Directing in isolation
Sweetshop‘s Alexander Brown needed only a live video chat, the artist’s girlfriend’s Canon 5D, a flashlight and his own post and graphic skills, to make this beautiful piece for Orlando Weeks‘ new track ‘Blood Sugar’, which was created entirely under lockdown from his parents’ farm in the North of England.
Watch the music video here
Sweetshop director Alexander Brown is behind Orlando Weeks’ new music video ‘Blood Sugar’, directed completely in isolation from his parents’ farm in in the North of England. He tells us about the thinking behind this incredibly personal song that inspired his direction and beautiful use of graphics.
What kind of brief did Orlando Weeks give you and what were your immediate thoughts when you saw it?
We started this project a couple of weeks before the lockdown started, and for a while, I wasn’t sure if it was going ahead. When the restrictions kicked in, the idea that we’d began to explore had to be completely thrown out when we realised it was going to be impossible, and we started again from scratch. We knew we didn’t want the video to completely be defined by quarantine; a webcam style video. I know for Orlando and his partner it is a very personal song, so it had to be sensitive to that.
The song has a very clinical heartbeat. It wasn’t a song inspired by the pandemic, but thematically [it] felt appropriate – we threw around a whole bunch of ideas before arriving at this. It’s a result born from a process and a conversation rather than the more usual top down treatment approach, but having those limitations paired with the moving target of outcome, we managed to get somewhere which didn’t feel like a compromise.
The video is beautiful. Tell us about filming. How was this shot?
Orlando shot his own performance with his partner, using her Canon 5D Mkii and a torch. I gave him instructions remotely as to how I wanted it. The footage came back on the grainy side, not really something you could use directly – but it was enough to work with. I then took the footage and ran it through some analog bent circuit mixers to create the video’s look. We were also exploring projections and animation alongside, but this look came out the winner. One of the angles Orlando shot was his shadow against a wall, which then allowed me to isolate it using a luma key and from that I could make an outline which appears a lot in the video.
Can you tell us about your graphic / editing process? What did you want to achieve?
A lot of the record (this song included) is about the hopes and anxieties around child birth. It’s an incredibly sensitive subject matter. I wanted the video to capture the sense of magic and drama that those times have, but with the limitations of the footage, I didn’t want to have to suddenly cut in performance that would take you out from that. The solution was to create a video that would have the texture of a hospital monitor. At one point, we did explore doing an angle which was directly inspired by an ultrasound, but it felt too on the nose. I think what the video does well, is to capture his performance, but frame it in a way that nods to the context of the song, without it being mundane.
The track works beautifully with the video, how did you engineer this?
I edited it myself at first, before bringing editor Avner Shiloah on board. We’ve worked on a few projects now – but this workflow was definitely the weirdest. It’s always hard when you’re not sure who owns the timeline. In the end though, working remotely and bouncing edits back and forward across the Atlantic worked really well. Using analogue distortions is always fun and unexpected. Interrupting the signal is almost like playing a musical instrument, but it’s so unpredictable. Every time you start recording, you don’t know how it will turn out. The end result feels a bit like a video equivalent to a Jackson Pollock painting. It’s all accidents, but somehow, they fit and give the video a real energy and beauty. Having that scrambled picture look is definitely a generational thing – for me and Orlando it’s very nostalgic. TVs just don’t do that anymore.
And the process started after the lockdown, so it’s all been done in isolation?
Yes, it’s all been done completely in lockdown. I’ve been editing and filming at night in my mum’s dining room.
Did the lock down present any challenges? Where are you working? Do you have all the equipment you need?
I’m living with my folks in the countryside, but I did have to make an emergency trip to London the day before the Prime Minister announced the lockdown to collect my equipment. Everywhere was so empty, no-one was about. It was very eerie.
What’s next for you Alex? Working on anything else?
I have another video I was set to do, but it’s been postponed until after the lockdown. Since the quarantine I’ve been working on the farm helping my folks. The spring lambs are keeping my mum up all night and the potatoes are ready to be planted. So, these last few weeks have presented an altogether surreal combination of music videos and animal husbandry. I’ve been taking calls from Orlando about the video while sitting in the back of a Land Rover holding a shepherd’s crook. Strange times.
This piece was published by LBB on 20 April 2020. Read the interview here.