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Colin Solal Cardo on Olly Alexander's Dizzy: 'I knew the shoot would be insane - but that Olly was brave.'

Colin Solal Cardo on Olly Alexander's Dizzy: 'I knew the shoot would be insane - but that Olly was brave.'

David Knight - 1st May 2024

Fifty years since Abba won with Waterloo, Eurovision is bigger than ever. In fact, for 2024 in Malmö the UK is fielding its biggest pop star in years (and years) - Olly Alexander. We spoke to Colin Solal Cardo (above right, with Alexander) about him taking a big old-school approach to directing the dramatic, stylised video for UK entry Dizzy...

Colin Solal Cardo has never shied away from the theatrical. Having cut his teeth making live videos for music platform La Blogotheque, the French director has proceeded to make some of the standout, and most sophisticated pop videos of the past decade for the likes of Christine & The Queens, Robyn, Charli XCX and many more.

He has also consistently placed artists in intriguing, even challenging studio-based sets, to spur them to give charismatic, passionate performances. That was the case with with Robyn in her video for Ever Again; and with Charli and Christine Charli together for Gone, and recently with Griff for Miss Me Too. And for Dizzy the director who recently signed to Stink Films in the UK (he's with La Pac in France) has arguably created his most ambitious setting for a music video, and his biggest performance challenge for an artist.

Olly Alexander is put through his paces in the video in a stylised, stagebound version of the real world, that's constantly in motion: an apartment, a desert yard, an urban rooftop featuring a billboard - three places that represent Alexander's solitary domain, each independently rotating. 

As he moves between these places, in a state of desperate yearning, it's clear this transports the pop artist formerly known as Years & Years back into a grittier aesthetic than his recent music output. And that is perhaps surprising as Dizzy is the UK entry for probably the least gritty event in the annual calendar - the Eurovision Song Contest.

Indeed, the idea that a bone fide pop star like Olly Alexander would be representing Britain at Eurovision in Malmö, Sweden on 11th May would have been unthinkable a few years ago. That the song - co-written by Alexander and top writer/producer Danny C Harle - is accompanied with a video as well designed and hand-crafted as this one indicates how seriously they are taking the Contest this year. 

We spoke to Colin Solal Cardo about the making of the Dizzy video to find out how he became involved in the project, the range of influences upon the studio world he created for Olly Alexander - and his determination to follow his instincts with his approach, celebrating the classic power of on-camera performance.

Above: Colin Solal Cardo

PROMONEWS: How did the project start for you - and what attracted you to getting involved?

COLIN SOLAL CARDO: I had just found out that another music video I was going to make had been cancelled. I was in a bad mood, and in the pub ready to play pool with friends and then Liam Moore DM’d me saying: ‘I'm doing the creative direction for Olly Alexander.’ He runs me through the whole thing, and asks me if I would like to work on it.

The fact that it came from Liam was a big 'yes' for me. We had never worked together, but had met a couple of times, and I'm a big fan of his work. And I've been a fan of Olly Alexander for a long time - ever since the Years & Years video set in the parking lot, choreographed by Ryan Heffington [for Worship, directed by Matt Lambert].

I was excited. After that, I had to go through a treatment phase - there was some competition - but I just felt like it was a good project and I really wanted to win it.

Some projects you really prepare down to the last second. This was not one of them.

P: This is for Eurovision, which gets bigger every year. So has this been months in the making?

CSC: It certainly wasn’t months in the making. Even though it was Eurovision we had to make it work in a very short amount of time. But being a music video director, I'm used to those kind of deadlines and it wasn't too scary.

I was also competing for other things at the time, but I was really fixated on this one. It just felt like a very creative project with very likeminded artists, so I was really motivated to make it work.

P: What was the jumping off point of the idea for the video? Presumably the title had something to do with it?

CSC: Liam had done a brief which was quite precise in terms of the theatrical mood he wanted. That’s not surprising as that is the sort of thing that Liam does. It's probably why we connected in the first place. I think we just had an appreciation for each other's sensibilities, which are quite close.

But there was not really an element of 'dizziness' in the brief. He wanted to build this world, this huge set, but it was left to the director to imagine, how to twist it in a way that would elevate it where it would connect with the song. That's what I did.

Above: Pre-vizualisation of the billboard set in the Dizzy video.

When I work on a concept, I'm a bit old school. I need to find a justification for everything, to make sure that when I press play, the lyrics of the song and the visuals instantly connect. I felt this one was very straightforward. The song's called Dizzy, there is a very strong lyrical theme about the dizziness of love and how you want to be taken away. It’s about going round and round, so let’s make a rotating set.

