THE SILK FILM
I’ve had this idea cooking for awhile now and again was meant to be something shot last year but funding and other issues prevented it.
I had two things that concerned me; models and location.
I managed to find the ideal location… in London, wasn’t a huge deal to shoot there so I inquired off the locations website and they cheerfully told me I could have it for £3500 per day! I considered shooting there for a week before deciding that was a ridiculous sum to pay!
I began researching similar locations in the Northwest in which they were far more sparingly available.
A few scattered around Birmingham looked promising so I began contacting the letting agents CBRE and Saville’s.
That was hard going… as I wasn’t a prospective client the answer was always ‘no’ apart from one or two more helpful firms that tried to help but couldn’t get me the right contact and for legal reasons couldn’t pass on the clients details.
I was advised by one firm to go to the building and speak to the site managers directly.
FROM MANCHESTER TO LONDON AND BACK… LOCATION
I wrote down the addresses of five potential places and blitzed them all in a day. Every single one of them said yes and couldn’t have been more pleasant, which I was disarmed by (that’s because I’m used to dealing with London clients with a pay or leave mentality).
Tip for shooting always go to the location and ask the people there! A face is harder to turn away than a phone call or email and seeing you stood there helps sell your personality as well as answer any quick questions that might be worrying them as to your intentions.
Also be ready to answer common sense questions from their end…, YES your gear is PAT tested…, OF COURSE you’re not using any smoke or substances that will set off the alarms (see Hells Bells section)…, INDEED you will not be bolting anything to the floor, walls or ceilings!
The building was 2 St Peters Square Manchester just opposite the large library there and the contact Caroline happily showed me around. being owned by BetFred she had to get permission from them but promised to do her best and assured me there would be no charge! I looked around and it was perfect, metal floor tiles and grey walls, ceilings and floor to ceiling windows gave me a stark abstract atmosphere. We had to bring our own lighting setups in otherwise we would be strongly back-lit from the panoramic view beyond.
The only stipulation was nowhere in the video could I show the location; Well, that was perfect as I wanted it to be anonymous.
After a weeks wait she came back to me with the OK and we booked our first recce with Gaffer Dan Tunstall from the Bentley project and Jamie Haigherty, a new DOP I had yet to work with but had met through a recommendation through Dan Tunstall.
Mike Staniforth from the Bentley project was tied up with a fantastic new Manchester City documentary he was shooting for Amazon Film and was stuck in post with that over the summer so I was introduced to Jamie Haigherty who was in much the same position as I was; eager to get London based clients but lacking the showreel for it.
We had met up in a Manchesters Northern Qrt at Ancoats coffee bar.
We both had the same passion for hi end slick abstract content and decided to work together.
As always real life gets in the way and we were delayed from this for a full year but managed to pull it together summer of 2018.
The plan for the video was to create a woman almost being birthed from a metallic chrome piece of fabric which would be blown into the contours of her body using powerful fans, the silk would pull away revealing a beautiful futuristic evening dress and she meets up with her slick suit wearing fella and they move in for an intimate moment.
STYLE OVER STYLISTS
Kerry Saxon was once again involved as stylist and we decided to use an assistant of hers Frankie Defty, a young up and coming stylist who used to flirt with modelling but gave it up for a life of fashion styling, she would function as our model and stylist on the day. We also had our male model to source…
I had previously found a fashion outfit in Hull called House of Sheldon Hall who made beautiful abstract minimalist dresses for women to wear and asked if we could borrow for a spec piece and they readily agreed.
Kerry informed me down to a paying job she would have to pass the role to her assistant Frankie Defty, an ex model and Liverpool based; we arranged to meet the following week.
The silk was originally proposed to be an off the bolt predetermined length we could shape. The issues with that were we had limits on the width (usually around 1.3 metres).
As I wanted the fabric draped on her from top to tail even with arms spread out I knew this would be tricky as stitching together two pieces would leave a seam running over it and spoil the image.
Another idea came to light which was metallic satin bedspreads which came in king size bed sized with no seams. I had to wait for delivery to confirm these would be fit for purpose.
SILKS AND SATINS
Three bed spreads arrived all within short order; looking like different shades of silver on the pictures they were all identical, still not bad for £20 each… I tried one over my sister and decided to order the superking variant for an extra 40cm all round.
They would require some grading in post to get the chrome T-1000 look I wanted but that was just a matter of grading.
IF YOU CAN’T TAKE THE HEAT…
Jamie and myself arrived at the location for a recce of what was needed, there were ample electrical points and although the bigger floor was amazing, it had a mismatch of polished and matte tiles making the floor look like a crossword puzzle. The top floor was better but with all the windows and the summer heatwave it functioned like a greenhouse.
Also the lights were motion sensitive….
After asking if the lights could be switched off and the aircon switched on we were told the room was as is and realised it would be impossible to function in that kind of heat.
I contacted two other possible locations which were 1 New York Street, Manchester and 4 Piccadilly Place with the latter agreeing for a recce of the place and promising aircon was included!
