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Hector Dockrill on When It Rains - "It's based on the current climate of everything that's going on."

Hector Dockrill on When It Rains - "It's based on the current climate of everything that's going on."

David Knight - 5th Dec 2022

Last winter Hector Dockrill had a call from Chase & Status, via their creative directing tream Crowns & Owls, to come up with an idea for one of the tracks of the producer duo's new album What Came Before. The upshot was the video for When It Rains, where a young man's singleminded attempts to find a cigarette, while the shadow of criminal retribution hangs over him, grips the viewer with its gritty, real-time intensity and unfolding narrative of mounting disaster.

Jack McMullen, one of the UK's leading young actors, is mesmerizing as the flawed everyman who's nicotine addiction provides a distraction from his other troubles. He is the continued focus of a white knuckle ride through a grim urban landscape, evading his enemies as he pursues that one last ciggie...   

It is also arguably the best example yet of Hector Dockrill's talents as a narrative director within the music video medium. These have been evident for a number of years now, in the Pulse Films director's work for Maverick Sabre, Jorja Smith, Sam Fender and others. But the approach for When It Rains suggests at a wider ambition, and now the video has become an extended short film.

With the video garnering award nominations this year - including for Best Editing at the UKMVAs in October - and short film currently on the festival circuit, we talked to Hector Dockrill about the project and the process of turning the music video into a pulsating short drama.

PROMONEWS: How did the project begin for you? And at what point did Jack McMullen come into it?

HECTOR DOCKRILL: Crowns and Owls (creative directors on the Chase & Status campaign) gave us a brief, asking for a character profile - a character study that focussing on the kind of ways that people are currently expressing themselves.

I'm a friend of Jack’s, and I bought him to the project, right at the beginning. I then replied saying ‘look, I've got an amazing actor here – who is down for the Chase and Status video.’

I sent them 13 top lines of sentences of different characters in different situations where something inside their head is just kind of broken. I said: ‘Here's a bunch of top lines and I think this will work for Jack.’

So they then picked out this one about a guy who is basically just on a hunt for a cigarette. It's something so simple that it's a man that basically will stop for nothing to get that nicotine hit.

Quite a lot of stuff came from experimenting on the day.

As the songtitle suggests the saying “when it rains, it pours”, was that a factor when you wrote the whole story about this character?

In fact, When It Rains wasn't really in mind until right at the end, when it was like ‘hold on, what if I just rains on a cigarette?’ And then it all fell into place.

When it came to the original script, it was just like a one-pager, where there was almost zero feedback. They kind of let me run wild with it.

It just so happens that my idea was about a guy who just gets himself in deeper and deeper trouble. One bad decision can lead into another. Uncut Gems was a good reference for that.

In short, the whole idea was based on the current climate of everything that's going on – something has clicked in his head on that day, and he was just going to stop at nothing until he got that cigarette. There doesn’t have to be anything too profound about it.

I think the fact that Jack was tied to the project before it was signed off is probably why they gave us so much trust. And then the scripting evolved out of that. Jack also had some say in it. I would send him voice notes over WhatsApp about the idea and he would come back with ideas and kind of how he sees it.

But if I’m honest, a lot of it was just hashing it out on the day. Yeah, there was quite a lot of stuff which came from experimenting on the day.

We shot everything on a long lens that felt observational while giving Jack the space to improvise.

There's sort of suggestions in the piece like the beginning where you've got like a sort of funeral booklet. Is there a backstory there?

Yeah, with the pamphlet in the beginning I wanted to lead you back to the idea that the world is against him – even to the point where his dad has passed away. There is no love in this world and it’s quite brutal and cold. That’s kind of what we were trying to lead to with that.

Tell us about the shoot day. It really does capture that sort of real time experience, and clearly it wasn't that. But when were you shooting it?

