Director David Findlay’s ability to create short films and music videos that not only look gorgeous but query the human condition on a deep level is why we can’t get enough of him here at DN. His latest work, a music video for musician/skateboarder Austyn Gillette, is Leaning into your Palms. This isn’t your typical music video however with Gillette performing his song to camera, instead he and Findlay weave a narrative about two siblings, a brother and a sister, who share a moment of reflection through time. It’s really compelling and through some clever camera tricks Findlay is able to pull off some mesmerising shots. In our interview below DN chats with Findlay about these shots in addition to his collaborative process with Gillette and the joy of working with Titane’s Agathe Rousselle to create his ruminative music video.
How did you come to collaborate with Austyn Gillette on a music video for his song Leaning into your Palms?
I knew of Austyn for a long time as a pro skateboarder. One day, a few years ago I discovered his music and connected to it instantly… So eventually I did what I’ve only done a handful of times, I reached out. We started a dialogue and last March he sent me a demo version of Leaning into your Palms. Him and I spoke at length about what the song meant to him, but we also agreed the video shouldn’t be ‘about’ the lyrics or anything like that. One thing we talked about was the book The Midnight Library, this idea of dropping in on one’s life, whether it’s an imagined one or a memory, and the notion of sibling relationships came up too. So I ran with that.
I spoke at length about what the song meant to him, but we also agreed the video shouldn’t be ‘about’ the lyrics or anything like that.
Were you always set on having Austyn in the video? And what was it like bringing Agathe Rousselle on board too?
Austyn had never acted but I saw no problem at all there. Just from the sense I got from him I knew he could do it. I felt very confident. I had, like everyone else, loved the movie Titane and thought Agathe would be wonderful in it with Austyn. Her and I got on a Zoom and talked at length about the idea, the song and our shared sensibilities. When she brought up Jemima Kirke’s video for Stranger’s Kiss by Alex Cameron I knew we were on the same wavelength.
You’re working across timelines in the video, did that throw any challenges when it came to planning the shoot?
I had the great pleasure of working with Cinematographer Jeremy Cox on this one. We shot it for three days in Vancouver BC in May on 35mm with anamorphic lenses. He poured in so much energy into this one. He did all sorts of graphics and pre-vis, which was totally new to me but absolutely necessary for this one. The two most technically challenging shots were the shot through the ‘mirror’ and the long lateral oner of silhouettes. These had to be so meticulously planned. I generally don’t plan quite as strictly usually but it was essential in this case. It was a great exercise and my focus was always to leave just enough of a door open for spontaneity to be able to occur on the day.
What went into the execution of the mirror shot?
For the mirror shot we used a double and cut and styled his hair just like Austyn’s. Production Designer Brendan Megannety built a set that was mirrored and got the amazing Amy J. Gardner to come out to choreograph and help as a movement coach for Austyn and his double to time out the movements perfectly. The fact that they weren’t facing each other was a real challenge. We would have been dead in the water without Amy.
And similarly, the oner, which must’ve been tricky with all those extras. How was that?
For the long oner we got about 90ish extras to come out and along with the help of my dear friend and director, who AD’d for me as a huge favour, Brock Newman [who is also a DN alum]. It was super challenging to physically direct in a space that was so vast, and at night. It was easy to get confused about who was where, on crew level. Jeremy and a massive team of grips and riggers set up all these neon lights to backlight the scene so beautifully. We shot on film but thank god I had a digital recorder that I could playback after each take. I would then write down notes on my iPhone and go speak to each performer or relay some direct to Brock and the team. It was a lot! But it was also, just like with the mirror shot, a case of calling cut on a take and having everyone erupt in cheers as it was obvious we had done it on that one special take.
It was a great exercise and my focus was always to leave just enough of a door open for spontaneity to be able to occur on the day.
Who were you working with in post-production?
We’ve spoken to you both for your music videos and some of your work in narrative shorts, do you feel like working across those formats benefits your approach in each as a director?
I think so! Actually I don’t think what matters is working across various formats, but rather just trying as many things as possible, not being afraid to try, I think that’s what’s important. Music videos, shorts and even ads are a great way of experimenting, that’s so valuable! No matter the format I think it’s important to always step outside your comfort zone, at least just a little bit.
Is there anything more you can tell us about the Lay Me By The Shore feature? Or anything else you’re in the process of making?
Oh that’s a saga..! We were trying to shoot last summer and had to push because of $ reasons. It’s still very much on and it remains my north star. It’s so season-specific. So now the aim is next summer and that’s okay, you just have to turn these things into your strengths, in this case more time to solidify the script and prep! Other than that I have a few other short film ideas and music video ideas that have been brewing for a little while, but none are at an advanced enough stage to chat about.