Young Cairo 'Ghosts'
This week I chatted to Andrew Guirguis the man behind Young Cairo about his video for 'Ghosts'.
Andrew himself is a very talented individual where his musical talents matches his visual style.
Check him out:
Artist: Young Cairo
Director: Josh Whiteman
What inspired you on your idea for the video?
The conceptual credit for the video really belongs to director-and-friend, Josh Whiteman. He basically pitched the treatment to me over some scrambled eggs one morning and, without really deliberating at all, I just said 'yes, let's do it.' Once we got the ball rolling on it I did input my own ideas, but primarily it's Josh's vision and I enjoyed just letting someone else run the show. As a one-man independent operation it doesn't happen enough, so I've learned (quickly) to relish taking the creative backseat when the opportunities arise, especially if the person driving knows more about how to do the thing than I do.
How were you approached for the job?
What led Josh to pitch the treatment to me in the first place was a lo-fi demo of 'Ghosts' I'd posted on Facebook, which he had seen. When I say 'lo-fi', I mean made using Photobooth and Garageband, so the whole damn thing was created on my iMac in literally one sitting. But it obviously had enough 'something' to it that Josh was inspired to pen a treatment pretty much immediately and pitch it, pretty much immediately.
What was the budget?
Um... nothing?! Well, OK, not 'nothing', but having made about 9 independent music videos over the last 10 years, I've become accustomed to the mentality that the budget starts at $0 until someone says 'hey, shit, we need $200 for this or $500 for that' and then it starts to cost something. Josh was a little more upfront though and prepared me for the fact that I'd be looking at around $1,000, which is still amazing considering the video is probably worth thirty times that. But independent music videos don't get made unless there are industrious (read: charitable) people like Josh in the world who can connect good DOP’s, stylists and crew with musicians and figure out a way to make it work for all parties when the dollars just aren't there.
What was the production process like leading up to the shoot?
Again, Josh was the one at the steering wheel. But he and I worked very closely to conceive and refine the final list of looks that I would dress up in and also possible locations for each look. Once we confirmed Cherith Crozier as stylist and Bel Kruse on make-up, we started working with them to achieve the selected looks, which was also helped along by the fact I personally have a large wardrobe full of clothes. All that shopping pays off at some point!
We then had to match up the final looks with locations around Sydney, which did change a bit in the final wash-up, but Josh was really good at mapping out a journey through some key city sights that also made sense in terms of getting from one place to the next with a 5-person crew and a wardrobe.
Camera-wise, I think Josh and Jan Reichle (DOP) were pretty certain from the outset that a 7D mounted on a body rig was THE way to shoot this clip, but there was still a fair bit of thinking and tinkering involved to sort out lighting and playback for a setup that is 100% mobile and constantly moving.
As happens with these sorts of independent projects though, it took a while to find a date that worked for everyone involved. It can be a bit of a jigsaw puzzle, but eventually all the pieces settle and a date gets locked in. But the upside of the waiting game is that I was able to grow a pretty hefty beard by the time we started shooting, which allowed us to go for a pretty cool facial hair trick as part of the concept - a trick which totally throws people off the fact the clip was shot in 24 hours, not over days or weeks.
What were the limitations you faced with the production?
It's probably worth mentioning at this point that until Josh declared 'Ghosts' the best thing I'd ever written and eagerly pitched the clip to me, I never intended to put the song on the album! It was just this 2-and-a-half minute gem I'd written and demoed one morning, ironically as a bit of a release from how long the album was taking me. So the biggest limitation we faced was that 'Ghosts' was just a demo; it didn't 'exist' as a song, not in the way the rest of my proper studio recorded album did. Essentially, we would be shooting the music video before the song was finished. Luckily the song structure was set in stone; it was never going to change, but it was still a bit odd to perform a clip to an unfinished song, and there are actually some handclaps in the final album version of 'Ghosts' that are only there because I was clapping in the clip. Woops.
