Category Archive: Video
Over a two year period I made about 20 short films for MrPorter.com, each one a study of a man dressing while a voiceover by each man allowed him to express his thoughts on style, fashion and work. This 4 minute cut features a few of my favourite moments from some of those films and features, Waris Ahluwalia, Nick Sullivan, Nick Waterhouse, Andrew Weitz, David McAlmont, Joshua Kissi, Simon Hammerstein, Douglas Friedman and Jed Lind.
Shot for Nissan USA
A call from Esquire creative director David McKendrick late in the afternoon of Wednesday 7th August. Pure hundred percent Scot. Calls everybody ‘Big Man’, regardless of gender. Big man, wee man, the last time I saw him he was wearing a tartan pashmina.
“Big man, ah’ve got something nice I’d like ye to do. A wee film of Ralph Steadman but it’s quite complicated in terms of how we want ‘e do it. Can ye come in and meet the team for a wee chat.”
Sounds great. How about Friday, two days from now?
“Ach, no can do, Big Man. Friday is the day we need to actually shoot it.”
Right then. Tomorrow morning it is then.
Following morning, off I trundle to London. I live out in the country now. Trips to London aren’t difficult but they’re a day out. I need to take sandwiches. Well, not sandwiches per se, more like my phone charger and a book.
In the meeting it’s explained that Esquire is to launch a weekly iPad version of the magazine. Original content, top deck material. They want me to produce two films; one for the iPad edition and a separate one for the website. We are to drive down to Steadman’s place in Maidstone, Kent, the garden of England, bottom right hand corner of the country. Does he know we’re coming? He’s expecting us. It’s all set up. It. Is. All. Set. Up. Honestly, it really is.
We arrive at 11am on the Friday. There he is, pen in hand, still scratching a living with bottles of ink and nib dips after all these years. We’re guided in to the studio and the over riding vibe is one of slightly impatient tolerance, lets knock this off and get done with it. I need to have a glass of wine and a rest. Steadman’s wife, Anna, seems to dictate the pace. Thinking back on her now, she reminds me of Anna Massey. Precise, detailed, clipped, curt and circumspect.
The response to the film cameras (we have two) is not good. He goes along with my desire to film him but there is a light dusting of schoolboyish belligerence to his cooperation . He oozes a kind of quiet hostility and more or less refuses to do anything I suggest, no matter how benign. I’m starting to get the feeling that he is not into this at all. I don’t know, maybe my ideas were crap. However, I’m self aware enough, insecure enough and critical enough to know if something I think up is crap, but then again, just because you’re paranoid it doesn’t mean they’re not out to get you.
The reality of making a film is that it requires the attendance of lies to construct an idea of (subjective) truth. For instance, we see a man enter a room playing a ukelele. We see him come into the room through a door. We see the back of him walking away from the door further into the room. This is a falsity. We are seeing two opposing points of view almost simultaneously. In real life this is not possible. One viewer could not move fast enough from the first point of view to the second. We have but one pair of eyes and our feet have not yet evolved to make this notion a reality. So here is the beauty of storytelling with film. We can see all sorts of points of view in the same moment.
The practical reality is that the same moment needs to be filmed several times from several angles in order to cut together, in the editing room, this simultaneous moment. So when I ask the man playing the ukelele to do it all over again for me, he comes in perfectly once more, playing the same tune perfectly, only he’s not playing the tune on the uke. He’s playing it on a harmonica.
How exactly the fuck am I supposed to cut this moment together now? These few seconds in time? What’s this? I haven’t come here to make The Matrix. I’m working in linear time. Steadman’s running on lateral time.
And I realise, the bastard’s screwing me. I’ve only gone and brought a conventional army to fight an assymetric war.
