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Greg Hackett on Loyle Carner's Hate: "We wanted him to go to a dark, heavy place."

Greg Hackett on Loyle Carner's Hate: "We wanted him to go to a dark, heavy place."

David Knight - 29th Nov 2022

Ben Coyle-Larner - aka Loyle Carner - won the coveted Best Performance in a Video at the UKMVAs last month for his on-screen work in Hate, which he also co-directed with Greg Hackett. As Hackett explains it was a project that benefitted from what each of them do best.

"Ben has amazing ideas for films," says Greg Hackett about Ben Coyle-Larner - better known as Loyle Carner. We are talking about the the project that brought them success as co-directors - and Loyle Carner the artist - at this year's UK Music Video Awards: the music video for Hate, which was the first release from Carner's just-released third studio album, Hugo.

It led to a Best Performance in a Video award for Carner's multi-faceted on-screen performance at the UKMVAs on October 27th - in a video which was their first collaboration as co-directors. But Hackett is explaining that their creative partnership has developed through a series of projects, and in some ways, the Hate video was two years in the making.   

Hackett is an experienced commercials director who is adept at executing technically complicated film shoots. As the founder of Spindle he is also committed to the development of new talent - which is how he started working with Ben Coyle-Larner, and his brother Ryan, before the pandemic. 

It began with the Coyle-Larner Brothers, directing the Arlo Parks video for Eugene in 2019, which Hackett executive produced. "Then we made a film for EA FIFA 21 [featuring Eric Cantona] which I DoPd for him," explains Hackett. "Then moved into the Yesterday video [for Loyle Carner] that I EP'd again." That video was a complicated and ambitious one-shot idea, and Hackett also brought his technical knowledge to the table, to  help the brothers in a more executive-directing role.

That provided the foundation for what happened when Loyle Carner completed the new album and started talking about the visuals for the first release. As Greg Hackett explains, from the start it was clear that Ben wanted to do something different with his musical alter-ego: basically no more Mr. Nice Guy.  

Furthermore, this would be a production which not only demanded a new, unexpected scale of performance from the artist renowned for his likeability, but was hugely challenging on a technical level: motion control, multiple Loyles - and the everything compressed into four shots...

Ben would say to me: I want people to see the other side of who I am.

PROMONEWS: How did the project start for you?

GREG HACKETT: Ben had this original idea of wanting to be in this car - which is his dad's actual car, and is called Hugo [the name of the new album]. Because that's where the relationship between him and his father came back together. The two had been estranged for a long time, and then Ben's dad gave him driving lessons during lockdown. That brought the two of them back together again.

So Ben said - look, this is the first video back. I know I want to use the car. I know I want to be inside the car all the time, and I know that I want to appear multiple times. That gave me some boundaries to work within. And it became a really fun, true collaboration between someone who had the idea and knew what he wanted, but then brings a [full-time] director into this - myself - to help facilitate and execute it.

So why are there multiple Loyles in the video?

GH: Throughout all of this project, Ben would say to me: I want people to see the other side of who I am. 

People are aware of this nice young man, who's into Liverpool Football Club, into his cooking, his music is very summery, and he's basically a great guy - a stand-up values-led dude! And all that is true. But he had been going through some shit over the lockdown, and he wanted to show people that there is a darker side to him and his music.

Hate is a dark song - talking occasionally about what he loves, but mainly talking about what he hates. And he says himself, he was in a dark place when he wrote it. So I think it's just him coming to terms with the fact that there is a darker side to his personality, that we all do get angry in different ways. It's kind of the perfect visual to reflect that hate in some ways.

He's also saying - he's trapped. The whole lyrics of the chorus is, they said it's all that you could be if you're a black playing ball or maybe rap. They said it's like a trap and we're trapped. So, yes, there's this whole part of this film which is about the internal workings of Ben himself. But there's another part which is literally to be taken as he's trapped in this car, he's trapped in this cycle.

I'm technically-minded and I have a lot of experience on set... I'm able to take what's in his head and bring it to the screen.

There is indeed a lot of rage in the video - including road rage...

