Shot on location in Soweto, Johannesburg, Sven Dreesbach and Philipp Primus’ co-directed music video for Fortnite EP track Gasoline, shines a light on the balletic grace of Joburg’s burgeoning car spinning scene. Below Sven shares how they came to pair this captivating South African subculture with Fortnite’s ethereal track.
My friend Philipp Primus returned from a trip to visit friends in Soweto, Johannesburg a few months ago and brought back a photo documentary of the local culture and people. Among his beautiful work was a series of shots from the car spinning grounds around Joburg. Spinning cars has a very interesting history down there because its roots lie in the thankfully long-gone Apartheid system, where this all started illegally in the underground. Today it appears like a growing community of fans and enthusiasts is helping to elevate spinning out of its subculture status to become an organized competitive motorsport all over the region.
After doing some initial research, I became intrigued by the entire scene, so Phil and I decided to put together a pitch for a music video, with the intention of using this very vibrant environment as our backdrop.
Robot Koch was quickly sold on our idea and sent us this new track of his, Gasoline. Phil and I were instantly hooked. We thought that this song was almost made for the images we had in our heads. Robot and his long-time collaborator Fiona have delivered a superb debut for their latest project Fortnite with an outstanding new EP. Needless to say, Phil and I are grateful for the opportunity to deliver visuals for one of the beautifully produced and performed tracks. Fortnite has been released on Robot’s own new label Trees & Cyborgs.
With a mini budget at our disposal, we agreed on the creative pretty quickly and started pre-production. After we found the song it was important to do more research and find a central character. Philipp established a few connections before our flight to Joburg, but the final casting had to happen during the first few days after arrival. Despite meeting up with a few of the bigger drivers in the scene we quickly became attached to Gilbert ‘Blanka’ Sewoha, a young car mechanic and enthusiast from the Meadowlands district. Due to his unspoiled demeanor and sincere interest in working with us, it didn’t take much for us to fetch him straight off the street. Blanka ended up stealing the show and we wish we could have fit more of him into the video.
The clip opens up with him approaching a car spinning event outside Soweto, Johannesburg to meet up with his friends. The morning after, the crowds long disappeared, it’s just him and his BMW E30 left at the arena where we watch him go on his very own special spin in front of an imaginary audience – which turns out to be us in this case. Our goal was to create a doc style introduction of our hero and his environment around a central, very stylized slow motion scene of him doing what he loves the most.
The main scene was a last minute wrap because several first attempts had failed. Initially, we were going to shoot the arena scene at a different location but had to abort the shoot due to a series of unfortunate events that involved a blown up radiator, flat tire and the police being somewhat overly ‘nosy’. We ended up shooting at the new location with more unexpected delays on top, but luckily it ended up being the perfect choice. In its abandoned, slightly otherworldly state, the arena added an ethereal quality to the images that go hand in hand with the atmosphere established by the beautiful track. We knew the slow pacing of the song required us to focus on just a few images to build a compelling world for the audience.
We thought that this song was almost made for the images we had in our heads.
One of the challenges was shooting the main scene in reverse-chronological order. It was supposed to be the next morning after the introductory event, so we had to plan accordingly in order to make sure we shot “before sunset for after sunrise” and so on. It took some extra focusing to make sure we would be able to keep continuity, but luckily our plan worked out pretty well.
While trying to chase the available light through a perpetual series of tiny misfortunes like the aforementioned delays, it was primarily Phil holding the production together. He really was walking on a tightrope while juggling most of the unknowns thrown at him while I was focusing on making sure we would stay on par with the creative and technical aspects of the shoot.
I brought the A Cam for the shoot over from the States. My gear of choice was the Sony FS5. It is small and versatile, easy to travel with, and remains pretty stealth in public places. Even if this mini-cinecam trades its small size and light weight for very limited internal recording capabilities, this turns into a non-issue when capturing the footage externally. We utilized the RAW to ProRes capabilities of the Atomos Shogun Inferno. This setup provides a sweet run and gun workflow all the way into post where editing, color and finish was taken care of in Blackmagic DaVinci Resolve. Shoutout to Erik Zimmermann who helped out with the sparks fx towards the end, which were composited in The Foundry’s Nuke.
All scenes in the video were captured within a 3 day time frame during which we only shot early afternoon to evening. Shooting formats were 4K DCI 60fps and 2K DCI 240 fps on the FS5 and 1080p 60fps on our B-Cam, a Sony a7sII that we rented in Johannesburg. Lenses were mainly EF Sigma and Canon via Metabones adapter.
Philipp and I can’t show our gratitude enough to the people of Meadowlands and all the other parts in and around Soweto for their friendly assistance and patience with the production. It was an amazing experience loaded with fond memories and new connections.