Creating Our First International Music Video
Not sure if growing up dreaming of making ad films is a thing. But some of us did some heavy teenage dreaming of making music videos. Hearts-a-racing as a falling Alicia Silverstone, quickly became a suspended-in-mid air Alicia Silverstone in Aerosmith's Cryin' and Minds-a-blowing at the face-morphing in Michael Jackson's Black or White and Breaths-a-gasping at the sheer glamour of George Michael's Freedom. The list goes on for the I-want-my-MTV generation.
So when Behram Siganporia of Best Kept Secret approached us to make their first music video, dreams got real. Out went every excuse in the book that we could possibly hide behind. It was an opportunity like nothing we've had before and it was going to challenge us like nothing before. The proverbial blank canvass was a big responsibility from the get-go. Embassy Riding School in Bangalore had offered its premises for the shoot, and this gave us a much needed starting point - the push which would put things in motion. We visited the grounds and sized up the potential of its 240 acre vastness. There was enough room for some serious story writing.
Our director Sahit Anand went into storyteller mode and wrote out the ambitious sequence that raised many a skeptical eyebrow. If skepticism could have been exchanged for money, we’d have worked with a Hollywood budget. But as things are the way they are, skepticism holds no commercial value. Unlike faith, which has a lot going of it and Best Kept Secret had plenty of it. We often talk about how some projects are just lucky and things happen as they should without too many heartaches. This one was one of them. To begin with, with the right shuffling of circumstances, we found the right people who were just as invested in the project as we were. Many a time during the course of planning this shoot, our friends in the industry had to turn us down due to some previous commitments, but in turn, lead us to other people we had never worked with before - people who turned out to be better suited. Being uncomfortable does do interesting things to the mechanics of "things working out well".
Our stylist, Amritha Rajavelu, worked closely with the director to craft individual looks(hyperlink) that stayed at close to the storytelling as possible. The costumes by themselves narrated stories of their own and were made into their screen avatar right in our office. As for the graphic design part of the visual narrative, the guys from Kalakaara join us. As mural artists, they created the insignia for the cult 'Bad Mother'. The referencing leaned heavily on the vintage elements of classic rock and biker gang-esque imagery. The result? A menacing skull with roses and braids, that sat so well on the backs of rugged denim and leather jackets, screaming bad business.
In the course of our two-year old existence, we’ve come to depend on Chaitra and Sharath for fantastic art direction. So we thought nothing of throwing them off the deep end of timelines and tall orders. They never fail to deliver. There were two art-heavy scenes - the stables where Behram is held captive and the fighting pit. The art had to complement the lighting not just in terms of aesthetics but also support it in way to make the space work harder. In many ways, the production design crafted the lighting in the film. When our DoP Satchith Paulouse lit a frame in a certain way, the art department had to be right there to complete what the lighting sought to achieve.
Towards d-day, things looked pretty good. We had an enviable screen line-up, with actor Parvatii Nair in the lead role, bodybuilder champion Shweta Mehta as the cult’s boxer and Bangalore’s fashion circuit’s most recognised faces in other lead roles. With this video, we discovered the joys of having time for preparation. Styling could afford to get creative. Art could afford to get creative. And most importantly the narrative could afford to get creative. We had the luxury of doing rehearsals. The fight sequence and the intimate sequences were rehearsed out so that we had far fewer surprises on set. We were looking at 3 straight days of shooting and surprises were a luxury that we could ill afford.
Day 1. Our day began at 3 am at the Embassy Riding School. All of us at Do. were running around co-ordinating with two helpful huskies for company. Trust two friendly dogs to take the edge off 3 am. The stable was the first location where we shot Behram and Parvatii’s scenes. While Parvatii looked sharp as a fox, Behram was supposed to look like he had been through a meat tenderiser. And our makeup artists Sover Pukhrambam and Sabit Yumnam achieved the looks in a professional snap, like they could do that in their sleep - which wasn’t too far from what was really going on, given how little sleep everyone got.
