The vision behind Desmond & the Tutus music videos


In conversation with Desmond & the Tutus front man Shane Durrant & director Greg Rom

Do you keep your audience in mind when you’re making creative decisions while prepping for music videos?

Shane Durrant: The key is that it enhances your experience of the song, so it needs to compliment the song well and that’s what will make people enjoy it. Obviously we do make the videos for fans but we’re not obsessed with “what will people like”, we just go out and try to make something that we think is cool.

Greg Rom: I think it’s more personal. The aim is to try make something that resonates with myself and the band and hopefully once it’s out there, people think it’s cool.

Do you guys have “unseen” footage from your tour in Japan?

I don’t have anything, Andrew Berry from We Are Awesome came along on our first trip in 2010, so he probably has some that didn’t make it into the tour movie that he made.

‘Lazy Bones’ has got to be one of my favourite music videos, from ‘Bay Watch’ references to ‘Top Gun’, ‘The Breakfast Club ‘Jerry Springer’ and ‘Zim Zala Bim’  diet pills, how do you approach a script when planning for a music video?

SD: ‘Lazy Bones’ is a song about just chilling and watching TV with someone that you love, so that TV show theme came out of that. For ‘Lazy Bones’, we tried to cram as many TV show references from our childhood into the thing – we did quite a lot of planning for this one, but it was still pretty loose and that’s how we like it.

You guys always “perform” in the music videos you create. What is the pull about taking on different characters that feeds you as a band?

SD: I think we are just trying to have fun with the thing, and dressing up is always a laugh so we love it! But honestly we are running out of ideas for Halloween outfits!

Shane co-directed the latest music video for ‘Boogie Man’ with Greg Rom. What was the whole idea behind the shoot of the music video? How did you guys come up with the idea?

GR: Shane actually approached me with some broad strokes and ideas for the video. We sat down and started to flesh it out and add some more ideas into the mix, and ended up with something that we felt confident we could shoot in a day. I think what we were going for was the idea that under Johannesburg, there are a bunch of boogie men who just wanna party. So they kidnap Desmond and the Tutus and make them play for them. Basically, ‘ghouls just wanna have fun’.

How long does it take to create the props you used in your music videos? Referring to videos for ‘Peter’, ‘Pictures’, ‘Lazy Bones’ and then ‘Boogie Man’?

SD: It depends on the video concept, for ‘Peter’ we didn’t really have any props because the cast was the main focus – we cast characters from the old Joburg/Pretoria indie scene to all be at one party. For ‘Pictures’, the props were a massive part of it – Greg’s stylists worked many late nights preparing the backdrops/and fun little bits and pieces. ‘Lazy Bones’ was mostly just weird costumes that Adi Koen pulled together all on her own based on our brief and of course ‘Boogieman’ was the most prop/costume intensive project we have ever attempted – Joel Janse Van Vuuren really went all out on the monster outfits and Angie and Adi went crazy with the art department – there was a huge amount of prep all around. At the end of the day, we put in what we feel the concept needs to come to life in the right way, sometimes it doesn’t call for much, but other times we have to go a bit nuts with it.

GR: I’ve only worked on ‘Pictures’ and ‘Boogie Man’. ‘Pictures’ was quite crazy. Wendy Fredriksson (art director) and I ended up making all of the cardboard cut outs in the video. That was probably three weeks of solid daily work. For ‘Boogie Man’, we had a much bigger team helping out, so it took a lot quicker. Joel and Anmarie made the wardrobe and Angie and Adi focused on props and some of the Nollywood magic you see in the video. Including concept and design, it probably took about two weeks to create it all.

So, Shane and Greg: you guys have seemed to maintain a consistent aesthetic direction when producing music videos and you guys also used to co-own Wolves. How has your relationship evolved or shifted since the beginnings?

SD: I found out about Greg’s company Humanoid years ago when they shot a silly documentary about a delusional singer named Michael Saltino back around 2007. I stalked Humanoid and eventually Greg agreed to shoot a music video for Pictures. That was the project that really kickstarted my interest in DIY aesthetic and the power of just going out and making something that you want to make. A couple years later we opened Wolves which was wild ride all of its own! Another great thing Greg did with us is this infomercial for our second album Mnusic. For Boogie Man, we won a grant, so we had a bit more money – we decided to play with higher production value and throw a bit of special effects into the mix. It’s definitely the pinnacle of our creative partnership!

GR: Ja, Shane cornered me one night and totally made it impossible for me to turn down working with them. So I ended up shooting the ‘Pictures’ video. No, but really, we have quite similar ideas of what’s funny and cool, so our collaboration started there. The next step to open up a coffee shop across the road from us was a no brainer. I mean, which kid from the 90’s hasn’t wanted to live across from a Central Perk. Collaborating on ‘Boogie Man’ was a whole different experience. Now that we both are adults, Shane more so with a kid and another on the way, the collaboration just felt right.

What do you feel makes Desmond and the Tutu’s music videos strong and stand out in a community fuelled by visuals and information.

SD: I guess the important thing for me is always that the character of the band comes across. At the end of the day, fans want to get to know the band more and the videos are an opportunity to do that. So if the video concept reflects the band’s vibe, then it doesn’t matter if you spent R100k or R2k on it, because the thing you’re trying to do is bring people into your world.

Greg, What was your first music video making experience like and how did it change your life?

GR: I made a music video for a Cape Town band called Lark. The track was called ‘Moonlight’. It was a baptism by fire. First job, no money, hard work, late nights, learning patience, great collaborators. I realised during the process that I had found my calling.

Has there ever been a time where you needed to change your style to accommodate your team or client?

GR: I work on commercials, so yes, most of the time. Sometimes for the better. It’s great to be pushed, and sometimes you get pushed into a space you may not be comfortable with at first, but that’s where you grow I guess. In film and music videos, not so much. The only thing I change and alter my style for in those medium is the ever sparse budget. Oh man.

How do your recent videos compare to your previous ones?

GR: I’ve only directed three videos in my life and two thirds of them have been for Desmond and the Tutus. I can’t objectively tell you what the difference is between the old and the new is, but I can say that I now have a clear understanding of the process. I am more confident and creating something these days is far less traumatic than in my early years.

Do you find the process of working with other collaborators, like Shane, difficult or essential (or both)?

My job as a director is to constantly work with people, whether agencies, crew or even musicians. Filmmaking is not a one man job. It’s all about sharing ideas and not being afraid to change your mind and go in a different direction if something better presents itself. But again, it all depends on the project. Working with Shane was a dream. We saw eye to eye on creative decisions and I really loved his ideas and the fresh perspective they offered.

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