Creating Something Honest - Oh Wonder Music Video Breakdown
Sometimes you get a perfect project
Ok, maybe not a PERFECT project, but a project that just feels right in your wheelhouse.
A few months ago my producer Denis came to me and said that he was talking to a band called Oh Wonder about working on a music video project they had coming up. They were looking for around 12 teams of filmmakers from around the world, and had put out a call for people to basically audition for the project. Denis figured it was worth throwing our work into the mixer, and the band immediately responded asking us to be a part of the project.
We were sent a top secret pitch document containing the vision of the project as well as some visual references and guidelines for our piece. Overall though, we were left with a ton of freedom to make the project our own. We had total freedom in who we wanted our subject to be, and how we wanted to shoot it. The goal was simple - get people from around the world talking about what it means to be human.
Creative freedom is one of those things that I find I always dream of - until I have it. Being able to use literally ANYONE as our subject left us a little hung up on who to pick. Given the subject matter, picking our "talent" was basically the most important part of the project. We debated between about 6 or 7 options over the course of a few weeks, until we finally decided to try 2 different people. One would be my sister Rachel, the other was my wife's co-worker Harry.
The easy choices were all gimmicks - "let's talk to this homeless guy, this european refugee, this really old person" - and eventually Denis was the one that pushed me to realize that what it really means to be human was going to require talking to someone who wasn't "special" on a casting call. Rachel is an incredibly introspective little lady, and has a fantastic angle on questions about life. Harry is a supremely interesting guy, but he has no obvious special qualifications - he is an every man. Often it requires taking a solid step back to see that a project is actually different than what you think it is.
For gear, I decided that I definitely wanted to shoot with Lomo Squarefront Anamorphics from Lensprotogo.com, as they give this raw aesthetic that really fit with the tone I was looking for - authentic, not polished, but beautiful anyway.
We shot on the Red Dragon, as my Scarlet-W wasn't delivered yet. A quick note on that - I owe Jarred Land big time for hooking me up with a loaner Dragon for this project. Everything was shot on the Easyrig, with the floating handheld perspective adding to that "unpolished" feeling. The interview was all 24fps, and our b-roll was all 48fps if I remember correctly.
For Rachel's setup, I decided to have her paint while we talked to her. I had hoped that it would keep her mind off of the camera, and would also be more visually interested than a sit-down interview. We went to her room, rearranged the furniture to best utilize the natural light and symmetry in the room, and then added some haze. Light was left totally natural. Brandon DeTraglia ran boom audio using a Sennheiser 416 into a Zoom H6, and we had a g3 lav on her as a backup.
Everything was shot on the 50mm Lomo - I also shot everything in 3.1 aspect ratio with guides for 2.35 extraction.
As the interview went on I'd bounce between coverage of her talking and tight shots of the art, to facilitate assembling things given the chronological nature of painting. The Easyrig allowed me to be super flexible with camera movement during the interview. The biggest challenge with this setup was managing her vocal level relative the the brush sounds - we had to push her to speak up a little.
I wasn't personally especially close to Harry, so I decided it would be best to have my wife Mandy actually be the one "interviewing him". I wrote a few general questions/conversation topics on a piece of paper and told her to just try to get him talking and let him go, which he ended up doing quite easily.
The actually interview "setup" was quite simple - we moved the chair into the middle of his living room, which was the place in his house that had the most depth to it. I added a 2ft Caselite with 1 bulb on through silk just to add a little wrap on his face from the window. Everything was shot on the 50mm Lomo. In order to allow close focus I had to hand-hold some diopters in front of the lens periodically, and I swapped them in and out during the interview.
Audio was recorded on a Sennheiser 416 boomed over Harry, running into a Zoom h6. We ran a lav as backup audio, but the boom worked out fine. I ran scratch audio on the Dragon and did the sync by hand in Premiere.
The whole conversation took about 20 minutes - it wasn't overly long - but it was all amazing. Every topic lead to an interesting thought by Harry, but the clear winner in my mind was the chunk we ended up using in the Director's cut. After the interview we ate dinner and waited for the sun to come down a little, then went on our walk with Max and Harry. The most difficult part of that process was getting footage where Max wasn't cheesing for the camera ;)
It was a little bit of a messy setup as we didn't have a matte box that would fit the square-front lomos, so I ended up hand-holding 4x4 NDs in front of the lens as well. This actually ended up being nice because it was super fast to switch NDs, but it meant my right hand was often cupping the front of the lens while holding an ND and a Diopter, and my left hand was on the follow focus. Thank God for Easyrigs.
The grade on my edit (below) was done using the Lutify.me LUT Ruby Ziosite and a few little tweaks in the Lumetri plugin.
After the shoot, all footage got copied onto a drive and given to the band's tour manager, who brought it back to England for post-production. Mike Lee Thomas was the overall project director, and took all the various interviews and b-roll shot by teams all over the world and compiled the final long edit, which is at the top of this post.
Overall it was a really fun project to be a part of, and I'm super proud of the result. It wasn't overly technically or creatively complicated, but I think that what makes it so compelling is that it just feels honest. You can tell he isn't scripted or playing for the camera, it all just feels real, while being cinematic and beautiful.
Below is my Director's cut of Harry's story - which Mike ended up basing the final edit off of.