Director Damo Yang joins Directors Notes today for a double-header in the form of two music videos for pop sensation Roy Wang and indie outfit Backspace. Titled Fabulous Nuts and Six-Eyed Dragonfly respectively, both videos showcasw Yang’s broad abilities to shift and react to each artist’s own musical sensibility. Fabulous Nuts sees Roy Wang star as a bombastic magician on a dreamlike stage, using magical powers to manipulate his expressionistic environment, while Six-Eyed Dragonfly, on the other hand, shows a soft exploration of personal comfort and redemption set amongst a community on the outskirts of Beijing. Both videos are wildly different yet equally well-constructed and that is down to Yang’s ability to adapt. Wanting to dig into differing approaches for each video, DN caught up with Yang to discuss their economically contrasting yet equally intense and time-sensitive productions.
Fabulous Nuts – Roy Wang
What drew you to characterise Roy Wang as a magician in the video for Fabulous Nuts? Was it part of the brief or did the song inspire you to put that forward?
The singer Roy Wang is one of the top young pop artists in China. He usually plays the role of an idol in public. When I was listening to this song the first time, I saw Roy as being this big boy with lots of unconstrained ideas and daydreaming. For example, in the lyrics, there are some new-created words like “星期九”, which means “the ninth day of the week”. “吃电影”, “喝三月” which means “eat the film” and “drink March”. In other words, he was this creator or controller of his own world. That’s what made me decide to make him a mad magician in this video, who can use his magic to achieve seemingly impossible ideas in his spiritual world.
When you’re working with someone who is as busy and popular as Roy, does that bring its own challenges to the shoot?
It was really a tough shoot due to the time limitation, we only had one day of Roy’s time whilst having almost 40 shots to be finished. The shoot was from 9am to 2am, no budget and not enough time for pre-lighting and test shooting. Roy is a very professional artist, besides being a singer, he also acts. It helped save a lot of time when adjusting the acting part.
The first shot we cut was the opening shot, an establishing shot to show the stage with curtains closed. Then the second cut took us almost an hour, the two pieces of curtain had to be manually opened at the exact same time, which was unexpected.
I have to ask about the incredible stage set. Who did you work with to design it? What ideas did you have about how you wanted it took look and feel?
The song name ‘疯人公园’ or Fabulous Nuts would actually be directly translated into ‘Psycho Park’, hence we created an abstract city night view for the main visual magician stage scene. Production Designer Lokyiu and Eric suggested using 2D paintings with a multi-layered approach as the backdrop instead of the traditional curtain, and also added some detailed particle lights in the set as the point lights. And with the VFX on the lights, the whole stage visual looked more abstract and unreal. In a sense I see it as a dream room.
That’s what made me decide to make him a mad magician in this video, who can use his magic to achieve seemingly impossible ideas in his spiritual world.
We also added some details to link back to the stage set, the view outside the window was the abstract city night view. With the different colour of the wall and a broken ceiling with lighting, DoP Du Fu used a lot of wide shots to make the tone more dreamy and surreal. We shot all of it on an ARRI Mini LF with an ARRI signature prime.
Was it a similar process regarding the tunnel sequence? There are also so many cool props in the video too like the masks and the long-armed doll! How did you source them?
The tunnel space scene was inspired by Trainspotting 2. The lyric is saying “for those that you want, draw a circle, for those that you hate, pull on a string”. Hence we made the small space horizontally become longer, which also indicated that the other Roy in the offstage is out of reach.
On set we had a lot of fun, for example, Lokyiu and Eric put lots of interesting weird props and toys in the dream room, Stylist Lotus also helped make the long-armed doll with the red ball, and the masks for the two dancers. When we saw those cute props, everyone quickly ordered to take the ones they liked home. I ordered a dancer mask but I still don’t have it…
Given the intensity of the one day shoot, was post-production any easier? Did you have more time?
Post-production was also a tough task. There was only one week for the team to do everything, the editing, colour-grading, VFX, and also graphic design. The subtitle design was one of my favourite parts of this music video, thanks to my designer Shimin, he used handwriting for the design with some designedly ‘mistakes’ to make it look like a poem written by the psycho.
Six-Eyed Dragonfly – Backspace
The video for Six-Eyed Dragonfly feels so different so Fabulous Nuts in so many ways. Whereas that video has this great spectacle to it, this one feels much more narrative-driven, how did you work with Backspace to land on the idea for it?
Backspace are an indie rock band based in Beijing, China. In the beginning, the band approached me with an idea for a music video in January 2021. I always think music is a very subjective thing and as a listener, the first time I listened to the song, I felt a scene come to mind: a Dragonfly Church showing up in the wild suburbs of Beijing. This Six-Eyed Dragonfly became the totem of a group of people who want to escape from their boring city life. The thought was that those who felt lost might want to find comfort and redemption through a link with a kind of religion. After a smooth discussion with the band, this idea was approved.
In terms of what you were working with practically, was this video more or less challenging than Fabulous Nuts?
Compared to Fabulous Nuts, Six-Eyed Dragonfly was actually more tough. It was really a small budget project, and we had to shoot the 50 shots in one day on a shoot which took us from 7am to 11pm. When I wrote the script, I expected it would be happening in a green nature vibe. However, March in Beijing is still kind of like winter, the grassland and trees are still deserted and yellow, and there was no way to find the green-coloured nature locations that were in my initial treatment. I had to change the plan.
How did you adapt to the lack of potential locations? Did the concept shift at all?
After scouting in March, we found a grassland that had a tower stand on the end of a road, and the wind power generator behind the tower made the whole place look like a deserted base for the dragonfly church. Due to the budget limitations, our Production Designer Luyue bought some broken models off a second-hand website and painted them with green-blue dragonfly colours which made the models look like the shells of those who used to be in the group.
Our Producer Jiayi couldn’t reach out to the person in charge of the place or any security people, so we decided to make it in a sneaky way.
The other locations in the video, are the abandoned places. One used to be a nursing home, when we got there we could feel a strong negative energy, and the more space we dug out there, the colder the air became. Before the shoot day, our Producer Jiayi couldn’t reach out to the person in charge of the place or any security people, so we decided to make it in a sneaky way. The result meant that during the shoot day a random security guy showed up to stop us and our crew and extras had to stay around the place separately for almost two hours, which shortened the shooting time.
In this shoot, our main crew and the 20 extras were friends that came to help for free. The main actor was Dong who is the lead singer of Backspace and it was also the first time he had acted.
How did you approach the camera work and shot composition this time around? There are some really awesome shots like the refrigerator one, for example.
We shot the video on the Alexa Mini with a UP lens. In the room scene, our DoP Haonan came up with an excellent idea of putting the flashlight into the refrigerator as the point lights, which I think is one of the highlights of this film.
What do you have in store for the future regarding any new films or music videos?
I’m usually based in Shanghai where lots of projects have been cancelled or postponed due to Covid. I have two music videos in pre-production at the moment, one on to shoot on the 29th May and the other will be happening at the end of June. I’m now in Wanning city in the Hainan province for pre-production on the following MV. It’s a visual story about being in and out of dreams. I’m trying not to do any narrative storytelling in this one but focusing on the emotional expression to match the music itself. Hainan has tropical landscapes, the sea, coconut trees, coastal roads, etc. It’s a vibrant place but there’s a sense of loneliness. When you stand in its nature, your mind may go far away.