Narrative music video for Flora Falls about invisible longing and meddling angels.
There’s a lot to this one. The TL;DR version (final music video and one-minute BTS video) is above the separator line; below that are Some Very Detailed Notes on the process.
Final Video (3:59)
Flora Falls – ‘Space Between Us’ (Official Music Video)
Featuring Valerie Mae Fox, Eef Andriessen, Bree Shaw, and Rhys Williams
Produced by Brea Roberson, Dominique Fricot, and Ray Wassef
Directed, Written, Shot, Edited, and Graded by Ray Wassef
Behind the Scenes Video (1:00)
(Some Very Detailed Notes on) The Process
Berlin-based duo Flora Falls asked me to create a music video for a song of their newly-completed EP of delicate songs. The result is a short film about connection – a culmination of shared references, conversations, and collaboration with the musicians and a dynamic young cast.
Musicians Brea and Dom shared music videos, film scenes, photographs, and notes on moods, lighting, textures, symbols, vignettes, montage, stories, and themes they were interested in exploring in their songwriting and in this video specifically. Brea is also an acting teacher, and earmarked four of her students as potential players in the video. So, meditating on the ideas i elicited from the musicians, a story idea floated to the surface…
For music videos, Brea and Dom referenced moody interpersonal montage such as RY X’s ‘Sweat’, “revelation” montage such as the discovery scene in A Beautiful Mind, and the single-take rollerskating in Chet Faker’s ‘Gold’:
Based on our conversations, Wim Wenders’ 1987 film Der Himmel Über Berlin (Wings of Desire) came to my mind mind (not least because it’s a film famously made and set in the same town as our music video), which features invisible angels among us, and the ache of forbidden longing:
Certainly, i also took inspiration from the not-exactly-quarrelling, but also not-exactly-aligned angels Remiel and Duma in Neil Gaiman’s Sandman comics.
In terms of approach, a major touchstone was Reed Morano. Her films feature the kind of aesthetic to which Brea and Dom were drawn. Plus, she takes on the roles of writer, director, and cinematographer, as I would here as a one-man film crew (and I often do; but on this project, i took inspiration from the particular way this writer-director leans – literally – into also being her own camera operator to create a palpable intimacy in her resulting visual storytelling):
This music video was my first time working with a cast of trained actors. The techniques Brea described as part of her practice with her acting students captured my imagination, so i was eager to learn about their process(es), keen to incorporate them into our silent play, and intent on fostering a space for collaboration.
Workshopping with the actors was instrumental in developing the story: nuance and surprise from each performer uncovered emotional beats and storytelling details in the jigsaw puzzle of the video’s montage style. I brought my “fake sun and moon” lights and camera to rehearsal at the band’s house, and captured – and, crucially, showed them in real time – their performances.
The process became:
- i give the actors an outline of 1-3 beats
- the actors experiment
- i find details and shoot them
- i show the actors the footage, right there in the space
- we whittle the action down to the bits we agree we like
- we then re-take until we all nail it
This process of demo-ing performance, framing, and lighting, allowed us to together build our collection of character moments:
The style we were aiming for meant “collecting” shots as if creating jigsaw puzzle pieces, each containing just enough info to sketch, but still obscure or abstract, the story. I wanted to make it look like we’d lived in this world for a while, and i was showing select details from it. In reality, we had time or budget to get only those shots – so i worked backwards from the bare minimum we’d need to see in order to get a sense of that larger world. For plotting, this meant identifying key moments, actions, emotions, and details.
My “storythumbs” are colour-coded to delineate the four storylines (which also helped me schedule the actors, and accommodate their respective time restrictions): pastel pink and orange are the two humans; green is any time a human is visited by an angel; hot pink is when the angels confront their shocking discovery, and eachother; and blue is little details i wanted to make sure not to forget to capture, sometimes in abstract ways.
This visual call sheet, essentially, proved helpful in more ways that one: the actors and musicians helped me keep track of the various moving parts – props, continuity, setups and payoffs. Speaking of colours: the designers creating the band’s artwork had already devised a colour scheme and visual motifs for branding across all media (which would later guide our wardrobe, prop, and grading choices):
Caravan Park: perhaps my most complicated one-man-crew shoot to date. This indoor caravan park location in Berlin-Neukölln functioned as a film set I didn’t have to build: the aesthetics of an exterior location, without the inconvenience. To make the best use of the limited timeframe for both the actors and the location, I pre-lit three scenes, each with its own fake perpetual “sunset” look, then shuffled actors between scenes to get our jigsaw puzzle piece coverage…
… all while making a point of showing the actors certain takes, right there in the moment, so they could see what i could see, and adjust their performances, play “into” the camera as it were:
Roller Skating: this scene was largely improvised on the spot, in close collaboration with the performers. Thanks to illness, my original plan for this day had to be thrown out. To save time and sanity, instead of mapping out another jigsaw puzzle shot list like i had for the caravan park shoot, we devised a single-take centrepiece, around which pickups and inserts would be captured for use, if necessary, in the final edit:
Fire: weather and more illness delayed and transformed this scene, multiple times. While the standard shot-reverse-master coverage would be far simpler to capture than the other scenes had been, the element of fire in the ‘Clash of the Angels’ scene necessitated an outdoor shoot – and of course, when it came time, so too came snow:
Three locations with very different lighting conditions, and one which contained three separate lighting setups, meant matching was… a challenge. My initial plan, to commit to a golden “sunset” lighting look, went out the window when our exterior shoots landed on flat, grey, overcast days. A big part of the post process was spent seeing how far I could push colours – at one point over-correcting to completely neutral – in order to achieve a cohesive, but still concerted, look:
Although the images are quite high contrast, many contain some of the most low-contrast-ratio work i’ve done to date – a look i was absolutely going for, and which i love in theory, but felt very afraid trying to nail in practice! At the shooting stage, i’m working within the narrow and unforgiving confines of an adapted Micro 4/3 system, which needs all the light it can get to capture a useable image. In the editing and colour grading stages, i found it an exercise in trust that the eye will find what is there to be seen. The treeline-versus-skyline exposure in the night exterior frame above represents one of my proudest attempts at this look. Below is another, from the final graded video:
References which found their way into the final music video: