Josh Sondock on Nick Leng's Morning/Midnight: "Some of the stuff we did looks fake - but it's all real."
Promonews - 6th May 2022
Josh Sondock's first project through London production studio KODE is an astute reflection on the image-making process itself. We talked to him about how he made his ingenious version of a one-take video for Nick Leng.
There is something particularly satisfying about watching Josh Sondock's video for Nick Leng's Morning/Midnight - a video that consists of different layers, which works on almost as many levels within the film itself. It's one of those rare beasts that verges on the magical.
First of all this is a terrific showcase for the relatively unknown South African-born singer-songwriter. Leng demonstrates a charisma and charm that persists, even as our view of him alters slightly, every few seconds. The second element is that repeatedly changing perspective - and also the revelation, fairly early on, that the image of Leng we are seeing is an image within the wider frame of the video - but that again is revealed to live within the video, as a mediated version of Leng.
So the video has an intriguing meta-fictional device - but it also keeps the viewer guessing as to where that device is heading. And then things do happen in the choreographed journey through Leng's performance of the song, and through layers, to make you think: how did they do that? And ultimately, there is so much going on, you may not even spot that the video was apparently achieved in a single take.
Josh Sondock has described the video, both accurately and mysteriously, as "a one-take music video in which a musician makes a one-take music video, in which a musician makes a one-take music video, in which a musician makes a one-take music video, in which a musician makes a one-take music video, in which a musician makes a one-take music video."
But we wanted to find out more. How did he do achieve this feat? Why did he pursue this idea? And was it really a one-shot video?
So Josh spoke to us, from his home in New York, to explain more about his tour de force for Morning/Midnight...
It's a one take video - but it also follows the timeline of a day, from morning to night, of him getting more and more frustrated.
Promonews: It's a great concept. Is this something that had been lurking in the back of your brain for a while, or did it come out of the conversation with Nick Leng?
Josh Sondock: It's the real deal but originally the idea was a bit different. It was going to be in this large auditorium space and it was going to be a one take, but without all the layers. It was just going to be Nick, but both the camera movement and Nick's choreography was going to have to be so precise, that I realised that was going to be hard to pull off if Nick was a bad actor - which you sometimes don't find out as a director until they're on set.
And so I kind of was like: 'What's a different way that we can kind of evoke that same effect in a way that relies less on Nick and relies more on me'. I can trust myself to be able to execute a far more precise plan, if that doesn't rely on a performance that I can't guarantee.
I started to think through, and I've always loved Rian Johnson's Mountain Goats video for Woke Up New. I mean, the technique is stolen from that completely.
You stole the idea...?
I stole the idea. But I think that the Mountain Goats video was really a proof of concept. It's the visual trick [of moving through layers of screens], but in my view it was the first step. There were so many more cool things that could be done.
So how did you move the idea on from the Mountain Goats video?
Well, monitors and cameras are high quality enough now that we don't need to do any VFX comps, as Rian did. We can do everything practically. Technology has come to place where we could do it better and also we could do more tricks faster.
Rian Johnson took two days, and doesn't have all the tricks and all the storytelling that I think mine does. And we could do the same thing in one day.
After I did a 'pre-pre-vis' - with my girlfriend in the Nick role - I knew that the technique was right for the song. And also, that I was the kind of director - fairly fledgling; detail-oriented; trying to prove myself without exploding from self-doubt - that could pull it off.
After the concept was approved, I went back to the location and then filmed a pre-vis in the actual rooms!
Nick was exhausted by the end of it... which was always part of my plan.
Where did you shoot the video, and what did you have to do to prep for the shoot?
We shot it [in an apartment] in Crown Heights, Brooklyn. It had all sorts of issues - no plumbing, and no electricity when we found the location. It had been a home and the person who had lived there was a hoarder. And so I had to basically get 'Porta potties', get the electricity turned back on, get the carpets cleaned, get the house cleared.
Then I decided - I think maybe the day before the shoot - that at the end of every take... that we 'come out' of the video somehow - the camera realising something is wrong, so we keep coming to an end. We had pretty minimal lighting, but my DoP Andre Gavazzi - who's such a talented guy - organised the lighting so you could actually see Nick's face when he's up close.
And we also shot it from morning to midnight... that opens with him in the morning and it ends with him at night. So the actual process of the video is a one take video, but it actually follows the timeline of a day of him getting more and more frustrated with the video. It's just so funny, because he was so exhausted by the end of it. He just legitimately was, which was always part of my plan. I wanted to wear him out.
So it really is a one-shot, but that one-shot was created over the course of a day?
Yes, exactly. And every time we got a layer I had to be moving on. It was like: 'Okay. Take three, we're moving on with it. That's going to be on the monitor'. And we had to just buy it. And then take three was baked into take four, take four into take five, take five into take six...
There's one moment in the video that every time I watch it I'm like: 'That can't be correct' But it is. It's the last time we zoom out of the umbrella room and into the green room, where he's sitting with the lyrics on the wall. It just looks fake. We did it and I watched it back on set, out of the camera, and I did think: 'this looks fake'. But it's all real.
The very last take is the whole video played back in reverse, audio and video...
What about the reverse footage? You just played it out in reverse in those shots?
The very last take we got is the whole video played back in reverse, audio and video. And then what you're seeing when you watch the video is just that final clip flipped.
Then the whole crew literally watched the [finished] video at the end of the day. Everyone was like, 'this is so fucking cool'. Nick said it in one of the BTS clips: 'It's just a hit of dopamine.'
EQUIPMENT USED IN EACH 'LAYER' OF THE VIDEO
LAYER 0 - ARRI 416 [FILM] W. SD TAP
LAYER 1 - RED KOMODO 6K
LAYER 2 - ALEXA MINI W. ANGENIEUX 24-290MM
LAYER 3 - ALEXA MINI W. ANGENIEUX 24-290MM & CHRISTIE 35K LUMEN PROJECTOR
LAYER 4 & 5 - ALEXA MINI W. ANGENIEUX 24-290MM
What is the bigger theme going on here? Is it about the ubiquity of screens in our lives?
I get that. But I think less about our lives being dominated from screens though, and more about curating your image. [We are] continually trying to curate and then re-curate and re-curate our image, to just be cool.
For example, most of Nick's previous videos and Instagram content is in black and white. So I made that decision to make the most internal screen - or first screen - black and white, as if that's the version that he's curating.
We continually try to curate, and then re-curate, our own image.
So he's becoming more 'real' as it goes on?
Exactly. That's the whole thing about meta, right? When you do stuff that's meta is you comment on the thing, and then you comment on the thing, and then comment on the thing, and so on.
I was also inspired a lot by Bo Burnham: Inside. It's one of the best things I've seen in a long time, and it also plays on that similar thing of, I don't know, not to getting too 'in the weeds' of things...
I think it's interesting how people sometimes think that if you can name something, if you can be meta about something, then you're excused from that. If you're aware of one of your flaws, then you're excused for that flaw. And a lot of music videos have become that it's like, if you show the set, you're aware of it, and you can name that it's a music video, And so suddenly it makes it better. But I don't think it really does.
Being meta, in its own right is cool or whatever, but it's just a tool. It doesn't excuse the video from being good or bad, or telling a story or evoking something.
I guess the added bonus was that Nick Leng is also really good in it?
He's so good. I didn't have to really coach his choreography at all. He just nailed it.
• Josh Sondock is represented by KODE for music videos and commercials in the UK - see more of his work here. Contact Claire Stubbs at Mouthpiece for more details here.
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Promonews - 6th May 2022
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