Lope Serrano of CANADA on Dua Lipa's 'Love Again' - "I tried find a way to escape from clichés."
Promonews - 16th Sept 2021
What went into making the surreal rodeo dream for Dua Lipa's Love Again? David Knight went to the horse's mouth, CANADA's Lope Serrano, for the full story. BTS photography by Sophie Williams.
Having directed a blockbuster video for Physical, the first big single from her hit album Future Nostalgia, Lope Serrano - one half of the celebrated CANADA directing duo - reunited with Dua Lipa during the depths of lockdown for one of the last songs from the record to get a video: Love Again.
Here the sophisticated pop aesthetic established on Physical is pared back, and given a cowboy rodeo theme - but something wonderfully magical happens too. Serrano creates a remarkable world with the Love Again video, riffing on his Western theme, bursting with surprising, irreverent surrealism - featuring mechanical bulls, invisible horses, giant eggs... and an iconic Dua Lipa performance.
It's a signature CANADA work, and we thought it was high time to find out from Lope Serrano how it all happened. And ask the big question... what does it all mean?
What was the starting point of the creative process for the Love Again video? Did you have a brief for the track that suggested the cowboy/rodeo theme?
Yes - Dua called us asking for a new collaboration after Physical. Her only brief was that somehow she pictured herself on top of a mechanical bull, that Love Again was her favourite single, and that the song was about a sort of personal resurgence, not necessarily or just in a romantic sphere.
From that visual kick-off - which I personally like - I tried to find a way to escape from literality and clichés. A new rhyme for the old words, let's say.
That's basically the core of our creative task: to extend and distort, explore and project, and complete the hints and non-visual insight of the artist in a personal way.
I was trying to gather the real elements of the rodeo world... and combine them in an unexpected way.
If you have the money and the time, you have the proper elements to go deep into the real world of rodeos, bulls, and cowboys. In that case, you don't need this kind of irony or conceptual humour to complete the invitation.
I'd be more than happy to shot a film like The Misfits, you know. With all the respect for the real people who own this world. But with music videos, tight budgets, and time and medium's obvious restrictions... well, it's more effective to work in the world of altered symbols and visual arousal.
This might sound random, post-modern, or meaningless, like a drunk joke - but it's not. It's a game, but with rules. These rules are more or less obvious. But we love to play with a pattern of an invisible grid of rules, so each weird piece of the board makes sense when you read the regulations. And then a Horse and a Tower and a Queen can live together with no stridency.
I can feel a romantic tension in the song... I needed to communicate this tension.
How did you come up with the individual ideas for the video? Was the idea of the cowboy-clowns the jumping-off point for everything else?
There are two main creative strategies in the making of the writing of the video I think. First of all was, as I said, trying to gather the real and predictable elements of the rodeo world - the cowboy hat, the bull, the horse, the rodeo clowns, the lasso, the line dance - and try to combine them in an unexpected, free and non-conceptual way. So, for instance, I try to find new meanings to these traditional elements and see how things can evolve just as a pleasant visual experience.
To make this strategy work, you need to be delicate and subtle in the irreverence: eliminate the horse or the bull completely. Making them disappear was a good way to make things less emphatic and literal. It has been done many times - we did it, for instance, in Stay Awhile for She and Him. So although the idea was still valid, it could not be central to the music video.
Another example: I took the make-up element from the rodeo clowns to go for painting strains, as abstract painting, and this allowed me to work with classical paintings as a valuable resource to connect shots.
There are plenty of visual motifs that you can effortlessly take from classical painting, like horses, and romantic raptures, and hugs, and gorgeous portraits and hyperdynamic group compositions - and then you can cut clean and smart from these extremely beautiful pictures to Dua's hug dance; to the choreography of the group; to Dua's in the horse/bull or a portrait of her. Finding an apparently alien motif that fits well both conceptually and visually with the rest of the stuff makes me so happy in the editing room….!
I've learned to work with Dua... she's straightforward, smart, polite, respectful.
And finally, all the egg thing... Well, to be honest, I was looking for an unexpected rhyme to the lasso routine. I thought in the same wrist movement when you are beating eggs trying to make an omelette. I found funny and beautiful the mundane idea of seeing Dua doing an omelette, something you should not expect from a Pop Star. Then, once the egg was invited to the party, I looked for different ways for it to be comfortable at the feast.
There was also an intention to illustrate the romantic message of the song. The idea of an unexpected Love that appears again, something so pure and intense that seems to be only possible once in a lifetime, like these delicate flowers or animals that are just designed to blossom and intercourse just once and then they die. Still, no, it's here again and it's good. And bad, we all know that.
Anyway, there's a romantic tension in the song - or at least I can feel it. So I needed to communicate this tension, this capture, this tense connection between the humans and their recovered feelings. In this sense, capturing a wild horse was a good metaphor for the idea of Love, not being totally clear who is the feeling and who is the person in the relationship between the cowboys, the ropes, and the horse.
Being in one location... brings a sort of strange cohesiveness to everything.
And the egg, of course, because the image of a powerful floating egg being captured, tensioning its delicacy, has a strong effect - something between the adoration of the female reproduction's myth and the weakness of male human violence, always below the truly powerful forces of creation.
But I have to confess that this second conceptual approach didn't come at the very beginning; it's not in the treatment. I don't like to go as deep into symbols or conceptual lectures at the start of the trip. This kind of personal digressions become more apparent once you've started the game.
Is there an internal logic (or story) within the video that the viewer has to figure out for themselves?
Well, not an internal logic in the sense that there's a story, or that everything is symbolic and has the meaning of a secret story. As I said, there was the intention of playing new music with the same notes, a sort of restrictive exercise of distortion and irreverence. I said restrictive because we tried to combine all the elements we have in different declinations (hats and horses and coloured eggs and chickens and make-up brushes and paint stains and classical paintings and group choreographies and the invisibility of feelings) and not expanding beyond our location.
We were in quarantine for a week in the hotel where we shot.
I'd like the idea of just being in one location; actually, this brings a sort of strange cohesiveness to everything, as if the characters were more real and belong to the place. I'd love to have the opportunity of explaining a story more conventionally through the boundaries of a music video, but this was not the ideal occasion for it.
What did you learn from making that previous video with Dua Lipa for Physical? Did that influence your treatment, and is there a connection between that video and this one?
I've learned to work with Dua, basically. She's straightforward and smart and polite and respectful, although she's surrounded by the heavy structure of a Pop Star condition. Sometimes you would like to have just more time with her to work together and decide together and be creative together. But time is really, really, really expensive.
And regarding the connection to Physical, not really. The budget was significantly smaller, as well as the window of action, so I was thinking from the very beginning into something lighter in terms of size and less dance-oriented.
Dua's brief was that she pictured herself on a mechanical bull - and that Love Again was her favourite single.
You shot in London, and the Grosvenor House Hotel. What were the benefits of shooting in that space?
When you are a foreigner, you tend to be more sensitive to what the locals have got used to. It's universal that we all see in the neighbour's walls what the neighbour does not notice anymore. In this sense, I have to admit my enthusiastic excitement towards any detail of the architecture of the Big Dancing Hall. It's just that it looks so average to you, but for me, everything was beautiful and stimulating: the pattern of the carpet, the wood on the walls, the light design, the conception of the space, the amplitude of the stairs... even the smell of the whole place were inspiring.
And the dressing room! It's just that I am not used to this, but I appreciate it a lot, so when you got it, you are like a kid in a pastry shop. It was definitely a great decision to shoot there.
How did the pandemic and Covid restrictions impact upon the making of the video?
We were in quarantine for a week in the hotel where we shot. That was really good, because there was time for work in the location. I remember these days with a strange mix of sadness for the reclusion and the excitement of being in the best place to be confined - a cosy and charming classic hotel. It felt like a pleasant punishment.
How did Dua Lipa enjoy riding the mechanical bull?
She enjoyed it, but it was not a crazy, wild experience. Everything was very safe and controlled.
Did you really have a horse running through the Hotel?
Oh yes. This guy Steve Dent was a great collaborator. He was positive and attentive all the time. The horse was there, dressed with lights and in a green suit.
There's a lovely shot in the end credits of the Directors Cut of the horse in a green suit. Was green screen enough to make the horse disappear, or did you need more VFX work?
The guys from Eighty4, also in charge of the VFX of Physical, did a great job again. They recreated in 3D all the elements that the horse was naturally hiding. For example, the extension of the body of the stunt jockey - the leg that it's on the other side of the green horse. And they created and animated the hat in 3D for the opening scene too.
[We're] playing new music with the same notes... a restrictive exercise of distortion and irreverence.
What were the trickiest shots to achieve in post in the video?
The capture of the invisible horse - because it was not clear enough that was a horse when we made the horse disappear. We worked again and again with the tension and the anchor point of the ropes attached to the horse's neck, and we worked a little bit on the natural shadow of the horse cast over the floor as well.
What are the main differences between the first version of the video that was released, and the Director's Cut?
In the DC there's the initial dialogue following the lyrics of the song - maybe my favourite part! - the edit connections through the classical paintings. There's also less dance, and more shots of the clown cowboys, with a final sequence in the edit with new shots, like the chicken on the TV set, or Dua riding the lighting horse. And the final credits, with the green suit horse, of course!
DUA LIPA 'LOVE AGAIN' (THE DIRECTOR'S CUT)
Artist: Dua Lipa
Production Company: CANADA
Director: Lope Serrano aka CANADA
Producer: MrMr, Karen Saurí
Executive Producer: Marta Bobić
Executive Producer: Nicolás Martínez De La Fuente, Eighty4
Cinematographer: Tim Lorentzén
1st AD: Tristan Hefele
Production Manager: Ella Knight
Production Design Studio: Augmenta
Stylist – Dua Lipa: Lorenzo Posocco
Costume Designer: Taff Williamson
Hair Stylist – Dua Lipa: Luke Hersheson
Makeup Artist – Dua Lipa: Lisa Eldrige
Makeup Artist: Dorita Nissen
Hair Artist: Simon Izzard
Choreographer: Charm La’Donna
Editor: Carlos Font Clos
Post Production: Eighty4
Post Production Coordinator: Marina M. Campomanes, Javier Botella
Grading: Marc Morató @Metropolitana
Graphic Design: Koln Studio
Sound Design: IXYXI
Commissioner: Katie Dolan
Production Coordinator: Sophie Williams, Noot Coates
• More work by Lope Serrano at CANADA here. Thanks to Pablo F. Chocrón for his help with this article.
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Promonews - 16th Sept 2021