How does the collaboration between songwriter and a music video director work? Joel Thomas takes a closer look at East Of Her by Bespin.
It’s hard for musicians to hand over the creative control of a music video. Songs can be so sentimental and important to you that you don’t want someone else to interpret the images you have in your head. But often shared creative control across disciplines can have stunning results.
Strong music videos can be created with various levels of collaboration and creative control. In the case of songwriter Jonathan Lee and video director Damian Golfinopoulos, communication and mutual creative understanding were the core to creating the video for Bespin’s East Of Her. That, and knowing when to hand the reins over to someone who has a stronger skill set in certain areas. The East Of Her music video is skillfully crafted because of this approach.
The visuals for the song burn chillingly slow. Golfinopoulos immerses us into frontman Jonathan Lee’s subconscious with a few delicately sculpted shots, using slow motion, meticulous lighting, and a rich colour grade to make the most of these shots and create a tone that’s hypnotic, cold, and confronting. There’s no straightforward narrative to cling on to, but there is a strong sense of helplessness and restraint being evoked, tinged with a dab of hope at the end.
The video was conceived after Jonathan had a nightmare that stuck in his head for days and wouldn’t go away. So affected by the dream, he pitched it to Damian Golfinopoulos as a music video. Damian took the pitch and turned it into something shootable.
The shots include drifting extreme close-ups of Jonathan, painted white, which have been smoothly blended together in the edit.
He’s held by various arms that refuse to let him escape before he’s dunked in a bathtub of red liquid. Presumably blood.
The use of extreme close-up conceals the full picture from the viewer, giving impressions of the filmmaker’s restraint, which is later physicalised by the arms holding Jonathan down.
This feeling of restraint and suffocation is further exemplified by images of him drifting through water. These were shot at such a high frame rate the resulting slow motion shows him hardly moving at all.
We get the feeling that Jonathan’s character in this video is being held against his will. We never see who he’s being held by.
That’s not important. It’s about his journey, and whether he escapes. Fortunately, this is the glimmer of hope at the end of the video. A long take of Jonathan running at night, as the camera tracks above him, slowly pushing in. We hope he got away.
“It was really physical,” says Jonathan of the shoot. “I tried to get myself into some sort of shape to do it but I wasn’t ready. It was one of the most gruelling things I’ve ever done.”
The feeling of the piece really comes across, despite the lack of narrative. Jonathan says he’s a big fan of style- and tone-based concepts over narrative music videos.
“I think with all good art, the joy of it becomes in how the person perceives it and what they bring from their own lives and their own experience. You want to let people project onto things and find the space to do it. Everyone always brings their own thing to it.”
Having acknowledged that the track itself was very dear to him, Jonathan had a reasonable share of creative control to ensure his vision was being met, but he was comfortable handing final authority over to Golfinopoulos.
“I’m also a big believer in collaborating and letting people that are experts do what they do.”
In a previous video, Lee had an entirely hands-off approach, letting animator Paul Roper take full control of the video. The difference for East Of Her is that the story being told was one that Jonathan had first-hand experience with – even if he was asleep when he did so. That’s where communication between the musicians and director really comes in to make an end product that everyone’s happy with. Jonathan says he found that shared level of auteurship is the same as recording a song.
“Unless you’re a really great mixer and mastering engineer, you’re going to have to give up some control over what the sound actually is. In this case, it’s best to empower someone that really knows what they’re doing. Damian listened to me. That level of collaboration gave me the confidence, and him the buy-in.”
I asked Jonathan if he had any advice for musicians going into production or planning for their first video.
“Find someone that you respect and that respects what you’re doing back… Let them take the reins and be creative because that’s the way to let someone be a part of something. You’re wanting people to buy in and do their best work and feel like they’re creatively fulfilled as well.”