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Milo Blake on Royal Blood's Mountains At Midnight: 'I don't know if it's been done before.'

Milo Blake on Royal Blood's Mountains At Midnight: 'I don't know if it's been done before.'

David Knight - 15th June 2023

We caught up with director Milo Blake about his first ever rock video, and with producer Mayling Wong, about her first project since joining Spindle as EP.

The video for Royal Blood's Mountains At Midnight was the first from the fourth album from the Brighton duo who have now been one of the UK's top rock bands for the best part of a decade. It was also director Milo Blake's first foray into a new music genre, after his work in everything from grime to pop to banging techno. So far, electric guitars and drum kits have been conspicuously absent from the  

As it turns out Blake (above, during the Mountains At Midnight video shoot) delivers a visceral grittiness in the video - which includes an intense performance by the band under relentless strobe lights in a small music club. But its main focus is largely upon the audience - and one audience member in particular, who even within a heaving crowd is lost in her own world. A palpable sense of euphoria is expressed through the cut, by Rich Woolway, which switching between the conventional band and crowd scenario to her being completely alone in the space.

It was also the first time that Blake and Wong had worked together since her arrival as EP for Music Videos, Commercials and Special Projects. So we started our conversation in traditional fashion, by asking them how the idea came about in the first place, and was developed through the treatment stage.  

Royal Blood's videos have had a particular stylistic universe. I felt like tonally it was something that matched up with elements of my own work.  

PROMONEWS: Old school heavy rock seems like a departure from the artists and music you’ve worked with before, Milo. So what appealed about working with Royal Blood?  

MILO BLAKE: I think in some sense the very reason that it was a departure appealed to me. I was intrigued by the experience of working with a new genre and style of artist.

Also Royal Blood have had a particular stylistic universe which their videos have existed in over the years. I felt like tonally it was something that matched up with elements of my own work, with their world being something that I could contribute to and develop. 

Where did the idea of focussing on a single audience member of a gig come from and how did it develop? And do you know if anything like it has been done before? 

MB: I guess because those who go to a gig uniquely will have an experience which is entirely personal to them, but simultaneously it will be one fragment which is connected to a much larger picture.

I feel that gigs and communal events like this hold special spaces in our memory. Human expression and release reaches a special pitch when we gather and dance together. It was this particular euphoria which I wanted to hone in on and play with. That led to us creating this game in the concept of her experience and actions being mirrored across the same space: one full, one empty.

To be totally honest, I don't know if it's been done before. It may have, but maybe not like this. The original visual idea came from a small clip I had seen on Instagram where a boxer had been painted out of a clip of a fight but you still saw all his corresponding impacts on his opponent. That gave me the idea to explore how this illusion could be transported into a different setting with a different intention.

Emma is incredible in her look and the way she evokes emotion with her movement

How did you contribute at the treatment stage, Mayling, in terms of suggestions and advice?

MAYLING WONG: Working with Milo on this one was such a nice, collaborative process. I provided production support along the way as timings were tight, so we wanted to make sure we pitched what was feasible. But in terms of the magic and imagination, Milo sent me his idea (albeit after a few curveballs) and I was blown away!  

What were your visual references for establishing the look and feel of the video? Was this always a ‘black and white’ video, in your mind?   

MB: Black and white always felt distinctly appropriate from the beginning. Something about the sound power of the instrumental coupled with the reality that its largely only two different instruments creating this: bass guitar and drums.

The style of black and white evolved later in the process - particularly in the grade with Thom Mangham [at Black Kite Studios] we looked to emulate the contrasts and quality of image you see in the work of Australian stills photographer Trent Parke. He was someone who we were frequently referring back to. 

How did you cast your lead, Emma Belabed?

MB: Myself, Emma and our choreographer Magnus Westwell all worked previously on a video for the electronic artist, PRXZ. Magnus and Emma frequently work with each other and they make a great team!

