Manuskript – Protect and Survive

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Manuskript - Protect and Survive
This was a classic case of “not what you know, but who you know”. Mike Uwins of Neon Zoo also happened to be the lead singer of legendary pop-goth band Manuskript, and he liked Darkest Dance enough to ask me to shoot a video for their new single, launching their latest album. This was a great opportunity for me because Neon Zoo were new on the scene – and while they made a striking entrance attracting considerable publicity, Manuskript already had a huge following within the goth scene. I’d been a fan for years (in fact Mike gave me a copy of one of their hard-to-find albums to complete my collection, which was cool).

So, we set a couple of weekends for the band (who live all over England) to get together so I could film them. Mike effectively produced the shoot – he conceived the setting, story, arranged locations and costumes. I didn’t really appreciate how much organising he did at the time. So I just turned up with as much kit as possible, and winged it…

Day 1
Mike had got access to a dingy warehouse to film in. It was freezing cold and certain corners smelt decidedly unsavoury, but I was too busy to notice. I did spot some obscene graffiti we had to cover with paper though.
I’d brought my homemade dolly for it’s first real use, and the trusty halogen site lights. Mike had borrowed a PD150 to shoot with, which was a joy to use, and produced excellent footage. The guys set up in the middle while I lit the space, which was a nightmare without proper lights. I had no dimmers, no barn doors, no gels or gobos or anything really. All I could do was move the lights closer or further away. I just about managed a satisfactory look.
Then the band mimed while I filmed, rolling back and forth across the front of the “stage” shooting two takes each of wide, medium and closeup shots. I also shot a take from a static tripod directly in front. The PD150 had good enough optics to get a nice soft background in the closeups, which delighted me. Then we went back to Mike’s for Chinese and a quick review of the footage.

Day 2
A few weeks later, we reconvened at a Saturday night gig in a pub (a very small venue for Manuskript). A military enthusiast friend of Mike’s was providing all the costumes and fake guns for the Cold War Berlin setting. Mike had also recruited a model who had come all the way from London on the train to star opposite him. My wife and I had booked into the same hotel as her for the night, which was going to double as our first location. We didn’t have permission to film and were worried about being denied it, so we decided to start shooting the corridor scenes at 7am, hopefully before anyone would be around to notice us.
Mike and I had worked out the rough story beats on the phone, but I hadn’t visited any of the locations, so I had to make up the shots, blocking, lighting and camera positions as I went along. This continued all day, but Mike had conveniently arranged to visit the locations in sequence, which helped enormously.
For this shoot, the PD150 was unavailable so I was stuck with my JVC DV4000, which was noticeably poorer. I relied on practical light in the hotel corridors, and created a cheap steadicam by bolting the camera to a folded tripod and just holding it at roughly the centre of gravity. We got the shots, and moved into one of the rooms.
Again, lighting was a nightmare. The uncontrolled halogen light bounced around the magnolia walls turning everything yellow, and I was in such a rush I forgot to white balance. It’s still an ugly yellow in the final video, because the DV footage didn’t have enough latitude to grade it out. But we got the shots and moved on.
Next location was a pub with a small cave behind it (Nottingham is riddled with caves), for the prison cell. Another nightmare to light, because I could only put lights at the front of the cave for the wide shot. On the closeups I used a small light at the back to outline the cast. This sequence had some simple dialogue that had to be comprehensible without audio and some simple action. It was remarkably fun to direct, and the band members were wonderfully cooperative. We also did a couple of shots outside in the street, where a row of trees and brick buttresses disappearing into the morning haze looked very appropriate for Berlin.
We grabbed lunch on the way to the final location – the band’s studio, in a converted mill building with an enclosed courtyard which looked suitably bleak. A car was parked right where we wanted to shoot, and looked like a modern Renault even with a tarpaulin over it. My wife brilliantly suggested stacking some stuff under the tarp to make it tank-shaped.
Mike’s military expert arrived to brief the band on how to move and salute like soldiers while I planned the blocking and camera moves. He did a superb job. We finished the elaborate exterior scenes and moved into a stairwell inside for the climactic gunfight just as dusk fell.
Inside, the lighting setup I was obliged to use was bold but workable. All shooting was mimed ready for muzzle flash in post. My long-suffering wife almost froze in the unheated building, but finally we wrapped.

Post-production
Editing this was a challenge. First I synced up the band footage on parallel layers so I could switch between them. I did a quick pass picking out all the coolest shots of the band performing, and then started fitting the “story” sequences in between. Sometimes I’d need to add a bit more of the band performing to bridge two story scenes, sometimes I’d have to cut shots I liked to fit the story in.
I had to add muzzle flash to gunshots, paint out a couple of UK signs, find establishing shots of Berlin landmarks on the internet, and grade everything to look as good as it could.
Finally I rendered it out in three different formats and created an HTML frontend for the data section of Manuskripts enhanced CD single. Mike and I both worked through the night communicating by phone and email to get the CD master ready on time. It was surprisingly fun.

Publicity
This is where I failed. Once the video was delivered, I relaxed. I did submit it to a couple of festivals, but it was a half-hearted effort. I should have posted low-quality teasers all over the web, visited forums, hit every music and film fest I could. But at the time, I was just pleased to have completed another project. And I’m still very proud of it.

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Neon Zoo – Darkest Dance

Darkest Dance was my first go at a music video. My wife and I met the band at a nightclub in Nottingham we used to frequent, some months before the launch of their first album.

We shot this on a Sunday afternoon in that same nightclub, which had conveniently black walls. I lit it with a couple of halogen work lights from ScrewFix – not very controllable but very cheap. I set up a monitor so the band could see themselves, which was a mixed blessing – it proved a bit distracting.

In the edit, I had two takes of each of the six band members (one wide, one close-up), plus a couple of extras for the lead singer. I created a half-second clip and pasted many, many copies of it so that I could just switch each clip to point at any one of takes below. It took many passes over the whole song to select the best combination of clips. Then there was some painting out of lens flares and reflections off the back wall.

The concept is deliberately simplistic, but it’s dramatic, shows off the distinctive personalities of the band members, and well-received at the “premiere” – after their gig at the Devonshire Fox in Camden. It was enormous fun to shoot the video and hang out with the band for a lot of their summer tour. Happy days 🙂