An indictment of the pervasive cultural trend of blind adoration, NFTS/RCA graduate Yo Vo’s fashion film collaboration with Bulgarian boutique store ALL U Re sees the director cast a highly stylised critical eye on the vacuity of influencer culture. A short that first caught our attention during its Shiny Awards screening earlier this month, DN caught up with Yo Vo to discover how dual cinematographers, unsettling music and the work of Jonathan Glazer and Yorgos Lanthimos helped shape this fashion film takedown.

Where did the concept for this indictment of contemporary culture initially come from?

The initial concept was to produce a straightforward visual metaphor, to create a film which deals with adoration within contemporary culture. The recurring theme that people tend to follow blindly and imitate the behaviour of another person based solely on the fact that something looks new, different and in some cases strange just for the sake of being strange. Their “burning” desire to stand out and be noticed, most notably on social media and how this approach to life became a fashion trend in itself as absurd as if it was conceived by Samuel Beckett in one of his plays. The total surrender of autonomy. But in order to avoid it being a dry social criticism, it was imperative to have elements of this absurdity, in the form of surrealism which spill into segments of the video itself. From here onwards the story became about a mysterious character and her avid imitator locked up in a power play. A kind of stable uncertainty. Both of them rather static, prisoners in themselves.

Some years ago I was fascinated by a book called How Pleasure Works by development psychologist Paul Bloom. He argues that we don’t value things in a vacuum, the history and intent is as much, if not more, important than the thing itself. But nowadays it seems that we are even one step further, somewhere where so many people have turned into de-facto zombie followers who do value things in a vacuum.

In order to avoid it being a dry social criticism, it was imperative to have elements of this absurdity, in the form of surrealism.

How did you come to partner with ALL U Re and what was it about the fashion film that made it the obvious format frame for Copycat?

I thought that the visual metaphor would be strengthened if the whole piece revolved around fashion, how trends form, what is cool, what is authentic, what is a copy, why people like what they like. I presented the idea to a concept boutique store ALL U Re which has a custom selection of the latest fashion pieces within the industry, they liked it and gave all their support into making it a reality. In this way, the styling and wardrobe constructed and completed the characters’ personas – one being always a step behind. It was done by Nikolay Pachev in collaboration with ALL U Re and in specific with brands like VETEMENTS & Marine Serre which also kindly agreed to take part in it.

The film is very distinctive in its visual style, what informed that look and how did you achieve it?

It was important to experiment with the way it was shot. I got in touch with two cinematographers (Dimitar Nedelchev and Teodor Fichev) and after a quick chat, we decided to have both of them working together, each responsible for each of the characters. This way we wanted to increase the contrast and the gap by bringing in two different styles and two different approaches. When conceiving the two characters, two films were huge inspirations – Under the Skin by Jonathan Glazer and Dogtooth by Yorgos Lanthimos. Therefore one became a girl which seems otherworldly, full of confidence to the point of being hypnotic, and the other – her naive follower, living in a world of manufactured meaning, easily hypnotized.

We shot it on Arri Alexa Mini using old Russian anamorphic glass, whose specific technical characteristics we thought would heighten the sense of uncertainty and elevate the feeling of dream turning into a nightmare. When alone, we attempted to portray the lead character as close to being perfect as possible using only Steadicam shots done by Kiril Valchanov, always starting from a subjective close-up ending on a wide shot to implement this sense of the follower being a tad too late into joining in the frame and the act of copying.

The whole shoot took one day, all on separate locations, but the preparation was way more logistically difficult because the main character was Eli Bineva, who recently became the World Champion in Rhythmic Gymnastics with the Bulgarian National Team and they train literally 24/7 a day, every month. Therefore we had no time to rehearse or test before. We shot it during the autumn months which was intended to add an extra layer of a kind of moody nature to the background of the story.

This approach to life became a fashion trend in itself as absurd as if it was conceived by Samuel Beckett in one of his plays.

It’s hard to imagine any other music working as effectively as Halloween Dream to set Copycat’s tone, how did you find Be Still The Earth’s disquieting track?

Initially, I had a working song to which most of the scenes were roughly based. It was entirely performed on a piano but its rhythm was strange as if imitating a contemporary electronic piece. Unfortunately, it turned out to be impossible to license as there were three separate labels involved with the rights because it did turn out to be a remake of an electronic song. When the time came to shoot the video I nevertheless tried to base the pace of certain scenes to it.

Straight after the shoot, I was completely exhausted and remember laying down and trying to desperately find a new tune. I found an online music library platform called Soundstripe and started to listen to a playlist and fell asleep. About 6 hours later I woke up with my headphones still on and Be Still The Earth’s song was on. I couldn’t help but see images from the day’s shoot slowly unfolding one after the other. I thought it was perfect for the way it builds layer upon layer of mystery and anticipation, even when you listen to it with your eyes closed it takes you on an unsettling journey towards a culmination point. And so I went straight on with it and it turned into a driving force for the final cut.

What will we see from you next time?

In terms of next projects, I would like to do a music video for a song which has some sort of cinematic quality to it and also am thinking of a separate short film. I don’t want to rush it, and hope with the right amount of luck I will have the space and support to make it happen.

Copycat is one of the many great projects shared with the Directors Notes Programmers through our submissions process. If you’d like to join them submit your film.

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