A flamboyant Diva, clowns, militant fashionistas, an exuberant photographer, and of course donuts and cakes galore coalesce across a fluid, continuous shot to flaunt their moxie to the synth-pop sounds of Yukon Blonde track Saturday Night. With so many elements vying for prime position, DN felt compelled to sit down with Mac Boucher to discover how he and co-director Gaya LaMouche managed to juggle all those characters into a seamless flow which harks back to the glamour and excitement of the swinging 60s photoshoot, whilst playing with conceptions of gender and star power.
What were the seeds that informed the concept for the Saturday Night music video?
The Rock Pop sound of the late 70s and early 80s created a visual bridge between punk, disco and glam rock. From Billy Idol to Duran Duran (and their visual artist counterpart, Patrick Nagel), Gary Numan and David Bowie, all of whom had insane visual representation, but it was the chameleon of Bowie that really gave this video the license to explore all its directions. Bowie in the 70s was a media magnet, whether it was self-implored or not, he was always on camera and became one of the most iconic characters of his generation. What David Bowie seemed to have was an inability to be categorized – he was androgynous, his music spanned rock, funk, new wave, experimental, etc… you didn’t understand him, you didn’t necessarily want to be him, but you couldn’t take your eyes off of him. He raised the bar of what a human could be that he seemed he could only be an alien. It was his look in Life on Mars? that I decided to pay tribute to – his powder blue suit and red hair was so simple but looked so good. It was perfect. And our character Sapphire Titha-Reign who played Diva couldn’t have been more perfect in capturing Bowie’s look, character, and performance abilities.
Each of the characters play specific roles within the environment of photoshoot with Sapphire the whirlwind tour de force at the centre of it. Could you break down the narrative purpose of the different players?
I first saw Sapphire perform at a drag show nearly a year ago, and I knew I had to work with her in some way. She’s animated, glamorous, and is straight up one of the best performers I’ve ever seen. The idea of a drag queen is fascinating, because dissimilar to transgender, the drag queen’s purpose is to perform, provoke, and really, really make you question what you’re seeing… which is always a good thing in my opinion. Sapphire’s character, ‘Diva’, similar to Tim Curry’s in Rocky Horror, has a commanding presence that literally pulls us through the environment. Of course there are other points of interest, but we wouldn’t be able to experience them if it wasn’t for a drag queen.
A photoshoot is weird, sexual, glamorous, there are plenty of egos that bounce off each other.
The photo-shoot and the photographer seemed like the perfect scenario to then place our characters. A photoshoot is weird, sexual, glamorous, there are plenty of egos that bounce off each other. It has a natural energy of conflict and conflict naturally creates action. And action is necessary to maintain inertia, and in a music video that doesn’t have true cuts, it is necessary to provide it in a natural form, which the photoshoot did. For the photoshoot scenario to be a success, the photographer needed to be strong and commanding to bounce action off of Sapphire. Antonioni’s first foray into English cinema in the film Blow Up, about a young, egotistical and highly sexualized photographer seemed like the type of character I could build around, however throw on A LOT of campy flamboyance… which Danik McAfee exceeded my expectations of and Sapphire had an ego to compete with.
The concept of the photoshoot allowed us to throw in supporting characters that aided in action and some sense of an existing world. Of course our photographer has interns, or alternatively known as Italian Military Fashion Personnel (with one speaking Russian). Playing on the juxtaposition between the seriousness and silliness of fashion, they acted as the mysterious henchmen to our photographers flamboyance. Wearing black turtlenecks to appear conformed while still fashionable, they provided commands and specific choreography while never losing the stone-cold demeanour.
The Golden Girls, well, that was easily provided by Jeff Innes’s lyrics but it fit perfectly with the concept of the video. The Golden Girls are to Sapphire what the henchmen are to the photographer. The more beautiful, fashion oriented and physical nature of them necessitated them to be used as a reveal as we go into the second half of the song and arguably the most visually stunning part. Because Saturday Night is very much taking on a fashion oriented video, I wanted to find a way to capture a Grace Jones aesthetic – strong sharp angles, metallics, and blues and golds. The girls themselves are dancers but because of the nature of the song, particularly that bridge which has a slower rhythm, it actually worked perfectly for seductive strutting and voguing.
The Clowns. Last year I was introduced to an incredibly powerful scene from the 1971 film Sin un Adios which featured the Spanish singer Raphael as a clown singing a ballad of a trumpet, Balada de la Trompeta. The imagery stuck with me, and as I began to explore more in the way of European cinema, I came across Fellini, a filmmaker I admire, and his pseudo-documentary The Clowns. The imagery stuck with me on an unconscious level for some reason that one random night in early January I woke up with visions of depressed clowns laying in a pile bordered by a red theatre curtain. The image was so strong I felt I had to film it in one way or another, and thus our first image of the Sapphire and the clowns is in front of a red theatre curtain. I knew I had to develop the clowns a bit further as they had to aid in the action and could potentially lure the camera away from Sapphire and the Photographer, and of course disobedience is a fun way to do this, and being addicted to donuts and cakes is even more fun and colourful. So that is their dangerous relationship to the butler who simultaneously pull us out of the first scene and also pull us into the last scene.
How did your ideas of concept and character go on to inform the structure of the video?
Because the music video has, in my opinion, an overly campy feel and the song has a long outro of nearly a minute, I felt there was perfect opportunity to wrap up the video in a very silly way. Because so much of the inspiration came from Europeans and part of the theme of the video is question everything, I felt our two lead characters should interact in two different languages; Italian and French. It doesn’t make sense and it isn’t supposed to, nor is it supposed to be good dialogue, but more reminiscent of a terrible B-movie from the 70s and their bizarre endings.
It doesn’t make sense and it isn’t supposed to.
The one-shot video came to me partly because of the natural way to explore this concept and partly because I was really looking to orchestrate a production on a large scale and experiment with action. Music videos often are big productions, but they can often fall into the trap of disjointed but pretty imagery. I wanted to move away from this as far as possible and explore the art and discipline of constant camera movement and constant actor movement while never feeling like there’s a blank moment of nothing happening relative to the action. The lighting, set decorating, and costume all played a part in making everything a little bit interesting while never being too much to take away from the action.
You co-directed Saturday Night with Gaya LaMouche. How did the two of you work together on the film?
Gaya and I have been working together for the past 18 months on small and silly projects and developing a synergy. Our talents I guess compliment each other and make up for one another’s shortfalls. Gaya is an incredibly talented visual artist who has a substantial background in theatre, I on the other hand have zero background in the dramatic arts but have more of a focus on the writing and photography side. I understand the hesitation of directors sharing their vision with others, but co-directing is fairly natural for me in the sense it allows debate and deliberation to happen in a more natural sense. If we’re picking out costumes, or staging and designing sets, or working with an actor and something isn’t quite flowing right, we can stagger our direction and let the other offer their input until our thought is more flushed out – every once in a while a new thought or idea will arrive through someone else’s. It’s a terrible situation when an idea or practice isn’t working and the set slows down. The hierarchical nature of a film set can often perpetuate this and it’s awful. On this particular shoot, and actually every production of mine, we’ve never had the budget for rehearsals so even with all the preparation beforehand, I love to have a space of trusted opinions.
How did you go about planning the technical choreography and timing for the ‘one-shot’ shoot?
The first draft of the treatment actually featured a giant warehouse with only one room where I was actually hoping to film all in one shot. Of course we couldn’t find something within our budget, and after a desperate week of literally driving through warehouse districts all over Toronto and cold-calling ‘for lease’ signs, we eventually got wind of this old meat processing plant that was owned by some very ‘chill’ people. However the LARGE room still didn’t exist but the space was better than I could have ever imagined… it was a labyrinth of concrete hallways that I knew we had to exploit.
So like any music video you play on the musical cues. I spent a day just walking through the space playing the song over and over again to find the right pacing so we could arrive at the scenes at the right time. Neil Hansen, our DoP was the expert on making the cuts – utilizing the crossing of a vertical object on a horizontal motion, so it was a heavy collaboration to end up at the right place at the right time… and we actually had the camera mapped out to the very second and retained a very high accuracy rate, only making adjustments after visually seeing the blocking of the characters… and funnily enough, a screw up on my part, the label had sent me the mastered version of the song and I didn’t bother listening to it until the day before the shoot (assuming it was the same as the previous version)… and there was an additional 15 seconds at the beginning! so I had to scramble to write and block those 15 seconds on the spot… which ended up great because it really made Danik’s character (photographer) that much stronger.
The blocking and directing of character and camera, particularly on the large scenes was really something… it is both stressful and exhilarating when you don’t have rehearsals so you have to sculpt away at it over a number of takes. It’s a totally different kind of filmmaking than any other I’ve ever done, but also some of the most fun.
Did the nature of the video dictate your choice of equipment?
The nature of the DID dictate the choice of equipment. It needed to be a one shot take video, it wouldn’t have worked otherwise so in this case we employed a steadicam scout with an Arri Amira and re-housed Zeiss Contax (70s photography glass) lenses to give it that older feel. I was lucky to have all the equipment donated to me or else it wouldn’t have been possible… (pretty much everything was donated).
Aside from the seamless merging of the sections what other post production tools did you utilise to bring the film together?
For post production, the merging of cuts was actually the simplest to pull off. What was a challenge was the manual stabilization where we went frame by frame to create as smooth a motion as possible. This sometimes required us to mask new walls or duplicate parts of the red curtain to make it a bit wider. You then have to stabilize multiple objects in a shot that is always moving and it can become a bit of a technical headache. On top of this you have to colour grade and feather these objects so they match seamlessly with the rest of the cut. It’s pretty amazing what you can do with accessible technology such as After Effects and Resolve to heighten production value.
What will we see from you next?
What am I working on next? Another music video or 4 or 5 potentially this summer… all of which couldn’t be further from Saturday Night, but allow me to explore new stories. I’m also looking to expand into fashion films and to find a way to use the internet to collaborate with creators from all over the world, which I think would be the most enjoyable thing I could possibly imagine.