Location, location, location…how many times have we heard that maxim spouted? However, for Egor Tarasov and Vladimir Ivanov’s gorgeously shot promo for Miyagi & Andy Panda’s album title track Yamakasi, location was of utmost importance. Yamakasi doesn’t just feel like a music video but more a reaching epic of a film, with expansive one shot scenes and an incredibly evocative notion behind its creation. An abandoned town housing a mere handful of families after flooding is filled with a multitude of extras and an ambitious crew to bring us the burial of a lingering war. We spoke to the FMT JETLAG directors about the logistical hurdles faced, corralling a crowd of extras and getting inventive on set to bring life to the painful history of the artists’ homeland.
What kicked off this video collaboration with Miyagi & Andy Panda?
It all started in North Ossetia, Miyagi & Andy Panda’s homeland. We met there and instantly had a creative connection with the artists. Shortly after our acquaintance, our team FMT.JETLAG shot a music video for the artists’ song Brooklyn, which garnered millions of views on YouTube. A couple of months later, Miyagi & Andy Panda released a new album Yamakasi and entrusted us with an opportunity to make a music video for the main track and three more one-shot videos for other songs from the album. All the one-shot music videos were made within a week, and two of them were shot on GoPro only.
In one night we came up with the idea for Yamakasi and the next morning our executive producer went to North Ossetia from Moscow to present the idea to Miyagi & Andy Panda. They liked the overall concept and we started developing it deeper. During this development, the idea gathered a lot of sub-meanings, which were harmonically united as one in our film.
“Let’s bury the war”. This was the moment when everyone in the room realized that this was it. This was what we were trying to say.
You don’t need to understand lyrics to feel the power in the film. How did the creative process evolve from that initial concept?
The artists liked our initial one-night idea. They came to Moscow soon after the first presentation to discuss the concept and to share some shrimp and beer together. We were looking at every scene from the draft script when Miyagi finally said: “Let’s bury the war”. This was the moment when everyone in the room realized that this was it. This was what we were trying to say. The artists’ contribution to the concept was of great importance, as it was their voice, their message and their actual pain which needed to be shared.
We put together a mood-video to demonstrate the future atmosphere of the film and the general tone of it. After that we made a detailed storyboard and a boardomatic, taking into account all the aspects that could possibly change and be adapted on set. We also had long conversations with the artists on the specific details and ‘easter eggs’ from the history of their homeland and their own life-stories. Each frame contains more than you see, and this could be one of the reasons why it resonates with so many people.
The film opens with a stunning one shot over the funeral, how was that realised?
Practically speaking, there were two main problems to solve to make that shot, the location and the extras. It had to be a single space, already with the right atmosphere to begin with. It was indeed a very difficult mission, and that is why it was the most important location for us to find. After several rounds of scouting, we found it: a partially abandoned mountain town, Sadon. 19 years ago, it was flooded by mountain waters leaving just a few families remaining. As soon as we got to Sadon, we realised straight away that this was the location we needed. The distinctive textures, the atmosphere, the space and the close proximity to the mountains, everything came together perfectly.
The second main issue was extras. We needed a lot of people, hundreds of men, women, older ones and children. At first it did not sound that hard, but in fact, we had to gather 600 individuals at one place, who would willingly stand under the cold pouring rain for hours. We had to transfer all of them to the mountains and back, while the way from the city took about 2 hours one-way. Due to the great respect that the fans have for Miyagi & Andy Panda there were even people from the neighbouring republics, who came specifically to participate in this scene.
Technically, this shot was done relatively simply; the camera was attached to a Movi and at the first spot, the cameraman stood on the moving aerial platform. Then he handed the camera over to another cameraman, who was sitting in the trunk of the pickup truck. Zoom-ins and turns of the camera were made manually, we simply timed each frame and set a specific task for each actor, synchronized the track and the movement of the camera along the set. We even changed one aerial platform for another one in order to improve stabilization and increase the speed of camera movement for the panorama top down shot along the building.
We had to gather 600 individuals at one place who would willingly stand under the cold pouring rain for hours.
It took us three days of rehearsals and two days of filming to get this shot done. On the first day of rehearsals, we worked on the camera movement. During the next two days, we set up the mise-en-scenes in the area and practiced the most difficult technical aspects. For example, we synchronized the movement of Miyagi with the music when he was leaving the building so that every step and gesture was made to the beat.
