Winterfalle – I Know from Todd MacDonald on Vimeo.
Towards the end of 2012, my good friend Sam Falle took it upon himself to venture into the singer/songwriter arena as Winterfalle. Having come from a background of playing in bands, taking to the stage as a solo act was a daunting but exciting new challenge for him to embrace. I was delighted when he asked me if I would be interested in helping visualise the world he wanted to create by setting his music to video. As a filmmaker, at this point, my work on promos had been limited and I was eager to get my teeth into developing that side of my portfolio. As luck would have it, I’d end up doing this with someone whose music I loved and had already enjoyed a longterm friendship with. Sam has big plans for the visual side of the Winterfalle project and we both wanted the video for the first single to be a clear statement of those ambitions.
In early 2013, the first Winterfalle recording ‘I Know’ came out of Sam’s bedroom studio. The initial ideas for the music video were abundant. We let our imaginations run wild for some time before we were able to calm down and focus on a simple concept. At the drawing board stage, you can get lost while birthing ideas and lose sight of the job that the video is actually supposed to be doing.
‘I Know’ is about the darker side of being young and carefree. It raises questions about that feeling of invincibility we had at a time in our lives when we were perhaps at our most vulnerable. As twenty-somethings now looking back on that time, it is a struggle to recall it with fondness; instead it is recollected with a recognition of our past wrecklessness and naivety. Even so, we still idealise those moments. We look back through a rose-tinted lens, likely because that past cycle of late night binges has now been replaced by a tedious monotony of pubbing, clubbing and living for the weekend.
We wanted the ‘I Know’ music video to be a reaction to our dissatisfaction with young adult nightlife. We decided to stage the sort of night we’d have had before legal lashes and extortionate door prices and return to a time of simpler amusements when all that mattered was where you were and who you were with. Or, at least, we set out to repeat how we wanted to remember those days. The end result is a music video which is designed to create a tension between the narrative in its imagery and the narrative of the lyrics.
We chose to shoot the ‘I Know’ music video back home in the Island of Jersey. This is where we grew up after all. We know it well and could use several public spaces without incurring high location fees or going through complicated location agreements. Also, we knew that the aesthetic qualities of this unique and beautiful place had huge potential for the video.
We got a group of us together in a car and over the course of one night, travelled to a series of locations and comprehensively documented what we did. Elements of the journey would be planned in order to take advantage of the locations whereas others would be left to chance. I wanted to maintain a sense of spontaneity about the evening so that events could play out in the same way they would have done had we not been filming.
We used DSLRs, GoPros and iPhones which I encouraged each of us to use over the course of the night. I wanted all of us to take part in the actual filming itself in order to make things look as realistic as possible rather than solely relying on shooting everything in a cinematic way. Getting the shaky personal viewpoint shots on the phones were just as important to me as the more filmic images captured by the DSLRs. The shots on the DSLRs would provide the storytelling checkpoints of the journey whereas the iPhones would offer a different and perhaps more authentic experience of each moment. I also wanted to play with that modern social obsession people have with documenting events in every way possible, as if preserving it digitally somehow makes a moment unforgettable. The iPhone footage would help to achieve this. Using smartphones to film an evening like this would not have been possible when we were teenagers. This led me to wonder what that time would have been like had we had access to that kind of technology back in the day.
We shot primarily on a Canon 5D Mark III and a Canon 60D. We were limited to fast zoom lenses rather than primes for the shoot although we did have a 50mm 1.8 that was used when we really needed it. Our problem was always going to be the extremely low light levels; apart from a small battery powered studio spotlight and some handy LED bars, we had to use the little natural and street lamp light available to us. The nature of our shooting wasn’t one that would allow for continually changing prime lenses either; we had to be fast and efficient. Plus, image stabilised lenses were imperative. Most of our shots were taken with the 17-55 2.8 IS on the 60D and the 24-70 2.8 on the shoulder mounted 5D. The car dashboard and bonnet were rigged with GoPro Hero 2s that took timelapse and video recordings through the night. Our phones (iPhone 4s’s) were also used at several points.
