In 2011 I flew to Norway to shoot a musicvideo (or more accurately a short film) for The Gathering with their singer Silje Wergeland.
The video was for Heroes For Ghosts, the first track off their new album “Disclosure”. The video was shot in just 4 days. To mark the fifth anniversary of the video in 2016 I shared a series of short scenes from the video on Instagram and gave a director’s commentary. As Instagram increased their video time limit in the course of 2016, along the way the clips went from 15 seconds to 1 minute.
This first clip is from the beginning of the video.
The film’s story is about a woman’s journey and so I decided to start and end the video with reflections and lights through a car window, indicating travel. From the rather abstract image of the lights we fade to a car on the road at dawn.
From here it starts. This scene was shot in the west of Norway along the rugged coast. It was actually dusk, and I was in the passenger’s seat of a follow car filming the ‘69 Mustang from behind, driven by Silje.
This second clip is where the story starts.
We see Silje driving the mustang at dawn with a pair of sunglasses on, the colors are cool, the mood is sullen. I then cut back and forth between this shot and the shot of Silje in the passenger’s seat at night, smiling, in love, as we will soon find out. Colors are warm. We are moving back and forth in time and between not so happy and happy. Inbetween there is a shot of the dashboard and the road at night. Through this, the image of Silje as storyteller slowly fades in and out as she sings “into me…”.
The last image introduces her love interest (Silje’s real life partner Mads), who will play a very important part throughout the video! For the shots with both Silje and Mads I was in the backseat of the Mustang, trying to keep the camera steady, as I was directing them, while they were driving! I think they did a wonderful job. They are both such professionals! ?
The whole video was shot on a Canon 5dMkII with Canon lenses. These shots were done handheld with available light only.
Ah that glorious Mustang!
I wanted the Mustang to be a character in the story, like the loyal and brave horse of a hero of old. So it deserved a hero shot. I love the image of the logo, the beautiful red color and the headlights against the dusk. Later on, it will serve as Silje’s companion and carry her to freedom.
The romance between the characters is blooming and the intention of this scene was to let you peek in on a romantic moment. In the middle of nowhere, just the two of them slow-dancing and kissing in the headlights. In fact, it wasn’t romantic at all! ? We were at the end of a long day of filming, everyone was tired, it was cold and it was very difficult to get into the mood for this shot.
I know I’ve said this before, but I’m very proud of my actors, because despite these conditions, they absolutely pulled it off!
Many people have wondered about this shot, asking whether I used a tilt shift lens. People commented that as it pulls up, the Mustang looks like a toy car. In fact this scene was shot using a 100mm lens.
We got lucky with the landscape, since the background slopes up a bit and the long lens compresses the shot, it brings the background in close. Together with the shallow depth of field it does look a bit like tilt-shift.
Driving the Mustang into the frame just right was hard, we had to reshoot many times! Looking back, it was pretty funny, so it was included in the behind the scenes video (Segment “Parking the Mustang” from 0:56).
It was still pretty early in the year, but we were lucky to get sunlight the day we filmed this scene. The Mustang looked gorgeous in the sun.
Mads taking a quick beat as Silje walks away is the first hint that the fairytale is falling apart. I really like the change of angle on this shot of Mads, Silje passing in front of both the camera and Mads, again using a long lens to compress distances.
The transition is meant to indicate a time shift, opening on the car keys, making sure you remember those for later (it’s called foreshadowing, people ?)!
Hold on, is that Silje driving in Mads car? I shot this handheld riding shotgun in the Mustang with a 50mm14 and very shallow depth of field.
The first shot, Silje and Mads on the couch, Silje looking for attention, being ignored & getting up, pretty upset, was shot in the same luxurious hotel room we shot the big fight / lovemaking scene that appears later in the video. It was pretty difficult for Mads & Silje to pretend their relationship was falling apart, since they are so much in love. They managed to overcome their feelings & really got into it eventually! They’re absolutely believable being awkward & breaking up! Just look at their faces!
The rain falling into the lake I filmed on the last day I was in Norway, when Maria (our producer) & I went up one of the beautiful mountains. I was looking to shoot some b-roll when we found this small, tranquil lake surrounded by trees. As I was setting up the camera, it started to rain. It just looked so sad & melancholic. I thought it was a very nice poetic visual to signal that the bad times & misery have arrived.
The last shot we filmed at another hotel lobby, illegally! A director’s dream to shoot somewhere you’re not allowed to! It was just a quick cutaway, the whole thing is sort of a montage to show you how things are deteriorating between them. I love how Mads looks to Silje, then turns his eyes down & Silje stoically gets up, then walks away without even looking at him. You can feel the tension coming off the screen. Shallow depth of field here to give Silje space & get you closer to Mads. Mads is getting a bit more screentime here!