MODEL OF SIMPLICITY
You’d think getting models are easy for a project like this, which offers everyone some very high end material, not everyone sees it that way though….
Kerry suggested using our stylist Frankie as our model but I was concerned with her pulling double duty on the day and although she looked fantastic I’d had a mindset of using a shoulder length haired model with ice white blonde hair and pale skin which would continue the stylistic vibe of a slightly futuristic look to the piece.
I found one potential straight away through the Facebook Yorkshire modelling group and she was interested but for some reason wasn’t keen on working with any other male model except her own boyfriend… I explained there would be no intimacy in this but that wasn’t enough. Crazy!
Meanwhile I had to find our guy and was dead set on the London High fashion look.
I came across Joseph Lee Madden by trawling through instagram hashtags and found not only was he available but game for the project, we met at Night & Day Cafe Manchester and I found I couldn’t take my eyes off Joe, he had the perfect face so awaiting a date we said goodbye and I left the cafe chased by the manager because I hadn’t settled the tab. Dumbass.
NO 1. SPINNINGFIELDS
I started to get the feeling we might not be welcome at the first recced location after a few strange questions and decided I would be better trying to find a backup which ultimately became our primary and a far better location!!!
I spent another full day going round other places in Manchester, several said yes but wanted paying and the places weren’t up to spec.
I stopped off at No. 1 Spinningfields and was told to contact an individual there.
I called him the same day and received an almost immediate yes. They seemed genuinely interested in what we were doing and only asked for a copy for their instagram which I agreed to do most happily.
After waiting for everyone to return from their hols I went and checked out the new location and realised it would be perfect. I booked a date in for everyone and waited….
SHAKE AND MAKEUP
Whilst combing instagram for models and looks I came across a makeup artist Ash Fehners. She had previously done some amazing makeup for another shoot which was exactly what I was after.
I asked Ash on board to create something similar for the silk shoot.
WHAT A RIOT
I still hadn’t found my female model yet. Nemesis models had sent over a look book for the wool shoot way back when and Georgie Riot was one of the models. Alongside Jo she had a fantastic London look with a body like Kate Moss for that ultra high fashion vibe.
Gee from Nemesis told me Georgie would be available and interested and we booked a date. To get everyone synchronised on the same date was trouble mainly because of holidays through the summer period but we pulled it off but it was a six week wait to get everyone at the same time together.
A few days before the shoot Georgie and I met at Night and Day cafe Manchester (my usual model meet and greet haunt), Georgie had a very serious look through her instagram photos but found she was completely different in real life and would be fun and relaxed to work with, we both shared the same passion for high concept fashion pieces and getting away from the TOWIE look common in modern UK fashion.
LIGHTING, DAN IT!
Dan Tunstall the gaffer from the Bentley commercial had spoken to Jamie about what lights we should use on the shoot, I was desperate to get hold of some Arri Sky panels after using them when I DOP’d a fashion shoot for a stills photographer in Manchester. Dan and Jamie suggested we use two S60 Arri Sky panels and two M18 HMI’s which should have been more than enough for our shoot. As well as some negative fill we had an arrangement that would give us a high contrast look that would enable us to blow out the windows behind the models.
The plan was to prelight on a Saturday and shoot on Sunday so we could max our time out on the shoot and take full advantage of the light.
Dan spoke to a local firm he was close to Drop City and it’s owner Chris Sarge who generously agreed to loan us the lights for this spec shoot as well as his van!
ONE LAST THING…
The owners of Spinningfields asked me to come and check out the floor above the one I had recced as that one had no power. I came down to meet everyone and check out this floor. It was exactly the same but had furniture in the form of chairs and a huge conference table. They would have to be moved on the day. Also the pillars in the room had text on to highlight the space which would have to come off in post.
that day in Manchester the weather was awful and it was on the verge of a storm the clouds were dark blue. This was the tail end of a hurricane from the US and when I checked out the space it was as though we had lost two stops of light and as we were planning to shoot half the advert at 75FPS we may have had a problem… Dan T assured me the package he had put together should take care of every eventuality.
Luckily after checking the weather it got better towards the weekend we were shooting with Sunday going from 100% rain to 10% rain in a matter of 48 hours.
The last issue I had was the wind machines to blow the silk onto the model (try explaining that concept to the hire houses), Dan told me Drop city had one but I knew I would need more. I rented one from PKE lighting, the size of a dustbin on legs but even that felt insufficent….
In a blind panic I rang up every facilities house in Manchester until ProVision came through with two more wind Machines.
As a backup I went to B&Q and bought two leaf blowers which could be operated at close quarters and used in case the other wind machines were insufficient.
I spend the night before the pre-light day worried!
Dan and I met up at Five Four Studios VERY early on a Saturday morning to get the van keys from Chris Sarge at Drop City.
We loaded up and headed to the building and encountered a series of problems!
First of all we couldn’t leave the van in the loading bay… M&S had numerous deliveries throughout the day and also the buildings insurance wouldn’t cover us.
Dan agreed to take the van back with him and we started loading up into the loading bay only to find out the loading bay elevator was down…. Our prelight was over before it had begun….
