Photo: Ellius Grace
Out last year, the video for Le Galaxie’s ‘Le Club’ features gimp masks, kinky cling film bondage and dominatrices. Directed by Bob Gallagher, ‘Le Club’ opens its doors into the underground world of BDSM – and once you’re in, it’s hard getting out.
Sebastian Stephenson slipped into his best leather and hooked up with Bob to discuss working with Le Galaxie and whipping the video into shape. Wonder what wild antics Bob will be getting up to 2nd – 5th June 2016? You can ask hims yourself as he’ll be here in Filmbase teaching the art of the Music Video!
Did you find Le Galaxie or did Le Galaxie find you?
In this case they found me. I’d just released a music video I made with Girl Band at the time. Le Galaxie’s manager Joe Clarke got in touch saying he really liked that video, and asked me if I’d be interested in coming up up with an idea for ‘Le Club’. I think they’d received a few treatments at that stage already, but nearly all of them were literally set in ‘the club’ and they were looking for something a bit more interpretive.
How did the idea for the video come about?
I was in Manchester killing time before a gig and had the option of seeing two films that I’d never heard of. The Duke of Burgundy sounded sexier than whatever the other film was so I went to see that. It turned out to be Peter Strickland’s new film and it’s a really genius study of a relationship between two women in a dominant / submissive relationship. The thing that struck me about it was that, after a period of time, the dynamic starts to bore them, much the same as any relationship begins to feel worn out when you get into a routine. From the outside you might look at that relationship and think ‘how exciting!’ but from within, it must become repetitive and tedious at times. I was really interested in that idea then of a dominatrix as somebody with a seemingly unusual or exciting job who is basically just clocking in and clocking out like anyone else.
A dominatrix was perfect because there’s a dynamic there of her being bored of the routine nature of her work but not being allowed to show her boredom. She’s giving a performance every time she interacts with a customer. For them they’re at the height of their excitement and she has to keep up a facade and play along, even though she’s more than likely incredibly bored. I had seen Nick Broomfield’s Fetishes documentary before but I re-watched that for some ideas. In it he interviews a dominatrix called Mistress Raven who’s stopped seeing clients, and when he asks her the reason why she responds by saying ‘Do you have any idea how exhausting it is?’ I think as a job it’s comparable to being a therapist but as well as taking on other people’s psychological baggage it’s very physical work. I don’t envy it.
What was it like sourcing talent for this video, considering the BSDM nature of the music video?
I was a bit worried about it as first, because you’re asking a little more of the cast than your normal drama. For the most part they’re playing characters who are being willingly humiliated or tortured. When casting the clients I put an add online and hoped for the best. I was actually surprised at the level of interest in it. I wanted to try and get a good range of people so had to filter through everyone who had applied. Typically, the stereotype would be business men in their 40s or 50s who visit a dominatrix, but the BDSM scene is pretty varied in reality and I wanted to reflect that. Everyone who came on board really went for it with their role, and had fun with it so we were fortunate with the cast we had in the end. I think it was an eye-opener for a lot of us!
For casting Veronica, the dominatrix, I had to do quite a bit of looking because it’s a role that not every actor would love to be approached for – ‘oh you look like you’d make a good dom, do you want to be in a music video?’. I took the approach of contacting a few agencies and asking the agents if the actors I had in mind would be up for it first, and if it would suit their sense of humour. Kathy (who appears in the video) got back in touch, and we met for a coffee and she was perfect. We got really lucky with her I think. She had the right sense of humour and a friendly attitude on set, but she also brought a lot of depth to that character and she has so much presence on screen. She really nailed that character. We were joking that she could probably go into business as a dominatrix now. She has the showreel.
What sort of research did you undertake to prepare?
The lead-up to making the video was quite short so I didn’t get to do as much as I would have liked. I did try to research by talking to some dominatrices, but I was shut down across the board. There seemed to be a universal policy of not talking to the ‘media’, which is understandable, given that a lot of them want to protect their identities. It’s the first time anyone referred to me as the media, which I found funny. I should have just spent some of the budget on booking myself in for a session but I’d blown my cover already.
