We all wrestle with performance on a day-to-day basis, managing our interactions with different individuals, hoping to not be exposed or seen for who we truly are, whatever that may be. Much featured DN alum Colin Read tackles this subject in his latest music video for Cautious Clay’s Wildfire, a sombre and slick reflection on the overwhelming fear of being interpreted. DN joined Read in conversation once again to learn how he created the video’s dreamlike set design and captured everything practically with a camera in constant motion.
When Cautious Clay pitched you Wildfire, what was it that he wanted to explore with the video?
Josh Karpeh AKA Cautious Clay wanted to explore the idea that you have to wear different faces across different types of relationships; and further, how as an artist, you and your work will be experienced and interpreted differently depending on the person engaging with it. From there, I arrived at this concept of Cautious Clay being viewed as a piece of media and seen differently by different people. Further, we explored the various types of relationships, and how it can be hard to get across your true intentions.
I arrived at this concept, of Cautious Clay being viewed as a piece of media, and seen differently by different people.
As Josh says: “It can feel like a struggle to be fully seen, and there’s an anxiety around reinventing oneself to stay true to oneself. This video attempts to capture that collection of feelings — on display to the world, trying to put on the right face.”
Like with so much of your other work, you really feel that every aspect of the form has been thought about regarding that central idea.
The process of this video was a wonderful collaboration between all departments, working together to match the set dressing of each scene, the style of its character, and the corresponding make-up for Josh inside the TV, and of course the lighting to accentuate it all.
Given that ambition, how much of the film did you create practically and how much was digitally manifested?
We wanted to do everything in-camera, other than the digital video game version of Josh, of course, so we did the simplest thing: we just hollowed out a TV and cabinet and stuck a man inside of it. Lucas Godlewski, our production designer, found the perfect style of TV and stripped it hollow, then blacked out its inside walls with duvetyne. We then put ribbon lights along the inside of the front frame of the TV, so that Josh’s face was illuminated with a nice shaped light from within.
From there, we worked to make each scene feel cohesive. Sasha Skolnick, the stylist, crafted a look and color palette for each character; Lucas then pushed the rest of the set dressing into that palette and feel. Likewise, Sena Murahashi then took the feeling of the scene and character and created a look for Josh’s make-up inside the TV that followed those same themes.
Were you looking to centre the video in a living room to reflect the notion of the place where people communally watch together?
I wanted to create an idea of a living room, without rooting it in any particular time or place. A room out of the imagination, without any context. I wanted it to feel like something Josh was imagining, as he wonders what type of people might be listening to his music.
How much of a challenge was actualising that in production?
To create it, we shot this on a big two-wall cyclorama, which was painted matte black, then filled the remaining two walls with solids to make a 360 black void. It was actually a bit tricky killing all reflections and keeping our frame clear of the dolly track. And since we walled off every side of the set, my only view of the scene was via the camera monitor; we rehearsed beforehand to iron out the scene before tying off the solid.
The set we built was simple: a few pieces of furniture along with our hollowed-out TV and cabinet piece. Those main furniture pieces never moved; only the dressing changed for each scene. This helped us move fast; we shot this all in one day, with a one-day pre-light beforehand.
The transitions between each setup are super smooth. Were you always set on having the camera be in constant motion?
We laid a 20 foot circular track around our “living room”. I wanted the camera to be constantly moving so that we created a rhythm: we see the person watching, then reveal Josh, then back to the people on the couch, as we see a development of their action or emotion. Keeping up the momentum. Until, of course, the turning point, when Josh is finally ‘seen’.
I wanted it to feel like something Josh was imagining, as he wonders what type of people might be listening to his music.
For the looping camera move, we had to have precise timing; and the speed of the camera had to match the preceding and succeeding shots, as the video slowly picks up speed. So I did what I’ve previously done, with my video for Doves. I made some rough previs animatics for each scene, breaking them down into the exact timing for each shot; then I made a click track that we shot against so that the dolly grip could exactly hit the needed in and out points. Daniel Vignal, DP, used a vintage zoom so that we could push in tight on details and into Josh’s face as we circled around. We made sure that our zoom amount and general framing matched on each in and out point so that it felt continuous.
How did the digital TV visuals factor into production?
For the few shots where we put something else on the TV screen, the intro and outro TV shots, and the video game head created by James Siewert, we put a white card with tracking markers in the TV and composited in post.
And lastly, what do you have in the pipeline?
I’m currently in Bulgaria in pre-production for a commercial, should be a very fun one! And I just wrapped post on a commercial that I’m excited to share with DN again, it was a wild film experiment, and I can’t wait to share the process behind it!
Wildfire 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.