Dan left what gear we could and I started loading up the camera equipment to the 16th floor. I also had a job besides that… I had to move all the furniture… alone….
It took about 1 hour 45… ALONE!
I set all the camera up and readied the rig to start off with the Movi Pro shots as setting that up is always a lengthy process and didn’t want to lose time by doing it on the day.
I crawled home….
We arrived on the Sunday of the shoot at 7.30am, getting everyone parked up was a bit of a juggle but we managed it.
Jamie arrived with Dan and Ben Harris our 1st A.C. and we began to sort out our first setup. It was Ben’s first time using the Tilta Nucleus M Follow Focus system but found it very intuitive and easy to use.
We were using my Red Epic Dragon 6K camera with Canon Cine Primes from the Bentley shoot as well as Movi Pro 3 x axis gimbal.
Frankie our stylist had begun steaming the clothes and silk sheet for the shoot itself when the fire alarm went off. I knew instantly we were the cause but figured it they had left a kettle out for us the system would be fine with the steamer. I know nothing!
Ade from security came up and stopped us from using it and we were stuck without it we couldn’t get the wrinkles out of anything!
It was suggested to go down and do it in the loading bay but there were no outlets and it was a huge faff to get down there. Ade eventually told us he had isolated or section of floor from the system and we were back in the game.
Jennie Franklin from The Tree House beauty Salon came along to give us some nice silver, metallic nail art to match the silver silk on Georgie’s reveal.
SILKY SMOOTH SHOOT
We began with Jo’s shots whilst Georgie got made up, tracking and following with the Ready Rig and Movi Pro. I got Flick back from the Bentley and Wool shoot to production manage and also do a little cable bashing here and there.
it took a little adjusting to get the lighting out of shot and get a lengthy enough tracking shot. We used a wheelchair to give us some fast zooms and tracks to give the video a much more dynamic flavour.
Dan T walked alongside with a black flag for negative fill.
The HMI’s were set up with dual scrim sheets to really soften the lighting, we were lucky as the sun was exactly where we needed it so it didn’t cut through the windows and leave ugly rhombus shapes on the floor, everything was nice and even and made our lighting that much easier to manage.
With Georgie prepped and Dan T hijacking my blue-tooth speaker to play hip-hop we began the together shots of them walking to each other and meeting in the centre, the movements where simple and minimal. Frankie’s clothes where elegant and dynamic and Ash’s makeup really accentuated Georgie’s bone structure and created a high contrast look with a pale overall and smokey eyes.
ONLY TWO LENSES!
I’m a director who likes to shoot with longer lenses; 50, 85mm, I love the compression in wide’s you get and the narrow depth of field.
This shoot required a much more wide angle look, deep depth of field as well as an almost Kubrick sterile mechanical vibe.
As such I shot only with one 24mm and a 100mm macro lens. This gave us epic wide’s and abstract closeups.
It was a great learning curve to restrain myself to just two focal lengths and see what came of it.
As it was a very simple shoot we shot listed and didn’t board but stuck to the shot-list very closely. About a third of the shots we ditched as superfluous and tried to economize our time.
We also shot at around F4.4 which would give us a nice deep depth of field and a more studio look.
We eventually got Georgie under the silk completely nude and hit it with all three fans, the leaf blowers were unneeded as the large fans made the silk to stick to her like glue, we clipped off the corner edges of the duvet cover at the back with clamps so it looked less like bedding and shot at 75FPS. The effect was great and underneath the sheet we had Georgie claw at the silk and rotate her head around like a baby in the womb.
We covered it from several angles and did takes of about 12 seconds each which came out at 36 second long takes at 75FPS.
We had plenty of time till we needed to wrap so Dan T could head off for a shoot in Edinburgh but we finished earlier than that mainly down to us running out of ideas as to what shots we could cover under the silk.
An amorphous shape only lends itself to several angles before it becomes repetitive and for some reason ECU’s and macros seemed to make the effect either to revealing of what it was or unflattering to Georgie underneath, we needed to keep it ethereal and abstract.
We wrapped for the day sent everyone home whilst Flick and I rearranged the furniture, was so much quicker with help and she is far stronger than she looks….
SILVER AGE AND POST
I always get a feeling of failure when I check back rushes, every director does on an assembly; no sound, no grade, rough edits and a general feeling of untidiness lend to a feeling of despair. Always best to sleep on it. I knocked out three edits before I started to feel better about it but it wasn’t until a heavy duty grade really brought it to life. I gave the piece a heavy silver, almost monotone look without it being black and white. Lots of contrast and a desaturated palette made dealing with the skin tones tricky which become completely washed out but a bit of tinkering got us there.
Stevie Smith over at Paragon Pictures lent a hand with removing the text from the pillars and we had ourselves a finished vid.
We replaced a temp track of Royksopp with Andrew henderson’s original composed music for that last touch of class basing it on a far more experimental and disjointed atmosphere instead of melodic. This made the final piece feel much more like a cinema quality piece of advertising.
Thanks to everyone who gave their time taking part in this project.