Promonews - 6th Oct 2020

Olivia Rose's video for Lola Young's Woman - nominated at this year's UK Music Video Awards in the inaugural Best R&B Soul Video UK category - is an unashamed celebration of the female body from a female perspective. Women of different shapes and sizes get naked in front of Rose's camera - including the singer herself.

We spoke to Olivia Rose about the Caviar-produced project, the thinking behind the production, and the process of making the video, at a time when filming had just started resuming after lockdown and under strict limitations. We discovered this was a voyage of discovery both for the artist and the director, and above all, a joyful and empowering experience. 

Promonews: How did the collaboration with Lola start? Was there anything in the brief, as well as the song, that led you towards coming up with this idea for the Woman video?

Olivia Rose: It was the song that reaaaally grabbed me. In particular the line "This house is not a home for me, cos it’s you that built it" just resonated so strongly with me. Where is the lie?! No matter how much we achieve as women, we are still navigating our way through a world that wasn’t built for us, bending over backwards to be like the men, just so we can exist with respect in their world. That, paired with the brief, which had the artwork image of Renaissance nude paintings with their nipples censored, just spoke to me on a level.

There was no point us tackling such a huge, relevant and visceral subject without ‘going all the way’.

It was as much for Lola about pointing out how ridiculous this censorship of bodies is, as it was about celebrating womanhood and empowerment. And that was something that I knew I wanted in on, from the get go.

Did you always intend to be bold with the level of nudity in your celebration of womanhood, self-love, and the female body in all its forms?

Yes, yes and yes. And refreshingly, the whole team from label to management to production were all absolutely aligned on this. There was no point us tackling such a huge, relevant and visceral subject without ‘going all the way’, so to speak.

So we were adamant that this wasn’t going to be implied nudity, but full nudity, with clever lighting and cropping to maintain a sense of decorum and to hammer home our intentions - which were NOT to make a ‘sexy’ video for the male gaze, but to make a film that was solely focussed on how we could make the women who appeared in it, feel safe, comfortable, sexy and gorgeous for themselves and themselves only.

The video includes sexy back rolls, sensual armpit hair, divine stretch marks and all of the good stuff!

Lola appears eminently comfortable in showing her body. How did you win her trust? Is that something that she was on board with from the start of the process?

We had talked prior to shooting about Lola being cleverly covered up during shooting, and there were some legitimate concerns from all sides about whether people might screenshot the video later down the line and it might end up in the wrong context.

Lola has her future career to consider, and on a phone call before the shoot she said to me: 'I don’t want to do anything I am going to regret when I’m 35.' These words stuck with me throughout the whole process. I was adamant I would honour that. After all, I AM 35. So I was always thinking: would I stand by this myself? Would I do this myself? Would I be happy with 'young me' doing this? And that was how we began to work through the process of the nudity, both on set and in the film.

On the day, Lola was swept into the moment. I saw her proudly watching her cast be free in their nakedness and I think this really inspired her to push past any possible feelings of future regret. And now I can say confidently that had she not shown her body, she would have experienced the FOMO that so many of the women on set said they were feeling, watching the brave women of the cast be so free with their bodies.

I was always thinking... would I be happy with 'young me' doing this?

In fact, there was so much FOMO that I literally threw off my T shirt and bra and jumped into a shot, a cue for some of the other women working on set to come running (literally dresses were being thrown off, body suits pulled down) for the chance of an all-in moment, where they too could experience the freedom of just owning your body on set. It was a very magical moment and one I can’t imagine happening again any time soon.

When did you decide on giving the video a context by including the opening monologue?

The monologue was woven in to the idea before shooting. We felt that we’d all been on such a journey behind the scenes, to come to a place where we knew our intentions were aligned, that we were going to handle this with the utmost sensitivity and safety. But this was something that the audience couldn’t have known unless we told them.

We all felt there was a need to make it clear that this was for us, for our empowerment and not to be misconstrued as fodder for sexual gratification and I think the monologue does that perfectly.

You are probably better known for shooting Boys/Men rather than Girls/Women. So how much was this something new? Or did you feel within your comfort zone?

Although I’m definitely known for my work with boys/men, I have always photographed women along the way. However, I am definitely more picky when it comes to shooting with women. Because society forces us to question our bodies, our appearance and our beauty (so much more than men) I have often found shooting women can be frustrating and saddening, as I can see how heightened the insecurities of a woman often become in the context of a shoot. I don’t know if it’s because psychologically, that reminds me of my own shortcomings, my own insecurities - like turning the mirror on yourself, perhaps. But that’s always been jarring and difficult for me on set.

This video however, was our opportunity to put all of that on a plate in front of us and address it, rather than shy away from it. The body parts people didn’t love, were taken in to account. We weren’t there to force people to love things they didn’t, rather to highlight the parts they do.

I've often found shooting women can be frustrating... This was our opportunity to address it, rather than shy away from it.

How differently do you approach a studio shoot like this to other work, like your street photography?

