Maxim Kelly on making Black Country, New Road's Concorde video: 'I tried to be more instinctive.'
Promonews - 3rd Feb 2022
We spoke to Maxim Kelly about his post-modern version of a classic adventure movie - featuring an alien ant - for experimental rock outfit Black Country, New Road, and discovered how it came from the band giving him creative freedom, and from cutting himself a bit of slack.
Kelly has become known for some beautifully crafted videos anchored in a strong visual concept - such as his video for Shame's Nigel Hitter, released a year ago. Since then, he's experienced big changes in his personal life, moving from London to Barcelona - and he's just become a father for the first time.
The track Concorde comes from Mercury-nominated London band Black Country, New Road's forthcoming second album Ants From Up There - hence the hero of Kelly's video, who is certainly an 'ant from up there'. And much like the band's music, it has a style all of its own.
This is a classic narrative that has been through the mixer of at least a couple of well-known movie genres, from war film to pre-blockbuster 'B-movie' sci-fi to post-war 'kitchen sink' drama and satire. It sees the heroic ant from another planet - or perhaps just from another country - held prisoner and sentenced to death in a retro-futuristic Orwellian Britain, under attack from an unknown enemy - represented at the start with vintage stock footage.
As Kelly tells us, he thought he had missed his chance to make Black Country, New Road's first 'proper video', and the process to finally make it happen required qualities of tenacity and decisiveness that did not appear to be in his armoury before now. The recent advent of fatherhood, it appears, has brought him new focus in his work.
He also provides us with insight into the creative process, sharing his storyboards, and the designs for the ant hero character by makeup prostethics designer Georgia Olive - as worn by actor Finbar Varrall (pictured above, with video commissioner John Moule, right).
Promonews: You mentioned (in our review of the video) that you were inspired by the band’s various musical influences. But what were your specific influences in making the video?
MK: In the beginning, 'walking' music videos like The Verve's Bittersweet Symphony or Coldplay’s Yellow were the primary references. But once I have a precise genre or topic for a music video, I do an IMDB keywords search and look at as many references as possible.
So there were loads. B-movies like Assignment Outer Space, war films like 1918 and Come And See, and a Japanese melodrama I found which I don’t remember the name of. There was a scene I ripped from Army Of Shadows by Jean Pierre Melville that didn’t get shot.
Tom Hardy in Dunkirk inspired the Ant's character, and look.
When I make a video, I like to start with a "Frankenstein's Monster" edit in Premiere, where I just place clips, images, text, etc. over the song and try to get a feel for how the imagery will work. Then I storyboard it, if I have the time. It can be quite an intensive process.
Tell us more about your lead character – the Alien Ant. Did you create a backstory for him? Is he modelled on any existing character?
Tom Hardy in Dunkirk inspired the Ant’s character and costume. There was backstory that didn’t get shot. I realised that in movies where soldiers become P.O.W.’s there was a tendency to feature flashback sequences where you see them excelling at 'track and field' events. So that was the genesis of the idea for this music video - because it tied in with the lyrics in the song of being a “gentle hill racer”.
There was an un-shot scene based on the Loneliness Of A Long-Distance Runner, where the Ant is winning a road-race and then at the end, rather than crossing the finish line, he goes off into the hills and that’s when he meets his lover at the lake.
The makeup design of your alien hero is unmistakeably ant-like. How much time did you and your designer have to develop the character?
It took time to get the right person onboard. And then, by that point, we had to move fast. For the prosthetics, we looked at catalogues from SFX companies in LA. We had four hours to decide on what the character was going to look like, because we had to make sure that we would receive the prosthetics in the post, in time for the shoot.
So we narrowed it down to the most 'ant-like' and then Georgia adapted it, chopped a bit off, filled a bit and added the antennae to turn it more into an ant.
I’ve never consciously made a political, social or cultural point in a music video.
I have a newborn baby at home, so my entire process has changed. I don’t have time to overthink things like I used to. And I’ve realised that making a decision is the only important part anyway. So I try to be way more instinctive with my decision-making.
I think it goes hand in hand with just being a more confident filmmaker. Because it’s hard to get to this point - it’s difficult to shoot enough. It’s like trying to learn to surf when you don’t live by the sea. By the time you get back into the ocean, you’ve forgotten what you learned the last time.
He finds himself in a world (or a version of Britain) that’s repressive, war-like, paranoid and rather incompetent. What deeper meaning, or significance, should we read into that?
The pandemic made me think, why do I live in London? I’m fortunate that I’m able to live anywhere I choose. So I moved. I’m now in Barcelona. It’s clear skies and sunny, I’ve just returned from the beach, had a couple of beers and patatas bravas on a charming plaza. It’s been one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.
The band had some great ideas but mostly they just let me get on with it.
But I’ve never consciously made a political, social or cultural point in a music video. What excites me is a symbiosis between lyrics, melody, tone and the visuals. I’m searching for a hook. What I find appealing is how the music changes when the Ant shuffles out to the firing squad. Or when he says “I was made to love you...”, to the priest giving him his last rites.
Which is why I find it complicated to pinpoint what my style is. I’m always led by something external to myself and my style changes from film to film. But I guess it doesn’t matter. Or maybe that is my style?
How much were the band involved in developing ideas in the video? Do any of them appear in it?
They changed the song and originally I wrote a concept for Chaos Space Marine. That idea was based on The Creature From The Black Lagoon, winning a war against the humans and nonchalantly strutting passed dead marines whilst singing the song.
That video fell through because of timings. But I called John Moule, the commissioner, and just told him if there’s a chance to do something else with the band then please get in touch with me first. I never would have done that before, but becoming a father makes you stop sweating the small stuff.
The idea to have the firing squad wearing Black Midi jumpsuits was a winner.
They were the perfect client. They had some great ideas but mostly they just let me get on with it. This is the first time the band have ever made a 'real' music video. So they were like - “Hey it’s your video, do what you want...” Which was nice - but it’s one hundred percent their video.
Tyler, Luke, Charlie and Lewis [from the band] came to the shoot. They were all amazing actors and so excited and fun to work with. And their idea for Black Midi jumpsuits was a winner. With many people online trying to get their hands on one, I could sell you one for the right price!
You were shooting in winter, with a lead actor who presumably needed to be in makeup for ages. How much time did you get to shoot the video? Where did you shoot? Did everything go to plan?
We shot at a farm near Gatwick. And we only had twelve hours. We actually didn’t get to shoot the backstory and Army Of Shadows scene. It’s easy to get hung up on that kind of stuff, but you just have to move on.
Directors are always too hard on themselves. We need to learn to be more self-compassionate. Because the response to the video has been amazing, and that’s because the band are great and the song is great. So I probably should’ve predicted that.
With a newborn baby at home, I don’t have time to overthink things like I used to.
Like nearly all Black Country New Road songs, it's a long one - over six minutes. How did that impact on the shoot and the edit?
We tried to get a radio edit, but that’s not what the band is about, and we had to respect that. So we went in knowing the extent of what we had to achieve.
I broke it down to buy us the time with the long tracking shots for the verses, and then top and tailed with archive footage. So in reality I only had to shoot close to a traditional three to four minute music video - which is a struggle in twelve hours anyway.
• Maxim Kelly is based at Caviar and represented for music videos by Hands London.
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Promonews - 3rd Feb 2022
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