On the first day of shooting, it rained so hard that it was impossible to do anything: it was too difficult to control the extras, to move with the camera, and it got dark too fast. It was a fiasco but we figured out all the problems and worked on them. Taking everything into account, we prepared much better for the second day of shooting. We transferred even more people, expanded the size of the administrative department, restored the setup, managed the timing more effectively, and we made it.
What was your equipment set up for the shoot and how did you solve the technical issues of capturing the highly ambitious shots devised for this project?
The essential part of the music video was shot on Red Dragon with Angeniuex 16-42 T2.8 zoom and Arri Ultra Prime 14mm T1.9 wide-angle lens. We also used stabilization a lot: Ronin 2 and Movi. This was a rather massive construction, so we had to invent our own solutions to get some shots done. For instance, to shoot the scene with a dead body lying in the water, we gripped the stabilizer to the aerial platform with our own metal construction hanging over the lake, in order to reach the correct height and movement. The penultimate shot, in which the coffin cover is thrown into the grave, was made the same way.
To make the shot with the SWAT and Miyagi, we had to find a compact solution, as we had to ‘fly’ through the windows of the Jetlag-mobile (this was the name for that gorgeous BMW on set). So, we attached a Blackmagic Pocket 4k with a Laowa 7.5mm f / 2 lens to the Ronin-S, after that we attached the stabilizer to a long metal stick and secured it with a 10 kg counterweight. This construction allowed us to go right through the windows of the car and to make a shot only using the movement of the camera and not any digital or optical zoom.
The hassle scene at the factory was no less challenging. We needed to assemble our own circular rig, which could be mounted to the ceiling. So, we developed a basis for a special rotating construction in advance and brought it all the way from Moscow to North Ossetia. It was finished with the help of a local welder in Vladikavkaz and the desired result was achieved. To make the night shot with the funeral procession, we had to weld a unique metal construction, which rigidly attached the camera to the coffin. This concise fixture helped to create the right feeling to the camera movement and the scene itself. We could not miss the opportunity to take two shots with that number of extras.
The penultimate scene opens with a long frame that starts with a wide shot, then quickly zooms in right into the middle of the funeral procession, which stands on a plateau in the mountains. We shot this frame with a Canon CINE-SERVO 50-1000mm T5.0-8.9 ultra-telephoto zoom lens. There are only two of them in Russia. The cameraman was located on the mountain about 500 meters from the extras, as this was the only way to capture the right composition. For the final shot, POV from the coffin, we built a special protective construction: a box made of beams and plywood, where we placed a ‘cage’ for the camera. On top of that we put a protective glass, allowing us to throw the soil on the camera. We had the number of shots equal to the number of new protective glasses. Three pieces turned out to be enough.
Shortly speaking, we had 9 crew members, shooting every day in the mountains, no connectivity, hundreds of extras, thousands of candles and one coffin. Having very limited resources, we welded complex constructions for the camera right on set, forced the artist to ride in the mountains in a 70s BMW at a working train repair plant. We were able to capture the first sun’s light from the mountain with one of the rarest lenses in the world and filmed a member of our team in the ice-cold mountain river, built a house in one day and burned it on the evening of the same day.
Each frame contains more than you see and this could be one of the reasons why it resonates with so many people.
Of course, the popularity of the artists in the area brought with it certain benefits which helped us. We prepared, worked hard and got a lot of help from Hajime production group, friends, acquaintances and all the locals. Everyone was involved, people even started to recognise us in other parts of North Ossetia. We would say that this music video, this short film was created by the people. It could not happen without them.
You mentioned that you timed actions to the track during the shoot, did that take some of the pressure off the edit?
Most of the frames were planned to be in specific parts of the song, but there were several of those that were almost improvised. Nevertheless, all of the shots were united by our approach which allowed us to find beautiful and strong ways to order the scenes, supporting the lyrics of the song. Finishing the edit with the artists, we decided to leave a quote from the poem of Ossetian poet Kosta Khetagurov at the very end of the video. “Kadmæ bælgæjæ ægadæj Mælæm” which means “In desire of glory, ingloriously we die”. We believe that this message needs no extra explanations. We also believe that it perfectly completes the puzzle of this whole work, which, hopefully, will bring value to the world.
What other projects do they have going at the moment and what can our audience look forward to in the future?
Just before the New Year, we released another music video Holy Discover for Ollane, the artist from the same music label, Hajime. The past year has demonstrated that sometimes planning might not always be worthwhile so we will see…
Yamakasi 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.