Nominated for the coveted MTV Video Music Award for Best Cinematography, Kieran Fowler NZCS ACS on filming ‘Old Me’ with 5 Seconds of Summer – by Kieran Fowler NZCS ACS
A longtime collaborator in music videos, James Chappell, called me earlier in the year when I was shooting a music video in New Zealand and mentioned he’d put me forward to Brandon Bonfiglio and Hannah Lux-Davis from London Alley, to shoot a video in Australia for the band 5 Seconds of Summer. Originally, I didn’t think I would be able to get back in time to shoot it, however they were really interested to work with me and ended up moving the shoot dates to make it work.
In my initial conversations with Lux-Davis, we talked about capturing a sense of nostalgia and journey through time. She showed me a lot of older photographic work from the 1980s and late 1990s. Some of it was pretty funky and looked cross-processed. There were also these iconic images of bands photographed on wide angles with the entire image circle in shot. I loved it, for some reason it reminded me of music videos from when I was growing up.
For these particular shots I used a 6mm, Super 16mm format wide-angle. By putting this on a 35mm chip, the image circle wasn’t able to cover the sensor and it created this circular in-camera vignette. I chose to shoot the majority of it on an older set of lenses; the Panavision PVintage Ultra Speed lenses. I love how they render the out-of-focus areas and the slight bloom you get with the highlights. I also love the focal lengths in that set with odd ones like a 27mm, which is one of my favourite lengths on a 35mm sensor. We shot using the ARRI Alexa Mini, which is just a reliable workhorse for me. I seldom stray from using the ARRI sensors.
5 Seconds of Summer were really down to earth dudes. It was an absolute pleasure working with them. They made the shoot very pleasant and enjoyable. At first, I was quite nervous about working with Lux-Davis, with a portfolio like hers. She’s directed iconic videos for some of the biggest names in pop music in America like Ariana Grande, Nicki Minaj and Miley Cyrus.
I first met Lux-Davis on the location scout which was a whirlwind of a day, scouting a heap of different locations. We hit it off well. We didn’t get much pre-production time together, but she had a very clear vision and passion for the project that was infectious. Whilst mainly responding to her photographic references, I did look into Todd Phillips’ The Joker (2019, cinematography by Lawrence Sher ACS), as I loved the film’s treatment of colour. It felt in the palette of classic photographic film emulsion.
The shoot was more fluid than usual and there was a lot of exploration and coming up with ideas on the day, which made it really fun. Sherree Phillips, our production designer, was fantastic. I always work closely with this department. Her attention to detail was great. She especially helped give the train interior life with her graffiti and grunge treatment. Particularly helpful because I had to overexpose the windows with diffusion flat up against them for our simulated travel, Phillips’s graffiti helped add detail and break up all the hot windows.
I always operate the camera, particularly on a project like this when you are handheld and constantly finding the frames as you shoot. Framing is a very personal thing, all those minor compositional choices are so important and can really elevate an image. I understand filming in America might be different, as they require you to use an operator if you don’t have a special exemption. However I am very used to operating myself.
I managed to get a crew onboard who I regularly work with, which helped make the situation of working with a big director from America a lot more comfortable and give me the confidence that I could pull off anything that was thrown our way. I remember at the wrap drinks Lux-Davis saying how amazing the crew was, and that she’d work with them if they were in America in a heartbeat. I think we are spoilt for choice with the quality of crew here in Australia.
For me, lighting had to feel real. All the lighting had to have a natural motivation and give the images grounding. Which is hard when you’re forced to do simulated travel on a train. I also knew from the location scout that I needed to give the director flexibility to find shots and blocking on the day, so my lighting had to be broader strokes. I did a lot of the heavy lifting with the lighting while searching for locations, making sure we chose areas and blocking that works well with the natural orientation of the windows and light. A lot of my sources would be lighting through windows with frames brought in for close-ups.
The train was the hardest part from a lighting point-of-view. When I heard we wouldn’t be filming on a real moving train, I was scratching my head with how to make it feel authentic in a non-green screen environment. I ended up putting a light diffusion across all the in-camera windows with a Sky Panel evenly illuminating each one so that they’d be over-exposed. To create a sense of movement, I had a 4K bounced into a rotating mirror for each train carriage, each synchronised with movement. I’m not sure what you’d put the motivation of the 4K down to since the train was meant to be in the middle of the outback, but I think you get away with some creative license!
All the post-production on this video happened back in Los Angeles and it was very much a situation of handing it over and hoping for the best result. I had a lot of faith. Lux-Davis works with some very talented people over there and throughout the process I was introduced to an amazing colourist, Houmam Abdallah, who I hadn’t heard of before. Abdallah did a fantastic job of seeing our vision through.
The final shot of the video was a very special moment. It was honestly the closest feeling I’ve had to feeling like a rock star, walking out behind the band into a 70,000 crowd stadium. It was such an adrenaline rush. It was not only the best way to end the music video but also the shoot. It was such a huge buzz.
We only needed to capture one shot, but the label and the director wanted me to try and capture more. I ended up on stage for most of the performance. I was honestly waiting for security to pull me off the stage, as I was right up there with lead singer Luke Hemmings and definitely overstaying my welcome. If you look back at the live broadcast of the concert I’m running around in shot and ruining all of the coverage.
I genuinely don’t think I would change anything with the benefit of hindsight. The clip ended up getting me a nomination for the MTV Video Music Award for Best Cinematography, which is much more than I expected from this opportunity, so I must have done something right.