Back in 2018 Writer/Director Andzej Gavriss introduced us to the sounds of Aigel through his fever dream promo 1190. Today we gladly hand the reins over to Gavriss once again to discover how the alluring imagery of Russian Orthodox ice-water baptisms inspired You’re Born – his latest music video for the electro hip hop duo, and a project whose best laid production plans devolved into a race against melting ice and rising sub-zero water.
I am attracted to unique ideas and concepts, always researching for something fresh and exciting. Once I bumped into an image of a man baptized in a cross-shaped ice hole, I knew I had to write a story that would centre around this ritual.
Overall it took us around 1.5 months to prep and a week to shoot the video. The first month I worked side by side with DP Andrey Nikolayev and PD Julija Fricsone Gavriss, storyboarding and prepping all the boards in LA while the production company was working on getting everything we needed in Moscow.
It might sound ridiculous but finding snow this February in Moscow was a real challenge. The day we landed in Moscow the weather was abnormally warm with no signs of the cold. At our first production meeting, we decided to wait it out and rely on the weather forecast. We started scouting locations before there was barely any snow outside. The snow would fall but instantly start melting. The forecast would change four times a day and this gamble was getting on everyone’s nerves.
After a week we were on the scout for a church and the snowstorm began. The forecast showed that it would only last for two days so the decision was made to shoot the car shots the next day. We literary turned the car around and got back to Moscow to start prepping everything. This spontaneous decision caused a lot of headaches for all of the crew and production, but looking back it was just meant to be.
Finding snow this February in Moscow was a real challenge.
We were not shooting in chronological order. The wide shot with the cars passing by the fox was the first shot that we started with and I feel like it was the most challenging one. Choreographing the position of the fox with respect to the cars was just mental. The fox would not keep calm, it was jumping all over the place. The next issue was that we couldn’t completely shut down the street due to our last-minute idea of shooting the next day, so we had to wait for cars to pass by.
We were shooting for nearly two hours. It was freezing, I almost couldn’t feel my toes. At some point, we were close to losing all hope of getting the shot right and then all of a sudden it just happened. The fox stopped, looked at the cars perfectly passing by, almost exactly like in the storyboard.
I wanted the whole video to feel hypnotic. I pictured the opening shot as something like falling into the rabbit hole, the camera should move real fast and spin at the same time so the audience could get sucked into the video from the very first frames. It was quite obvious that we had to use a Trinity to make this shot work. The problem was that the aeroplane hallways were quite narrow so we had to find the smallest, Steadicam operator in Moscow who could fit in the doorway with all the gear. The shot was supposed to be filmed on an anamorphic lens, but after a couple of takes, the Steadicam operator started bumping into walls so we changed the lens to a tiny 8mm spherical.
The falling scene is the key part of the video so we had to get it right. The first problem we faced was finding thick enough ice that could hold the whole crew. We scouted for practically a week before eventually finding the right location 2 hours outside of Moscow. Then the next problem appeared. The forecast showed that we would only have two days before the ice started melting.
At some point we were close to losing all hope of getting the shot right.
The production couldn’t afford to fly the whole crew out to the North of Russia and waiting another year was not an option. We had already shot the plane and car scenes so there was no turning back at this point. It was now or never. Basically, we had 1 day to prep and the next day we had to shoot.
The producers immediately sent the art crew to the location. The idea was to cut out a 7 meter long cross in the middle of the lake with thick borders and statues from a block of ice. Because the outside temperature was only about 0°C or even +2°C, the density of the water was not that high, so once the carpenters cut out the main piece of the cross, the water started to rise up. Straight off, the whole surrounding area around our set was flooded with water. The art crew had no option but to continue working. They broke four chainsaws and finished nearly at night
The next morning I woke up and the first thing I heard was drops of water hitting my windowsill. The snow and ice were melting like crazy, it was +2°C outside. Once we got to the location, I saw a massive amount of water around the cross, everything was flooded but we couldn’t reschedule for another day.
The production designer made a decision to cover all of the flooded areas with light wood panels, plastic covers and put a mix of real and fake snow on top of it. This way the form of the cross would be more visible and there would be practical areas of snow for actors to stand on, the rest of the water would be cleaned in the post. After five hours of non-stop hard work, the art department nailed it.
The first problem we faced was finding thick enough ice that could hold the whole crew.
We were seriously behind the schedule, with only 6 hours of daylight and 25 shots to shoot.
Falling into sub-zero temperature water at the age of 72 is a deadly trick. There are not many actors who would be willing to do it, Georgiy was one of them. I was really impressed and inspired by his commitment to the role. We did a few rehearsals at the gym and he went through all of the medical tests. We had three Alexa mini cameras, two safety divers, and were aiming to do only one take. I guess we were ready.
After an hour as we were about to shoot the falling scene, I received a call from the producer asking me to come over to the onset ambulance. At once, I had a feeling that something was wrong. As I got to the ambulance, I was told by the doctors that Georgiy could not perform the stunt because his heart rate and blood sugar levels had gone up. I remember just standing there frozen and thinking: “Ok. We are running behind the schedule, we don’t have a stunt double, chroma key will not work, we don’t have money to make a full CG double, what should we do?”
Thank god, one of the actors who was cast to play the bodyguard was down to do the stunt. His hair, body type, and hight matched Georgiy’s, and his heart rate was average. Looking back, it was pure magic that with all the unexpected issues we managed to get all of the shots and even some coverage.
The factory worker’s scene came out of a really personal memory. 12 years ago I used to live and work in the UK doing warehouse jobs. I was really close with a co-worker, she was a woman 42 years of age, full of grief about her past and present. So I wanted to portray a woman losing her beauty doing hard work at a factory.
I wanted the whole video to feel hypnotic.
It was really windy at the runway, it started getting even colder and the soldiers were tired, freezing and complaining all the time. It got to the point that most of them said that they wanted to leave. So our 1st AD Elena Senatorova took off her hat and jacket and stood in a t-shirt for more than half an hour in order for the soldiers to stop complaining. It was crazy but it worked.
In the end, I want to thank Take Shot production company for keeping my vision and bringing this script to life. Big shout out goes to all of the cast and crew, I know it was cold and stressful but at long last, we have so many great memories and an amazing video. Also thanks to Directors Notes for having me.
All behind the scenes images in this article taken by Natalia Butova.
You’re Born 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.