Shake, Baby Shake.
I first met Lupen Crook when we played together at a venue (whose name escapes me) in London. On that night i was in a horrible mood due to being the bands designated driver on the night we first ever sold out a London show. As i sat and watched the band quaff celebratory champagne and revel, I seethed at the injustice and ill fate of it all. But in hindsight i should have been made up, it really wasn't a big deal, and i had just made one of the most important and influential creative contacts of my career so far.
We had just talked briefly at the gig about a possible collaboration, but our chat developed digitally and we settled upon visualising Shake, Baby Shake (a song described as being about and for a person becoming so frustrated by a screaming child that they are about to start shaking it, but just in time they hear Shake, Baby Shake on the radio and start dancing instead and the baby's life is saved).
My initial treatment ideas were a little too dry and flat, involving dancing flowers and decaying photographs, but somewhere in our discussions we happened upon the idea of stuffed toys coming to life and trying to wake an ominously quiet baby. I sketched scene ideas and booked my tickets down south.
It was a sweltering summer week, a time that makes you think that Britain is finally catching up with it's European neighbours in the barbecuing and skin cancer enabling stakes. Just before the rains come to wash away optimism and villages built on flood plains.
The house in which the film is set was in a state of disarray, having been recently moved in to, but Lupen and Sam were very kind and accommodating, and their baby daughter, Matilda was about to star in her first ever film role. Unfortunately, she was at a playful and inquisitive age and it took the best part of 3 days for her to be settled enough to film.
In the meantime me and Lupen set to work on making mobiles and photos for several scenes, scouring charity shops for suitable stuffed bears (although the lead bear was kindly donated by the Family Roper) and drinking into the night.
During the shooting I pioneered a couple of useful techniques:
Using lots of string to form a delicately balanced web to hold a digital SLR, 'Cot-Cam' was born.
The leading bear was given life through a rough wire mesh in his head and my hand up his unstitched anus and through his fluffy guts. I had timed how long the lyrics took to mouth then broke that information down into which frames needed an open mouth and which should closed. The capture process was a bizarre scene of slow-motion puppetry, counting and singing and rhythmically pressing the spacebar.
When Matilda finally went to sleep, i had a match her breathing with the shutter releases so that she would appear still when the frames were put together. Each shot was agony; a camera makes so much noise when you are trying not to wake a sleeping child that has taken hours to get to sleep.
The look has been used many times before and since, but i felt the need to make the effort and print out hundreds of photos and insert them frame by frame to make the picture frames come alive. I think inserting moving images into another moving image using aftereffects or whatever can create really jarring and unpleasant video. I find that capturing as much as possible in camera, no matter how laborious or difficult the process, produces much more satisfying results.
I really enjoyed my stay at the Crook household (except for waking up each morning at 6am to the sound of the dual carriageway commute next to my lightly curtained window and a swirling hangover), and i got the opportunity to return a week or so later after Lupen casually mentioned during the filming that the finished song had a new, extended minute-long rock-outro.
I was momentarily frustrated, after carefully planning the film down to the last second, but this was the delight of working with Lupen. Within minutes we had sketched out a pile of ideas to fill that extra minute and when i came back to shoot the scene, he had made costumes with so much enthusiasm and creative flair, that they enhanced the video immensely.
That final scene was shot in the basement of Lupen and Sam's house. It was a recently abandoned brothel, still featuring scattered rose petals and an ominous pair of fuck boots. I got to meet brothers Bob and Tom who are the Murderbirds, we had beers and laughs in the waining summer sun, hearing the story of how that afternoon, the day Lupen's debut album was released, they had gone down to the local record chain the steal themselves the album, then we all had a spaced out jam in the brothel with me on a valveless, battered bugle. It's moments like these that i love about film-making. Whenever i look back at old videos i have made, it's these memories and senses that come flooding back.
Broken Pixel 2008