For all but a lucky handful of filmmakers, working on music videos is likely more of a vocational pursuit rather than a bill paying gig, so when you’re knee-deep in a commission that you’re funding out of pocket and the band call a halt to the creative direction you’re heading in what’s a filmmaker to do? German director Chris Luehning tells DN how he navigated the choppy waters of creative differences to arrive at Lungs, a film he was proud to claim as his own.
After my video for Heart Island’s Rue Royale remix was released earlier this year, I got asked if I was interested in working on a second video straight away. I wasn’t sure if I could meet the expectations but had this idea that I wanted to realise for a while and thought it might be the perfect occasion. The first clip was all CGI so I wanted to try out a couple new techniques and decided to do a live action shoot mixed with animated elements this time round.
The initial idea was to film a girl or woman performing a shamanic dance to manifest different kinds of technological entities in this reality and in the end get into some sort of battle with them. I wanted the technological beings to look very organic and a bit like microorganisms. It’s all about the concept of technology being a very natural thing that manifests itself through us, which seems to be a very common experience in psychedelic and shamanic rituals. I immediately thought of Natali to fill the part of the dancer. She’s had a lot of ballet experience and I totally trusted in her giving me the performance I needed right from the beginning.
They liked the animations but wanted me to change the rest, which would have destroyed my whole concept.
I wasn’t given a budget and didn’t really have any money to spend myself so everything had to happen without big expenses, which made it pretty difficult to plan but luckily I had friends who were willing to help me out with their camera equipment. We had a Canon 5D and a 7D for all the slow motion shots. I wanted the costume to be a homage to old sci-fi movies like Barbarella, Zardoz, Flash Gorden and Krull. The theatre wasn’t able to help us but out of coincidence I remembered a friend showing me pictures of costumes her mate was creating. He’s got a photo studio called Raum7 where he also works on strange outfits for his shoots and immediately said that I could use one of them. It was exactly what I wanted and the video wouldn’t have worked for me without it.
It took a couple weeks to get everyone together and I was immensely happy with the little team, but also pretty nervous about the quality of the footage. We couldn’t afford any technical equipment, so all we had was daylight and the two Canons. We filmed it in one afternoon and I started animating the next day. At first I made three different humanoid creatures with very abstract faces and fractal textures constantly moving all over their bodies to symbolise some sort of alien gods of technology, but it ended up having a bit too much of a video game look and not suiting the video too well. Thinking back I made so many mistakes during the first trials of putting it all together. It actually ended up being a very frustrating process due to a lack of experience.
A couple weeks later I presented a first cut but the band who did the original song (not the remix) felt that the whole shamanic sci-fi thing didn’t fit their image too well. They liked the animations but wanted me to change the rest, which would have destroyed my whole concept. I contemplated what to do next for a while, and since it was a labour of love, I decided to keep the footage for myself and use it later for another Heart Island song or one of my own.
During the same time me and two of my friends from Melbourne started a project called ‘Holy Teeth‘ where I make songs out of vocals the two girls send me. It’s sort of experimental lofi electronic music with lots of swirling organic sounds and synthesizers built out of their voices. The footage had been left alone for quite some time when in August I had to go to hospital for a week and started playing around with a new song we had made called Lungs. I noticed that the footage fit the song so well that it almost seemed like the two were made for each other. So I deleted the old version and started cutting a completely new one. It was all done by the time I came out of the hospital, I showed it to my bandmates and Shellie recorded some extra performance footage to finish off the whole thing.
It ended up looking a bit trashy and low budget, but I love it that way cos it’s exactly how me and the girls tend to do things. The feeling and atmosphere is what matters to us and seeing how the initial idea became an actual thing without having to spend a single dollar – just by having awesome friends – makes me very happy about having tried something that could have easily ended up becoming a total mess.
A month ago I started studying design at the university in our town, which offers me a whole lot more possibilities when it comes to equipment, so the next venture will have a lot more potential.