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Neon Waltz Sundial Shoot

If you have been on my website and haven’t yet seen the Neon Waltz Sundial music promo I strongly recommend you do so before reading this blog post, as it is all about how we did it!

Neon Waltz is a 6 piece psychedelic indie rock band based up in Caithness, (the very far north of) Scotland.

The band are good friends with the folks at Far North Film and when they wanted a live recording of their opening item from their set recording they got in touch with them, and consequently FNF got in touch with me!

So, the brief was to record their track ‘Sundial’ in the far north of Scotland, in a castle! Freswick castle to be precise!

Not only that they wanted to do it to a live audience too! Okey, so not much pressure! To complicate things further they wanted something a bit different than your usual live set recording, no multiple takes, no multiple cameras, no line up… they wanted to shoot the whole video as one continuous take with the band in a circle and the camera in the centre ‘spinning around’ showing each member doing their thing! Eeek I hear you say! Further, they wanted to create moving shadows and play with the audience (which is going to be all around them!) being a bit mysterious, not really visible but just a presence. I don’t know about you, but I think I’ve got my work cut out!

The Lighting

So my first thought came to lighting, how are we going to create moving shadows, how are we going to light the band in a circle and equally how am I going to avoid lighting the audience but give them presence!

To create moving shadows, either the person the shadow is falling on needs to be moving or the light source itself needs to be moving… well, as the band won’t be moving much the light source is going to need to move. As we are on a limited budget for both kit and crew, getting moving heads in wasn’t an option, plus I think the band wanted something much more lo-fi than this. Based on the camera spinning around the group as they perform my thoughts went straight to using a camera top light. This way, as I move the camera the light moves allowing me to create shadow and light areas based on the cameras relative position to the band members. Equally, as the fall of from a camera top light is quite sharp I was fairly safe in not lighting up the audience behind the band.

As the band members would be coming in and out of the dark (due to the top light moving) I thought it would be critical for each band members to be back lit. This way we would be able to see they are there even if the top light isn’t shining straight on them.

Further, to help outline the audience and space we are in, remember it is a lovely castle! I though it would be important to have some lights set aside to light the architecture of the room. So something on the brick walls, doorways and fire place.. For this I set aside a kit of dedos and some fairy lights (you know the sort, the ones you put on a christmas tree!).

Based on what I had in mind I came up with the following lighting plan.

The Camera

We didn’t have budget for an Alexa or Red, or even an F5! That said, we were all (3 of us!) due to pack into my Ford Focus estate, along with lighting and camera gear, so having a small lighting/camera package (just for transport reasons) was needed!

I’d recently just purchased the Sony A7s, with it’s compact DSLR form factor, super duper low light capability and wonderful picture quality! Given the amount of handheld camera work (with spinning) and certain amount of night time shooting for the intro of the promo, the A7s looked set to have it’s first music promo outing!

We got in a couple of Samyang primes (24m & 35mm) for the job as using my Canon zoom L glass with round and round focus is very tricky to pull focus on your own, especially while operating handheld and ensuring your in the right spot for that part in the track! I knew based on being handheld and spinning around all the time a wider lens would be better than a longer one..

As the A7s experiences excessive rolling shutter when in Full Frame mode I opted to shoot in APS-C crop mode – as the rolling shutter is much improved. Having the 24mm and 35mm gave us a couple of options for lens choice even in APS-C cropped mode.

The Shoot…

I have to confess the most difficult part about the shoot was the driving! I believe we covered over 1,000 on the trip! We were 3 miles short of John O’Groats!

On the shoot we had Toby from Far North Film acting as AD and my usual Gaffer (come AC on this shoot) Noel Liggins to help with all things lighting and camera..

Shooting the track was a memory exercise for me, the band had a good idea of who they wanted to see at what part in the track so it was a case of me remembering my cues for moving and where to move to! We had a pre-light day so we had a good amount of time to get the lighting right and also rehearse with the band to ensure we were all happy.

I started with my original lighting plot and setup as such (with a couple of the 650Ws swapped out for 300Ws). This looked really nice and defined each member of the band well. That said, the band wanted it a bit more moody… so we swapped out the backlights on Swannie and Kev and just popped a tickle of backlight on Darren (on drums) to light him and the drum kit a wee bit. We also popped in a practical lamp the band like to perform with, which is nice, and this just gave Kev a bit of definition (now he didn’t have a backlight). Further, we popped an additional light in an adjoining room to create a bit of depth when we were looking at Calvin and Jordan.

Further, I rehearsed with the band using the Samyang 24mm lens on APS-C mode. After reviewing the footage it was thought that we could play a little more with camera placement if we went on a wider lens. As I didn’t have anything wider we had to fall back to the Full Frame mode. I was slightly concerned about the rolling shutter in this mode but after testing what we were doing I was happy it could do the job!

We certainly got through a lot of smoke on the shoot, it was the smoke that really helped us create the atmosphere!

Here is a little time-lapse of the pre-light day! My thanks go to Noel who brought his GoPro with him so we could do this!

I’m not going to say much more about the shoot as there is a ‘little’ behind the scenes we pulled together which says it all!

Post Production

As Jordan, the singer from the band and director for the shoot, had a background in media he took it on himself to do the post work. The project was edited in FCPX, which the footage from the A7s glides through very nicely! As you will see he didn’t have much editing to do! But he did work hard to get the look they wanted, very punchy, a little lo-fi, really crushing the blacks and pulling up the highlights. He has also included a little blur effect to give a strobing look as the camera moves.. I think this works really well! You should see how flat the un-graded camera files look!

I hope you have enjoyed reading this blog post! I certainly enjoyed the shoot and look forward to working with the band at some point in the near future! To finish things off, why not take a look at a couple of the behind the scenes pics from the shoot below!