Debuts Today! The Making of a Music Video for ‘Lights & Motion’
Fredrik Sellergren is a Cinematographer/Director from Gothenburg, Sweden. He shoots music videos, commercials and short films, some of which have been screened/nominated/awarded in festivals like Gothenburg International Film Festival, Stockholm International Film Festival, Sheffield Adventure Film Festival and Ridley Scott’s “Your Film Festival.”
Fredrik took some time to talk to us about his latest music video that he shot for “Lights & Motion,” for their new song that was released today called, “The March.”
The Official Music Video: Lights & Motion‘s, ‘The March’
Give me a little background about the project. What were some challenges?
When the post-rock band “Lights & Motion” asked me to make the music video for “The March,” I knew it would be a great and challenging project. He wanted me to visualize a clash between two persons in an epic scenery, built up by the increasing crescendo. It should be seven minutes of instrumental music without any artist to cut to. We had a tight budget, a small team and we needed to be as mobile as possible in order to shoot everything in 3 days. Because of this, we had to bring as little lighting and grip equipment as possible.
In pre-production, we focused hard on finding a place that offered a lot of different natural settings in an relatively small area. This made it possible for us to move quickly between locations. We ended up shooting in Gothenburg, Sweden near a beautiful nature reserve called ”Delsjön.” After observing how light, shadows and weather created different moods on location at different times of the day, I knew we had to shoot the film opening at sunrise. We wanted to catch the special moment when the warm sun light rose over the mountains, followed by the thick mist crawling over the lake. We even ended up using some of the test footage in the actual video because the natural mist was surprisingly thick and beautiful that day.
Another big challenge in pre production was the dressing and makeup. In fact, the makeup and color of the models’ eyes had a dramaturgy importance. It would reflect the physical and telepathic power within the characters. They were going to represent two different forces of nature, presented in a human form. Therefore, the use of close-ups and extreme close-ups of their faces and eyes was necessary. We tested various kinds of makeup, filmed them in different lights and looked at how it turned out after color grading. This was a very important step. Finally, we created two characters that clearly had their similarities, but still their own personalities and look in their eyes. The use of black, white and light blue contact lenses turned out real cool and when we increased contrast and glow in post it looked even better.
How difficult was it to get the lighting just perfect in the video?
In the shot above, the dark makeup also helped to create shadows around the eyes when adding contrast in post. We used the sun as backlight, 1kw tungsten PAR can as a kickers (these were the kind of lights we had available at the moment) and a white poly board as a bouncer. Because of the strong wind on set, the use of a fog machine was a bit problematic, so in this scene, we ended up adding extra layers of smoke in post to increase depth. We did this by filming smoke separately in front of a black background and then combined the images in after effects.
Since we were quite short on lighting equipment and 99% of the footage taken was exterior, we were very dependent on how the sunlight fell through the trees. We had to look at each scene to decide which one needed to be shot in the morning. This was the time of the day when the position of the sun created long, dramatic shadows, and when we put smoke on set, great sceneries appeared. Obviously, we didn’t have the luxury to shoot all scenes in this condition so we saved it for the takes that required wider shots.
Sunlight combined with smoke created a beautiful scenery in this scene. We had to work fast not to lose the rising sun. In the tighter shots, we had the opportunity to put artificial tungsten light close to subject, but for the longer shots we needed the great natural light. Especially in the background which were shown in deep focus.
Let’s talk about gear.
We used the Sony NEX-FS700 for this project. In my opinion, you get a lot for the money using this one. Looking at picture quality, I would prefer cameras such as Arri Alexa and Red Epic, but the rental price for these didn’t fit our budget. Also, the use of 200 fps slow motion was important for us. The lightness and size of the camera was also most valued, as well as the internally changeable ND-filters. When you film in the forest with a small crew, things like these matter. If the sun and weather condition changes quickly, you often need to be able to shoot fast. We mostly used old Konica Hexanon Lenses. They gave us the visual style we wanted with a nice vintage bokeh. This was also a great choice for our budget.
We shot in 8-bit AVCHD, which is a good alternative looking at storage space and budget. You now have the opportunity to upgrade the FS700 and shoot in ProRes, 2k or even 4K. This will change cost and workflow, but dealing with great differences in light and color on set, using 10-bit and 12-bit will help a lot. If you put the video on YouTube it will still be compressed in 8-bit though, which is something you must keep in mind working with grading and heavy effects in post. There were many scenes that looked great in the master file, but after uploading it, banding and loss in color were quite noticeable. In other words, you have to experiment, look at different render versions to see where banding appears and find a workaround.
