ONLY THE LONELY PART 4: PLEIADES SHOOT DAY / by Karl Dixon

This Tuesday was the EP launch gig for post-rock Pleiades and pop-punk Storm Harbour at The Castle Hotel in Manchester's Northern Quarter. They were joined by another Manchester punk/emo band - Dog Years - and acoustic punk musician Enda McCallum in an evening of great live music in a unique venue (the Castle's back room is a small dark-wood panelled room with a tall turret-like ceiling jutting upwards above the stage). It was a killer sold-out night attended by an enthusiastic crowd and a great way for the two debut bands to announce themselves. It was also a great way for Pleiades singer Andy Calderbank to announce that the Pleiades video for Only Second that I had directed in November and was now editing had that day reached its first cut and would soon be complete!

As any other filmmakers/editors will be well aware, once you reach first cut there is still plenty of reworking, polishing and refining to do followed by a careful colour grading process, but it is heartening to see that the video is already in a very strong shape and already proving well worth the time and effort invested by so many people.

That time and effort occurred back in late November, immediately after two long days shooting the music video for Jenny Got Famous' song Loneliest Hour. As soon as we wrapped the first video it was time to changeover our set ready for Only Second Cousin. As I mentioned in ONLY THE LONELY PART 2, the sets were both designed to attach to the same wooden frames, which themselves were built bespoke to fit between the pillars of the Islington Mill nightclub space.

It was a surreal experience wantonly ripping apart the cardboard spaceship that I had been so precious about only days earlier and also remarkable how quick and easy it was to demolish something that took the best part of 2 months to build.

Once the cardboard was removed Andrew Packwood, Louise Cowley, Russell Dixon and I spent a late night battling chicken wire, stapling the 22 cassette-tape panels in place and dressing extra set elements with unspooled VHS tape.

Fortunately the biggest chunk of prep-work for this set had already been completed; unboxing the 2200+ cassette tapes and cable-tying them to the panels of chicken wire. This was a process that took a great many hours (allowing me to finally finish Sons of Anarchy!) and absolutely covered my flat in snipped cable-ties, chicken-wire offcuts and tape innards, as well as leaving my hands covered in cuts and scratches.

An artist's impression of what my hand looked like

The late-night prep work gave us a great head-start and so we went into the next day with momentum behind us. Unfortunately we lost crew members Louise Cowley and Russell Dixon (the latter of who had a graduation to tend to!) but were joined by three new faces; DIT Phil Brooke  and our actors Lucy Hilton-Jones and Harry Dyer

I cast both Lucy and Harry through the Casting Call Pro website, which I have used in the past both as a filmmaker and as an actor. For this project we didn't have the luxury of having the time for auditioning or screen-testing actors and so I spent a long night reading every application and looking through every showreel and CV. Our eventual shortlist was very strong and while I'm sure any of the performers on that list could have done a great job, I cast Lucy and Harry thanks to the very genuine interest and enthusiasm they both showed in the idea as well as their showreels, CVs and training demonstrating an impressive range of experiences, but also a specific familiarity with film and music video projects.

Lucy and Harry arrived on the first morning of the Only Second Cousin shoot (by that point our team's third morning) full of enthusiasm that injected us all with a fresh burst of energy. I had met them before the shoot to familiarise them better with our concept and the narrative attached to it, as well as to give them the opportunity to contribute their own thoughts and ideas which they did in various valuable ways. As the shoot progressed they both produced strong performances that brought the narrative to life and watching them throw themselves into the idea with 100% commitment was an extremely satisfying and rewarding experience. 

Their performances were bolstered and amplified by our choice of camera setup; our DoP Tim Baxter was shooting with his own Sony FS7 (a popular and versatile 4K camera and current favourite of a lot of broadcasters) and his lenses and accessories. One of the various benefits of this versatile camera is its variable frame rate, which allowed us to shoot certain key sections at 50p and 150p, elongating and exaggerating Lucy and Harry's dramatic physical moves, something which was particularly effective in the final section of the video. 

Physically we used Tim's setup in two different ways:

  1. Attached to a DJI Ronin; a 3-axis camera gimbal that allows the operator to move around with a very fluid motion.
  2. On Tim's shoulder or tripod, with his anamorphic adaptor (making the most of the camera sensor and resolution and not having to 'cheat' the 2.39:1 anamorphic aspect ratio).

This combination of approaches allowed us to tackle every shot on my list and gave us a variety of options for the edit.

The aforementioned variable framerate on the camera also allowed us to have some fun and play around with the band performance strand of the video. We ramped up the frame rate, released messy scenic elements and introduced frenetic moving lights to combine with the energy of seeing the band tearing up the closing section of the song. This is intercut with the dramatic conclusion to the narrative thread in what should prove to be a very exciting and cinematic finale.