It’s fast becoming a disaster. Nothing is going to come of this. Only yesterday the whole thing seemed so promising. What is going on? Why invite people in and then wilfully block them at every turn? We are here to produce good things. Good work, with soul. Nothing doing, we’ll have to fight back before this ship goes down with all our dreams on it. I manoeuvre my subject onto the stool by his desk, hit the record button on one camera, quickly check the focus then deliberately move away from it and start to talk to him. David, my sound man, twigs what’s going on and smoothly slides the boom in over Steadman’s head. Jonas, the DoP, finds a good angle with the second camera and we are up and running. Steadman softens sufdenly and opens up about his life, his mother, his father, Hunter S. Thompson, people in positions of power and a randomosity of other topics. I let him take it where he wants, occasionally pulling him back to something closer to my intended and hoped for direction. Once he gets going he barely pauses for breath. And boy, does he get going in the most wonderful way.
Soon after, Anna comes in and pulls me to one side. All becomes clear and what’s clear is the reason for the difficulties of earlier. Turns out the publisher of his new book, who had arranged this whole day, had emailed the Steadmans the night before to tell them of our desire to make the film(s). Mrs S. hadn’t read the email and had it that we were there to “do a quick snap of Ralph” and clear off. The sight of 5 guys in 3 vehicles had verily tipped her over the edge and for the first couple of hours thought we were tearing the back end out of the whole thing by imposing in such a heavy handed way. Ralph needs to rest. Gracefully, she apologised and from then on we were made to feel more than welcome, to the extent that, by the end of the day, there was barely enough room in the car for all the signed books and improvised pieces of art he gave me to take away. It truly was a game of two halves and a beautiful insight into the mind of a complex and brilliant man.
Now with a willing subject we could get on with it. He still wouldn’t do anything twice though, which makes for a tricky way to make a film. Still, with some clever editing and judicious use of voice over it all came together ok. The element that I am most happy with is the soundtrack. Each film has soundscapes made from the sounds in Steadman’s studio. His icy nib scratching ink on to the paper, the wind chimes by the door, the shutter of the camera fixed above his desk that he uses to snap pictures of his work with, the clink of ink bottles, him playing the ukelele and harmonica. We took all those elements and broke them down and looped them into a rhythm track, with the heavy dob of an ink splat on paper being turned into a repetitive bass drum part.
These two films are thin volumes, little companion pieces, sketches really. The best you can hope for from only a few hours in someone’s company. On the day I hardly got to know him at all. Beaten up and bashed around, in the editing room I got to know him inside out. A Friday afternoon in August, the dog days of summer, an old man in his winter, the face of benevolence with the mouth and mind of a still sometimes angry man who sees lots to be angry about, still scratching out a living.
A lovely commission from Anthropologie to make a two minute film on Gwyneth Leech, a New York based artist who draws intricate and beautiful things on paper coffee cups. Each day she reuses her morning coffee cup to draw or paint a scene. She then signs the bottom of the cup and writes the date and event that inspired it. Gwyneth has now done over 1000 cups and Anthropologie curator Wendy Wurtzburger asked her to allow them to reproduce eight of these pieces on ceramic versions of the cups for sale throughout the brand. As part of London Design Week the Regent Street store in London also asked Gwyneth to hang 365 of them in their window and all this week she has been sitting among them drawing on new cups, allowing passersby to watch her at work.
This film, ’365: A Year In Cups’, was shot in the window of the Regent Street store on Monday 16th September 2013 and the music on the film is by Kevin Cormack who makes up fifty percent of Half Cousin
This was commissioned by Henny Manley at British Esquire and is the second time I’ve photographed Natalie Dormer. The first was in 2007, just as her role in ‘The Tudors’ as Ann Boleyn was about to go out. Now she is here to promote her role as Margaery Tyrell in HBO’s ‘Game of Thrones’. She’s a dream to work with. Collaborative, funny, self aware, a fabulous actress and the kind of woman you would rather be in a room with than not be in a room with. A week before the shoot, trawling location company websites for somewhere good to photograph her, I came across a huge house in Barnes, south west London that had a hammock in the garden. I’m not sure why but Issac Newton’s name popped into my head and I started to think about apples and gravity. It was an easy thought to have.