I re-watched that Nick Broomfield’s documentary as a refresher because it’s a really good insight into that world, from the point of view of both client and dominatrix. A friend of mine also put me onto a great book called Perv: The Sexual Deviant in All of Us by Jesse Berring. The teller in the book shop made sure to loudly run the title by me a few times for maximum discomfort. I think he was a sadist.
The book is a good thesis on ‘perversions’ as existing on a spectrum of sexuality where everyone has their place. Berring basically says that there is no such thing as ‘normal’ and that some behaviours that are deemed as perverse change over time with trends and societal attitudes. I was chatting to a guy who worked in a sex shop and I asked him if 50 Shades had made a difference to his business. He said now he’s noticed a lot more couples coming into the shop, and that there’s less of an air of shame about S&M because it’s at least opened up as a topic of conversation now. The discourse is improving but Ireland’s relationship with sexuality in general seems to still be approaching a state of maturation. I think there’s a lot of Catholic baggage to be shrugged off in that regard.
What were the technical challenges and surpasses to making this video?
Technically it wasn’t very complex. There were no special effects as such, everything happened in the room in real time, and was lit very practically. Getting to grips with the BDSM props was a bit of a challenge. Allegedly no one on set had experience putting on a gimp mask before… We also learned that it’s tough to operate cling film while wearing pleather gloves [plastic fabric made to look like leather]. Sourcing the props and costume cheaply was a bit of a challenge because all that gear is really expensive. I went into a sex shop at one stage and foolishly asked if any of it could be rented. The guy on the counter took a sharp intake of breath before telling me ‘Leather is like skin, it absorbs… everything’.
The biggest technical challenge was probably working with the Black Magic Ursa, which we’d never used before. Deirdre O’Toole [the DOP] had shot the Girl Band music video with me just before this on the Black Magic pocket and with the Samyang primes, which we both really liked the results of. In this case we needed to shoot some high frame rate stuff, and the Ursa had just arrived in Filmbase so we went with that to try it out.
We had the option of shooting 4K RAW, or PRORES 444 but we found it was actually surplus to what we needed in terms of quality. We started shooting 444 but we switched to 4K PRORES 422 HQ after the first few shots. The image quality was still more than what we needed for presenting in an online HD format. Even with the 422 we still had plenty of room with the 4K image to crop in if needed, and to do little push-ins. It graded really beautifully too.
For what we were doing the Ursa was perfect. I think it’s a great studio camera. It’s got three monitors, and the main flip out screen is huge so everyone can see what’s happening without going to an external monitor. The Samyangs are great too, they’re quite fast lenses and allowed us to do very practical lighting, which meant that we could work quickly and get through all the different clients without too much re arranging of the lighting setup.
We shot a lot of 80 frames per second stuff for the video, which was fun. Just afterwards I believe there was a firmware update that allows for 150 frames per second. It’s a pity, but then maybe that would have been too much ass jiggle.
This was your first time doing a music video for a major label act, was Universal Music Ireland sensible enough to let you do your own thing?
After working with Rough Trade I expected that working with Universal might be a little more controlled or stifling but it really wasn’t. The treatment I wrote is basically what transpired on screen. You have an idea in your head of how a major label will be, but actually everyone I interacted with there was really helpful and enthusiastic, and they just trusted me to get on with it.
I think possibly the positive response to the Girl Band video gained me a certain amount of credibility or leeway creatively. Maybe it’s unusual for a first time working with a major label, but I very much got to make the video I set out to make. I think in this particular case the band had the final say on the outcome but I didn’t come up against any resistance with the band or the label, and the process was very straight forward. I was a bit anxious sending the rough cut to the folks at Universal, thinking they might ask me to cut a few shots here or there. The response I got was ‘you’re fairly pushing it, but we like it’. I think that’s an ideal position to be in.
Further information on cameras and hire rates from Filmbase can be found here
If you’re interested in learning more, Bob Gallagher will be teaching Make a Music Video 2nd June 2016 here in Filmbase .
Check out more from Bob Gallagher at Bobfilmsthings