Shooting with ‘Tones and I’

Cinematographer Carl Allison shoots two music videos for artist Tones and I, with Dance Monkey receiving an ARIA nomination for Best Music Video by Carl Allison

On location with 'Dance Monkey' (Carl Allison behind the camera) - PHOTO Filip Konikowski
On location with ‘Dance Monkey’ (Carl Allison behind the camera) – PHOTO Filip Konikowski

The first of two jobs working with Australian singer-songwriter Tones and I came through a recommendation from special effects and prosthetics make-up artist Danielle Ruth at WowFX. Ruth was already involved with the make-up and then the project was pitched to my regular collaborator, director Nick Kozakis.

For Dance Monkey, Tones and I already had her vision of doing something light-hearted and fun, based around a Grandpa played by herself in make-up, getting up to shenanigans with mates on a golf course. The video for her song Never Seen The Rain was an open brief, but the main focus was to encapsulate the song’s lyrics which was to focus on the moment of clarity in everyday peoples struggles.

Due to our constraints of shooting Dance Monkey in one ten-hour day, I gravitated to Red as I’m most familiar with that camera. From there, I wanted to use the Atlas Orion Anamorphic Lens because I like the look they achieved on some music videos and test footage I had seen. We were lucky enough to have Anthony Littlechild from Creative Head Rental travel back and forth from Sydney the day before the shoot to provide them for us.

I’ve been working with Kozakis and director Liam Kelly for years, so there’s a great shorthand in the way we communicate on set. It all happened really quickly and was very collaborative. The team at Lemon Tree Music, and her manager Jackson from Artists Only Agency, were really supportive and understanding; along with Tones herself; she has a clear vision and knows what she likes, which enabled us to work very efficiently.

A scene from the video for 'Dance Monkey' - DOP Carl Allison
A scene from the video for ‘Dance Monkey’ – DOP Carl Allison

We watched both Caddyshack (1980, cinematography by Steven Larner) and Happy Gilmore (1996, cinematography by Arthur Albert) as visual references for Dance Monkey. I wanted to establish the video in the nursing home as bleak and moody then introduce a brighter and more colourful look after the escape, working with a red and green palette.

For Never Seen the Rain, it was nice to be able to lean into moody and dramatic visuals for a pop song; Tones was really keen on making it feel gritty and real. I created a mood board that used a lot of references of still photography, and screenshots from drama and crime films as this followed more of a narrative style. Each character was given a different colour palate so their stories were distinguishable from one another.

On the Dance Monkey video we had Dillon Pearce as assistant camera and gaffer, and on Never Seen the Rain we had Scott Pope. They’re both really efficient and resourceful. Besides Pearce, it was the first time working with those in the camera and lighting teams. I shot and pulled focus myself for both projects, but was supported by a really good production team. Notably the Visible Studios crew; Directors Nick Kozakis and Liam Kelly, and producers Fab Weiner and Timothy Whiting.

I lean into looks that are more moody and stylised, but are still based in reality. I also like to play with colour and schemes which comes from a background in graphic design. Both projects were shot completely on location. Although having different looks, both clips used relatable approaches with similar lighting packages; the exteriors were shot with a 10×10 Ultrabounce and a bit of negative fill floating around to try and give the faces a bit of shape. The interiors were covered by punching an M18 through some diffusion in the windows and a 300D bounced for a bit of fill. We also used a golf buggy as a tracking vehicle which was a lot of fun to hoon around on.

Our colourist was Timothy Whiting from Visible Studios who I work with regularly. We wanted Dance Monkey to look bright and poppy. Although I wasn’t available to sit in for the grade for Dance Monkey, Whiting knew my sensibilities and was able to send through screenshots before submission. The shoot day for Dance Monkey was an overcast Melbourne winter day but as they wanted a bright summer look, sky replacement was used for all exteriors. For Never Seen the Rain I was able to sit in on the grade and we could fine tune each story, making sure each vignette was getting its own look.

You can say looking back that you could change something on every project, but I’m really happy with what the team was able to achieve. Anything I would have done differently just goes into trying to make future projects stronger.

The success of Dance Monkey has spawned more projects for music videos that we’re currently in pre-production for. I have a variety of projects coming up that range from documentaries, a comedy series, TVC’s and possibly a feature. I’m really excited for the year ahead to be able to work on such a variety of projects with such talented collaborators.

Dance Monkey definitely stands out as it was a really fun shoot and the outcome of the video has surpassed everyone’s expectations. To flash-forward several months and have the video playing in Times Square, New York, nominated for an Aria Award, sitting on half-a-billion views, several weeks #1 trending on YouTube globally and spawn several parody videos is nothing short of surreal and a huge testament to the talent of the artist.

Cinematographer Carl Allison behind the camera – PHOTO Supplied

Carl Allison is a freelance cinematographer based in Melbourne.

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