Returning to Directors Notes after jumping us through time and space in their Tessellating promo last year, director partnership Visitor (George Thomson and Lukas Schrank) are back with a documentary music video created for Australian electro-indie band Safia’s track Resolution. A stirring portrait of Mongolian female sumo wrestler Tuvshinjargal Bum-Erdene which reveals the rising athlete’s early struggles with bullying and indomitable will to succeed, we invited the pair to tell us how they brought this real life story of self-actualization to screen.
The project came in as a pitch for a new client/label so with that always comes a slight feeling of shooting in the dark. The creative idea from the artist that intrigued us was in the lyrics, that tell a story of breaking free from a falsely perceived version of yourself.
In the past, we’ve strived for originality through aesthetic or narrative ideas, but after making 3 or 4 videos like this we thought it would be interesting to approach this one from a different angle, looking at the music video format and medium. While the documentary video has been done before, we wanted to create something that focussed on a protagonist and location that felt under-represented on screen or hadn’t been seen before.
From that point onwards the process was really simple, George had worked in Mongolia before, with Producer Enkhtsag Damdinjav – we told him we were looking for a female sumo wrestler and the next day he sent us a photo of himself and Tuvshinjargal. As a rising star in the world of Sumo, she had already been featured in a few global news articles and everything we read about her story made her even more compelling.
When we won the job there was a slight feeling of nerves, looking at the calendar and counting the days that we’d have for the entire project. The commissioner Sarah Chin (Warner’s Head of Australian Artists and Creative) was incredibly trusting and open with the whole process which made everything a lot easier.
The challenge in pre-production was setting up a shoot where we had the freedom to capture whatever might happen spontaneously but also keeping fixed points we knew we needed to tell Tuvshu’s story.
Building a trusting relationship with the main character in a documentary is obviously a huge part of creating something honest and authentic, but we had the combined challenges of a very short turnaround (the entire process from green light to delivery took 29 days) and a massive language barrier to contend with. Luckily Tuvshu and her family were incredibly positive about the whole experience and were very generous and open with us.
We found this lack of constraints really liberating.
We shot on Red with Cinematographer David Rusanow. After watching a lot of documentary music videos with him we realised that there was a danger that what we capture could feel either too lo-fi for the project, or too slick and overly staged. We settled on an approach that maximised the incredibly enigmatic backdrop that Ulaan Baatar offered but still felt very real – avoiding things like slow motion or overtly choreographed camera moves, working with whatever lighting was available to us and shooting handheld. This also meant we were relatively mobile and efficient with our shoot days. Compared to previous projects where every single shot is carefully planned, storyboarded and blocked, we found this lack of constraints really liberating.
When we landed back home with the footage safely in hand we all breathed a sigh of relief. From that point onwards we had 5 days to complete the edit and post. We’re based between the UK and Australia so we started a kind of round the clock relay race with the edit, between George in London and me and our Editor Chris Ward in Melbourne. Again, both Sarah and the artists were extremely trusting with the process so it all went pretty smoothly. The only major hiccup was that an error with his visa meant that our Cinematographer David was not allowed to leave Mongolia unless he chose to be deported, so he only made it back home after the project had been delivered.