Franz Up: Alex Kapranos and AB/CD/CD on the Always Ascending video
David Knight - 16th Jan 2018
Franz Ferdinand are back. A new album from the Scottish artrockers is out in February, with the first song (and title track) Always Ascending released in late 2017, accompanied by a mesmerizing video directed by French directing team AB/CD/CD.
It's the second collaboration between the directors and the band, following the video for Johnny Delusional by FFS (a supergroup combo of Franz Ferdinand and Sparks), and in this one, shot in Paris, the gifted French directing team have captured the essence of the track while also revealing a new-look, five-strong Franz.
So Promonews talked to the band's frontman Alex Kapranos, and Clement and Camille of AB/CD/CD about how they picked up their partnership with the Always Ascending video, the numerous challenges involved, and discovered why Alex loves making music videos.
"Camille and Clement's approach is similar to how we make our music, so the two methods compliment each other."
Alex Kapranos: We loved working with Camille and Clement [AB/CD/CD] on the video for FFS and were keen to work with them again, both from a creative and personal perspective.
They have a good sense for creating so much of the shots in camera, then using minimal post-production to stitch it together. They have a desire to push themselves: to take the camera, lighting and sets to places that are less familiar to the eye, rather than generate it using a computer. This is a very similar approach to that which we use for making our music, so the two methods compliment each other.
I also feel that they are masters of what is the key to a successful video: having a strong, powerful and immediately understandable concept then exploring the detail with care and artistic warmth.
"Usually for music videos, the simpler the better."
AB/CD/CD: Discussing with the band they were pretty clear about what the video should be: making a video that visually reflects the ascending concept of the song, capturing a band performance in a modern way, and as the band line up has changed recently, having a change to show clearly members.
It was quite challenging but listening to the song (and the Sheppard tones in it) it was pretty obvious that having a camera constantly going up was the good idea. Usually for music videos the simpler the better.
But then we elaborated on this idea, thinking about what could happen on each floor. Each floor was synchronised to a part of the song. It was an interesting puzzle to resolve. We wanted to create a kind of modern art direction and shoot it in a modern way. Then we started to work on each floor to give rhythm and energy according to the music. As it was quite ambitious we had to make sure that everybody was on the same page, so we had to draw each room one by one. Believe it or not it was very useful.
"We loved working with Camille and Clement on the video for FFS."
Alex K: Technically, we wanted to create a physical ascension between the scenes of each shot. To create this, the guys used a new form of hydraulic camera boom that I have never seen before. As that’s not my world, I have no idea what it is called, but it was huge and looked like the robot from the beginning of Robocop - you know, the one that goes apeshit, “15 seconds to comply, etc.” All those scenes were performed to the evil robocop. It was quite unsettling and contributed to the alienated sci-fi mood of the set.
We also were looking for a lighting effect that we haven’t seen before and the guys found this new technology that has been recently developed in France using cold, weak-intensity lasers that can be shot over the face and eyes safely. I love this effect. It’s very otherworldly.
"The guys used a new form of hydraulic camera boom... it looked like the robot from the beginning of Robocop."
AB/CD/CD: We had been discussing the constraint of ascending movement with our 1st AD and he told us about a prototype arm he has just seen the day before. It was a kind of Moco but simpler to program. We were the very first ones to shoot a project with this machine, so we can say that’s this project is experimental.
The biggest part [of post production work] were the transitions from one room to another. Our Flame artist (Mathieu Collet) did an amazing job on it. But apart from that, it was mostly done in camera – even the screen in the back was shoot on set.
Alex K: Physically, the most challenging aspect was the weightless shots at the beginning of the film. The ones that look so effortless. They were shot at high-speed of us flipping and flinging ourselves horizontally on an Olympic-sized trampoline. It’s quite a work-out. Especially if it takes around 45 minutes to get the shot...
AB/CD/CD: FF are really challenging but always sweet and professional. This shoot was a way more intense than Johnny Delusional. We finished this shoot around 5am in the morning, but everybody was still motivated and they all gave their best and so did the crew. Looking back at the project it feels quite similar to the FFS music vid. I guess they like a lot of sequence shots almost as much as we do…
"Physically the most challenging aspect was the weightless shots -the ones that look so effortless."
Alex K: I love making videos. I always fantasised about the opportunity to make them and still enjoy every stage of the process, from the first storyboards and concepts, through the shoot to the edits. I particularly love it when you see something transformed from an abstract idea that came from an unpredictable discussion to a fully realised piece of work. We have been so lucky to work, over the years, with so many extremely talented people. It’s a dream. The only bit I don’t enjoy is the same as anyone else: getting to a shoot very early to sit around for hours doing nothing while camera tracks and lighting are set up.
Darts Of Pleasure will always be very dear to me, because it was the first we made and was partly filmed in The Chateau - the old warehouse that we used to throw parties when the band first started off. All of the other people in the clip are our friends we would hang out with at the time. It really captured who were were at that time well.
I love the Ulysses video (below). The one that was released. It was shot with Will and Dylan [aka Thirtytwo] and pretty much improvised, with us reacting to various locations in the LA area. We were all jet-lagged and completely out of it for one reason or another. It has the feel of a night-out that has gone on for too long. Maybe too many nights too long. It captured the mood of the song so well. There’s a shot that is almost subliminal it’s so short of me with a blue face. The make-up caused an allergic reaction and my eyes swelled to Merrick proportions. That’s why I’m wearing thick sunglasses for a lot of the shots. If you look carefully, you can see through them and to the horror beneath.
There have been a couple of noticeable changes over the years. Nobody shoots on film. We occasionally shot 16mm, but I can’t think of anyone doing that now. The 5D and its successors revolutionised video-making, allowing cinematic photography on a budget. The film we made for Fresh Strawberries with Margarita Louca is a great example of that. Interestingly, the video we just made with Diane Martel for Feel The Love Go was, texturally, a reaction against the ubiquitous crispness of the SLR shoots: it was shot completely on Beta.
The other big change is the way that people look at videos and how often they do. YouTube, Vevo, Apple Music, etc have revolutionised the medium. It is no longer something that was seen only a few times: maybe once or twice on Top Of The Pops or CD:UK or (if you were lucky) MTV, but is now easily viewed repeatedly and easily. With album artwork now less accessible to most music fans, the video really is a powerful and essential way to communicate the visual aesthetic of your band.
"Franz Ferdinand are really challenging but always sweet and professional. This shoot was a way more intense than Johnny Delusional."
AB/CD/CD: 2017 was really exciting for us, lot of projects and we started a new collaborations with LA/PAC in France & Forever in UK which are really promising! For 2018 we have couple of ideas we want to explore in music videos and working on two short films on the side. Wait and see, fingers crossed.
Alex K: I greatly admire Camille and Clement. They're dedicated to there work, as true artists. They push themselves beyond what you would expect or imagine is possible. This shoot went on from early in the morning until… well, very early in the morning. During that long and intense time, they never lost focus.
I know that we can be demanding as a band and I’m sure we pushed them pretty hard, but I feel the result is marvellous and something that I hope they are as proud of as we are. The guys are a real joy to work with. Very warm and generous.
• Franz Ferdinand Always Ascending - full production credits here
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David Knight - 16th Jan 2018