I don’t think we even asked permission to film there, but because of my Canon 5d MkII we could get away with that. Run and gun, baby! ?
We shot a lot of the video in the Scandic Hotel in Bergen, a very luxurious room that added atmosphere to the video.
Conflict has been building & now it erupts. Both frustrated, arguing, accusations flying. Asking a lot here of my actors, they had to show negative emotions, which as said before, is difficult for them. If you look closely at their faces, you can see how much they actually lived the part they were acting.
This scene is the first breaking point in the story, so I decided to have her do something physical, not just scream, to show that she’s done with him. I liked the image of angry Silje throwing the duvet to bury Mads (and the camera) & it worked in the edit as well.
In the next image we see her standing, bathed in light, her reflection in the mirror on the back wall. A glance over her shoulder, vulnerable, but strong & then determined. She’s decided. I liked the framing on that shot, filming her standing in the doorway to the bathroom, lights on in there & the rest of the room darkened. It had to look like it was the middle of the night. There is a lot of lens blur in the shot, except for her eyes. The focus is on the moment you can see in her eyes she decides she’s had enough.
Throughout the scene we can see Silje singing with lots of emotion, as she relives the memories of that night. These shots were actually done much later, when she was in The Netherlands. We filmed in a space in the Honigfabriek in Nijmegen, with lots of very long black curtains, that made a nice even backdrop, so I could isolate Silje & also capture her movements as she sways while singing. This was all done handheld.
Here we’re still shooting in the upscale hotel room with only available light. It is the morning after the big fight, Mads is still asleep and with the camera on a tripod, I pan to Mads’ nightstand. The hotel room didn’t have an alarm clock so we quickly downloaded an alarm clock app on my iPad to use instead, which worked out pretty well. Filming a movie requires improvisation! ? It’s 6 am and a hand grabs the keys to the mustang and a pair of sunglasses from the nightstand.
Continuing the movement to the right, the camera picks up Silje as she walks out the door in a moment of decisiveness and triumph, towards freedom! I wanted to film Silje literally walking away from the situation. You can just make out that she puts on the sunglasses before she disappears in a flash of light. As if she knew what I was planning in the edit! ? I chose to use shallow depth of field to show how much distance she is putting between herself and Mads, she’s gone. I love the look of her silhouette in that hallway.
Smash cut to the Mustang! I loved filming that car!
It is early morning, Silje is on the road in her stolen Mustang, RayBan sunglasses on her nose. The music slowly begins its’ triumphant crescendo, as she drives further away from the toxic relationship. I directed Silje to transition from a serious look to smiling, the further away she gets, the happier and stronger she becomes.
The landscape was just wonderful, driving along the west coast of Norway, so rugged and wild. This is an important reason why I wanted to film in Norway. The shots of the Mustang were done with 24mm, 50mm and a 100mm Canon lenses, hanging out the back of a Volkswagen, no safety belts. It wasn’t safe, but I just wanted to get the shot! We did three takes, driving at different speeds, from slow to quite fast!
It wasn’t possible to use my Steadycam, since there was no space in the trunk of the car. I had to stabilize some of the footage in post, which is why it looks a little twitchy and trippy here and there, I think it fits ok, but I would do that differently now if I had to do it again. We drove around for about an hour until I was satisfied with my takes. All this time I was contorted in the back in a very awkward position, which left me really sore!
There is a clear shot of Silje’s ring, while here hand is on the steering wheel. This image stirred up a bit of controversy and interesting theories among fans. But we’ll get to that later on. From now on there’ll be minute long snippets, thanks to Instagram’s new video time limit.
Hanging out of the back of a Volkswagen with Mads at the wheel, driving fast, holding my Canon 5d MkII just above the street, the Mustang behind us, rugged landscape all around. No rig, everything handheld. Such a thrill. I love that shot as we drive over the bridge.
A transition to the clouds drifting past, the darkness of this bad relationship finally clearing away. I filmed this high up on a mountain, I really like the way the sunbeams break through the clouds.
We’re nearly at the end of Silje’s journey, the viewpoint switches to subjective for a moment as we see the landscape in the sun. All of this has been leading up to this moment. Silje, bathed in sunlight, turns from looking into the sun straight into the camera. Triumphant look on her beautiful face before being enveloped by pure light. This was the heroshot. I insisted on breaking the fourth wall here and connecting this Silje to the Silje that can be seen singing throughout the video. For better or worse this is one of my favorite images from the video.
