For those of you not on facebook… “An American Piano” won Best Film in Documentary at the 2nd Navi Mumbai International Film Festival. We were competing against feature films in the same category, so it’s especially good.
I’ve just done my first ever showreel for the short films and music videos I’ve produced. If you like the music, it’s “Make me dance” by Tim Hilberts.
Anyone who loves Elizabeth Bennet is alright with me. That said, Emma is probably my personal favourite of Jane Austen.
There is no secret. Listen to this guy. It’s fantastic. It doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t learn. It doesn’t mean you should give up. Just know that the whole thing is insane, and that you should worry more about enjoying the ride than getting to the destination.
I think the crucial question is how you define success. This is a talent-based industry. A good writer is nothing without good actors, a good director, good cinematographer, good editor, etc.
Any one of those not being there can bring a script down. So sure, luck it is. But when someone asks “what’s the secret to success” which is clearly an impossible question, I think what they’re really asking is: “What can I do to improve my chances of success?”
To which there are many better answers than cross your fingers and keep trying.
A “No” is free – so ask for what you want
– John Waters
Simple, isn’t it? Just ask for what you want. You never know, you may just get it.
Herb Ritts. Legend.
Herbert “Herb” Ritts Jr. was an American fashion photographer who concentrated on black-and-white photography and portraits, often in the style of classical Greek sculpture.
He shot Olivia Newton-John for her Physical album in 1981. Five years later, he would replicate that cover pose with Madonna for her 1986 release True Blue. Then, again in 1993, he would do the same for Prince with his The Hits/The B-Sides collection.
To say that he worked with all of my idols (except for Robyn Loau), is a huge understatement.
While more well known for his photographs and as a commercial director, it’s his music videos which I’d like to talk about.
It was on Madonna’s Cherish that he got his break into music videos, an incredibly auspicious start if ever there was one. In this video Madonna plays a woman who falls in love with a Merman. It’s an incredibly simple video, but a romantic one. It features a lot of his signature style. The Leni Riefenstahl influences in his camera’s adoration of the male physique at peak condition, the romanticism, and the underwater shots. There is also a nice reference to the iconic shot in On the beach, where Madonna lies on the beach while the waves crash between her legs. This is Madonna at her most romantic, something we have not seen in her work before or since.
He next worked with Janet Jackson on her Love with never do (without you) video. Here we see the exploration into the body at peak physical condition explored even more. Without a doubt influenced by Leni Riefenstahl’s work on the 1936 Berlin Olympics. Here again, we see Herb Ritts once again working with a woman not known for her soft features, and making her incredibly romantic. He introduces a limited colour palette into the video, and shoots Janet during golden hour. For those of you who are not sure what I’m referring to, “Golden Hour” is the hour around sunrise and sunset where the light is golden and on film, makes everything look like a million dollars. His next videos for Chris Issak further this same theme, of beautiful bodies in peak physical condition at the beach.
His next major music video is for none other than Michael Jackson. To me this is Herb Ritts at the very peak of his powers. His work for Shakira and Jennifer Lopez, when he was near the end of his life, in the throws of AIDS, don’t really have the same power. Here he is working with the biggest artist in the world, on a video designed to sex-up his image. An interesting side note to this is that the song was originally supposed to be a duet with Madonna, but Michael baulked at her lyrical suggestions. Michael wanted to sex-up his image, but not too much. And the video succeeds at this. Set in the Mexican desert at a deserted farm, the video is hot and sweaty. Naomi Campbell features in the video as the object of his affections. Again a woman not known for her warmth, but here again, at the hands of Ritts, she comes across both beautiful and unattainable, yet also warm and inviting. Ritts also manages to give Jackson a masculine sensuality which was unseen in his videos prior to this. This video is probably the best he ever looked after his skin lightened. This video also introduces some subtle story elements to the mix. In the video, you never really see either Jackson or Campbell touch each other (although they do touch themselves) for the first three minutes. They closest they get is in shadow, their silhouettes almost touch, but never quite get there. Even in the later half of the video, it never really gets beyond a slight touch of the thigh. You think they are doing quiet a lot, but actually they do very little actual touching. For this video is about illicit desire. The video certainly gets that point across well. For me, there is one thing that I would have liked to add to make it perfect. Just one simple shot of Naomi Campbell with a wedding ring. For me then all of this would make more sense. As the video stands, they never really explain why these two people, who are obviously very attracted to each other. Who are alone in the desert. Never really seal the deal. We never find out why this relationship is illicit. It was recently revealed that the voice on the album version of the song was Princess Stéphanie of Monaco, which again would make more sense. If the woman is Royal, and Jackson is just a regular man – they couldn’t be together because of her position. In any case, the song itself presents a hard story to tell. As written in the wiki for this song:
The song, written and composed by Michael Jackson and Teddy Riley, is about keeping a relationship secret between lovers. “In the closet” is an English idiom used when one is not open about an aspect of their life, particularly in regard to sexual orientation. Despite the song’s suggestive name its lyrics do not allude to hidden sexual orientation but rather a concealed relationship; “Don’t hide our love / Woman to man.”