It had to feel like he was living alone in this little dry abandoned world, dancing on his own.

P: Once you made that decision, how did you expand upon Liam's original brief? 

CSC: Liam's brief already had a lot of references, a lot of theatre stage design ideas that I loved. The main reference from him was the billboard element and there was a house. I already had a bedroom moodboard from another discarded project – I’m a bit obsessed with enclosed spaces as a place for a performance. I love a bedroom.

But a strong reference that I brought in was Francis Ford Coppola's movie One From The Heart. It’s not the best film, but it is the the most insane studio fantasy you can imagine - the thing that I really connect to. It has everything. It has the desert because it's supposed to take place in Las Vegas. It has big structures and neon lighting. 

Vintage fashion campaigns were also an influence. There's a Versace campaign by Mario Testino from the early Nineties - you have these characters in this sort of desert scenario, very Renaissance painting type of photography. I love fashion photography from that period, and again, the beautiful set designs.

At first the idea was one large platform, and that we would pre-make the sets, and then just switch between them, during the day. Which was maybe not the most practical idea, in fact. I think Liam misunderstood what I wrote originally - he thought we had multiple sets in the room. I thought: actually that's great, let's do that. That's how we ended up with three rotating platforms.

Above: The three circular sets and scenic background for the Dizzy video take shape in the studio.

P: Why was it important to create this unique, extraordinary world?

CSC: The way I wrote this concept is really that Olly lives in this fake world of his own making. It’s very meta. So I brought in the idea of the desert. I liked the idea that he was living there, so it's not just not just the bedroom, he can go to the desert and this little billboard world. They all represent different emotional states.

It's a very emotional song about actually craving desire, craving touch. So it had to be a little bit deserted. It had to feel like he was living alone in this little dry abandoned world, dancing on his own. There is a bit of darkness in it, which I think is really important. 

When I saw the sets in real life for the first time I must admit that I cried a little.

When I listen to sad dance pop songs, I love this element - the melodrama. It connects back to the Robyn video I made - a song about how you reclaim your sexuality and your body after a breakup. I think I'm a bit fascinated by this idea of this mental space we put ourselves. Pop is a great space to explore these kind of emotions - and then you can make very fun videos in very dark settings.

P: So when it came to shooting it, how and where did you make it happen?

CSC: We went to Georgia to shoot the video. We decided to give the reins to a local production designer, George Karalashvili, who has his own production company there, and he was amazing. Firstly George would do drawings according to the treatment and then we would go back and forth. But he had so little time and I don't even understand how they made it happen.

When I arrived in Tiblisi, went to the studio and saw the sets in real life for the first time I must admit that I cried a little. It was very emotional because in the end, not to be overly dramatic but this is a very weird job that we're doing. You dream about ideas and visuals, you do moodboards - and then it's built and its there. It's beautiful to see: all the hard work by so many people, the attention to detail including the little things that in the end, you don't even see on the screen.

Above: Production designer George Karalashvili, on set.

When I came onto the set the first time I saw the textures that the production designer used - that sense of derelict beauty, it's a bit rusted and deserted, it reminded me of Silent Hill - my favourite videogame ever. That wasn't a reference in the brief either, but the texture George used in the billboard setup felt just like that. I told him, and he said - 'My God, yes, I love Silent Hill!'. It was something in his mind.

P: As well as these other references, were you influenced by the way that music videos were made back in the early days of the artform?

CSC: Maybe this is a throwback to an older way to make videos - with the fresh lens, of course. We really wanted to make this as modern as possible in terms of the way it's shot. But I like the kind of how music videos can be the crossroads for all these inspirations and you can bring from music video, from videogames, theatre and cinema and bring it to the art form.

So many things can go wrong... but you have to trust the talent of everybody involved.

People ask me: 'so when you're going to your feature film'. Actually, what I like to do is bring cinema into my practise because I'm proud of my practise. I love music videos, I love musicians, I love to work in this realm. Music videos is not just a stepping stone, it's also a thing in itself.

P: How do you approach directing a performance?

CSC: I've always tried to look for the practical. How can we build things together? How can we make something happen in the room? What setup can I create for the artist to perform in a way that becomes meaningful in relation to the song?

I think my work is really about that. It was there when I started my career filming artists for Blogotheque, the Takeaway Shows in the late 2000s. We would do these videos which were shot on one handheld camera, one take, very documentary style. In the end, it was really about the performance, about capturing the emotion of that artist.

Above: Colin Solal Cardo (centre) with crew members on set during the Dizzy video shoot

I would say I tend to think first about the process and how we're going to make it and how that will impact the result. In the case of Olly, it's about him having to deal with performance on a rotative platform. And so, in a way, it's not just a visual concept, it also involves him physically.

