Most of the time when it comes to watching films, whether that be features, shorts or music videos, I’m looking to be surprised or enlightened or just shown something I haven’t seen before. It’s the essence of why we do this, to find diamonds in the rough and give them the showcase they deserve. From the first few moments of Julia Patey’s music video for Okay Kaya’s The Groke, I knew I was watching one of those projects. It’s a wild, desert-set fantasy constructed with green screen and miniatures and is brimming with unfiltered creative energy, exactly the kind we here at DN love to spotlight. So we’ve teamed up with Patey and Okay Kaya for the video’s online premiere, which we present below in addition to a conversation with Patey where she details her vision of the video, the atypical approach she took to crew hierarchy, and the challenge of shooting with green screen and miniatures for the first time.

What was the beginning of your collaboration with Okay Kaya on this music video?

Just before Kaya and I really started talking about the music video, I had just finished working on a theatre piece called Dem Marder Die Taube as video designer at the Badisches Staatstheater in Germany where the director had created such a wonderful creative atmosphere, which left a lot of space for improvisation. That was a hard process for me because I normally like to plan and control things, but she was encouraging me to learn to be comfortable not knowing what we would get on our shooting days. I was really happy with the results and that process inspired me to try to bring that flavour of ‘not-knowing’ into my next projects.

A music video is a translation of someone else’s music and if you don’t serve the music and its creator first, you’re probably not going to end up with something everyone is happy with.

In the midst of that, Kaya sent me some of her ideas for a music video, which included a graduation costume, miniature graduation hat nipple tassels and a dance sequence with a young birch tree. I immediately fell I love with the playfulness of her ideas and started to let that sink into me while listening to the music. It was great being able to speak to Kaya on a regular basis to talk through ideas. I’m used to music videos pitches where the label asks directors to write their treatments without any consultation with the artist, which is such a waste of time. So without anyone blocking our communication, Kaya and I dug deep into it together, so I was able to finally understand what type of video she wanted to make. After all, a music video is a translation of someone else’s music and if you don’t serve the music and its creator first, you’re probably not going to end up with something everyone is happy with.

Did that more improvisational working approach and conversations with Kaya impact the development of the video as a project?

We decided early on to not follow a typical film hierarchy in the creative process because I really wanted everyone to take full responsibility for their contributions. I had just finished reading Rick Rubin’s The Creative Act, so I had some of those passages bouncing around in my head, inspiring some of the decision-making. We also decided not to use any image-related references as inspiration for the project, with the hopes of ending up with something as unique as possible. I created a treatment document, which I proceeded to share with the rest of our small team so that they would understand the style of work we wanted to achieve. Of course, every project needs a healthy amount of hierarchy because someone needs to make a decision at the end of the day, but it still made a difference to establish a flatter creative structure for ourselves from the start.

In terms of sourcing a budget and orchestrating production, how did you navigate that?

Scumeck Sabottka of MCT concert promotion offered us a modest budget to create the video to help promote the album and the upcoming tour. He gave us full creative control. Kaya was going to be in Berlin in mid-February, so we decided to plan the shoot around that. Of course, that’s not a great time of year to shoot outside in Berlin, so we started thinking about where we were going to set this thing. That’s when the idea came up to use miniatures. I’d never done this before, but I have a real soft spot for tiny versions of things, and when I talked to Kaya about it she loved the idea.

So I proceeded to call Marta Karta, a good friend of mine because I knew that she studied product design and is a regular burlesque costume designer and something told me she’d be able to offer this project the perfect combination of skills. I then asked another friend and Artist Boromir Bogumil if he would like to help assist Marta, as I knew there would be a lot of detailed building, all of which would take time, at which point we had about one week until our first shooting day.

With so little time how did you pull all the various elements together for the shoot?

The idea was to do a first shoot with Kaya in a green screen studio, where we would gather all the footage that would include her. As we were scheming how best to find a young birch in the wild, Marta had the brilliant idea to just build one ourselves. So over the next days, she built it from scratch. Boro then hand cut and painted each individual leaf. We had quite a nice arts-and-crafts atmosphere going on.

