Industry Project: Shooting a music video for Philipp Johann Thimm
By Elise Czyzowska
28 September 2023
Among the most thrilling facets of our MA Degrees is the Industry Project Module, where our students collaborate on real-world projects for external clients, providing them with invaluable hands-on experience. For Berlin students Andrés Hidalgo (MA Directing) and Anirudh Ganapathy (MA Cinematography), this led them to German multi-instrumentalist, producer, and composer, Philipp Johann Thimm.
Andrés and Anirudh were not the only students to work on this project, with the full credits including:
- Co-Writer: Quentin Laprade (MA Screenwriting)
- Actor: Pavlo Volkov (BA Screen Acting)
- Producer: Dasha Altukhova (MA Documentary & Factual)
- AD: Valeria Portilla (MA Directing)
- Gaffer: Rahul Varghese (MA Cinematography)
- 1st AC: Thomas Brodtmann (MA Cinematography)
- 2nd AC: Abril Ruiz (MA Cinematography)
- Line Producer: Mariolina Falone (MA Documentary & Factual)
- AP: Pietro Bergamasco (MA Directing)
Together, the team created a music video for Philipp’s 2023 single, Tripping Over Guns at Sunset, and their work went on to be shortlisted for ‘Cultural Impact Music Video’ at the Berlin Commercial Festival, one of Europe’s largest video commercial festivals.
In today’s blog, we spoke to Andrés and Anirudh about the project, including where they see themselves within the project, and the lessons from their degree that helped prepare them for the industry.
Andrés Hidalgo – Director & Writer
How did this project come about? And what was the pre-production process like?
We got into this project through the School’s Industry Project, where I stumbled upon this artist with some seriously cool music and lyrics. I’d been grinding away at commercial stuff for years, and I was itching for a chance to work on my storytelling skills, and to do something that felt more personal.
It was all pretty straightforward: I told Philipp that I wanted to create something that ran alongside the lyrics, sort of like a parallel story that merged into this third creative space. The music was full of emotions, so I decided to ride that wave. Philipp had this really cool location, and from there, I came up with a story where our characters found themselves in this elevated, almost surreal setting. I pitched it to Philipp, and he totally dug it.
Teaming up with Quentin Laprade (Co-Writer), we mapped out the story, breaking it into acts to figure out the structure and how long each part should be. Plus, I was constantly swapping ideas and vibes with Anirudh to nail down the mood and tone. After all that, I showed Philipp my treatment, and he gave us the green light to start shooting!
The video relies heavily on your actors’ wordless performance. During the shoot, how did you approach working with them, to get the performance you wanted?
Teaming up with Pavlo Volkov and Aaron Broß was a pleasant surprise, given that we hadn’t previously collaborated. But I’d crossed paths with them and had this gut feeling that they’d totally nail their roles, so I took a chance and approached them – thankfully, they jumped on board with enthusiasm.
We actually hashed out their character backgrounds over coffee, and then we did a fun, somewhat mystical pre-shoot ritual. I’m a firm believer in the power of rituals to make things feel more tangible and special.
As for directing on set, I mostly stuck to my usual approach – I made sure they had what they needed, and then let the magic unfold organically. Since there was no sound involved, we leaned on music to set the mood, which surprisingly worked like a charm!
Directing music videos, you’re helping an artist to fulfil their creative vision – but of course, there are also pieces of yourself in the final piece. How do you see yourself reflected in this video?
It’s kind of amusing, when you think about it. Every time we create a film or snap a photo, it’s like a tiny part of us takes a leap into the great unknown, never to return. It’s like our little contribution to the world’s treasure trove of stories and visuals.
For me, I’ve always been drawn to stories that delve into the intricate dance of human relationships – the push and pull, the highs and lows. I start from that neutral canvas, and then dial up the emotions to the extreme, just to see how far we can stretch the emotional spectrum.
It’s like pushing the boundaries of our own narrative universe.
Anirudh Ganapathy – Cinematographer
Was it easy to find the visual style for the piece?
As DOP, finding the visual style was a deliberate and collaborative process. The most pivotal aspect of this journey was the extensive dialogues with Andrés, the Director. These discussions encompassed a broad spectrum, from comprehending the narrative, to delving into character backstories – all of which significantly influenced my visual concepts.
Early on, Andrés and I agreed that the camera should exhibit a sense of fluidity, allowing the actors to move freely while accommodating their performances. Our pre-production efforts and location reconnaissance were instrumental in refining our creative visions, and ensuring we were on the same wavelength.
There are a couple scenes where you see sound as a visual – pebbles shaking on the ground, or water rippling. How do you think that helps the audience to build an emotional connection to the story?
The motivation was rooted in Philipp’s unique approach to music creation. He seamlessly integrates samples of various ambient sounds into his compositions. While these instances are relatively sparse within the film, they hold a significant sway in setting the overall atmosphere and ambience.
Given that this project is a music video, I perceived these visuals as a bridge connecting the audience not only to the storyline, but also to the intricate sounds that compose the piece. Rather than solely fixating on the narrative, viewers are prompted to immerse themselves in the auditory components that contribute to the overarching emotional experience.
Can you share any lessons from your MA Cinematography course that have particularly stuck with you?
One invaluable lesson was instilled by our tutor, Ralph Netzer, which revolved around the concept of considering the emotional impact of a shot and it’s underlying purpose. This approach served as a guiding principle for framing and camera movement decisions.
This lesson proved especially crucial during this project, as it lacked spoken dialogue to advance the narrative. Consequently, the visual elements bore the weight of conveying the emotions and story. As a result, I drew upon this guiding philosophy to inform my choices regarding camera angles and lighting, ensuring that the visuals effectively communicated the intended emotional depth.