I mean it’s a whole other world, one that I’m still getting used to! Even the sheer amount of people on a promo set is still kind of wild to me. I grew up and learned what I knew, based on being a one woman band - producing my own stills shoots, run and gun on the streets, just me and maybe one assistant. There’s a lot of freedom to that way of working.

I don’t actually think it’s studio vs location that is different in this context for me. It’s more about stills vs moving image. And moving image is always going to be a bigger beast!

The casting was obviously very important. You have a cast who are comfortable unclothed so was there a call-out to certain groups of women? Is casting a different kind of process in the current post-lockdown situation?

I think with Insta culture and social media, casting has (sadly) become a very digital experience, lockdown or no lockdown! So actually I don’t think that process varied much from the norm. We did definitely ask for cast who were comfortable to be nude on set and that was a pre-requisite much more than their aesthetic.

Lola and I wanted to include as much diversity as possible and we wanted to show a range of body shapes to help push forward body positivity. Hopefully this film will be another stepping stone in the process of normalising a difference to societal ‘perfection’. The video includes sexy back rolls, sensual armpit hair, divine stretch marks and all of the good stuff!

That said, we didn’t want to exclude the girls with ‘perfect’ bodies either. This was about finding women who were down for the cause, who connected with the lyrics, who felt something when we spoke about the body and empowerment. I had FaceTime calls with all of the cast members prior to picking our final six, to ensure they knew exactly what was going to be asked of them, as well as making sure they would stand next to the visual at the end and feel proud - not ashamed.

When someone strode in front of the camera, the rest of the cast, myself and Lola, became cheerleaders for them.

There is a sense of community from the video even though, of course, you only shoot one woman at a time. Were the models in the studio together or did you have to keep everyone separate?

The models could only be on set one at a time, and of course we were adhering to Covid 19 distancing guidelines. But I did have the cast all off to one side of set, somewhat near my monitor and so they spent most of the day within range of each other.

What was amazing, was to see how the women bonded through the shoot. Every time someone took off their robe and strode in front of the camera, it was like the rest of the cast, myself and Lola, became cheerleaders for them; raucously whooping, cheering and hollering when they did something epic and fearless like a hair flick or a boobie shake or a bum slap. There was a really powerful energy In the room that gives me goosebumps to think of even today.

Presumably this was a ‘post-pandemic’ shoot, so what were the big logistic issues? When and where did you shoot?

During Covid 19, EVERYTHING is a big logistic issue. EVERYTHING. Anyone who says it’s not difficult isn’t following the rules. This pandemic is really f*cking with my shoot flow!

The thing that really hinders the process is time, social distancing and masks and constant sanitising and never co-handling things just makes the whole day slow.

For me to feel comfortable, I needed a guarantee that the rushes would be looked at with the female gaze.

The edit of a video like this was always going to be important. How much did you have the edit planned out in your head before you reached the edit suite – and how much did it change?

They say you make three films for every one piece of work: the one you write in the treatment, the one you shoot and the one you craft back together in the edit. I had a sense of how I wanted to cut before we got to the edit, but naturally we let the rushes dictate how we finally pieced it together.

The main points on my brief to Queen Flaura [Atkinson], were that we hold off the full nudity as far as we could so we didn’t ‘blow our proverbial load’ up front and that we include the off-moments, the laughs, the little looks off camera, the silly things, so that we broke up the sensuality of it all with humour. And she nailed it. The edit feels like a direct reflection of the day we had - a heady blend of sexy, sensual, empowered and LOL.

Was it important that the editor, Flaura Atkinson, was a woman?

Yes, more important than I originally had anticipated actually. If you think about this video in the context of the female gaze, the three people who really had to be female were myself (the idea maker), DoP (the executor of the idea, through a literal lens) and the editor (who has eyes on ALL of the rushes, the bits we needed to cut or crop).

I think for the safety of the women in the cast, for Lola herself, for me to feel comfortable handing over the nude rushes, I needed a guarantee that they would be looked at in the right way - with impartiality - with the female gaze. On top of which, I must have said the words “fanny” and “vagina” at least 23,678 times during the edit, so I figured Flaura would be able to take that with a pinch of salt!

I want to make a point here, that I know male editors who would have handled this with the utmost sensitivity, but that wasn’t the point. The point was that this one was for women, by women, about women. I mean… it’s all in the track title!

The point was that this one was for women, by women, about women... it’s all in the track title!

What’s the important message or messages to take from the video? And what did you learn from making it?

The best compliment I have received on this video so far, was from a hot-blooded straight man, who watched it and said “I wanted to be aroused because… boobs. But you can literally feel the feminism coming out of their pores, so I sat back and watched it in a different way because I could feel this wasn’t for my pleasure.” And that’s what I hope people will take away. That we don’t have to be Dove advert pure and natural to own our own sexuality. We can do it naked, with full glam and a set of stripper heels and it is STILL not for any other reason than we love ourselves and want to honour that, proudly, on film.

• Full credits for the Lola Young 'Woman' video here

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    Promonews - 6th Oct 2020

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