Location one was a stable which originally came with a lot of warm tones. But since we were going for a cool tone, the art department created a barn door of sorts from behind which we blasted blue light - creating eerie slats of lights and silhouettes. Things went relatively smoothly at location one. Which was a bit much to expect from location 2. It was set in the nearby woods and meant co-ordinating with about 70-odd people and getting a cast that comprised 35 girls up and ready. This is probably where the genius of the Sover-Amritha-Sabit troika came into play. It really is something to observe the magic of imagination. To observe how an artist perceives a girl and brings out the most evil version of her with styling and makeup. And as ad film makers, we don’t often have the privilege of experiencing this magic at play. The film’s vision was truly brought alive by Styling and Makeup. And in record time, sans any delay. Which is saying something, because nothing was run of the mill - every look was unique and brought out the vile worst in every girl.
Location 2 was a playground for the forces of what-can-go-wrong. We were in the middle of nowhere, in the middle of the night, and the place buzzed with a manic energy. It was a chilly November night and the girls were barely dressed for the cold. But they took it all in stride and gave us some crazy mob moments. Our Producer Boris got dragged through the ground as the dead clown. Behram got beaten up rather suitably by Shweta Mehta - a few punches actually landed on target. Sahit got his performances and Satchith got his shots. The art department had designed a great mob pit from an empty drop in the grounds. The lower shooting area helped with the lighting of the scene. Most of the lighting came from way above the subjects and gave scope for shadows that added character to the scene. We used warm lighting to complement the stark cold of the scene. Most of the shots were …… which gave him the flexibility to move in and out of the scene without breaking the mood of the shot. Day 1 wound up at exactly 24 hours from when we began. And day 2 was a mere couple of hours away.
The second day had four locations lined up and we had to move fast. The first one was a small outdoor sequence that didn’t call for a lot of performance or equipment - we were using natural light and just involved a horse, a trainer and the rest of the band. What can possibly go wrong? Nothing much except that the horse got spooked by the camera and decided to trample the drummer’s foot. Well, hello Murphy’s Mare!
Abhilash’s great drummer reflexes might have saved him from a completely crushed foot but the horse shoe did do some damage. So we had a drummer with an ice-foot - a brave one at that, for in half hour we were back to completing the shot.
Location 2 of Day 2 was a staging area shoot with the band playing in an open field. We got our shots before the light went out and wrapped up in time. Location 3 was another ballgame altogether. Thick woods, moonlight, bramble, thorns, shadows, pitch dark, eerie surroundings of questionable safety and Behram only had to run through them all. And he did. And came out in one piece. So far things were going according to plan. Well, a little.
After the adrenaline rush of location 3, location 4 seemed a little tame, magenta god lights in the middle of the woods notwithstanding. The great thing about staging area shots in that you have the music playing round the clock and that goes a long way in keeping the exhaustion at bay. Another day of shoot ended in the wee hours with a couple of hours to spare until call time. So much so that the tight crew for the next morning decided to catch whatever sleep they could, in the car.
At 6 am, a handful of puffy eyed people collected around the swamp. Behram who looked quite beat-up even without makeup, was required to get knee-deep in the swamp and wade through it. Using a drone for the sequence resized the scale of the shot - making it look much bigger and impressive on screen. After making Behram wade through waist deep, sinky mud, we made him clamber around corn fields.
The final location was outside the Embassy Riding School and ironically, was another white horse sequence. All good, except that it was a parking lot. In an apartment complex. Our producers put whatever gift they had of the gab to the test, convincing the security. It did help that we had one of the most influential residents of the complex with us. With him by our side, anything was possible. Including access to the services of the complex’s fire hose to wet the ground a bit. Unlike his more posh cousin, this horse probably had footlights in his blood and could handle a camera in his face. Like a true professional, he did what he needed to do - gave the performance of a lifetime in a couple of takes - freaked Abhilash a bit by following him (that four-legged troll!) - got paid and left.
Finally there was only the abduction scene left to do. We have an ongoing tradition with our Stylist’s hand. Almost every film she’s worked in, features her hands in some pivotal role. This time around, her hands did the deed of actually throwing the bag over Behram’s head. Finally at about 6 PM, after over 60 hours of shooting, Boris yelled out “PACK UP!” We once again marvelled how well things worked well together on this shoot, When in reality, things working out well is a case of PEOPLE working well together. That night, we all slept the sweet sleep, pleasant dreams-come-true are made of.
Watch the music video right here.