So, when the song itself presents mixed messages, perhaps it is best just to create a mood, as Herb Ritts has done so successfully here. While it is a hard song to listen back to and not draw conclusions to it’s actual meaning, now more than twenty years later, in a post-court case Michael Jackson. I still like to watch this music video for what it is, and not for what my mind wants to say about a man singing about a dangerous, illicit love that he must keep “in the closet”. In terms of the look, he revisits the dilapidated old white house that he used so successfully in Janet’s video. And he later revisits the themes of the video in his work for Chris Isaak’s “Baby did a bad, bad thing”. And he often recreated this hot, steamy look on later videos, notably for Jennifer Lopez in “Ain’t it funny”.
To sum things up, Herb Ritts was an incredibly successful music video director. While his early work was by far his strongest in his earlier videos, they always had a very strong vision. Romantic, worshiping the body beautiful, hot and steamy, yet never gratuitous. He shows that music videos require interesting shots and a singular mood to tell their stories. And it never hurts to make the artist look the best they’ve ever looked in their entire careers.
It’s been a while, hasn’t it? I’ve been busy promoting my short film, “An American Piano”, which is on the last leg of it’s world tour (next stop TIFF Kids 2015). I thought I’d weigh in my thoughts on the ramifications of the “Blurred Lines” case. No, not the issues with it promoting sexual assault. The other problem with the song. You know, the little plagiarism case. Like you do.
Recently a judgement of over US$7.4 million was awarded to the decedents of Marvin Gaye (whom the songwriters of “Blurred Lines” were always open about getting their inspiration from). I’m not going to argue the relative merits of the case, which is similar to Apple vs Microsoft/Samsung “look and feel” argument (and for those not in the know, Apple lost to Microsoft, but won against Samsung). Nor am I going to point out that this means that the band Journey could sue every pop songwriter for ripping off their “four to the floor” style on “Don’t stop believing”.
Don’t believe me? Check this out:
So, yeah, the music industry has a more liberal view of plagiarism than the rest of us do. But, what really interests me is this next statement:
Pharrell Williams has warned that “the entertainment industry as we know it will be frozen in litigation” if this becomes a precedent. “The verdict handicaps any creator out there who is making something that might be inspired by something else. This applies to fashion, music, design… anything.”
OK. So, now I’m listening. And you know what. I agree with him – to a degree. I come from a background in Art, where young artists learn their craft through copying the masters. But, this is education. Through this process, we find our voice. The first script I ever wrote was a sequel to The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, the second script I wrote started out as a take on Eye of the Beholder, and ended up a terrible miss-mash of every dark thriller I so happened to watch that day. And a few years ago Paul and I made a fan-film for Silent Hill. And we both learned priceless information from it. But, we never monetized it. Never claimed it as our original work. Which is what the songwriters behind “Blurred Lines” did.
Let me show you an example of what “inspired by” looks like.
Let’s look at the inspiration:
And now let’s look at the homage:
And it’s perfect. It has all the same elements. The comparisons of sex to physical exercise. The awkwardly funny music video. They are both disco songs. But, they are different.