In this new interview for Oasis Recording Information director Nigel Dick recalls working on the music videos for Rock ’n’ Roll Star and Wonderwall…
Can you tell us a bit about your background and how you came to direct music videos for Oasis?
I’m from the UK originally, and was trained to be an architect but couldn’t get work, so I wound up in the music business which was great for me as I was a frustrated musician and a huge music fan. Eventually after ten years of doing that I wound up as a director in Los Angeles.
I was doing a lot of work for Sony / Epic / Columbia in New York and got a call that they’d like me to fly out to Minneapolis and meet Oasis, who were on tour at the time. Essentially I got the gig because I was English. As the label guy said, “We don’t understand a word they say and so we thought you should shoot this job as you’re English and you can obviously understand them.” What they didn’t realize is that Oasis were working class lads from Lancashire and, though I was born in Yorkshire (the adjacent northern county), I sound like a middle-class guy from the South – not their kind of people at all. It was as if Sony was sending an Israeli to hang out with some Palestinians. From the start I could see that they didn’t respect me that much so I just kept my head down, tried to blend in with the wallpaper, get the job done fast and somehow we managed 5 videos and a live DVD together.
The first video you directed for Oasis was a promo for Rock ’n’ Roll Star, which combined footage of a gig with film of the band in an arcade, riding dodgems, and bowling – was this shot on location at Southend on Sea (where the concert was performed) or elsewhere at a later date?
As I recall it was all shot in Southend on one day. Video in the morning, dodgems at lunchtime and in the afternoon, gig in the evening.
Can you describe the early stages of planning the video: did Noel approach you with the idea of filming a gig for the video and ask you to develop a treatment for it?
None of the above. I hung out with the guys at the gig in Minneapolis, went home and wrote a treatment, sent it to my client at Sony and next thing I know I’m chewing candy-floss on Southend Pier and watching Noel and Liam barrelling towards each other in bumper cars. By the way – the Pier, which was quite famous, burnt down shortly afterwards. Coincidence?
When did you first meet the band and what did you make of them as individuals?
As mentioned above I met the band at the soundcheck for the gig in Minneapolis. Liam was initially very friendly and came over to introduce himself to me which I was very impressed by. Guigsy and Bonehead nodded at me, Tony smiled and Noel (at the time) made no impression on me at all.
How big was this production in terms of your crew? What format(s) were the concert and behind the scenes (dodgems, bowling) footage shot on? The grain, colour saturation etc and speed of the images changes a lot throughout, matching the song’s frenetic pace. In the footage itself you can see band members with a cine camera – did they shoot some footage themselves?
The crew was fairly minimal. The show and the performance part of Rock n’ Roll Star were shot on 16mm and the dodgems etc was mostly shot on Super 8 as I recall. And, yes, the band did shoot some of the stuff.
How long did post-production take? Can you describe how the superimposed elements were added (the various colour tints used to link guitars/dodgems/etc, the animated swirl on the cine camera lens and the star). Rock n Roll Star was also edited down from the album version for the video; did you work from a radio edit or was this version specially prepared for the music video?
The video took about two weeks to be finished. We did as many special effects shots in post as we could afford and they were quite fancy back then. Of course nowadays you could probably bang that off in an afternoon on your laptop. The DVD (or longform video as we used to call them) took longer – a month or two.
If the original (album) version of the song is too long it is / was traditional to create a shorter 3-4 minute version as there is / was more chance of it getting aired that way.
What was the concept for the Wonderwall video and how did it develop? Did Noel and the band have an idea of what they wanted or did they send you the song and ask you to suggest a treatment? Would this comprise a storyboard (if so does it still exist – would be fascinating to see; any behind the scenes photos would be great too).
The original brief I had was: “Noel says he wants it to be in black and white with bits of colour in it.” The label added a helpful hint: “For God’s sake don’t ask them to act or they’ll walk off the set, try and find something fun for them to do.” So, using these useful parameters, I came up with the concept that you now see as the video.
I do have the storyboard. I’ve drawn a storyboard for almost every video I’ve ever made. For the moment I’m keeping them under wraps in my vault. I’d love to make a book out of them someday. It’s nice to dream…
Can you say a bit about how you translated the lyrics and music of Wonderwall into visual form, in particular what inspired the idea of presenting the band in a warehouse with circus performers? I’m curious how the clown fits in: was it to echo the melancholy aspect of the song’s lyrics (like the traditional ‘sad clown’/Pierrot character, hiding his feelings behind his mask)?
As I recall I pretty much ignored the lyrics. What is a Wonderwall anyway? The saw players and cello player all worked nicely and were obviously inspired by the cello sound on the record – though I’m sure that sound was created by a sampler of some kind. I saw a picture of a girl playing a cello in a French magazine once and thought it was very sexy so I thought, “we’ll have one of those.” I now have a cello sitting in my office which I play very badly… but no sexy French model.