The idea for a short 2 minute film took shape almost immediately and I called my friend Max Olesker, one half of the genuinely genius comedy duo Max and Ivan, to ask him if he could write me a short script on the theme of Issac Newton, gravity and Newton’s famous third law which, formally stated, says that ‘For every action, there is always an equal and opposite reaction.’
As well as the scientific meaning of this there is also the karmic implication. You get back what you give. You get out what you put in. Et cetera, et cetera.
A day later Max sent me this script:
“In 1666 Sir Isaac Newton formulated the theory of gravity, when an apple dropped on his head.
At least, that’s the legend.
What actually happened was this; Sir Isaac was strolling through a Lincolnshire garden, with a friend, and they drank tea beneath the shade of an apple tree. As he looked on, Sir Isaac realised that, no matter what side of the world a tree might grow, it’s falling apple will always tumble towards the earth. Never sideways, never upwards – there must be a power, drawing the apple inexorably towards the earth’s centre.
He published his findings in 1687, in a book called The Principia, which defined the laws for bodies in motion.
Perhaps the most famous is Newton’s third law: when one body exerts a force on a second body, the second body simultaneously exerts a force equal in magnitude and opposite in direction to that of the first body. Or, put simply, for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.”
When Natalie arrived on the day of the shoot I asked her if she would be willing to do the film if we had enough time left. After glancing an eye across the script she agreed. My original idea was to have her speaking the dialogue to camera but she quite rightly pointed out that there was no way she would be able to learn it well enough in the time we had, so we recorded it as a voiceover with a couple of line ommissions and one line delivered to camera to jolt the viewer from the reverie of her filmic thoughts. After we finished the voiceover I spent a long time recording the sound of the hammock swinging and creaking. Barnes is right under the flight path to Heathrow airport so the longest period of pure silence I got was about 45 seconds before another plane’s screaming engines came roaring into the soundscape to screw up my celluloid dreams. That was clean enough though, and we looped it in the edit to provide a continuous metronomic rhythm to match the image of the girl idly swinging her life away on a lethargic summer’s day.
My favourite moment in the film is the way we see her in the hammock swinging from side to side and gazing upwards at the sky just as we hear her say the line “Never sideways, never upwards…..” the image matching the script.
I must also credit the beautiful work done by my team on the day: Styling by Jane Taylor-Hayhurst; Make Up by Arabella Preston; Hair by Ayo Laguda and my assistants Sarah Brimley and Andras Bartok.
“Everyone’s so scared. Don’t be scared.”
In this new short for Mr Porter, Hollywood talent agent, Andrew Weitz, takes pride in the fact that his more conservative colleagues make fun of his style and that this spurs him on to buy more of the things they are baffled by.
A lot of people have asked me if this is the house where Cameron wrecked his dad’s Ferrari in ‘Ferris Bueller’s Day Off’. I wish it was, I truly do. Unfortunatlely, it is not.
Los Angeles, March 2013
“I’m interested in the classics, things that don’t go away and I’d say that extends to how I feel about music, how I feel about records and how I feel about books as well.”
Los Angeles based musician Nick Waterhouse begins this short film for MrPorter.com by laying out his philosophy in one simple sentence. Clean living under difficult circumstances indeed.
Nick’s album, ‘Time’s All Gone’ is a huge favourite of mine, a masterpiece of early 60s drenched R&B that has the feel, the sound and, above all, the vibe of that recording era. The record sounds like it was made by a bunch of real life human beings gathered in a room at the same time. A rare thing these days.
This is the fourth series of films I have made for Mr Porter, the menswear partner of online fashion innovator Net-a-Porter. It was also the first time we had shot any of them in Los Angeles. After three series in the often cramped and confined locations of London and New York, the wide open spaces and all encompassing light of southern California were a new muse to behold.
My DoP for the three films we shot there was Joseph Aguirre who as well as being a great friend is also a cinematographer with work that I love. We met because our wives grew up together, have become good friends and have often talked about all the film and photographic things that we have in common, so to finally work with Joe was a thrill.
All the previous films I made for Mr Porter I had shot myself. The crews on these films are usually me and 2 or 3 assistants. Not motion people but stills assistants who I have worked with a lot and who are as into working on and learning about motion as I much as I am but who are not massively experienced in that field. I have learned that stills and motion are like the two circles of a Venn diagram. There are areas where they converge but each has it’s things that have absolutely nothing in common and discovering what they are tends to come thick and fast when you are on the shoot.
In LA however, we had been given a better budget than before and this allowed us to hire some of Joe’s people. So finally I had the use of a gaffer (responsible for the operation and placing of lighting), a key grip (provides camera & lighting support) , a DIT (Digital Imaging Technician) who does the job that used to be done by a clapper loader in the days of film, a camera assistant and a sound recordist. Joe also scored us a set of fabulous 1970s Zeiss Super Speed prime lenses that flared beautifully when angled into the sun slightly.
Having these resources cleared a space in my head to think properly about the film, whereas with the older films I had to be a gaffer, a grip, a DIT, a location manager and a whole load of other jobs before I could even think about being a ‘director’. It’s also good to know that these films are not scripted in any way. I am making what is essentially a filmed portrait of someone each time. These guys aren’t actors. They turn up with no idea of what to do and I have to make them feel comfortable and relaxed enough to go through the dressing process, something that we may only ever do in front of someone we have a co-habitational relationship with, half a dozen times or more in order to collect enough footage with which to cut a two and a half minute film. Not having all the other paraphernalia to deal with was a relief of Mafeking proportions and allowed me to really just talk to the subject and get them feeling right.
I would explain to Joe how I saw it in big picture terms and then we would spend half an hour throwing ideas around regarding camera moves, angles, shooting through windows, where to come in and where to go wide. My general rule is that wide lenses are good for moving in and out and longer lenses are for side to side tracking movements. Even though I had a bigger budget than before it was still miniscule by any other professional standards. We had enough to splurge on one fancy piece of kit that could pull off some nice camera moves and Joe suggested we get a thing called a Dana dolly. A dolly is a way to allow the camera to move in a given direction. Traditionally, the most well known dolly is probably the one where the camera sits on a piece of railway track. There are dozens of versions of this though, and the Dana is like 2 pieces of scaffold pole that can be on the floor, balanced on sandbags that sit atop apple boxes, fixed to C-Stands that straddle furniture so you could make the camera move over the top of a sofa, for instance.. Over the course of the three LA films we had it doing every conceivable trick, all in the service of the films.
Additionally, I use the morning of the shoot to study the subject so that I know what direction to take the questions in when we sit down in a quiet area of the location to do the interview. I later cut this into a monologue for the film’s soundtrack. Typically, we talk for about half an hour. Initially I have my stalwart questions on matters of style that I begin with. When we have worked through those and the subject has begun to relax the conversation tends to become looser and more improvisational. That’s when the good stuff comes. The early part is the bones, the latter half is the meat. You need the bones on which to hang the meat.
For the Nick Waterhouse location we had the 1956 ‘Harpel’ house designed by John Lautner. The house had undergone major alterations by some previous owners who, to all intents and purposes, wrecked it by adding on a second floor that was out of keeping with the architect’s original construction. Fortunately, current owner Mark Haddawy has completely stripped back and restored the house to it’s original form. With it’s glass walled living area and pool, the house, high up in the Hollywood Hills is the epitome of the easy, breezy mid-century California lifestyle. And as I type this, John Coltrane’s ‘A Love Supreme’ has magically been shuffled to the front of my computer’s playlist to complete the visual and aural mid-century aesthetic perfection in which to bathe.