GH: Actually the road rage element kind of evolved in our conversations about keeping people's attention through the video. He's driving in the car, but things need to happen. So we had this idea that we would create an antagonist through another driver; a kind of catalyst for his anger to bubble up and boil over. Practically, this driver would try and overtake him and he wouldn't let him, when he does, it leads to the anger spilling out.

I’d use that as  action cues I would give to Ben for his performance to gradually build and build, until the point he stops and then have to go out of the car and have this off-screen altercation. That was something that Ben was really keen on - that it happens off-camera. He wanted the camera to always be in the car. And then go into multiple versions of himself to show these many sides of his anger bubbling over...

That posed a directorial problem that needed to be solved. How do we keep the camera n the car, and make the move around to the back and back again? That's kind of our working relationship. I'm technically-minded and I've got a lot of experience in directing on sets with commercials. So I'm able to take what's in his head and then we bring it to the screen.

Above: Ben Coyle-Larner (aka Loyle Carner) on set of the Hate video shoot.  

So when it came to the problem-solving, what were the key things that you did to make it work?

GH: Technically, the way we had to shoot it was in four parts. The first minute and a half - or one minute 27 seconds, to be exact - is one unbroken take of the camera handheld in the passenger seat.

That's followed by the motion control section, which required ten layers of takes; from an empty car plate, to takes of Loyle in each seat. The third section is where it escalated out of control with the inner Loyles trying to take control of him; and the fourth is the exterior shot at the end of the video where you see the car swelling with Loyles as he fights to regain control. 

And we had to find a race track to make it happen. So Nosisa Majuqwana, who is our exec producer at Spindle, spent a week on the phone calling round every possible race track in the south of England to find something that would allow us to do what we wanted to do. And that really was to the wire.

Everyone had to perform that first minute and 27 seconds perfectly...

So talk us through that first shot...

GH: The first one minute 27 seconds is one unbroken take of the camera handheld in the passenger seat. So we have to time that out on the road from point A to point B, where the car stops.

That point A to point B, we needed to time all of the cars in the counter movement coming along the road, the stunt driver pulling alongside him multiple times and ultimately landing at this very specific point on the road. They have to perform that 1 minute 27 seconds perfectly, and then it hands off seamlessly.

We had to match this frame of inside the car's door to the next frame, which is the motion control camera. And in fact, the only way to do that was to reverse the order on the day: shoot the motion control first and then go back and shoot the first 1 minute 27 of performance...

So you actually started with the motion control section, presumably as that was the most complicated part...

GH: The motion control required about 10 layers in all, including an empty layer of the camera movement around the car, and then a layer of every single Ben within the car. Then we needed Ben leaving the car and getting back in the car, and so on. 

Then at the end of that camera move, I planned it so the camera would come past the seats on the way back so we could hide a transition on the final front passenger seat. You'll see it in the film that the front passenger seat is the wipe that takes you into the third verse.

It's worth saying that we had to cut half of the car away to be able to do that camera move. Not Ben's dad's car, I hasten to add! We actually had two cars - Ben Mealing, the producer, sourced a replica, a slightly newer version. So any Volkswagen Polo Mark 2 geeks out there will see that it's a slightly newer interior for the internal shots!

It was pretty much the worst motion control environment you could ever have.

How did it go from a technical point of view?

GH: On the day, we didn't have the budget to do what you would usually do in that situation, which would be to tent off and isolate that lighting, or control that lighting above the car. And it was pretty much the worst motion control environment you could ever have. We had sun, bright sunshine, we had rain, we had wind. It was crazy.

The last plate that we shot - when Ben gets out the car, has the altercation and then comes back - is so bright and so sunny, that most of the time in post was spent trying to bring that down. They were painting out every highlight in the car, painting out bits of sun and water on the floor. It was nuts, to be honest.

Then you moved to the third shot, when Loyle the driver is being manhandled from the 'Loyles' in the backseat...

GH: The 'cut' car was now on the low loader - so that Loyle could then perform freely. And to get that performance out of him, we had to do really key things.

