We were called by Agile Films with an unusual request: to shoot a 2-day music video for the Canterbury-based psychedelic funk-rockers Syd Arthur.
The unusual bit was that they wanted us to shoot the whole thing! We wouldn’t be just a unit of the camera department, but the complete department itself. Which means I would be DoP for the first time in a long time. Kneel down and kiss my light meter! Well in fact, it’s an anemometer / wind speed gauge, but important to have something hanging around one’s neck nonetheless.
The other thing which got us excited was that the director was being flown over from L.A. – music vid and graphic design virtuoso Robert Hales. Originally from North West UK, for the past 15 years he has been living in the US, directing for the likes of Nine Inch Nails, Justin Timberlake, Britney Spears, Janet Jackson, Miley Cyrus, Red Hot Chilli Peppers , Tame Impala and Gnarls Barkley’s ‘Crazy’, which netted him the 2006 MTV Music Video Award.
An early start from London brought us to a commune in the rural outskirts of Canterbury, where we would shoot the main performance pieces. It was a beautiful location with wooden huts, bluebell meadows, chicken coup… and no electrical power. Luckily we knew this in advance, and had booked a generator.
After briefing the band, we set about doing various passes over and across them. Some of this was close-range stuff, which required precise shot-planning with Robert in advance. The upwards jibs looked great as they showed the wider aspect of the clearing to the woods and fields beyond, with unpolluted views all the way to the horizon.
Focus-puller James Leckey joined us again this time – his support and experience really helped to streamline our workflow on a shoot where we had no breaks while ‘A’ camera did their thing, as is the normal way of things. Thanks James!
There were a pair of angry geese wandering around in a threatening manner. At one point I was running to the generator to charge some batteries and the geese appeared, blocking my path. I would have just pushed past them, but one starting hissing with its tongue out like an All Blacks rugby player and I though it was going to go for me, so remembering Crocodile Dundee I stared back, made a few funny noises, and slowly crept past, covering my raw animal fear rather well, I thought.
Our favourite shot involved tracking from the front of Fred the drummer, to up-and-over him. This did create quite an down-draught on his hair, but Robert said he liked it, so we carried on!
We also enjoyed tracking around Raven Bush (nephew of Kate Bush) playing violin amongst the bluebells.
After this, the heavens opened with an un-forecast shower, so we decided to pack up and move on to the next location, which was an old ‘sound mirror’ near the edge of the cliffs on the other side of Dover. Sound Mirror is the title and cover image of the album, and Robert’s plan was to get shots of this piece of pre-radar technology from all angles.
The weather wasn’t being particularly kind with thick, low cloud and a strong onshore breeze as we walked onto the clifftop. The existence of the cloud meant we could actually see the updraught as it hit the cliff and rushed upwards. These are unpleasant to fly a multi-rotor in, as it’s the equivalent of an aeroplane flying in turbulence.
Thankfully the shots we needed didn’t require us to fly out over the cliff edge. We shot multiple angles of the sound mirror and the band, and it was off to the pub for a well-earnt dinner.
Early the next morning we were up at 4.30 to get shots from the outskirts of Canterbury. Our vantage point from an empty field overlooking the town enabled us to get some great dawn shots.
As we were packing up the rain came again, so we had to improvise. Using the gimbal, we got some moving shots from within the town, out the window of the moving crew van.
Heading out further back into the countryside, with the rain still coming down we set up the gimbal in the back of the van, and drove along an empty country lane with the back doors open to get close, moving shots of the band walking. These came out very well, with band and director pleased.
After this we had secured a location at Kent university, to film the band at a curious-looking maze-without-walls on the university campus. With these shots in the bag, Robert called it a wrap and we all went off for a very tasty late-lunch at a market-cum-restaurant in Canterbury.
It was a long two days with a lot of flying and some creative problem-solving, but it felt good testament to the reliability of our kit, and resilience of our crew. Go Skyhook!
We look forward to seeing the finished video, which is currently being edited in L.A. – we’ll let you know when it’s out!