To be honest, it was that! We shot in a single day - a short day as well, because it was winter. We knew that we had limited time. We had from eight in the morning, maybe even nine, till about four in the afternoon. And in order to fit it into this day, we needed to have all the locations next to each other.

The whole idea was that we had to shoot the story in order. So the flat was there, the stairs were there, the shop was there. He then jogged down to the cash converters, went through the back of the Cash Converters and that alleyway was at the back. The floor plan and shooting plan was an absolute miracle.

Above: Hector Dockrill, director of When It Rains. "We were basically just turning over non-stop."

Where did you shoot the video?

In New Addington, near Croydon, which my producer Joseph [J Goldman] found. We needed a high street, where we could shoot for the whole day, and it was ideal. We blocked it out so we knew there would be six scenes, and we had about an hour in each. Just shoot and get as much as we could.

We also needed to shoot everything on one lens. The idea was to shoot on a long lens that felt very observational while giving Jack the space to improvise.

Jack's professionalism and talent is what allowed us to do that. In the nine-hour shooting day, we probably had three hours of rushes. We were basically just turning over non-stop. And I wanted every single scene to hit the ground running. As soon as we got into a location we just started rolling.

The camerawork is as fluid as the action, but if you were shooting on a long lens did you use a Steadicam?

It was just straight handheld. Great work by Pat Golan. He is an incredible DoP, and really rolled his sleeves up. He just got stuck in and wasn't fussy about lighting or particular in his angles. He's got an incredible eye for story.

There is no love in this world, it’s quite brutal and cold.

The scene in the Cash Converters is the big one. There’s a great encounter between Jack and the girl behind the counter – she’s really good.

That’s Shakira Newton. Shakira is incredible. She was actually cast to be in another of the Chase & Status videos, but we ended up shooting this first, and they suggested that we use her.

When did it become a short film as well as a music video? Was it just the obvious thing after you shot it? Or did you have that in mind already?

If you want the honest answer… there was always an intention to make a short film out of it. I wrote a short film, with the intention of cutting a 12-minute short. But then there was that moment in the edit when I was like ‘okay, now we've got to present this to the label.’

Luckily the commissioner, James Hackett - the legend – said: ‘This is amazing. This needs to stay.’ So in fact, the music video is actually a cut-down of the short film.

Who else played a role in making it happen?

Nena Nwakodo is an amazing EP who, again, has an incredible taste in story. And she helped develop the script. And obviously Joseph Goldman, my producer. Nothing was a no. We made 50K stretch that far. And we had a wicked AD, Joe Mulvihill, who also managed to fit a two-day shoot into eight hours.

Elena Isolini, our production designer, was unbelievable. She created these mini-worlds, and with everything 360 that gave Jack that space to kind of immerse himself into it. And our editor, Rich Woolway, is also a great storyteller.

Then there’s Lee Walpole at Boom Post – he’s an amazing sound mixer, top guy and he just did us a favour and did the sound on it. I also did my Post Malone documentary with him. I sent him the edit and he just said: ‘I want to do this with you, this is wicked.’

In the short film, scenes just have time to breathe and invite you into the world.

How does the short film differ from the video? 

You feel it in a different way; it’s all the quiet muttering, the swearing to himself, the candid little details that make him, him, where you really feel his frustration. It’s hilarious.

It’s also nearly twice the length, so the scenes just have time to breathe and invite you into the world and hearing conversations is what takes this from a fun music video to a story, in fact, human that you’re invested in.

What are you hoping for the short film? 

For people to watch right until the last frame. That’s where the gag is!

What have you worked on recently?

Shooting-wise - mainly commercials. We’ve just finished one that we’re extremely proud of - you’ll it see very soon. But in terms of writing, I’m in development on my debut feature. It’s a slow process, of course. But the craft cannot be rushed.

Jack and I are also keen to make another short which will be set in Ireland. So we’ll be exploring that while the feature incubates. 

• Hector Dockrill is represented by Pulse Films. Watch more of his work here.

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