Edu Grau, ASC, AEC, and Shane Ainsworth talk about the technical challenge of shooting Lykke Li music video "5D", by Theo Lindquist

"I Follow You", by François Reumont
Every year, the Camerimage festival honors music video cinematography during its big gala screening on Wednesday afternoon. This is the flagship event of our annual gathering, bringing together all the festival-goers and offering a unique window on the past year’s most innovative films. Amongst the contenders for the 2022 Golden Frog award for Best music video are director Theo Lindquist and cinematographer Edu Grau, who brought to life singer Lykke Li’s song “5D”. This astonishing cyclical ballet is well-attuned to the song’s melancholy mood. (FR)

In your opinion, what makes a good music video ?

Edu Grau : It’s definitely a video that jibes well with the music, but also one that builds something and adds another dimension to the song. This is what we tried to convey in “5D”, with this kind of endless loop, passing down a hallway, and lived moments one might recollect over and over again in a closed circuit. I think this video is also a nod to Instagram reels, those one-minute videos you can upload and that play endlessly on a loop when you or your contacts watch them. There’s a fascinating side to these little stories, which are sometimes shot with a good feel for cinematography or the narration... This is really the concept that touched me in the project, plus the fact that I really like the artist’s work. I even personally have very strong memories of her music, since it was to one of his songs that I danced with my wife for the first time ! A shoot like no other...

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Tell me about her, she occupies the central place in this clip...

EG : Lykke Li is a very special girl, she teems with ideas and controls her career, her music, her image with great talent. It’s a lot of work, passion, and pressure ! And with the director we felt this right away. She was very involved in the production of the music video and producing such an object together is definitely something unique. Additionally, this shoot took place with a very small crew, with her in the center of the image, also acting as a camerawoman in a way, since the camera was attached to a harness on her.

What system did you use ?

EG : It’s a supportive harness made by Shane Ainsworth. Shane is a cinematographer, whom we shared the seven music video series shot for her “EyeEye” album. As Theo Linquist directed. He not only succeeded in developing a harness that can easily be concealed on the actor, and rotates 360° around him or her. We didn’t use more than 180° on the clip, but it’s a pretty crazy system... On this harness, we installed an Aaton Minima camera with a 6mm lens and everything was shot on 16mm film. If memory serves, we must have done about sixteen takes. Once the camera height has been determined, and the lens chosen, Lykke Li plays and frames the clip at the same time. The entire crew being hidden in a room with the HF monitors, with the exception of Shane who accompanies the pivoting movement of the camera at key moments...

Pendant la prise, la main de Shane Ainsworth oriente la caméra autour de la chanteuse
Pendant la prise, la main de Shane Ainsworth oriente la caméra autour de la chanteuse

What were the challenges ?

EG : There were a lot of elements to bring together between the choreography, the acting, the lighting... We shot for three days on location, in a zero-budget configuration. A simple hallway in a cultural center in Los Angeles. This center had already been used for other music videos, but I don’t think anyone had used this rather gloomy corridor ! In any case, it suited us perfectly, and we mainly contented ourselves with doing a bit of simple set decoration and light control. In fact, as the viewer, you can’t precisely identify what kind of place this is.... We wanted this decor to be slightly offbeat, but without going too far into expressionism, for example. A normal place, but which doesn’t look exactly normal. Also, when you choose to shoot in 16mm, it’s above all because you’re looking for a bit of magic ! The result is not there in front of your eyes in real time, but you expect to discover grain, material, and sometimes different color renderings. There was a slightly poetic side for me to shooting in 16mm, which served as a counterpoint to the location, and which might bring back the balance between reality and stylization.

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And the very strong contrast, like the lamp placed on the desk.

EG : Yes, we like contrast, and it is of course easier when shooting on film. The idea was also to give different tones between the room and the corridor, for example. We wanted to play the card of a little change of atmosphere, while remaining in a sort of unique setting. And film renders these contrasts very well. Everything was shot on 7219, 500 ASA, at T2.

What have you taken away from this experience ?

EG :It’d been several years since I shot a music video. I like music videos, but they’re not really my bread and butter anymore. But this was a project close to my heart. I got to meet people I wanted to work with, without necessarily worrying about fame or compensation. I took a chance too, because shooting music videos is also a bit like that. In the end, I’m very happy both with the result, and to have shot with such interesting people, some of whom have become friends... Lastly, I’m very proud of being selected at Camerimage, even if I won’t be able to make it to Toruń this year because I’m currently shooting a feature film in Los Angeles…

Did this clip make you want to shoot more often in Super16 ?

EG : Ah, Super16... it’s my favorite format. I was able to film 2 feature films like that but it’s becoming more and more complicated to have the opportunity to do so. I think it’s a way to bring something special to the screen. 16mm has never been the norm, you know, and when you choose it, it’s really for a reason. Whether it’s the lightness, the material, the depth of field...

Lykke Li entre deux prises
Lykke Li entre deux prises

Shane Ainsworth gives us a few more details about the shoot

Where did you get this rotating harness idea ?

Shane Ainsworth : I’m a big fan of Angst, directed by Gerald Kargl (1983) and shot by polish cinematographer Zbigniew Rybczynski . It’s a very disturbing serial killer story, told mainly through the psychopath’s point of view. And many crazy sequences from this film were totally unseen back then. Shot with a kind of rotating harness concealed under the actor’s outfit, with a simple Bolex 16mm film camera. I tried to look for as much as I could about the behind the screen stuff and making of videos, finding eventually some rare black and white footage from the set. And I end up building my own version of it, starting on a “Lazy Susan” rolling platter system.
This 20 inches diameter ball bearing circle was then attached to an harness, to be worn by Lykke Li under her red jacket. Then I build a kind of monopod stick out of the rotating part, with some counterweight on the opposite side of it. The camera being fixed on a lightweight photo style ball head.

L'Aaton A-Minima sur le rig
L’Aaton A-Minima sur le rig

I guess weight is a critical factor here ?

SA : Of course, and that’s why I believe they used some kind of mirror trick on Angst. So to be able to get those crazy high angles shot on the killer’s actions. In our case, the choice of shooting S16 was determined early on, as the whole music videos series was going to be shot like this. And all of those videos are linked in a way, as Lykke Li’s album talks about the difficult end of a love story. Hopefully, we could find an Aaton minima camera at the renting house in LA, with an Arri Ultra Prime 6mm lens. This kit is not much above four and half pounds, so the system was I guess even lighter compared to the original 1983model....

How did you manage the rotating parts of the shot ?

SA : I was following Lykke Li myself, in each takes, hiding from the 6mm wide angle frame. Managing the rotating shots, and stabilizing the camera myself. A very intuitive kind of work, as I did not rely on any video assist system. Specially tricky when she’s interfering with the boy in the small room before going out in the corridor. A not so easy choreography with strong technical demands. So to say the system had to work seamlessly... Unless we could have faced tough situations on the set !

Essais chez le loueur
Essais chez le loueur

Did you do tests before ?

SA : No. I could not do test with the artist. Just some rehearsals with my wife at the rental house... I give her a big hug for this by the way. Everything went quite easy on the set. And honestly, what a pleasure to watch this S16 footage. The Ultra definition of those Arri primes is terrific. Combined with the grain and the texture of S16mm film, something definitely happens on the screen. Mainly because when it’s sharp... it’s really razor sharp ! With absolutely no kind of distortion, even if you’re only inches from the actor’s face, like we shot Lykke Li.

(Interview conducted by François Reumont, and translated from French by A. Baron-Raiffe, for the AFC.)