We first spoke to artist and director Craig Murray about his singular, prolific output across experimental films and music videos back in 2011 and have watched rapt since then as his body of work has gone from strength to strength. One of the most appealing aspects of Murray’s work has been witnessing the amazing in camera effects he devises and iterates on and how his ambitious style persists whether he’s working alone or with a team. His new collaboration with Scottish post-rock band Mogwai – themselves artists who have always forged their own path – for their track Teenage Exorcist feels like the perfect creative match. We invited Murray back to DN to clarify his ‘non-director’ status and to take us inside the techniques he used to create this memorable, subjective music video.
When we spoke on the podcast 3 years ago you said that you didn’t really consider yourself a director, has that changed?
Erm… I guess it has changed a bit as I no longer do absolutely everything but I do still work in every area pretty much as well as in my new role of director.
I’m not signed to an agency, I just get contacted. Vimeo and Tumblr are my only adverts alongside the usual YouTube releases. I was also involved in the music industry for a number of years so the contacts were pretty much already there. I was connected to most of the bands I’ve worked with in someway.
Teenage Exorcists doesn’t have an overt narrative that can be pointed to. How did you go about pitching the concept to Mogwai?
When first approached Mogwai asked for a film without a strict narrative, this is really tough to treat so it took sometime. The end product is pretty close to the treatment though. The film journeys as a visual experience which is intended to be immersive. There are many themes and visual representations which people can draw meaning from but I’d prefer to leave that up to them instead of restricting their imagination.
Is there a reason that you tend to make non-performance music videos?
If I’m honest I would like to be making real films so it’s kind of like me testing myself, making mistakes and practicing a skill I haven’t been trained in. I would like my first actual film to be the best I can make, it’s a good way of learning where your boundaries are and pushing them. I usually shoot the whole film comprehensively and then cut it down into the music video format. Pretty much all my music videos could stand alone as short films I think? However, this film was problematic. Fitting 15 hours of footage into 3mins 30secs is tough without it seeming like a bunch of flashing shots. You just have to serve the song, at the end of the day that’s your job – you’re not making a ‘film’ film.
This has always been frustrating as it’s hard to include long shots. The tracking back in the tunnel is probably the longest shot I’ve ever used in a music video and it felt good to include it. I was actually happy with my timeline when it was around 10/15 minutes long before I began cutting it down to the music. Some people think I’m nuts doing it in this way but I really feel that you can learn a lot which you can use in the master plan of making actual films. Also, one thing people don’t always think about is how much ‘film’ films rely on foley to aid the visual and describe what’s happening – a movement, a reaction, an impact. That’s not always possible in a music video, so depending on the type of song, sticking to its own sound is sometimes best… its flow, whilst trying to create what the sound describes visually. I’m not talking about beat matching, subversion also works sometimes.
How hands on were Mogwai with the making of the video?
After initial talks about what has and hasn’t worked for them in the past they left me to it. They trusted me and my final cut was the cut that went out with no changes.
It looks from the outtakes that you required a lot from your actress Lucy Ridley. How did she get involved?
Lucy is a fantastic performer who I still need to work with more. What she had to do for this video is about 5% of her capability. I was sent her demo reel and cast her before even meeting her because I knew she was perfect. She has this thing which I can’t describe – it’s like she’s not human… she just inhabits her body. There is a natural on and off screen vacancy in her which other performers try to act out.
You’ve always made great use of physical effects in your work – how did you approach the ‘in camera’ vs post effects on Teenage Exorcists?
We shot everything with Lucy against black in studio with a Phantom and a FS700. The glowing orb lights and laser type effects are all in camera photography using a long exposure animation technique using a plasma ball as the source. All the tunnels are made in various scales practically along with varying sizes of head tunnel. I sculpted the laser ice spiral from plasticine. A mould was made and it was translated into clear resin (I wanted it to hold light). It was then shot on a turntable. There were miniatures of Lucy. We did a life cast of her face too which we made multiples of for smashing, etc. Plastic tunnels were also made along with loads of particle and dust explosions.
Everything was then composited together in the UK, Japan and US via the internet and on multiple Skype calls with the help of the super talented Grzegorz Jonkajtys. I basically sent Greg the practical elements which he combined with the shots of Lucy and then sent back to me. The film was finished in Japan where I was working on another film. It wasn’t the most ideal situation though because we were working from a distance, let alone the time difference and the wifi in Japan was very problematic. I found myself stealing fast wifi in posh hotel lobbies or outside minimarts to receive the final files to cut into the film as my accommodation had no internet, but we got through it. I had always wanted to work with him so I’m happy it all worked out. It would be good to finally meet him and work in the same room one day.
Reading the film credits the size of this production looks a far cry your earlier films. Did that amount of collaborators change the way you worked?
Not really. I’m a jack of all so on every project I am literally non-stop for the duration big team or small. Our core team on this minus 1 day was only 4 people.
Are you still working on personal films and installations? What will we get to see from you next?
I’m working on some pretty exciting projects with some of my favourite bands and artists, but I also wish to take a step into the world of narrative film and away from the confines of the music video structure. It will probably be a 10 hour+ film with minimal dialogue – that might just help me get over the repression of working on music videos 🙂