It was his first performance video back after three years out. We knew we wanted him to go to a dark, heavy place, and for the film to a have a heaviness to it. So everybody was hidden away from the monitors or near us. It was a locked set with only the performers and the camera department, so Ben could really go deep and give that performance that he gave.

Above: Greg Hackett (left) and Ben Coyle-Larner during the greenscreen element of the shoot 

He is being manhandled throughout, by the other Loyles...

GH: That was amazing. We used dancers as the other performers, because we wanted that kind of movement to manhandle Ben from the front into the back of the car. There had to be drama there, and for drama, there needs to be resistance and conflict. It needed that resistance from the guys in the back, to be some real fight in it. 

One of the guys gave it so much he virtually punched Ben in the face as he's driving. Essentially, it just makes the whole thing feel so real and so dark.

There were twelve extras all wearing the same clothes as Ben... in that car.

Things change at the end again, with the final shot - the only exterior shot of the car, with lots more Loyles all packed inside...

GH: On the one hand, it's the kind of classic shot of driving off into the sunset. But again, we're also ending with Loyle losing total control - and we're not sure whether everything is actually going to be okay. Essentially that tussle for control within Ben's own brain is playing out on screen. 

From a practical perspective I think there were twelve extras all wearing the same clothes as Ben, being driven in that car by the stunt driver. The truth is, we nearly didn't actually get that whole section because we were overrunning so badly after doing the motion control section - we were about two and a half hours behind.

The light was fading fast, and from a VFX point of view, we used sky replacement where we could. We also swapped Ben's face onto the extras, in specific places. When we go from section three to section four as the camera comes out of the car for the first time, the extra leans over and grab the wheel and you can see that we put Ben's face onto his face, and you can see that some other faces in the back of the car are also Ben.

Ultimately within this highly technical shoot, Ben has given an award-winning performance. How did that happen?

GH: As Hate came in as the first single, it was only natural for us to work together. And he knew that he wanted a performance based video and he trusted me. There's a level of trust there - which goes both ways - and which allows the actor or the artist be vulnerable enough to get that level of performance. 

The truth is that without Ben's performance that film wouldn't be as good. No way. But ultimately, it was having time to develop the director and artist relationship, to build that rapport and develop the idea in a more meaningful way that was so important. 

Who were the other important people who helped you make the video?

GH:  Todd Martin, who's the director of photography on it, played a huge role in this. And it really was the three of us, as a truly collaborative little unit of creators, essentially pulling this together from the very technical aspects of what the film required.

Todd is American, he lives in New York, but he's a massive Loyle fan. And I'd worked with Todd on some really sensitive documentary films four years ago. So I knew that he would have the set discipline and the attitude and the sensitivities around Ben to allow Ben to be vulnerable. Little things like all staying together the night before the shoot in a B & B. And it just being easy. Todd also came to the rehearsals on the previous Saturday. So we're building that rapport with the people that are going to be on set. And of course Nosisa, Ben, Stitch and the production team, who were incredible. 

Above: Greg Hackett and Ben Coyle-Larner celebrating the Best Performance win at this year's UKMVAs in October.

You've also done a number of visualisers for the album too...

GH: Owning your own production company helps, right? You can turn around kind of small budget stuff, but with a lot of love and a lot of passion, and things look great. So with these, there were five very simple ideas. I think four of them he had ideas for himself.

What's so fun about those visualizers is that they're not music videos. A music video works best when the music scoring the visuals in a way so it's like a scene out of a movie and you're using that track to bring the scene to life, whereas these were the opposite. You don't actually want your brain to engage with them in the same way as a music video.

But there has to be enough visual interest that there's at least something going on. So actually, it's about the small details. It's about that in HGU, the orange peel or the manager keep texting him and turning his phone over, while he's playing chess with his Dad. These tiny little details that I love putting into my films anyway.

The same with Homerton. He's outside the Homerton hospital where his child was born. And we don't know why he's waiting or who he's waiting for, but he's waiting for somebody. And even though you don't see his kid, his kid is on the back seat.

• Watch Greg Hackett at Spindle here; and The Coyle-Larner Brothers here

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