The showgirl is in there because I saw a showgirl in a still from Help! so that’s an obvious Beatles reference. The images work if a) people remember them and b) if the viewer like you can come up with an association that translates the lyrics for them – i.e. it’s nice if it’s all things to all people. If I told you I stayed up all night trying to create subtle bridged links between words and images I’d be lying. I’m not that smart. I come from the Nick Lowe school of concept writing: Bash it down – tart it up.
The clowns are in there because…well I needed another element – simple as that. On the day the two clowns got into a huge fight because they were both told they would be the only clown on set – and you know how clowns are when they find they’ve been double-booked.
The video also has a nostalgic feel, with its monochrome photography evoking memories of the 1960s. In particular the grid pattern of the band portraits (at 2:59 – 3:01; and 3:16 – 3:17) remind me of the cover of the Beatles’ 1964 album A Hard Day’s Night. Was this a reference suggested by the band?
At the time every interview I read with them went Beatles this, Beatles that, Beatles the other. So I thought, if Noel wants black and white let’s help it along its way and give it a Beatles-ish feel. Of course when you write the treatment you’re competing against a hundred other film-making geniuses so all you can do is close your eyes and throw your dart into the darkness and hope you hit something. At that point it’s as much about landing the job as it is about coming up with a great idea. (Not always the same thing by the way). I’m the guy that directed the video so I have to conclude that I got lucky and hit something.
And the song is shown as being played on a turntable of similar vintage, with the added sound effect of vinyl crackle just before the acoustic guitar riff comes in. Several shots are also darkened in the corners, giving an effect similar to home cine footage of the 60s & 70s.
I grew up with a record player like that that I filched from my Mother and owned just about every Beatles single from Love Me Do through till Ballad of John and Yoko so that’s a nod to my own past. The darkened corners (known as vignetting in the trade) were created by black card. I took some black card down to the set with me and ripped holes in the card and put them in front of the lens. I thought it looked cool.
Can you give a brief sketch of what a day in your life was like making the Wonderwall video: where and when it was shot; what it was like working with the band and crew; any problems encountered during the shoot and how they were solved? Also, was there anything else you planned to include but couldn’t due to time and budgetary constraints?
To be honest the day was a bloody nightmare for me. The location was miles from the centre of London for reasons of cheapness and everyone was grumbling about how difficult it was to find. It was cold and the cello player wasn’t too happy about that. The stuff that’s hanging and swinging wouldn’t swing right. The band were a couple of hours late. At lunchtime my old friend and long-time producer Phil came racing across the studio towards me looking very agitated. “My wife’s having a baby, I’m leaving for the hospital now!” And he was gone.
Later in the day I yelled cut and nothing happened. I yelled cut a second time and again, nothing. I looked up from my monitor and everyone in the crew was on their cell phone. The DP was talking to his agent about another job and turned his back on me. I lost it completely and had everyone’s cell phones taken away from them and locked in the office which alienated the entire crew. Then the clowns started fighting and then Liam and Noel started arguing. I turned to the record company person and appealed for help and then this person confessed that they’d never actually met any of the band and were too nervous to say hello to them. At this point I knew I was on my own and just and pushed and pushed till the band quit and went home. At the end of the day my friend who I stay with in London asked how it went and I said, “I think I snatched a morsel of victory from the jaws of defeat.” The good news is that Phil’s baby is now in her teens, very clever, and, despite all of that, thinking about working in the business.
Could you describe the post-production process? I’m interested in how you used edit flashes synchronised to the beat to punctuate the action, in addition to the negative/positive effect used when Liam sings ‘all the lights that light the way are blinding’. There are also brief clips showing the shots being set up (i.e. at 0:42 – 0:43); and the group smiling and laughing (in the closing montage). Was this planned from the start or added when reviewing the footage?
Post, as always, was very fast. I flew back to LA the next day and the colour gag was done the day after that in telecine. The coloured parts (e.g. Noel’s guitar) were just pieces of green screen paper stuck onto the guitar in the shoot so, in telecine, we keyed out every other colour and made it black and white apart from the green and then changed that into a colour I liked.
The white flashes? Thanks to modern technology you can’t really do white flashes like those any more! That gag was simple. You just turned the camera on and off during the take. As the camera gets up to speed and slows down the film is moving too slowly so it overexposes – hence white flash. It’s entirely random and serendipitous (or not). When you get to the edit you use the good bits.
As I’d be warned that “they don’t act” I would just squeeze off candid moments of the guys when they weren’t looking. Label people always think you can do this all the time but of course the band always know when you’re doing it, though they pretend not to. If they were really relaxing they’d be having a cigarette or napping in the van out the back wouldn’t they. However having a Fussball table around always helps… which is why it was there in the first place.
(Interview by David Huggins. Answers © Nigel Dick, 2011). For more information on Nigel Dick’s films and videos, please visit his website http://www.nigeldick.com/