For the journey, we enlisted two old friends: Max Burnett (visual creative and photographer) and Ryan Crawford (dog’s body, scapegoat, comedy punchbag and all-round great guy). At sunset on 23rd February, we piled into Sam’s battered VW Polo and got the show on the road. Here’s how we scheduled the evening’s locations (click the map to see image references):
15.45 – 16.15 West Hill Car Rig
16.30 – 17.30 L’Ouziere Slipway
17.30 – 17.45 Grande Route des Mielles
18.00 – 19.00 Le Chemin de la Corbiere
19.15 – 20.15 Rue des Vignes / Jersey Airport
20.20 – 21.00 Jersey Rugby Football Club
21.15 – 22.00 The Chippy
22.30 – 23.45 Harve Des Pas
00.00 – 00.45 Mount Bingham / La Collette
00.45 – 01.15 Esplanade & Victoria Avenue
01.45 – 02.15 Queen’s Valley
02.30 – 03.30 Archirondel Beach
04.00 – 05.30 SLEEP
06.00 – 08.00 St. Catherine’s Breakwater
08.30 – 14.00 SLEEP
This was A LOT to get through in one night. But it was crucial to do it this way in order to maintain a sense of urgency and adventure. We had to rigorously stick to these timings, not least because some of the shots were time specific, for example the last hours of daylight at L’Ouziere slipway, the last plane taking off from Jersey Airport at 20.10, the turning off of the promenade lights at Harve Des Pas at 23.50 and sunrise at 6am. Keeping all of this in check AND ‘having fun’ was probably the best part about shooting this video. We were all totally committed to the cause, but couldn’t help but laugh at the chaos of it all! We were able to play fast and loose with with schedule in places, but this wouldn’t have been possible without the plan being in place to start with. It just goes to show, the better organised you are in advance, the easier you’ll be able to adapt.
Working in this breakneck way for the ‘I Know’ video sounds crazy but it made it REAL. This was the most important aspect of the video to me. As a teenager I had frequently had one of these aimless nights where we ended up doing the most random things to entertain ourselves. Re-capturing that spirit of adventure was what this video was all about.
We put the fire out on the beach at 4am and went to sleep at Sam’s house nearby for barely an hour before we needed to be up and making our way to St. Catherine’s breakwater for sunrise. OK, so maybe this is one of the not so verité unseen moments of the video. When we were 17, sure, we would have just stayed up and seen it out in one go like we have implied in the final edit. Had we not needed to concentrate so hard on making sure we achieved our shot list, maybe we wouldn’t have needed any sleep this time! Unsurprisingly, it turned out that lying down for barely an hour did nothing to help any of us so we were inevitably haggard and short-tempered by the time we climbed back into the car at 5.45am. By the time we reached St. Catherine’s Breakwater at 6am after barely one hour of sleep, we were all visibly drained of colour and energy. Our exhaustion was visually important so that the continuity of the story would be convincing.
The Next Day
Weirdly, I remained awake all day after I finally got home at 8.30am. I digitised the footage and had breakfast with my parents who reminded me how insane they thought I was for enduring freezing temperatures for so long. That night, it hit -4 degrees. The cold didn’t leave my bones for days after. Always be prepared to suffer for your art!
The Cutting Room Floor
A few of the places we visited for the ‘I Know’ shoot do not feature in the final video, most notably the Jersey Rugby Club and Queen’s Valley Reservoir. Initially I thought that intertwining some of Sam lip-synching to the track would give us good way points between locations and provide useful storytelling emphasis at key checkpoints on our smash and grab grand prix. We shot Sam doing lip sync underneath the flood lights of a rugby pitch. Half way through shooting this, we were interrupted by two very big gentlemen who were interested in exactly what the hell we thought we were doing on their training pitch. They were quite surprised to hear that I had (of course) arranged everything with their chairman, coach and groundstaff and we were saved a potential flattening at the hands of Jersey’s No. 8 and Scrum-half. In the end though, this anecdote was all we got from this location. The desired effect of Sam standing under the flood lights simply wasn’t powerful enough. The lighting wasn’t as stark and dramatic as I hoped that it would be. Instead it was quite dull in tone and didn’t give the image half the amount of contrast and depth that I had anticipated. In fact, I even wonder how on earth the rugby team train underneath these poor excuses for floodlights!
We did two other setups where Sam was lip synching but they simply weren’t needed to shunt the story along. I still think it was absolutely right to get this material, not least because it provided us with a valuable safeguard against something not going to plan, like, for example, our stop-off at Queen’s Valley reservoir. I don’t think I’ve mentioned that this was shot on a very, very cold evening. It was 1.30am and Queen’s Valley was our next port of call. But we were drawn there by sentiment rather than logic.. This is a unlit reservoir in the middle of a valley in the countryside. I don’t think I’ll forget desperately trying to convince Sam that going there was an utter waste of time.
