Louis Bhose on remaking Club Tropicana with Lewis Capaldi: "Doing a faithful recreation was the best gag."
David Knight - 13th Dec 2022
How do you copy a classic 40 year old music video shot-for-shot? As the director explains, you have to go back to where they made the original, even if it's at a crazy time of year. On-set photography by Scarlett Barclay.
As Louis Bhose (above, right) said on Promonews when it was released in September, recreating an iconic Wham! video from 1983, and having Lewis Capaldi (left) playing a young George Michael, was not on people's bingo cards as a video for Forget Me, Capaldi's long-awaited returning single.
But they did it. And not just a nod or homage to the original. This is, as near as its possible to be, a shot-for-shot copy of the video for Club Tropicana. But where George Michael or Andrew Ridgeley of Wham! are in shot, you have Lewis: in trunks by the pool drinking cocktails, being splashed in the pool; driving in a jeep around the island; on the beach; and in his airline crew outfit...
For those unfamiliar with the original Club Tropicana video, which was directed by the late Duncan Gibbons, just to recap: George and Andrew are airline pilots, on a few days leave in Ibiza, who constantly run into Dee C. Lee and Shirlie Holliman - the backing singers in Wham! - who are air stewardesses on the same crew, with whom they have a interesting 'will they, won't they' romantic tension. But that's really a sidenote to the important, iconic stuff - the boys looking very hot indeed; and a young George Michael, in his trunks by the pool, cocktail in hand, in his trunks by the pool, cocktail in hand, performing this early 80s pop classic.
Bhose has worked with Lewis Capaldi before, directing the video for Grace from the debut album, Divinely Uninspired to a Hellish Extent, which propelled him to superstar status. And that video itself had a surprisingly leftfield comic premise, with Lewis playing a performer in a Glaswegian poledancing club.
We wanted to find out how this new one happened. So we talked to Louis, who spilled the beans on the whole story - and also provided us with the marvellous side-by-side of both videos, that shows exactly how close he came to matching the original.
It's an object lesson in how to make a counterfeit of a music video masterpiece...
Just listening to Forget Me and watching George Michael on my phone, I was thinking 'this is going to be brilliant'.
PROMONEWS: There cannot be much of Lewis's fanbase that are familiar with the original Club Tropicana video. So the first question has to be - why?
LOUIS BHOSE: I think that's the most interesting thing. For a contemporary artist it does feel wilfully niche. We're all pretty aware that something like 95% of his viewers are under 30, who will have no idea about the original video. And then to allow a 40 second intro, when people can be so concerned about having any intro at all - I've been asked to cut three seconds before now...
So I think the label [originally] had some video ideas bouncing around which were more serious. But Lewis is so good in comic form. It's just that he needs to really buy into a concept in order to go there - and I was lucky enough to do that with him before, with Grace. It just needs to be pretty watertight with him.
Above: Lewis Capaldi and crew on the Forget Me shoot
And then Clive [Cawley], the MD at EMI, said something along the lines of: 'We should do a janky version of Club Tropicana. I could talk to George Michael's management, and we could do something fun with this.' Then the commissioner Caroline Clayton just gave me a call, saying: 'We're exploring this possibility. Do you mind working it up into a little treatment?'.
And very quickly I thought that we needed to go shot-for-shot. The best gag is if we go absolutely faithful re-creation. To be honest, this is something that I've wanted to do for a while - and here was the opportunity. So the first thing I did to see if it works is I took Lewis's song, played it on my computer, and then had the Club Tropicana video playing on my phone. And within twenty seconds I was thinking 'this is incredible'. It's going to be the best thing I've ever done. Just listening to Forget Me and watching George Michael on my phone, I was thinking - it's going to be brilliant.
So I did a treatment where I talked about all the kind of the boring stuff that I feel probably was more for me than anyone else. But at the top of the treatment, I just cut together the song and the Club Tropicana video – about a minute and a half of it – and I suspect that people saw that and said: 'yes, let's do this'.
Most importantly, Lewis was really on board with doing it shot-for-shot.
What did Lewis think about it?
He was on board. But most importantly, Lewis was really on board with doing it shot-for-shot. I think it really needed him to be down, to go as faithfully as possible. And to give him his creative dues, he was probably as instrumental as me in going that route.
When you’re getting involved in a project as a video director you usually don’t how people are feeling, and you want to give them options, so I was saying we could do a basic homage or a shot-for-shot. But Lewis was dogmatic about it. He said - no, we don't need any of these other options. I will do it, I'll do the costume, I'll do exactly the same as the original. If George does it, or Andrew does it, then I'll do it.
Above: Louis during pre-production for the shoot, on a beach in Ibiza. Look, he's "working"...
