Tag Archives: filmclips

Close as a Close-Up – making Shoebox Theatre music videos

4 Jul

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If you’re reading this you’re no doubt aware I’ve just released my debut solo album, Close as a Slow Dance. I’ve decided to make videos for three songs from the album: Dancehall at Louse Point, Our Old Oblivion and On the River Road. It’s also possible I may do one for No Time For Compliments Now but the visual ideas toward that song aren’t as advanced as the others.

To keep myself occupied on long car and train journeys to gigs in Hamburg and Kiel, and a trip on a very interrupted U6 train service in Berlin, I wrote scene-by-scene treatments for Oblivion and Dancehall that should now be typed up. These include a long list of things I need, but as I have pretty much no budget, I wrote these treatments planning to use a very old technology – Shoebox Theatre.

When I was a kid, Dad obtained these two amazing books where you cut out and glued together an old-school theatre and a Victorian-era London townhouse for rich people. I couldn’t bear to cut into them but spent many hours with each building’s history and pictures. The idea has stayed with me.

The set for Oblivion is a cheap motel room. I built that first by lining a shoebox with black paper. I realise now I should just have spraypainted the inside because when I actually use an HD camera, you’ll probably see the gaffa tape holding everything together. I cut in a door and window and lined them with baking paper. It’s by no means a realistic scene with the view through the doorway being as hazy as the window but the character in the story is a virtual prisoner in there so a dream-like haze is fine.

Today, I made some characters. I did a little visual research and photocopying at theĀ Amerika-Gedenkbibliothek in Berlin and wondered if I should use a doll of some sort for the female character. I ended up tracing images I got from fashion magazines, modifying the lines and attitudes a little and gluing them onto black card. Considering I’m such a shit drawer, I’m pretty pleased with my characters.

For the male ‘lead’ and his two friends, I used a photocopy of a wonderful posed picture (below) from a book on the history of the Irish Republican conflict. It’s a photo of the incredibly well-dressed “Cairo Gang”, an infamous bunch of British detectives seconded to Dublin in 1920, where the IRA, presumably, had numbered each man for identification. Number 1 is the leading man of my video and Number 3 (who’s somehow incredibly charismatic) and Number 8 are his ‘friends’, from a lyric in the song, “There is no place, in this state, that I could go/He’s got a lot of friends who’d tell me so”.

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I did spend a lot of time today attempting to figure out scale and ratios for my model, trying to work back up to an actual room and down again so I could try and make the bed and the people to something approaching scale. In the end, I just used my eyes. It may make for some slightly weird looking scenes. We’ll see.

After making all the characters I set up the laptop in front of the shoebox theatre and took some experimental footage using the little low-res cam which I will edit together just to have a look at my handiwork. It will definitely be easier to frame with an HD cam.

I definitely need to do something about the lighting but I did experiment with a chain of Thai ball lights, a bicycle light and candles. Eventually, I got a nice back lighting effect with five candles behind the shoebox reflecting off a piece of tin foil taped to my wall, while I used the ball lights and bike light for front lighting.

When I’m finished with the test video, I’ll post it here.