Sweetshop’s Nicolas Jack Davies on directing Mumford & Sons’ new song ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ from isolation
Sweetshop director Nicolas Jack Davies recently directed Mumford & Sons’ latest song ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ featuring Reuben James, filmed in isolation during the Covid-19 pandemic. Davies and the team planned the shoot, prepared the cameras and then sent them to Mumford and Reuben at home. The artists set the cameras up, with remote assistance from the team. And Davies then directed them over Zoom. All the proceeds from the video will be going to Mumford’s chosen charities, WarChild UK and The Grenfell Trust. Here Davies recaps the making of the music video…
By Nicolas Jack Davies, director, Sweetshop
For whatever reason, I am asked to often make a lot of emotive ads (that at times can feel awfully cynical when a sale is involved!) and a lot of the stories I explore tend to focus on depth of emotion and feeling. It’s not really something I consciously do, it just happens. And one of the key things I’ve really learned about emotional storytelling is that the most powerful stuff can make you laugh before or after the thing that makes you cry. And vice versa. If it’s all one side, it tends to be emotionally dead. I was super conscious with this YNWA film for Marcus [Mumford] that the sincerity and weight of the performance wasn’t be sad and gloomy because a) that’s not who/how he is as a person/performer and b) I didn’t believe it would get the right response from the audience – it needed to be personal, human and light-hearted at the same time as hugely effecting as a performance – particularly in the current time
… When Marcus dropped the track onto Instagram. I watched it almost as it was uploaded when my kids had gone to bed. And I’m not ashamed to say had a good solid cry after a tricky few weeks involving my family. I could only imagine it having a similar impact to others who heard it around the world at the moment.
I messaged Marcus and said, “You just made me cry in bed.” The next morning, I got a call asking if I’d make a video with them.
Filmed in isolation.
My relationship with Marcus has become quite personal after all this time working with together. I guess / hope he trusts me.
I knew making this would be challenging, but also something we could pull off with a bit of ingenuity. We wanted to make the filming process a great case study for how to adapt and achieve something like a music video – with a simple concept but considered production value – in these extraordinary and sensitive times.
Authentic all over
Marcus is bullet proof when it comes to his music mixing with the causes he believes in – just watch his acceptance speech at last years John Steinbeck Award if you had any doubt. This was always going to authentic. He’s supported the Grenfell Tower project since it launched, and he’s been part of War Child for years. He’s no fake, there was never going to be a sad third element to this.
The secret for me was to be 100% transparent about the process. We needed to break the fourth wall. Make the fact this is being done remotely, through the internet and by hand, an obvious part of the creative approach. We had to have the cameras running while Marcus and Reuben [James] set them up, checking them, chatting to themselves. We wanted the film to feature little outtakes and conversational asides in the opening and closing moments, or even looks and reactions between Marcus and Reuben during the takes.
When it was done, we wanted it to just feel like a raw, honest home video Marcus made with a little help from his friends and in total respect of social distancing.
Performance & tone
I did a remote location scout with our DP Edgar Dubrovskiy [Cinematographer who worked on Mumford & Sons ‘The Blind Leading the Blind]. We hired five cameras in total, which went to Edgar who pre-set them so the focus would work. Three cameras went to Marcus and two went to Reuben. The cameras were wiped with alcohol each time they arrived in the new place. They arrived the day before the shoot, Marcus and Reuben set up with instructions and our team on zoom.
In terms of look and feel, we used simple natural lighting, with some practical lights on in the room. One camera was locked off wide of the respective studios, one close up head shot, and one mid shot covering. We left them fixed and then Marcus and Reuben just performed, rather than moving camera position each time so everything in the process was captured.
What was really remarkable was the turn around. Shoots were in Birmingham and Devon. The track was recorded on Monday, and sent back to Sweetshop on Monday night, the edit was done by Liam Bachler at Ten Three and then we delivered the video by Friday.
There was so much stuff the we couldn’t include. The batteries in the cameras ran out – we could have made a special feature just on changing the battery. Marcus and Reuben are both pretty techy, but the chat was so funny. Marcus and Reuben were Face Timing us on their phones so they could show us what they were doing. It was weird experience.
I didn’t leave the house during the whole job, which I also found so bizarre. My biggest worry was the internet. I “remote directed” from my son’s bedroom (who’s 12) and I had to keep my other kids out. But family were around everyone else too, and we couldn’t have done it without Marcus’ wife Carey and Reuben’s Mum and Dad.
And of course, Reuben’s mum is a massive character. She kept telling me off – at one stage she shouted “It’s Mrs Butler to you baby!” Which made everyone laugh and put us really at ease to be honest. The best bit is when she names the coronavirus and says when it’s over “I’ll have you”. I love that strange British defiance.
Client: Mumford & Sons
Director: Nicolas Jack Davies
Producer: Theo Youngstein
DOP: Edgar Dubrovskiy
Editor: Liam Bachler, Ten Three
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