Then we brainstormed how best to create a melted Kaya. We went to a great art supply store here in Berlin called Modulor and asked the staff if they could help us. They suggested we use liquid latex to get a melted skin effect. At Marta’s apartment, our headquarters for the shoot, we started experimenting with it. We ended up with a huge piece of cardboard with a styrofoam head in it where Kaya’s ‘melted’ face would end up with multiple layers of latex. These layers would then be painted on set by our makeup artist, Silke Zeitz, to better match Kaya’s skin tone. Marta also created a plaster cast of Kaya’s face and turned it into a latex mask, which sings some of the backup vocals in the video in the sand and on a cactus.

How did everything go once you were on set?

So we jumped into our first shooting day in the green screen studio at WE Studio in Berlin. I should mention that I decided to shoot the video myself to keep costs down and to keep the team more compact, though I usually work with a cinematographer. But since we had shot a lot of green screen in the theater project I had just done, I thought that I could pull it off. It worked out. We picked up a treadmill for Kaya to walk on so that we could create this effect of her walking in the miniature landscapes and spray painted it beige to match the sand.

Then we planned a second shooting day while Kaya was still in Berlin to shoot inside the actual sauna and for some additional shots we didn’t manage to get in the studio like the hourglass. The sauna itself is quite modern-looking and when I had shown it to Kaya the first time in our initial brainstorming conversations, she said the black interior was great but the outside looked too stylish. This was one of those beautiful moments in a creative process when a roadblock turns into a wonderful new path.

I tried to think of an absurd place for a sauna to be, which birthed the idea of the desert as a location. Then while thinking what the exterior of this sauna could look like, I had the idea of an ordinary object that gets hot, like a tea kettle, or a toaster. As soon as I mentioned a toaster, Kaya jumped on it and loved it. It fit well in our music video world of ‘nothing is quite as it seems’. Once we wrapped that shooting day, it was time to get going on editing a rough cut to get a clear idea of the angles we would need for our miniature scenery shoot.

Was shooting the miniatures the most challenging part of production? Or most fun? Or both?

Shooting the miniature set was definitely the most magical moment in our shoot. It consisted of three different sets. One was the more straightforward, flat desert set, which was a long rectangular sandy surface with a hand-painted sky in the background, complete with miniature cacti and tumbleweeds. The second set was a frontal, hamster-wheel-shaped rotating desert for the shots where Kaya is walking towards the camera. The third set was a side-view, hamster-wheel-shaped rotating desert for the shots where Kaya is walking perpendicular to the camera, complete with a separately-rotating sky in the background. I remember the call I had with Marta to explain what I had in mind for these various sets and how I imagined it working, though I also told her I had never done this before so it was a complete experiment. It took her about 30 seconds of listening to me to be able to translate what I was saying into a comprehensive drawing and plan for how to build these ideas. And it all worked. The magic of seeing something you’ve never done before unfold even better than you could have imagined is really powerful. And it’s why we make films.

Then we had one last shoot for the melting Barbie sequence. So on top of making miniature graduation hat nipple tassels to fit on Kaya, we also had to make even smaller versions of these for the Barbie. Marta and I put some face masks on, plugged in the industrial heater and proceeded melting the Barbie. That was fun and a little bit toxic. Though I liked the sequence we ended up with, it didn’t go exactly as planned, so I decided we would need some VFX to help sell the effect. So I got Jona Neukirch on board to help with the final shot of the music video, where Kaya’s face is melting. The latex cardboard prop we had made was great but looked more like a dried melted Kaya, and we wanted something that was still actively melting.

The magic of seeing something you’ve never done before unfold even better than you could have imagined is really powerful. And it’s why we make films.

Was post-production as instinctual and experimental as the rest of the stages of making the film?

The post-production process was very experimental. I’m an experienced editor, but I had no idea about VFX and green screen so it was great to go through this process myself to gain a better appreciation for good VFX. There are enough online tutorials out there to be able to figure it out and sometimes I think mistakes and doing things the ‘wrong’ way can help give a project a more unique, unexpected visual voice.

What can you tell us about what you’re working on right now?

Since commercials and music videos in Berlin at the moment are at a near-complete standstill, I am using the time to write a script for a series about dreams. This process is very exciting. Otherwise, I am preparing for another video design job for a theatre production in Bolzano early next year.

3 Responses to Okay Kaya Finds Herself Amidst a Surreal, Sweltering Fantasy in Julia Patey’s Music Video for ‘The Groke’

  1. Greg says:

    Creative bombshell! Congrats ❤️❤️

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