Interview W/ Tom Mustill


We all know what it’s like when the night comes to an end and you find yourself engaging in random conversation with the taxi driver. It’s only the morning after you realize he definitely didn’t engage and in all likelihood probably wasn’t listening. This is the setting for Tom Mustill’s new video for Dems single ‘Wake’. Only rather than your drunken ramblings the one-way conversation is made up of the contents of Spam emails. It’s the tone of these emails that are brilliantly summed up in Tom Mustill new video for Dems single ‘Wake’.

Tom set up Gripping Films after getting a first class degree in Natural Sciences from Cambridge More used to inspecting the insides of nature’s giants rather than that of a black cab, we had a chat with Tom to find out how working with musicians differs to working with animals.

Word Is Cheap: Having created ‘A Sense Of An Ending’ for Dems how has your process developed?

Tom Mustill: I’ve started making music videos as a way to play with stories and structures that I don’t get to in my day job (making nature documentaries) particularly working with invented characters and the actors who play them. I started wanting to just make beautiful images to go with music, and now I’m more interested in gripping and moving people emotionally.

I’m also managing to eat on shoots more. Sense of an Ending’ we shot in an afternoon with a fearless / maniac friend called Waldo who climbs trees for a living, up his favourite beech tree in Dorset. He genuinely climbs the tree with no ropes and blindfolded. Shooting on a rope hanging in a tree is hard, and it took ages, all plans for our victory dinner afterwards were dashed – we just got the last train home which took four hours and had no food on board, we’d not eaten since that morning. We distracted ourselves by grading the shots on the journey and talking about what we’d eat in Waterloo. For ‘Wake’ DEMS shouted us some crisps and sandwiches, and Anil (my friends’ dad, who plays the dying businessman) gave us some nuts and red wine, and on the most recent video (for Landshapes) we even had pizzas, so more food has been an excellent process development.

the film doesn’t look like a tropical Mexican town or a miserable London winter, it’s almost placeless

WIC: What was it about a taxi ride that you related to SPAM?

TM: I started idly reading my spam emails when looking for a non spam one that’d got lost there and found them really compelling, they just dump heaps of emotion and private story on you in a way that would be hard to deal with if a stranger started talking to you or writing to you. I’ve spoken to taxi drivers who have the same thing; the back seat of a cab is a confession booth. And it works both ways- one driver I spoke to was obsessed with buying his teenage son onesies, but didn’t like onesies, another used to spend all his money on coke, then got hypnotised and now spends it all on plastic surgery. So I thought it would be fun to bring the spam characters alive and cast them as people and couldn’t think of anywhere they’d speak like they do in spam apart from in a cab.

WIC: How is it working with the artist the video is for, as your DOP?

TM: Mostly quite silly. I met Dave (who shot and edited the video) when we were both working on Inside Nature’s Giants, he designed me a transparent maze for a giraffes tongue to explore to show how it can bend around things. He’s got a great eye, we both dig similar things and find most of it ridiculous. Dave wasn’t the only DEMS member involved: Dan, the singer, played the driver in the video and borrowed his mums car for the shoot, thanks Dan! This makes us sound like children, which I guess we are, but we’re also all about thirty. I’ve since teamed up with Dave as an editor on a bunch of other work, in all my career I’ve realised I get most of my pleasure from the people I work with, and Dave is a damn fine man to work with. He’s also foolhardy and very suggestible; for the shots of Dan through the windscreen Dan just drove around with Dave lying on the front of the car.

WIC: Having worked a lot in documentary does your directing style change for music video?

TM: Filming-wise it’s very similar; we have limited time and an idea of how we’d like it to look, and then we play around with that, often trying things out as they come along. In nature documentary, we have small crews (one or two people) and a big emphasis on image, and that’s been the same with the music videos.

The big difference has been with making stuff up, I’ve found it a release to invent things and not to have to stick to representing only what feels ‘true’. The other great change is that there’s more of a feeling of collaboration working with actors than filming with documentary contributors – the actors we’ve worked with, like Spencer Brown and Kristin Blakstad, want to join you in forging a world, whereas contributors often and very reasonably want to get back to their jobs or tell you something their way of telling it, so I guess that’s not me changing my style, but more the medium giving me more space to breathe and collaborate.

WIC: The aerial shots really tie the promo together how or where did they come from?

TM: At the end of shooting a wildlife film in Mexico, we had some spare time with a drone team we’d met out there and worked with. The shoot had finished so we went to get dinner in a town by the sea, we wanted to see what it looked like from above so we got the drone out played with exposing the shot really low, I thought it was some of the most beautiful footage I’d shot, and had been burning to use it in something since, so I showed it to Dave and then we had to come up with a story to fit it, we shot all the interior car stuff over a couple of evenings in London, and we were thrilled that it didn’t jar ; the film doesn’t look like a tropical Mexican town or a miserable London winter, it’s almost placeless.

WIC: Your promos for Dems seem like stand alone projects, are there any more planned?

TM: Yes! I’m making a BBC/ PBS film about giraffes (again! I love giraffes) at the moment, but hoping to wiggle making some more music videos among them. I just did one for a band I know called Landshapes about a Moon Goose egg, which Dave edited and DEMS are working on their second album, so we’re plotting what would be playful to make and would push us a little more. I’m particularly interested in professional dog food tasters so perhaps that might feature.

Emily Harrison

Amateur filmmaker and photographer. Anthropology graduate and firm believer that where words fail music speaks. -
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