“It will be pitch black.” I said.
“Let’s just try it.” He said
“But it will be pitch black.” I repeated.
“I’d really really like to try it.” He pleaded.
If you ever find yourself on the hunt to find a prime example of perfect darkness, a pretty damn good place to start would be Queen’s Valley Resevoir in the Island of Jersey in the early hours of a cold winter’s night in February. We laugh about it now…
The edit process was lengthy for several reasons. For starters, we had a 14 hour long journey shot intermittently on four cameras. More than enough (if not too much) material to be making a four minute version of events with. The video’s release also had to synchronise with Sam’s own Winterfalle launch plans. Being his debut single, all of the other release elements had to be in place before everything could go live. Sam chose to use the video to launch Winterfalle publically and to wait until the video was ready before putting out the song itself. This was a smart move in my opinion because in the nicest possible way, who on earth is going to suddenly pay loads of attention to an artist they’ve never heard of before? Speaking from my previous experiences as a musician, building an audience takes real time and effort so how best to try and engage with people from the off? Give them something to watch rather than just something to listen to.
I carefully ploughed through the material in the initial stages. At first, I was a bit overwhelmed by the task ahead simply because of the documentary style we used on the shoot. One thing that was always certain though was the idea of following the actual journey we took that night rather than trying to fabricate it. This gave us a good skeleton for the narrative. The nuances and detail of how we transitioned between each location would come with time but telling the story of each place once they had been mapped to specific moments of the track was the main focus at this stage.
I made assemblies for each of the locations. These consisted of the shots I wanted to use to tell the story of that place. I did this without bringing the track into the project at all because I knew that if I wanted to connect properly with the footage, I needed to engage with it independently of the track first. There was simply too much material to start making choices and dumping things over the track to see what worked. I needed to first discover what the most interesting footage was to me and get a solid sense of the shots that best told the story of that night. Only then did I start listening to the track again and began imagining how it mapped to the locations we visited.
Sam would periodically join me for edit sessions. Having a guide in our minds for how to map the story to the track was incredibly useful. Yes, we reworked ideas and how they transitioned between one another as we went along, but making the decision to closely follow the journey we shot that night gave me direction for what to choose from the ocean of material. I found this particularly gratifying in the knowledge that if we had chosen to spread this shoot out over a number of days, we would have gone through a much more lengthy selection process and further lengthy discussions about how to order the chronology of our activities in the cut.
After almost eight months in the edit (part-time you know, I have a job) and having endured one total hard drive failure towards the end, ‘I Know’ was released on October 28th 2013 via Winterfalle’s Youtube channel. It was key to kicking off Winterfalle and Sam’s music has since appeared on BBC 6 and was featured on the front of the BBC Introducing blog over Christmas and New Year.
When I think about the scale of this video production, I am reminded of a particularly eye opening blog post by another singer songwriter, Olly Knights (also the front man of Turin Brakes). In a post called ‘The Changing Face of Music Videos’ hosted on filmmaker Philip Bloom’s site, Olly wrote about his journey making huge budget but often shambolic promos through the record label he and his band were signed to. The landscape for music videos has completely changed over the last decade. The cost of respectable production values are a fraction of what they once were and more and more often, people are being original and inspiring with freely available technology to make videos which can go viral, giving a band the break they need to get to the next level. It’s an exciting time to be making stuff with the tools we now have at our finger tips. After my experience making ‘I Know’ for Winterfalle, I have to agree with the sentiment of Olly’s post, that you really don’t need much money to fund the making of a successful promo.
My collaboration with Winterfalle is ongoing. Sam’s music provides me with a platform to continue to conceptualise and execute ambitious promo video ideas and I am very grateful for this. Do follow Winterfalle on Twitter and Facebook.
And also discover my photographer friend Max Burnett out at: http://500px.com/Maximillius
Sam and I both owe a huge debt to Max for his involvement in the project since the shooting of ‘I Know’
As we enter Spring 2014, Winterfalle’s next single ‘Deadbeat’ is rapidly approaching release. And guess what? There’s a video on its way for that too and it’s ENTIRELY different. I’ll tell you about that in a future blog.
If you haven’t yet seen the video for ‘I Know’ watch it on my Vimeo channel below:
Winterfalle – I Know from Todd MacDonald on Vimeo.