The narrative is over, the story has been told, but that’s not all there is. Her escape wasn’t the main point of the video. It’s also about her internal struggle, the turmoil and doubt. From here on we dive into her subconscious, through the portal that’s been the symbol for the unconscious for so long, water. The shimmering, manipulated image of the surface of water beckons as Silje sings “fall into me…”.
This is without a doubt my favorite part of the video. The music builds to the peak of the crescendo, as Silje remembers the turmoil of the love, lust and strife. She sings “A promise at last to call back the past and finish off with you… I’m finishing off with you”.
The images here are a mix of Mads and Silje fighting, making love and Silje singing. I wanted this to be turmoil, frantic and violent even, like difficult and intense memories. I took the fightscene from earlier and juxtaposed it with the lovescene, which I saved for this climactic moment. These are interspersed with images of Silje singing which I shot handheld while wildly shaking the camera and twisting the focusring like a madman. After returning from Norway, I filmed Silje singing in the honigfabriek in Nijmegen.
I actually came upon a Russian website that had analyzed this bit of the video frame by frame to see if Silje was naked in it. Sorry to burst your bubble guys, the lady had clothes on! It was a bit awkward for Silje (maybe not so much for Mads) to film this intimate moment, but as I’ve said before, they are such professionals and did a fantastic job! Without both of them I wouldn’t have been able to make my vision a reality.
The very last image of this scene is of them making love, choosing the positive over the negative. From here there is only freedom and after traversing the last of the wild water, a profound peace. Coming from blackness I wanted the very next image to be the polar opposite, so I wanted to show the sun. Because of the properties of the lens, it looks like there are two suns. In the comments on Youtube somebody thought that the two suns merging together is an homage to Natasha Khan of Bat for Lashes. It is not.
The water you see next is the North Sea. I am hanging over the bow of a speedboat that’s going around 40 knots or 74kph, with my camera clenched in my hands, nothing underneath but the dark, deep sea. Reflecting back, I’m not sure why I took this risk, but I’m happy I did!
The story is over. Silje has finally found her inner peace. The 1st image you see is Silje looking up, angelic beauty against a backdrop of clouds as she fades away for the last time.
There is a moment just before she fades out completely, she looks directly into the camera with her piercing blue-grey eyes & the clouds behind her look almost painted as they pass behind her in shades of grey. It is my absolute favorite image of the whole film. I’m very proud of that single moment.
I’ve mirrored the clouds for dramatic effect. I shot some of the clouds in Norway, but when I got back home I realized I needed more, so on a stormy day I filmed some more clouds racing from my living room.
In the last sequence of clouds you see racing past, you see a cloud that looks like a pair of wings (this video 0:45, full video at around 9:27). In the youtube comments for this video, there were some fans who thought I had done this deliberately as a callback to the ring Silje is wearing as she drives the Mustang (in the full video at 5:17). Although the clouds & the ring are strikingly similar, this was not done intentionally. Pure coincidence. I wish I was clever enough to think of this! ?
If you look closely at the cloud sequence, you can also see some waterdrops, some vertical lines & a faint orange light. As I was filming the clouds from behind the window in my living room, it started to rain, so there were raindrops on the window. The vertical stripes are the reflection of my curtains & the orange light is the reflection of a streetlight on the window. Hope I didn’t shatter the illusion for you! ☺️
One more episode to go! ?
Here is the last #episode of the Director’s Commentary. I had a lot of fun reliving that amazing time in Norway with Silje, Mads & Maria, our amazing producer.
The last of the clouds merge with a road at night. Silje has made her escape & it’s been a long day driving. I decided to bookend the story, because we started In Medias Res, in the middle of the story. Silje’s journey is then shown in what essentially are flashbacks. It also works very well with the lyrics. “I feel the past, I always look backwards”, the last words as she’s driving away, I interpreted those words as a description of who she used to be, before her decision to put herself first.
The floating balls of light that drift past as she drives into the night were a lucky coincidence. I was in the passenger seat filming some b-roll, playing with the focus as the streetlights turned into luminescent orbs that drifted upward. In the edit I emphasized these by adding a ghosting effect to them. It gave a dreamy look to the start & end of the video.
The very last image as Silje sighs “I always look backwards” are 2 of these light orbs coming into focus & becoming the headlights of a car driving past us. Imagine that there is another person in the oncoming car with their own story, their own little universe of experiences, feelings & thoughts, whom we might get to know, or maybe never will. To me it represents at once the infinite possibilities of life, & the deep melancholy of the understanding of how much we will never know or experience.
Thank you Silje, Mads, Maria, Bjaarstad family, Rene, Hans, Marjolein, Frank, Marko, Joe & John for helping me bring this #vision to life! Thank you for watching!?
Here’s the full video: