Alex Takacs, aka Young Replicant, has long been recognised as a master of enigmatic narrative. In music videos for the likes of Alt-J, Flying Lotus, Purity Ring and others he creates worlds …
Behind The Video: Josh Thornton-Allan on Emily Burns's I'm So Happy
Josh Thornton-Allan's new video for Emily Burns skilfully combines two seemingly opposing forces - radiant happiness and wanton destruction.
In the video for I'm So Happy, singer-songwriter Emily is driving to the seaside on a beautifully sunny day, for some quality me-time. She has also brought some treasured possessions with her. But when she stops at the beach, she then proceeds to smash the living daylights out of the possessions with a baseball bat.
All the time Emily's mood of quiet elation never changes - even when she walks into the sea fully clothed.
Promonews: How did the project start for you?
Josh Thornton-Allan: The brief came through with this idea from Emily, which was of destroying objects. On first appearance it seems like a very well-worn territory in terms of music videos. But this was different in that it was being done in a very cathartic way, and that all of these objects were actually beautiful. It was not smashing up TVs with a baseball bat. It's not angry or anything like that.
It's always nice when the artist has an idea that grows out of their passion for the song. Obviously they know the track better than anyone else, they have that connection to it. So I built on that theme and introduced other elements, like the sea. She wanted to shoot it on this cliff, so it felt like quite a natural extension out of that.
Obviously if the song is called I'm So Happy, why did she want to smash things up?
On the surface it's a really great feelgood track, which I'm a sucker for at the moment - I think everyone's up for something that's a little bit feelgood right now. But beyond that I think its a really relatable emotion. That feeling of being happy - and for her it's being in love - and then being distrustful of that emotion. Being like, 'It's too good to be true.' And you have that feeling of self-sabotage, that you're going to screw it up.
Very early on, Emily talked about wanting it to feel like a short film.
So, to have all these objects which are beautiful, and then having her destroy them is a visual representation of that feeling that you're going to destroy the beautiful things in your life. But then you ultimately break through that fear and come out the other side - that's the journey. It's what she's talking about in the lyrics, and that's what I wanted to bring out in the video itself.
For me, it's like waves of emotion. It's about calm and chaos that you feel when you're so happy you almost distrust the feeling, so the sea was a metaphor. It can be beautiful, and powerful, and terrifying, and all those things worked.
It looks like you either waited for a long time in order to shoot it on such a wonderful sunny day in England - or you got lucky. Where did you shoot the video?
It was shot all in one day down in Margate. I have to admit I've never been very lucky with the weather with filming. Especially when you shoot in the UK, you have to just prepare yourself for everything. I did a Jack Curley music video last year, where we got up at about 3am, when every weather app had said there would be an amazing sunrise over this lake - and it was just this dark ominous blue instead.
I told this to Emily, and said, 'whatever the weather, we're going to go for it.' And then it was just ridiculously hot. Amazing weather - I think Emily and I were the only people in the crew who didn't get some form of sunburn on the day.
Margate was great for it as well. We shot it in a way that you couldn't exactly put your finger on the place. Lots of people have asked, 'Where did you film that? It looks amazing.' And it's on Botany Bay, which is lovely because it's this really sandy beach and it doesn't feel like the kind of beach you normally find in the UK.
The actual process of the smashing up of things can be tricky to get on camera. Were there issues?
I didn't get to smash up as many things myself as I'd like. I only got to do one, and that was because I thought the vinyl record didn't smash when you threw them in the air, so I tested one and it smashed pretty gloriously. So I found out quite quickly about what things smash well and what things don't.
I shot it in three parts, because I knew that the difficulty would be we didn't have a lot of duplicates, we had individual items. Art department had dug around in vintage shops and stuff like that [for the props], so you could tell that the objects have a story behind them, and an emotional connection to them. That's what the video relies on.
It worked really well - Emily actually has incredible hand-eye coordination.
We basically would do a wide where Emily would swing at the object and not hit them, a mid-shot where she would do the same thing, until we got to the closeups and then that just relied on us covering up the camera as best as possible, and then either the DoP [Carmen Pellon] hiding under lots of blankets so she wouldn't get hit with anything, or just stepping away from the camera.
I think it worked really well - and Emily's actually got incredible hand-eye coordination. I think she's quite good at golf. I have terrible hand-eye coordination myself, and it's something I didn't think about until she started doing it. And I just thought, "Oh my gosh, thank god she's so good at this." Otherwise, this could've dragged on for quite a long time.
Emily actually doesn't lipsync the song at any point in the video. When did you decide on not going the lipsync route?
Very early on, Emily talked about wanting it to feel like a short film, and taking a very cinematic approach to it. And avoiding lipsync is something I've wanted to try for a while. But it can make it trickier - it gives you something to cut back to, and also it can give a good energy to the video.
When artists are lip syncing, it gives them a natural thing to do. Not having that means that you really need to think about what your shots are and how you're going to edit together. You need to be thinking about that as you shoot it.
It's really relatable. That feeling of being happy... and then being distrustful of that emotion.
We did chat about seeing on the day if we felt that there were any moments where we could get it in naturally, maybe having her more talking the lyrics. But I think on the day we were so in the moment, and everything we were doing felt so natural, that it just didn't feel like it warranted the lip syncing.
What kind of direction did you give her for her performance?
Emily was great in that she just threw herself in to it. Because she had a real understanding of the emotionality of the song, that came through really well.
I did talk to her a lot before about the kind of emotions that we were going through, toying this line where it is building towards this happiness, but not this too cheesy or over the top. We wanted to keep the mystery of her emotions building and bubbling throughout the film. She just really understood it and was incredible at just being in the emotional space of the song.
That made it really easy. And she was up for everything, and smashing things, and going into the quite cold British sea and stuff like that. So, she just threw herself into it.Above: Josh Thornton-Allan
How did you shoot this?
We shot on the Alexa Mini. Well, we had two cameras because we shot in the water with a Black Magic, because you can get an underwater case for it, and it's a cost-effective way of doing water shots. But yeah, we [mainly] shot with an Alexa. I didn't want to go down that line of getting a Phantom and going ultra slow-mo, because I think then it becomes just about the visuals of things being destroyed, instead of the act of doing it. It was more about the emotional act of her destroying the object.
We shot on the Mini with some anamorphic lenses, which obviously lent itself very nicely to where we were, and the day. As Emily had talked early on about wanting it to feel like a short film, that's why we wanted to go with anamorphic lenses and really push a cinematic look.
We wanted to go with anamorphic lenses and really push a cinematic look.
Making a music videos usually involves getting the best production value possible from a limited budget. What other tricks did you employ to make this look so good?
I think it's just attention to detail, isn't it? It's just making sure those little things feel rich, and alive. For example, the old Mini that's she's driving in the video - which I think we hired off somebody in Whitstable. I didn't want it to be just any car that's devoid of personality, because it helps to make her personality shine through. Then you get a sense of who she is, and what she's about, and what the song is about.
What were the biggest challenges at the post production stage?
I think our editor Garry Coogan did a great job in finding the pacing of it. Again not having the lipsync, you've really got to think about your pacing as you would a short film, or any other film like that, and how you build the narrative with abstract images, which is a challenge.
Lipsync is like a little bit dialogue in your short films, in that you can base your structure around it. So it's an interesting challenge for sure, and Garry did a great job with it. He came up with some lovely ideas, like the reverse moment in the song just as we go into the second verse.... I would love to have taken credit for that, but that was actually just an idea that he popped in.
Presumably Emily and the label are pleased with how it's come out?
Super pleased. There was lots of Instagraming between me and Emily the day it came out, where she would share a picture of mine and then I would share. It was getting like 'Instagram Inception', where we were just sharing each other's posts. So, it was really lovely, and she dropped me a really nice message on Instagram. So, yeah, we're all super happy and hoping to do another one.
Director: Josh Thornton-Allan
Production Company: Hello Love
Music Directors Rep: Claire Stubbs (Mouthpiece)
Producer: Finn James
DOP: Carmen Pellon
1st AC: Joe Edwards
Camera Trainee: Zlata Kontseva
Stylist: Natalie Hartley
Makeup and Hair: Emily Jane Williams
Art Director: James Cross
Runner: Gabriel Hartley
Runner: Victoria Aquino
Editor: Garry Coogan
Editing company: Quarry
Edit Producer: Jenn Sanders
Colourist: Richard Fearon
Grade: Black Kite
Grade producer: Bruce Langfield
Featured in this interview
Shan Phearon's appreciation of the power of popular cinema has influenced his music video work for the likes of One Acen. and Ocean Wisdom. Now he has fused one of the most popular film genres with …
James (aka Ja) Humby is onto something with his live performance series Molten Jets. In outings for the likes of Horsey, Ross From Friends and King Krule he established the distinct …
Promonews talks to Biscuit Filmworks' director Ben Strebel about the combination of passion, ingenuity and trust that went into making his remarkable video for Skrillex, Four Tet and Starrah's …
Alewya leads a pulsating underground rave in Simon Lane's atmospheric performance vid for the …
Potter Payper and M Huncho join forces in the explosive promo for Catch Up, directed …
Amitybloc directs a breezy, easygoing promo for Dexter's I Like Me.
Callum Lloyd-James's second video for pop prodigy Beaux sees an about-turn from the studio-set …
Philippa Price and Pilar Zeta collaborate to direct the new Camila Cabello video - a riot of …
KLVDR directs a palpably luxurious video with a brutal twist, for Skepta's return with Nirvana.