I have now made twenty of these films. I don’t know if we will do any more. I feel that, really, I need to move the plot on from the part where the guy gets dressed, perhaps go and find out what happens to him when he leaves the house. When I first had the idea for them it occurred that whenever we see someone dressing in a film it’s always there to act as a precursor to some yet to happen piece of anticipated action – I think of Richard Gere in ‘American Gigolo’ or any film in which our protagonist is going on a date and we need to see their nervousness/confidence before the big game. There must be some good John Cusack moments out there, surely?
My idea was to flip the whole thing upside down and make it all about the dressing process, to the extent that everything outside of that moment becomes extraneous. I wanted to go in on it, almost turn everything inside out and make some quiet, dignified studies of the way men prepare themselves for the day, much as Little Edie does in ‘Grey Gardens’.
“This is the best outfit for the day.”
As we have gone on, however, I have tried to bookend each film with something that tells us about these men. The two films that will follow this do that I think and I will post them as soon as Mr Porter releases them in the coming weeks.
For me though, this series, the first in simple photographic studios against plain backdrops, the last in some of the hippest houses ever built, has been an amazing and concentrated class in film making, story telling, moving a camera, understanding sound, delegating a crew and, most importantly, the art and craft of directing. It’s still early, there is lots here that I am unhappy with, but I now feel confident that with a proper script I would bring a visual style as well as a narrative technique to it. My biggest issue with these films was the sheer shortage of time in making them. No prep time at all, a quick location scout maybe and then a dive straight in to how to handle the subject and make an often monotonous process viewable.
I think the biggest problem photographers have in shifting from stills to motion is to stop themselves from making a series of beautifully composed and lit moving photographs. We must remember that films are for story telling, not for freezing in time the perfectly lit moment of formal perfection, etc etc. It is no secret to me why the best fashion films so far have been made by bona fide film directors, not photographers. As I said earlier when I brought up the Venn diagram thing, stills and motion are NOT the same. Don’t fool yourself into thinking that they are. The similarities end just after the light has passed through the lens.
I was down in Dallas in September 2012 to photograph a story on high school football and was staying with an old friend who lives there. He and I both like to take the opportunity to enjoy high quality meats whenever the chance presents itself. The American South, of course, is the place to explore what the meats are capable of giving when cooked on a barbecue pit. Each state has its own methods and techniques and, I’m sure, if you want to get really picky you can find those who believe it varies dramatically from county to county too.
A few days before my arrival, my friend, Trent, sent me an email with a link to a post on the Texas BBQ Posse blog, strap line, “In search of the greatest smoked meats in the greatest state in the union.”
Gary Jacobson, who wrote the post, began by explaining that he had recently been the recipient of a letter from a man by the name of Clyde Biggins. Clyde claimed that he had once been the owner of “Clyde’s Old Fashion Hickory Smoked Barbecue” on Westmoreland Road in Dallas.
In 1993 he had been convicted for his part in a conspiracy involving illegal drugs, was convicted and now almost at the end of an eighteen year term in a federal prison.
The piece went on to explain how Clyde was looking to get back on his feet when released and could the members of the Posse do anything to help in that regard. You can read the full text at the link below. It’s a great read and is a story that contains the mouth watering seeds of the possibilities of redemption.
To cut a long story short, Clyde has been unable to secure the food licences that would allow him to once again set up shop in Texas. To get around this he has put together a mobile rolling barbecue and positioned it in his front yard. Food is free but diners are encouraged to leave a tip. He invited the Posse over to try his cooking and Posse member Jim Rossman revealed, “Clyde’s the real deal. The meal I had would easily rank him in the top 5 among Dallas-Fort Worth BBQ joints, plus he has a great personality. That’s a winning combination.”
“Watching Clyde work that pit was like watching a great conductor lead a symphony,” Posse co-founder Chris Wilkins said. “No thermometers, gauges or gimmicks. It was old school cooking by feel alone.”
