By Flora Woodhams
When I clicked on Harry Styles’ ‘Watermelon Sugar’ music video, I was confused by the title card that preceded it; ‘Dedicated to touching’. Was this written pre-lockdown and was it some happy coincidence that the tactile, sexually charged video dropped at a time of the exact opposite? Then it became it obvious it was far more likely this was added, as a reflection on past times, pre-Covid, pre 2-meter social distancing.
This got me thinking, how are media outlets dealing with enforced social distancing? EastEnders have tackled this problem head on and are planning on continuing production, whereby the actors do their own make up and keep their distance whilst filming. Yet, for smaller productions such as music videos, how are they addressing the problem, where members of a band aren’t even able to perform in the same room as one another?
One of my favorite bands, The Magic Gang, a four-piece band from Brighton, dealt with the issue seamlessly in the music video for their single ‘Take Back the Track’, from their upcoming sophomore album. I reached out to Georgina Cammalleri, a BAFTA winning producer and director, who last year made the move to direct music videos, such as ‘Take Back the Track’ alongside her normal work in documentaries. She worked together with the band, adapting initial plans for the video and altering key aspects in a short space of time to accommodate for social distancing and the UK’s lockdown. She created a video described by NME as an ‘online Zoom thriller’, the perfect ode to ‘unprecedented times’ – have a watch and you’ll see it’s a good’un.
What I found so incredible about what Cammalleri achieved, was how the idea of the virtual band rehearsal seemed so fitting with the mundanities of lockdown life, yet still managed to include a clear story. Originally, the ‘Take Back the Track’ video was going to be filmed in a car, yet it was quickly revised into something so much better. Cammalleri adapted her mood board to create a narrative where some external uncontrollable force thwart their plans…sound familiar?
Love it or hate it, the iconic Zoom layout has become a defining characteristic of life in lockdown and provides a unique time stamp, quite literally framing the video. As the reformed ‘rehearsal gatecrasher’ plot came into shape, before filming each band member gave Cammalleri a video tour of their home, so she could choose a room to shoot in. Each was as well-lit as possible, as unlike a set, each minute detail had to be adjusted by the band themselves. Whilst directing each member’s sequence via a video call, Cammalleri spoke about this detail coming down to even the smallest of eye movements matching to the beat of the song, which would be shot again and again to nail, until they could eventually be combined in sync, as if the band were performing live.
I spoke to Cammalleri about how this shift to virtual directing impacted the way she works. What she said surprised me; that it can give you more opportunities than you may think. For one, the time pressure is off, she explained. You’re no longer locked into one to two days of shooting – in the case of this video, it was shot across 5 days. Another being she can take “lockdown” jobs from all over the globe, from the comfort of her own home. Suddenly, taking on a job in Australia is no longer restricted by distance, as long as you have decent means of communication, you have the freedom to explore this new medium of direction that previously may have passed you by.
So what does this mean for the future? Will Covid cause any lasting changes in how these music videos are made? Obviously, with a vaccine (fingers crossed) things will be back to normal. Yet, in the meantime Cammalleri stressed the importance of technology and how it can overcome the most basic of problems such as not sitting behind a camera in a studio. Some music labels are favoring animation whilst others are using compilations of old footage, and the best out there are using this time to think outside the box, as Cammalleri has done here with The Magic Gang. She pointed out that people love a taste of the past, whether that be film cameras or vintage fashion, and this translates onto media in almost every aspect. Now people are craving the past more than ever, for what we all took for granted – and the goal now is to find a balance of being able to create this atmosphere of nostalgia audiences love, without breaking the rules. Directors and producers must now aim to find new innovative ways to open old doors, creating a space for otherwise untapped ideas to form.