These thoughts always come in my head when I imagine a concept. Trying to imagine how it's going to affect them so I can capture something that's really genuine. 

The thing is, I've been fortunate to collaborate with artists who are strong performers. Being a big fan of Years & Years and knowing a bit of his history, I knew that Olly was brave. I knew that he was a strong performer, on video. With someone like that, you already know that they have the necessary skillset.

It is about creating the right environment for them to deliver that. I'm always curious and excited about this sandbox that I give them and to then see what they do.

I like to bring cinema, theatre, videogames into my practise... I'm proud of my practise.

P: But was Olly’s movement around the set precisely planned out?

CSC: Not at all. There was not even a storyboard. I had a shot list – which I didn’t even look at during the shoot. Some projects I will do a 3D pre-vis, you really prepare what you shoot down to the second. This video was not one of them, and for me a good performance video cannot be that.

I knew the shoot would be quite insane. Knowing we had to cover three sets with three different lighting setups - actually more than three different lighting setups. That was complex, but you also need to give room for the performer to live in the sets, to really feel the performance.

But actually I also know that at a certain moment of the song, I'm going to have a certain visual for a certain moment. Ultimately a pop video, like the pop song, has a well-established format. I think I have a good instinct for the format.

Above: ready to shoot - the desert playground set on the Dizzy video

P: How physically demanding was it for Olly?

CSC: Actually, he was really dizzy during the shoot! After the first takes he had to take a moment. He was shaking a little bit. Then when we moved to the bigger platform, the big billboard, although he was safely wired he still had to deal with the movement, speed and the height of it. It was a real experience, so you capture an energy that's not faked.

There's some darkness in there, which I think is really important.

P: How were you shooting it? 

CSC: We did almost everything on the crane, and a little bit of handheld. It was shot to give us a lot of options, but also longer takes. This is really the way that I do these kind of videos because that's how you get incredible things.

And it was a bit crazy. We’re on the crane, one take, you have the set rotating, this big house. We’re trying to avoid the walls.

I don't like when sets are too quiet. I don't like when it's too easy. We have very safe sets, of course. But it's a bit of a matter of life and death for me. Pop is about heightened emotions, and it's really about high drama. And I knew that Olly would really perform the hell out of it. And so I tried to create the best setup for him to really deliver something.

P: That certainly doesn't sound planned. What unexpected things happened on the shoot that you can talk about?

CSC: It's not so much about unexpected things happening - everything about it was unexpected. I had never shot with a rotating set like this. 

You're on the crane, you have all the lighting around, the artist inside the set, and it's rotating, literally 360 and you're trying to catch everything. I wanted to experiment a bit with the camera movement. And at some point, you know, you just have to let the camera do its thing. That's what I love about the crane – it’s a bit like handheld.

P: But that's a bit risky, isn't it?

CSC: It’s true that contact made between the camera and a rotating set. I remember just shouting, like, ‘no, no, this can't be happening!’. But in the end, it was just a stumble. The set was not destroyed and the camera was still able to do its job. Honestly, the day went pretty great, and we had a lot of fun. We had some rain. We had explosions. I actually got to push the buttons myself!

I knew that Olly would perform the hell out of it.

So many things can go wrong on a music video set, but in the end you just have to trust also the instincts of everybody involved because it's not just me, it's really teamwork. Liam did an incredible job as creative director, it was joyous to collaborate with him and my set designer and my DoP, Benjamin the choreographer and the incredible UK stylist Matthew Joseph. You have to trust the talent of everybody involved.

P: How did it being the UK entry for Eurovision feed into the making of the video?

CSC: To be honest, during the whole process of making this video, Eurovision was not mentioned a lot. I feel like they were mostly into making a great pop video.

But when Liam told me at the start that this is going to be for Eurovision, I did think: this is amazing. First, it's a very fun show and it's getting bigger and bigger. People have high expectations. There is a certain level of campiness to it that I really connect to. I feel like that was actually a good excuse to really go overboard with everything.

I also love that Olly is doing it on his own terms. I think he's extremely brave and avant garde in a lot of things that he's been doing, especially as a queer performer. There is a good symbiosis between what he has to say as a person and as an artist, and to put that into his pop and never being afraid of ruffling some feathers. I just feel like he's a very genuine pop artist, which is a difficult kind to find.

P: So do you think Olly is going to win?

CSC: Well, he's won in my heart. Very good luck to him!

• Colin Solal Cardo is with Stink Films, and repped for music videos by Hands. Showreel here.

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