So that's why we have Lewis, who has sold many millions of records, swimming lengths underwater, while forty-odd people try and get the angle right from a video that was made 40 years ago. And we're saying: 'you've been in the water a while, you can go relax for twenty minutes' and he's saying: 'no, no - if George does it, then I do it.'
So that is a bit of a long answer as to why. But essentially... why not?
You have done a remarkable job in replicating the original. Can you talk a bit about that process? Did you know from that point where you were writing on it that you could, for instance, go back to the same place to shoot it? That’s what you did, right?
That's what we did. And I already knew the hotel where they shot the original. When I was a musician who worked for bands, the bands would do this thing called Ibiza Rocks in Ibiza. You get invited, you get to stay in this hotel called Pikes. And the second you walk in the door, they're very keen and proud to tell you that that's where Club Tropicana was shot. So I had already bounced around that pool pretending I was George Michael, and had a bit of a laugh, like ten years previously.
But straight off the bat I thought: 'how on earth are we going to shoot this in August, in one of the best hotels in Ibiza? It's an impossibility'. So we had a couple of backup options, where essentially we were going to build Pikes, or at least a few ecent chunks of it, in Bulgaria or augment locations in Majorca - our service company Palma Pictures, who did a brilliant job, are based in Majorca.
The further you dig into the detail the harder you work to get it exactly the same.
But we wanted to shoot it in Ibiza. It was very tricky to do - everyone said you're crazy to shoot in Ibiza in August, and I discovered why, getting heatstroke - but huge credit to our producer Scarlett [Barclay] and Agile [Films], and Caz [Clayton] and EMI because they realised that if we did go to the original place that wouldn't quite get the same elsewhere.
Obviously the Ibiza of now is virtually unrecognisable than as it was 40 years ago. And we had location scouts out like a week before we even arrived on the island. Finding the exact beach, finding roads that are similar, 40 years later. Stuff like the airport was really tricky. So very grateful we shot in Ibiza - but yeah, it was tricky...
Above: Louis (left) and DoP Spike Morris practice shooting angles at the pool at Pikes
Clearly you spend a few days there and to craft it in a way that would only be possible with lots of preparation?
I was there for a week, eight days, before. That was really good because it meant we went back and looked at locations again, and I made this kind of bible document for the shoot – its about 94 pages - of every shot, and every location, and it was about as clear as it could be.
It's one of those things where, with an idea like that, the further you dig into the detail the harder you work to get it exactly the same. For example a fleeting shot of airplanes flying overhead - in order to get the shot we needed for the wind to be blowing in a certain way, so the planes were taking off and landing in a certain direction - and they weren't for the whole week, until the day before the shoot. So i have a photo of Spike, our DoP, on the van trying to get this shot before the planes go back to how they were before.
It's all the little things that hardly anyone will notice, that the art department spend ages trying to find. There’s one example - in the background of one of the bartender shots, there's like a little rag on a branch. That's in the original. I hadn't even noticed it until Bon [Walsh] our production designer pointed it out on our monitor and it made my day. Loved it.
It's eerie when you line up the shot, and realise this is exactly where they must have stood within a couple of feet.
What was more difficult to deal with - the number of tourists or the extreme heat, or both?
Mainly the tourists. The heat too, but mainly tourists, because the population of the island swells and booking hotel rooms becomes pretty crazy. People are there to party. So you arrive at a hotel, you're stressed, you have to look over locations, casting, props - and there's British tourists passed out in the lobby, absolutely hammered.
But the crew were incredibly good at managing to lock down locations. Because essentially what we're really concerned about was while we were filming this, if one person snaps a photo of Lewis in those trunks in Ibiza, then the secret is out. You lose all the fun of dropping it cold.
So we were very careful. We were working under a different name, as obviously many productions do now. Everyone was NDA’d up to their eyeballs. Obviously the song was very sensitive because it was first single. But if you do get that surprise element with his fans, how great would that be? In fact, it was slightly scuppered by a major event that happened - the death of the Queen.
Above: On-set monitor with side-by-side of the camera shot and the original video (right)
Obviously you’re referencing the original video while you’re shooting the new one, and matching things up…
Yes, I broke the original video down into individual shots and then I made gifs out of those shots so they would loop. So we would be on set, just looking at this looping gif for like 20 minutes, really trying to finesse stuff.
When you're doubling a location, like for example when he's stood by the Jeep, we're trying to match the skylines, and then we find a house in the corner, so you get that in. We had our video playback guy on it, who's giving us fifty fifty between the original video and our live picture.
It's really just trying to finesse everything and showing the cast the action and trying to get that feeling as smooth and as natural as possible. And a big part of that was also the inimitable Supple Nam, who's our choreographer on it.
During the recce we realised: they must have just been running around, fast and loose.
