Filming ‘Man, Friendship’ with Kitty Macfarlane

Filming ‘Man, Friendship’ with Kitty Macfarlane

When you’re building up for an album release there’s typically a lot going on; final tweaking of recordings, mastering, artwork, distribution, PR, sorting out tour dates etc.  Then your label drops a release date and they need video content, fast.  This was the situation Kitty was in when she pinged me on messenger.

(On a side note, it’s becoming noticeable that virtually every one of my ‘Behind The Scenes’ stories starts with me getting pinged on messenger.  It’s quite possible that if messenger didn’t exist then neither would redwood)

In her initial contact, Kitty sent me a copy of her new album and highlighted a few candidate tracks for the video.  Video aside, I subsequently spent the next three days playing Kitty’s album on repeat because it’s fantastic.  But I’ll come to that…

Given time constraints, we talked about doing something simple for the video.  Kitty was homing in on a track called ‘Man, Friendship’, a stripped-back message about environmental change in the Somerset Levels.  It’s a part of the world that Kitty has some personal attachment to.  She wanted to film something in that area to give the video some context.

To shoot something simple but not twee, my thoughts were to film Kitty walking and singing in one continuous take (i.e. a ‘one-er’) for the whole song.  As well as keeping the video straightforward, it would be really fast for post-processing because there’s no timeline to edit; it’s just one clip.  If Kitty pulled out a good performance and we got lucky with some nice light, I figured it could work.

Having said all that, shooting one continuous clip for four minutes is challenging as there’s nowhere to hide; any mistakes from Kitty (lip-syncing) or me (framing while walking backwards) and we’d have to go back to the beginning again.  You can’t just cover stuff up with a cut like you can in more conventional videos.

 

The other two subtle parts of the shoot plan were:

a)  When filming a music video, you have to decide whether the artist is going to sing to-camera or off-camera.  Each creates a different kind of feel; singing to-camera slightly increases the intensity.  Because there’s a message conveyed in the song, my thinking was to sing to-camera but to get Kitty to hold off making eye contact until the end of the first verse.  The effect I was trying to create was that the viewer thinks this is just a bright and breezy ‘Kitty out for a walk’ video, but then when she looks at the camera you realise ‘oh shit, she’s actually talking to me!’

b) The framing on Kitty would gradually get tighter towards the end of the song (i.e. I’d get closer to her with the camera).  Again, this would just gradually increase the intensity towards the end of the track.

Admittedly this is all super-subtle stuff that most people won’t even notice in the video, but it’s stuff that I like to at least try and think about, even if things change on the day (which they inevitably do).

We got to the Somerset location quite early in the day, partly because Kitty had a gig that evening but mainly because we knew it was going to be a sunny day.  In the absence of any shade, we wanted to be shooting into the sun while it was fairly low in the morning so as to get Kitty backlit (which is generally pretty) rather than being lit from directly above at noon (which is generally not pretty).

We lucked out in that the sun was more or less facing directly up the path that Kitty had recce’d out for the shoot.  Had it been the other direction, we would have had to first walk right to the end of the path and then film her walking back.  I could claim that I researched all that in advance, but I’d be lying…I’m just jammy.

It turns out Kitty is someone who gets excited about nature. I know this because on the short stroll to the location we stopped three times; once to look at a baby mouse, then again to look at some deer and finally to admire some cranes flying past.  To give you an idea of how excited she was, I actually thought Kitty was going to start hyperventilating about the cranes.  Me and Scott weren’t quite as excited to be honest.  I sort of get it, but I grew up in Cov and didn’t really venture out that often; hence I’m not really an outdoors person.

My lack of rural experience became more evident when Kitty pointed at my arm and said ‘Oh, I think you’ve just been bitten by a horsefly…’

Now, clearly I’m no spring-chicken, but I’ve reached the age I have and I’m not certain that I’d even heard of horseflies, let alone been bitten by one.

‘Is that serious?’ I asked Kitty.

‘Well, it might be a bit itchy’ she replied.

It turned out my unfamiliarity with horseflies would be more than rectified by the end of the shoot, because for the next two hours both me and Scott got absolutely bitten to shit.  Not content with just attacking my exposed skin, they bit me repeatedly under my t-shirt and most alarmingly, under my trousers.  Kitty, meanwhile, didn’t get bitten by the horseflies at all; clearly they realised that me and Scott weren’t from ’round these parts’ and thought they’d pay us a lesson for venturing onto their turf.

It also turned out that Kitty’s ‘a bit itchy’ prediction was a slight understatement; I was scratching myself like a lunatic for a week after the shoot causing my wife to remark more than once ‘what the hell’s wrong with you?’

None of that, however, is important.  The only thing of actual importance is Kitty’s video and her looking cool in it.  Which she does.

Kitty nailed her performance (if you haven’t discovered Kitty yet, she’s really good) and the light was great.

We did change the shoot plan slightly; we interspersed the ‘walking and singing’ with some equally creative ‘standing and singing’ (y’know, just to keep the viewer right on the edge of their seat).  Also, Kitty wanted some b-roll in to show the area and add context.  So that ended up slightly relieving the one-continuous-take pressure.

So in terms of a breakdown that was pretty much it; just a camera, a 35mm lens, a variable ND filter (essential kit for filming in sunlight) and a gimbal.  Oh and someone to spot you walking backwards unless you want to end up on your arse, which is not a good look when you’re trying to create the impression with a client that you know what you’re doing.  Not that that’s ever happened to me, of course…

The main action to take after reading this blog post and watching the video below is go and order Kitty’s album ‘Namer Of Clouds’, or buy a ticket to go see her on tour.  Or both.  Honestly, I would’t give you a bum steer when it comes to music 🙂  Both Kitty and the album are fabulous.

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