All too often when seeking out music videos for DN, once the initial wow factor of flashy visuals synced to a beat has faded, we’re left with the empty feeling that all we’ve witnessed is a director showing off their latest box of tricks in a series of disparate scenes. Which makes those instances of filmmakers whose stylistic approach not only serves the track but has clearly laid a foundation that guided all stages of production all the more pleasurable to discover. In that vein we sat down with Berlin director Rico Mahel to discover how he balanced decrepit location design with elegant ballet choreography for Lunakid video Technicolor.
There are a lot of striking visuals throughout Technicolor, how did you convey what the film would become to Lunakid during the pitch?
I had the great luck to work with two producers who really fancy my style and whose style I really fancy. So from the very beginning we trusted each other and Jessy Moravec and Tizia Florence (the producers) trusted me and my visions. Before we actually started shooting I was writing a very detailed treatment about what would happen in the video and adding many pictures, drawings, and screen shots from films that could work as a visual reference. But most of all I was talking to the different heads of departments to make my vision clear. Communication was very important in this particular case because you should never forget that you’re dealing with different people with different imaginations. The whole team was very trustful and it was a great pleasure to work with every single crew member.
It was not only a question of style but also about how these costumes could work with dance.
Even within the realm of music videos, Technicolor is a deeply styled and designed piece – what sources did you draw from for the look and how were those translated into the film’s costume and design decisions?
Well the style was very much created inside my head. When it comes to our Costume Designer Thoas Lindner – it was great to work with him and we were lucky that he was so generous. Not all the costumes in Technicolor were designed especially for the music video. Only the costumes for Sarah Grether (the ballet dancer) and the dancers in the attic were made for this project. I met Thoas and told him about my ideas and together we figured out how to realize them. It was not only a question of style but also about how these costumes could work with dance, as the dancers were moving a lot and the costumes had to withstand that movement. The other costumes which the actors are wearing in the white room and in the dark – let’s call it the ‘LP-basement’ – are parts of Thoas’ former collections. I was lucky enough to go through his studio and pick the costumes that would fit my visions.
How involved was Lunakid’s Natalianne Boucher (an animation/video artist in her own right) in the look of the video? Were specific visuals – such as the masks which also appear in Waking Up – featured to tie in with Lunakid’s vision of their continuing identity?
Natalianne Boucher wasn’t involved in the shooting or the production. Lunakid and Natalienne Boucher were working together before but Lunakid’s Waking Up was made after the Technicolor video was shot. They adapted some of the styling and decided to let this become Lunakid’s visual motto as the visuals in the video are very recognizable.
Tatiana Mejia’s choreography presents these interesting moments of frozen and staccato dance. How did the two of you arrive at that particular style?
Working with Tatiana Mejia was a very impressive experience. She is a great choreographer and dancer. When we first met I was trying to explain what I thought this video would look like and pitched her the story line of the treatment – that the dancers in the attic are kind of in a frozen state and wake up together with the music. As they don’t function as individuals but more as tools for the musician and help him build his very own track in the end I wanted the movements to look a bit remote-controlled. Not in a robotic way but more organic. Tatiana did a great job of building this into the choreography and the camera and the edit also supports that.
That derelict location feels like the perfect stage for this film to play out on. How did you find it and how much did the space itself dictate the actions your cast and crew were able to perform?
The locations that would work as a stage for the music video were very clear very early. We were very keen, almost stubborn, to shoot in an attic for example. But the reality always hits you and we had some trouble finding one. We eventually found it but the attic was in a very bad state and our Set Design team had to rebuild the whole thing.You don’t see all that effort now in the video – as in the video the attic looks like an old attic should look – but it took weeks to make it look like that and also to prepare the attic for the half-naked dancers so they wouldn’t hurt themselves.
The LP-basement and the white room were especially made for the video. The white room was shot in a studio and the LP-basement in an actual basement. For this I had to communicate with my Set Designer Stephanie Traut very intensely, meeting every day, with several approvals every few days so her work would fit the whole style. The abandoned place in which we also have these internal drone shots were shot in an abandoned hospital near Grabowsee in Brandenburg, Germany. It’s quite famous nowadays as it’s mainly used for shoots. George Clooney’s Monument’s Man was shot there for example. We were lucky that the owner was very fair to us as we didn’t have so much money for the production. I liked the discrepancy between that bedraggled place and the elegant ballet dancer. Her choreography supports that as I wanted it to be even more elegant to carry this discrepancy to extremes.
How did your five day shoot break down? What was your set up?
We had two shooting days in the attic. One day in Grabowsee. One day in the studio, and one day in the forest where we shot the prologue. When it comes to the equipment I’m afraid I can’t tell you too much about it as I tried to stay out of that technical part and let my DoP and gaffer work that out.
Without a strict linear narrative to adhere to, how did you approach structuring the film in post?
It is always a very intense and delicate moment when you see the results or check the footage and of course compare it with the vision you’ve had in your head for months. In this case that moment was very happy as the results totally fit with what I always imagined. The post production phase was very short. After shooting I went straight to editing as we had a tight time schedule, but also as we were very excited about what could happen with the footage and whether it would match the treatment that was written before. Editing took about four weeks with many breaks in between which I always need as I normally write my own scripts, direct and edit. So I always need some time within the editing process to just take a week or two off to come back and have a fresh view on the shoot and not get stuck in what I once wrote cause that’s always something different. After editing, the final cut went straight to our Color Grader Christian Kröhl who worked with me for three days, working with our Sound Designer Jonathan Ritzel at the same time.
I see that you’ve also completed a short called Wights in Paradise. What can you tell us about it and when will it be making its way into the world?
Wights in Paradise was shot last year in summer and just finished in February this year. It’s a very stylistic film in which a lone man experiences a dialogue with nature and is offered what might be a second chance to understand the significance of his genesis. The film explores the relation between man and nature. In what kind of world do we live in? In what kind of world do we want to live? What kind of world do we come from? These questions have to be asked and these issues have to be faced. They can not be ignored as it is just too obvious that they need to be answered.
“Self-awareness destroys the character of the animal harmony. Through the development of this awareness the human being became an anomaly. He is a whim of the universe.” – Erich Fromm
Man has a fundamental problem. He is part of nature but yet physically submitted to it. He can not change it significantly and yet he transcends it. He stands outside and is yet right in the middle. He is homeless and yet chained to the home he shares with all creatures. So he builds up a human world. A human world which is not natural. Humanity does not mean oneness with nature. Being human means separation. Being human means to live in a constant contradiction. He [man] is probably the only creature that can not feel at home in nature and that feels expelled from paradise. And although man is man, he is still a creation of nature and he will never find a home, never feel unity, never experience unconditional affiliation in this human world he built up. So the only way is the way back to nature, back to love, back to affection, back into the womb and thereby back to death which essentially is just the return to the past, the inorganic state of matter.
Being human means separation. Being human means to live in a constant contradiction.
The film is now in it’s distribution phase so I don’t know yet when it will be making its way into the world but I of course hope that it’s gonna be released very soon.
Are there any other pending projects you can share with us?
I am currently working on a screenplay for a new short film which will probably be shot by the end of this year. But it’s in a delicate state right now so I’d rather not talk about it at this moment. Former projects of mine were Until We Bleed which went around the world and was screened in Germany, Israel, Poland, Albania.
And a more recent one is Inferno which just had its premiere at a film festival in Cambridge, screened in Berlin last week and will play soon in Netherlands and Alaska.