing one song either in a gig setting or often in a stripped back on location setting. Either way our goal is to get amazing audio and beautiful cinematic visuals.

A little while ago we worked with an artist called Polly Money in my favourite pub, The Priory Tavern. Polly is a summer girl and her vibe is all about summer so we wanted to capture that in her video.

In England the sun doesn’t shine all that often and even if it was shining on this day we wouldn’t have got many summer beams in our shot. And so we placed a tungsten light at the back of shot in front of a window to represent the sun shining through, we puffed a bunch of smoke back there to sell the effect too. After looking through the lens in the three angles we had chosen we found the back of the bar to be a bit boring. It would have made sense to light the bar but this felt a bit 90’s porno so we were a bit naughty and chose to shoot this light straight back into the lens because we loved the flares.
Filming Polly Money
And that was it, two tungsten lights, three budget cameras, we rolled two takes and got a video with a lovely summer vibe. In no small part down to a constant smile from Polly!

Kit Used:
Canon 5DmkIII
Canon 600D
Canon 550D
Canon 24-70mm f/2.8
Sigma 70-200mm f/2.8
old vintage 50mm f/1.8
Glidetrack 75cm slider
budget 500w tungsten light x2
budget smoke machine