Every year we’re lucky enough to have the Division crowd down to the UK MVAs in force, often walking away with a couple of the top prizes too. It’s only February and we’re already certain they’ll have a fair few nominations, so here’s looking forward to the UK MVAs 2015! But we digress:
Alt J have set a high precedence for their music videos. Using their visuals to inspire rather than self promote, the band have incidentally done both and become a film makers dream. The faceless band have chosen great directors: Nabil, Emile Sornin, Ryan Staake, Ellis Bahl, Alex Southam and now Thomas Rhazi. Here’s a director who has made a habit of leaving us stumped, scratching our heads like little school boys, as we try to work out why it shouldn’t make sense when it so obviously does.
So as to make sure we felt a little less stupid we tried to prise as many secrets to Thomas’ ‘Pusher’ as possible and although we don’t speak French, luckily for all of us, Thomas does speak English. We had a little chat to find out what his view on the narrative is, a question many directors avoid yet he answered, why the setting was so important and how much prep it takes to pull off a project of this technical level.
Word Is Cheap: Alt-J have an incredible backlog of music videos, had you always wanted to work with them?
Thomas Rhazi: They are probably the most interesting guys to work with today in the UK rock scene.
I was a huge listener of the first album and a friend of mine did a striking music video for them – Emile Sornin on “Fitzpleasure” – so I knew quite early that they were very involved into music video. With clear open minds and strong artistic choices. That’s a rare and precious combination. Aside from that, I always felt very close to their dark, yet poetic, musical universe. Joe writes with pictures on his mind, little impressionist stories, so it’s really easy to project my ideas on it. I could have just said yes, couldn’t I? hahaha.
How and why did you choose the setting?
The place was one of the most important issues. It needed to look beautiful and very aesthetic, at 360°, by day and night, on wide angle and long focal lenses.
I was looking for a weird place symbolizing those English speaker’s corners, those kind of natural stage. Like an agora or somewhere people would stop by between their boring jobs and identical homes. I also wanted it to be quite undefined geographically and in time. It gives that G. Orwell vibe.
It could be in every big European capital between the late 70’s and the 90’s. That allows the audience’s eyes to focus on the acting without contextualizing everything. It was also about having a practical location, an empty square with a lot of space but with buildings and trees very close to it. For the parallax effect when we zoom in and the poetry I was hopeing to create.
What can you tell us about the technical process of capturing this scene?
I can’t reveal all our tricks because it’ll kill all the magic but it was the most complex shoot I ever did. I don’t want people to look at all the details but basically we’ve shot several segments and managed to match them so it looks fluid without any morphing solution in post. Because we were unable to shoot with standard dolly or use a motion control on set it quickly became a real brain fuck. I needed to plan everything so we did a 3D animatic and printed a book with all the data. All the objects, actors, props, extras, camera, positions for each segment.
You often focus on technical aspects, does this mean everything is intricately preplanned leaving nothing to chance?
In my opinion, and with our limited shooting time these days in music video, the more you plan, the more you come with a clear and precise vision, the more you can shoot and let the actual magic happen. You can do more takes in an environment you can manage more easily during a short amount of time. That also means more possible choices, more chance to let unexpected things happen and more time to let the actor give the real deal.
But I like technical challenges that force people to focus and demand a tremendous amount of work and think of a better result I think. You should always work ten times harder technically so your audience do not and focus on the experience you’re leaving.
Of course the video’s plot is subjective but is there a definitive story in your mind?
This is about nonconformism and bravery. It’s not a clear fiction but for me it reflects crucial actual social dysfunctions. A guy stands in front of “the others” and understands second after second that he’s willing to risk everything in order to touch people’s mind and heart. The beauty of the story comes from its actual onirism: It’s just physically impossible to break your own neck. I’ve asked several osteopaths and physios and I did some quick research on that fact. It was very important, but because it’s video people think the guy is dead. For me he’s not. It’s the symbol which remains on the ground.
It says, when the words are not enough, when our tears and tries are not enough and when even our love is not enough for the world we live in it remains the endless print of our act, the ones which describes us as Human beings led by belief. Not religion. Belief.