Will you give us a full run down of the equipment you used?
Swedish Chameleon SC3 incl. follow focus
1kw tungsten PAR cans
CTB, CTO, CTS, WD (1/4, 1/2)
Viper NT fog machine
(We also used a home-build smoke machine in a couple of scenes)
Kipor IG2600p portable inverter generator
Mini-Cube 3000W dimmer
15 x Power cable/ 230V 10m
Poly boards, black flags, super clamps and sandbags.
Note: This equipment list was based on our budget, what we had available at the moment and the fact that we wanted to be as mobile as possible.
You had a very tight shooting schedule. What did you do to work around that?
While filming on a tight shot schedule, another option that became useful for us was to shoot in high speed and being able to switch between slow mo and real time in post. Keep in mind that differences in shutter speed may cause issues if you speed it up to real time. If you shoot in PAL 200fps (shutter speed around 1/400), you’ll get a sharp and smooth slow motion at 25fps playback. When you speed this up 800% (real time), it will look being shot with a very high shutter speed, which results in very choppy, “strobe-looking” footage. If you really want to be able to switch between super slow-mo and real time in the same clip, another solution could be to shoot in 50fps or 100fps and then use a plug-in like twixtor in after effects to increase the slow motion even further. It’s all about what kind of look and feeling you’re aiming for. The best option is, of course, to plan and shoot different takes with the right fps and shutter from the start, but sometimes you have to use these kind of workaround as we did.
A good thing working with natural light when doing high speed is that you don’t need to worry about flickering.
As you can see, we increased the sunlight a lot in post (using the “optical flares” plug-in by video copilot). In my opinion, you should be careful not to overuse these kinds of effects if you still want the light source to feel realistic. It’s a great way to experiment with your footage if you’re looking for a special visual touch though. For the tighter, slow motion shoots we used a handheld fan to ad motion in the actor’s hair.
What advice would you give for someone in a difficult lighting situation such as the one you faced?
Always look at your histogram to see if you got information in the highlights and the deep shadows. When you shoot exterior in full daylight as we did, this is especially important. If you don’t have enough dynamic range to cover both you have to know what you need in the end. There were situations where we had to choose between an overexposed sky or a underexposed landscape. In these static extreme long shots, the use of grad-filters could be an option. It’s all about knowing the limits of the camera you’re using. In theory, you could always lighten up the dark areas with a bunch of HMI lights, creating a nice looking sun falling through the levees, but if you’re on a tighter budget this could be difficult. Do some testing in different kinds of whether conditions days before, put it in post and see how much you can bring back in the lighter and darker areas.
What are some tips you would give to someone who wants to make a music video?
Working with an artist that gives you free rein is a perfect chance to try new visual styles. In this production, I got to work with a small, but excellent crew that gave me the opportunity both to direct and operate the camera. I usually try to avoid this combo in bigger productions, but under the right circumstances and with the right people around it could be a great way to work. Just remember that it requires even more planning in pre-production. You will have no director or operator to discuss with and the workflow may be a lot different.
Be creative. A lot can be done with the right gear and a big budget, but that’s not all. In fact, due to different kinds of restrictions, we had to find solutions in ways we didn’t think of in first place. By this, we ended up using camera angles and effects that felt more original. For example, the only things we had available in the rain scene were two really big sprinkling cans! But by shooting close ups in high speed and using abstract framing we got great results.
Take your time in pre-production and location scouting. Shooting a music video, one of the greatest challenges is to find the right location. Finding these perfect spots will sometimes require a lot of scouting and you have to be patient. Because when you find it, a lot of pieces will fall in place. Observe how sunlight and shadows changes over day and see how it affects the feeling of the nature scenery. Some spots shouldn’t only be judged by our ”wide angle” human eyes. Experiment with different lenses. There were many times in this video that we only had time to turn the camera around and put on a longer lens to create new abstract backgrounds through shallow focus.
Also, remember to involve postproduction through the whole process. For example, shooting in 8-bit won’t allow the same grading as ProRes or RAW. If you’re using a new camera or codec, do some testing before heading out. A lot can be learned by reading these kind of tutorials, but it’s miles away from what you learn by getting your hands on the camera for real.
For me, shooting shorts and music videos have always been great ways of learning new cameras, lights and grip. Even though you’re on a tight schedule and lower budget, you’ll get freer hands experimenting with the gear compared to commercials and bigger productions. It’s a perfect opportunity to test your creativity and develop as a film-maker.