Other than that, we faced the usual sorts of limitations: not enough time, not enough money, not enough everything. But more specifically there were some limitations surrounding the camera rig and playback, both of which were strapped to me the whole time. Walking/running/dancing around was obviously inhibited by the rig and it took some getting used to, especially in locations like the beach and a very crowded Chinatown. And whilst Josh's idea to strap an iPod with speakers to the rig so I could control my own playback was genius, it also posed issues in crowded and noisy locations because I just couldn't hear the track, even at max volume. The pink Bowie set up at Ching-a-lings (a bar on Oxford St) was by far the hardest for this fact. I was trying to sing in time to the track, which I could barely hear while fighting against the music the DJ was playing and pushing past patrons who were chatting loudly while queuing for drinks.
I guess the ultimate limitation though was racing against the clock with all the different looks and locations we/I had to be in, especially because we had no official permission to shoot in any of the places we were in. A singing Egyptian with a camera strapped to him and 5 people circling around is pretty damn conspicuous, so we had to be in and out quickly at most locations, which limited the time Cherith and Bel could spend on crafting each look and also the time Josh and Jan had to get what they wanted from each setup.
Who were your key collaborators?
Well, first and foremost, there was Josh Whiteman (director) who I've mentioned about 36 times already. Jan Reichle as DOP, Cherith Crozier (and an assistant) as stylist and Bel Kruse as make-up. It was very much an all-hands-on-deck type of shoot.
Have you worked with any of them before?
Josh, Cherith and I used to work at the same creative agency in Sydney, so there's some history working together in that sense, and I'd also helped Josh a couple of years back with a documentary he is making. The three of us are friends, Josh especially, which I think makes for a better vibe on these sorts of independent projects; it means there's some love going into the work and it causes the other crew members to relax and be more sociable, because they want to be part of the friendly dynamic too.
Many months after the 'Ghosts' shoot, Cherith and Bel came aboard again to help style and do make-up for my album artwork photo shoot and Josh and I are currently post-producing the second Young Cairo music video. So I'd say that 'Ghosts' has sparked a bit of a nexus for us.
What did you shoot on? What lenses did you use?
We shot the clip using a Canon 7D with a 10-20mm lens. We used a Go Pro just for the final setup where I wade out through the waves at Maroubra Beach and then dunk myself.
What was the turnaround?
Well, Josh will probably tell you not as quick as it should've or could've been. And he'd be right! Given that I hadn't finished the final studio version of 'Ghosts' by the time we shot the clip, nor by the time Josh was ready to online it, we were sufficiently held up. But the glass-half-full way to look at it is that it was nice to not be rushed by a deadline; for me as the artist/client to not be like 'can i have a master tomorrow?' That said, Josh drove the editing process as fast as he could with editor Miles Selwyn and pretty much had a final cut done to the unfinished version of 'Ghosts' that we'd used for playback during the shoot. Like I said, the structure of the song was not going to change, so we could perform and edit to it with confidence. From memory, Josh and Miles had the clip cut and dried in a couple of weeks, but then it took another few months for me to get back in the studio to finish the song and get it slotted into the master.
Still, we shot the clip in November 2011 and it wasn't revealed to the public until August 2012, and that was still only a soft launch of sorts. 'Ghosts' will probably not get its hard launch until 2013 once album release plans are finalised with a label.
If you had a chance to approach it again, what would you do differently?
Shit, that's a tough one. It's always tough with projects you're really proud of to see how it could've been done differently or better because the pride causes your brain to smooth over or even cancel out any problems or glitches that could've been improved. That said, I think (in hindsight) having more time to practice with and camera test the body rig would be something I'd do, because we were really only realising while watching the rushes what locations and actions were working best via the camera-mounted technique. And if I magically had more time to do such tests, I'd also magically create more time for the shoot itself so that we could do more looks and craft each look a bit more - more make-up, more accessories, potentially even some prosthetics - to really push each version of myself to the ninth degree.