And we had two girls playing the parts of Pepsi and Shirley from the original - Emily and Georgia, who we cast in London. It was Emily's first job out of drama school. And credit to them, they worked really hard to get it absolutely bang on the original.
Isn’t it true that that there are actually different versions of the original Club Tropicana? I remember seeing one a few years ago which is almost like a short film.
When we were ripping the video, not surprisingly I wanted to get the highest quality version. I was looking all over the Internet and online I found something like four different versions of the video. I don't remember a short film though!
It was directed by Duncan Gibbons, who went on to direct a couple of feature films, but sadly died in a house fire in California in the early Nineties, unfortunately. What was really interesting was when we're looking at the credits, there weren't that many of them. Didn't look like it was a very big crew.
Above: Louis and Lewis relaxing by the pool - and in the pool...
What was really interesting was trying to match frames. So we would go on reccies to the locations that they used and try to figure out the angles of the shot that made sense, we would climb up on things to get the shot, and we would always end up with having the tripod at shoulder height, where it was comfortable to operate. It was always in the place that made most sense.
So when we went through the recce process, we realised that they must have just been running around. Just popped the camera down and shot something really freely. And that's the sense of the video - it feels so light and fun and loose.
When Lewis does put himself in front of the camera for music vid, he's 100% game.
There were times when we were at a location and Spike the DP would literally just swing around on the tripod and that would be the frame exactly. It was a really fun process to recreate Duncan Gibbons and the crew's footsteps forty years later.
I also found it really eerie, because when you line up the shot you realise this is exactly where they must have stood, within a couple of feet. The hairs on the back of my neck stood up just thinking about that I'm retreading in a director's footsteps, 40 years later, creating this homage to one of the great '80s music videos.
You've done a remarkable job. And Lewis is very good in it – as he usually is in his videos…
Yes, Lewis doesn't put himself in front of the camera unless he knows it's going to work.
I don't think it's a big secret that he doesn't really like making music videos - as he has said so publicly. I think he finds it a bit boring. I totally understand that musicians don't harbour lifelong dreams of lipsyncing in front of a camera for two days. But I think that when he does put himself in front of the camera for music vid, he's 100% game. I have a lot of respect for that.
Above: filming Lewis copying George Michael's iconic poolside pose; Spike Morris in foreground, Louis behind Lewis.
We had to move really quickly. We had a lot to shoot in two days - 84 shots - and he loved the speed of it. That was the least boring way of doing it, essentially. I think that's why we got a good performance out of him, because he was moving quick and he was engaged and he knew he knew where he was going with it.
And he's a funny guy. Super-smart and funny. He takes direction well. I do really enjoy working with him. But you also have to be sensitive to where an artist is, in themselves. In the lead-up to the shoot, Lewis was talking about having issues with his mental health recently. It was before he went public about his Tourettes diagnosis.
I think it's been a tricky two years for him. So I have real gratitude towards Lewis for really turning up and turning it on. And he could easily have not, considering what he's been going through. So I came away feeling very grateful to him to allow us to have so much fun!
When you look at the side by side, you have done it shot-for-shot - well, nearly. There's very little change in the not only of the shots the same, but the edit is also fairly consistent. Where and why did you change things?
The edit we did massage in a couple of places a little bit. I wanted it to be kind of intriguing for the viewers that didn't know the original video. I didn't want it to be frustrating, for cuts to be off and for new set-ups to arrive halfway through a verse it could end up feeling wilfully obtuse. I don't want someone to watch this and be like, what the f*ck is going on?
So just by massaging a little bit, it just meant that stuff landed on the start of new sections. But for the most part we tried to stay as close to the original as possible - and amusing on its own.
Above: Louis Bhose has also put together this video - with side-by-sides of both, so you can see how close Forget Me is to Club Tropicana...
You must be pleased with the reaction. And any reaction from those who were involved in the original?
Yes! So Shirlie Kemp [née Holliman] posted it on Twitter and said some nice stuff. Andrew Ridgeley was very nice about it too.
I think early doors I was a bit worried about copyright issues, that someone was going to twig and say 'hold on, you can't do this!'. And credit where credit's due, it seems that everyone was really happy about it, and cool about it. I guess it's so clearly a love letter to the original, albeit done in an amusing way, and juxtaposing Wham!'s world with Lewis's world.
But before it was released we were very careful about security, of course. Then a few days before it came out I get a call from the label saying 'we need a NON-password protected link straight away.' So obviously we wanted to know why, as we were being so careful. And we were told - 'Elton has heard about the video and wants to see it.' So I ripped that password off Vimeo in about 10 seconds.
• Louis Bhose is based at Agile Films and represented for music videos by OB Management. More of his work here.
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