You created the video clip for British singer-songwriter Grace Davies’ latest lead single “Breathe.” What were your goals for the visual style of this project?
Adam Young: We wanted the music video to look how the song sounded. Starting out with a blacked-out shot, gradually introducing a solitary spotlight, eventually bringing in a whole visual firework display of lights and colors as the music grows in intensity. The plan was to create a visual journey that builds in energy and momentum moment-to-moment, so we reach a well-earned sense of catharsis and empowerment at the very end. By the time we arrive at the final chorus, we wanted the lights to feel as though the imagery is too bright to contain and have as much of that illumination bursting out of the frame.
Did you encounter any challenges during the shoot?
Adam Young: It was a fast turnaround and a one-day shoot, so we had to work fast and efficiently. Like every project we’ve ever worked on, the shot list and plans are out of the window once the realities of the production and all the setbacks kick in, forcing you to improvise and find results through other methods. Originally, we wanted every shot to be locked on and handled via a dolly track to create a sense of control and stability, a reference to what the song’s message is: Being empowered and standing strong! But we were quickly running out of time and decided to pop the camera off the sticks and put it on Jamie’s shoulder. We realized that we were moving through our shots much quicker and the handheld aesthetic lent a raw kind of energy that really suited the intensity of the music along with Grace’s performance.
Why did you choose the ALEXA 35 for this project and how was the performance of the camera?
Jamie Haigherty: Well, music videos are a great way to try out new cameras! We knew we were shooting with anamorphic lenses, so shooting with the ALEXA 35’s 6:5 was a perfect choice. It’s a seamless transition for anyone used to the ARRI ecosystem and allows the crew to maintain similar workflows on set. Everything is in the right place and with a logical menu setup that makes it a breeze to use, even for those new to the camera system. As expected from ARRI: it just works!
What’s your opinion in terms of the image quality, color accuracy and sensitivity of the ALEXA 35?
Jamie Haigherty: Beautiful image quality, vivid colors, and noticeably improved sensitivity, setting the bar high as the industry standard. With many cameras uprising a dual based ISO, the Enhanced Sensitivity Mode is a huge improvement and welcomed feature when the camera needs to be pushed. The ALEXA 35 feels like a truly new-generation camera!
How was the experience in color timing having those strong lights in frame? What was the scene contrast?
Jamie Haigherty: Latitude, roll-off, and detail in the shadows are top of the game. Incredible dynamic range with highlights retaining so much information even with our super bright in-frame lights, which were pretty hard to clip. There is so much depth in the files that it's amazing to see how much it can be pushed and pulled in color grading, if needed or desired for a look…
Adam Young: …which is what made the ALEXA 35 perfect for the kind of video we were shooting. The lights and colors were so prominent in every sequence.
Skin tones are an important factor in the video. How did you manage to achieve the desired result?
Jamie Haigherty: The ALEXA skin tones have always been beautiful, and we expected nothing different with the new ALEXA 35. We instantly noticed how the new sensor renders all colors in such a naturally flattering way.
Adam Young: During the grading we wanted the opening shot to have this somewhat ethereal and jazzy quality, where Grace’s skin tones are glowing off the screen. The footage gave Paul, our color grader, a lot of room to play around. In the end, we got those tones, colors, and textures exactly the way we wanted them for those first 30 seconds that linger entirely on Grace’s face throughout.
What were your goals in terms of lighting? How was the lighting setup?
Adam Young: This project was about creating a performance-based music video and the lights were essential to the whole visual tapestry, almost replicating a live gig whilst being reminiscent to Grace’s history with the TV show “The X Factor.” We weren’t trying to conceal or hide them; they were very much in-frame and serving as the production design.
Jamie Haigherty: The lighting setup had to be fairly simple with a modest budget and lighting crew, so we needed to get lights set up swiftly and hook everything up to a lighting desk. We opted for a row of mini brutes that would give a vintage glow when dimmed down and then fill the frame with white light on the highs. They were then topped with a row of LED Source 4’s set to a blue purple, after discussing with Grace and her team what color palette they wanted to go for. We knew the artist and label team would have comments on the colors of light, so we went with a couple of SkyPanel S60-C lights and an ARRI Orbiter to give us the flexibility to change up quickly.
How did the ARRI Orbiter support your work?
Adam Young: I wanted the opening shot to offer almost a jazz bar, film noir, femme-fatale kind of vibe, where Grace is simply by herself and isolated by a spotlight that gradually burns brighter as the camera orbits her as she sings. The Orbiter (no pun intended) served that detail up perfectly and was just what the shot required. It also served as an adaptable key light for Grace throughout the entire shoot.
Jamie Haigherty: The idea was to use a traditional follow spot for that authentic stage performance look and feel. However, with such a superfast turnaround and plenty of unknowns on the day, we thought it was better to go with something adaptable. The Orbiter fits the bill: we can reduce the beam spread, change colors and control via DMX, making those on-the-spot creative changes very easy. And of course, it’s an ARRI product we all know and trust to do the job.
Did the synergies between ARRI camera and lighting equipment benefit your production?
Adam Young: Given that this whole video was purely dressed up with lights, the ALEXA 35 captured every little detail that other camera sensors would likely miss. For example, the SkyPanels that we had “off-stage” bordering the performance space; when they hit the haze and atmos that was drifting across the studio space, it was like a little dab of color that carried through into the frame. It’s incredibly subtle but it’s a beautiful tiny detail that makes a big difference. I feel another camera wouldn’t have absorbed those colors or we’d have to boost the lights further and potentially compromise the look we were aiming for, as opposed to just being a simple splash of color.
Finally: Did you learn anything new during the shoot? Did anything surprise you based on the technical equipment you used?
Jamie Haigherty: It’s a testament to ARRI's work in developing new products that, upon release, are good to go! Truly the brand for film, TV, and content-creating professionals.
Adam Young: This sounds like a plug but it’s the truth: For me, there is no equal to the ARRI camera. I think of myself as a “cinematic purist” and was very much in the mindset that shooting on celluloid film can’t be matched. Yet, with ARRI’s latest releases, I’ve been converted to the digital world with how the picture profiles remain true to the storytelling aesthetics and details that have otherwise fooled me into believing that a production was shot on film. Grace Davies expressed a similar point-of-view, given she prefers the look of film and always seeks to add a bit of film grain to any photos or music videos she’s in. In the end, we managed to maintain that look and feel whilst having the creative freedom and the luxury of flexibility that the ALEXA 35 brings.