Clyde was reluctant to allow the members of the Posse to reveal his address on their blog, for fear of being shut down by local officials, despite the fact that two Dallas cops stopped by that afternoon to pick up some takeaway, so there was no way to locate him.
After reading the story I sent back a reply to Trent: “Your mission? Find Clyde.”
In the lead up to my arrival Trent reported back regularly with the news. No dice every time. All through my stay the backdrop to the hundred and five degree heat was the hunt for Clyde. Still nothing until, on my last full day in Dallas, Clyde joined Facebook. Trent sent him a message with his phone number and within five minutes Clyde had called back with an invite to come on over and “sample some meats”.
I didn’t go over there with the intention of doing any filming but I took my camera anyway, mainly in case I got the chance to do a portrait of him or something. When we got there, the mid afternoon sun was beating down but in the shade of some big, heavy trees everything just seemed so much more mellow and amenable. We sat down on some chairs in front of his pit while the smell of pecan smoked meats drifted on around and he was more than happy to tell us his story. So, I had to use what I had and I shot this short handheld with one 8gb memory card and interviewed him with the voice memo app on my iPhone. Someday I’d like to go back there with a jib, a dolly and a crew worthy of the subject.
If you’re ever in the Dallas area make sure you take some time out to find Clyde. He really is the real deal. In the meantime, this short film might give you a flavour of how good his food tastes.
As the public face of an iconic brand, Mr Santa Claus needs to send a consistent visual message to potential customers. In this exclusive interview he allows us a glimpse of the extraordinary wardrobe he keeps in his contemporary home, reveals that he believes he works in the creative industries, rather than the retail sector, and shows off a previously unseen tattoo.
Mr Claus made his name with his pioneering business model, which sees his organisation give away a vast number of children’s gifts each year, to publicise its bestselling range of Christmas merchandise. Between his ranges of cards, sweets, toys and decorations, not to mention the licensing of his image for adverts, and his employment agency, which supplies stores all over the world with look-a-likes, Mr Claus’ trademark appearance is big business. No wonder he puts so much time, and investment, into his remarkable visual identity.
Asked during filming about his plans for 2013 Mr Claus mentioned the fortnight he takes each January to recover from the Christmas rush – he likes the Amandari hotel in Bali – and the annual February awayday he organises for his team to brainstorm ideas for the year ahead. However, Mr Claus wouldn’t comment on recent speculation in the financial press that he’s considering taking on the confectionary industry with a new Easter project, although his reticence may be due to his recent run-in with the regulatory authorities over monopoly issues.
Directed by Chris Floyd
Art Direction by Jacopo ‘Jay’ Maria Cinti
Text by Mansel Fletcher
Back in the summer, when the days were all that stood between us and the horizon, the pollen lingered wistfully in the beams that sliced through the blinds and the ringing of the schoolyard bell was still far enough away to echo only momentarily before drifting and dying in the buzz of the lawnmowers outside, a group of us stood in a languid London bedroom to make a short film about eyelashes.
Nina and Max the founders of London make-up brand, Eyeko, had asked Kay Montano and I to create something for them that would allow people to see just how good their products are. As well as being a great friend, Kay is one of the finest make-up artists in the whole wide world.
We all stood in that bedroom and as the afternoon light gathered about us I turned to Kay, nodded at our model, Jess, and said, “Only one road to go down on a day like today, with a girl like that, in a room like this. It’s got to be Marilyn.”
No one really needed to say much more. As Kay put it herself on her blog, “we trusted in the osmosis of a lifetime of iconic films and beauty icons in the forefront of our nerdy minds to guide us.”
The music is ‘Again’ by Tamara Schlesinger and was suggested by my ever patient editor, Dani Jacobs. Having Dani on my side is one reason why I love making films. The opportunities to collaborate and allow others to add value are endless, as long as you are prepared to leave your ego at the door and welcome them in to the process as equals.