Emma is incredible in her look and the way she evokes emotion with her movement. Plus her work ethic is second to none -and I'm always demanding pretty high intensity performances from her.

Above: choreographer Magnus Westwell puts actor Emma Belabed through her paces during rehearsal for the video shoot

So can you reveal: is she watching the band from the crowd and imagining she’s on her own - or is she on her own, imagining she’s watching the band?  

MB: For me it's both. At different points throughout her journey in the video, I think it leans more one way then alternately at other points I think it's more the latter. That's what can be interesting about memory or imagination. It's vivid but still slippery, it affirms certain details and shrouds or misguides others.

Were there any major obstacles that you encountered in pre-production that impacted on the shoot/execution of the idea?

MW: Time!! This was the most difficult part of the project. We had sign off on Tuesday and shot the following Thursday with a Bank Holiday nicely sandwiched in-between.

But the saving grace on this one was the incredible team we had onboard – this made all the difference. And then matched with the endless support of Spindle and the label – it really was a great project!

The ceiling started leaking water from the rain outside onto our artists and our power sources.

Where did you shoot the video and what were the biggest challenges on the shoot day?  

MB: We shot in an old warehouse in Bermondsey. The space needed to feel like it had a sort of underground atmosphere to it and have textural features which matched the grunginess of the song.

The challenges I suppose were to try and make it feel as full as we could. We had a pretty large cast by conventional standards - 40-plus dancers. But even that required to think more carefully about composition, what would be the appropriate shooting style and how best to maximise the energy of this group over the course of a 12 hour day. They all did a fantastic job.

Another unexpected challenge which I haven't had before was half-way through a take the ceiling started leaking water from the rain outside onto our artists and our power sources! But we rose from that minor hiccup, it bonded us closer as a set to still getting the things we needed.

MW: in hindsight Milo’s probably right that the leaking ceiling was a hiccup. But in the moment I was on the STRESS EXPRESS! Water was pouring into the location and my health and safety brain was all over the place! But the location managed it really well and we gave it a temporary fix!

It’s an intense, old school fast-cutting edit from Rich Woolway at Stitch/Homespun. Presumably that was always intended, but did he add anything else to the existing plan for the video? 

MB: Rich is a wizard! Yes it was always the plan. I had established a timeline of where I wanted certain beats of the video to take place and how long they should last. Rich edited to this, but then offered up so many lovely unexpected sequence flourishes which took it to the next level.

Plus with so many moving light elements and shadow, Rich had to possess the steely vision to see where the mathcuts in movement between the two worlds could emerge from. Some were planned and other's he sifted through and offered up himself. 

How much VFX is in the video? 

MB: In reality not a great deal. A lot of the VFX was removing the wires that were attached to Emma and controlled by our choreographers out of shot which were used to create these invisible impacts of movement where she's being jostled and pulled by the crowd around her. In the end it was a combination of this process and then Emma having the control of her body to simulate these impacts alone also.

Are you inspired to make more explosive rock videos?   

MB: As you might have guessed, I don't like to be pinned down to one style of work. So I'm inspired to keep making hopefully explosive and thought-provoking work in any genre! As long as I'm connected and captivated in some form to the project, my next three videos could be funk, folk, soul or classical. Plenty of things to explore! 
And how would you describe your first experience of working together? 

MW: Chaotic fun! With a sprinkling of agility. It was a really enjoyable experience and a great one to kick start mine and Milo’s newfound working relationship! I think he’s incredibly talented and I cannot wait for the next one!

MB: Mayling was instrumental in the success of the video. There's nothing like making a film together to super-charge a new collaboration and relationship, which this job did exactly! Her attention to detail, creative problem-solving and management of clients, so that I could do what I needed to achieve, all came to the fore throughout the making of this. I'm looking forward to all the different types of work that we will hopefully be able to make together in the future! 

• Milo Blake is based at Spindle, and represented for music videos at Mouthpiece

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David Knight - 15th June 2023


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