Behind the Work in association withThe Immortal Awards

Directing a Street-Eye-View of Locked Down Cities for The Rolling Stones’ First Video in Eight Years

London, UK
Director Joe Connor tells LBB’s Alex Reeves about the challenges of remotely directing a music video made for the most legendary band still performing and putting it together within days
The time between Joe Connor first hearing that The Rolling Stones were releasing their first single for eight years and the video he’d directed being out, streaming to millions online, was 16 days. That’s a quick turnaround for a music video for one of the biggest bands in history. And considering we’re in the midst of a global pandemic, you can imagine it wasn’t exactly a straightforward process either. But what Joe lacked in freedom to shoot was made up for in the opportunity to make a film to match the gravity of the times we’re living in. With all the technological intimacy that 2020 allows, he assembled a global collective of photographers to shoot cities around the world and set about attempting to capture a global moment. The result is something historic.

LBB’s Alex Reeves caught up with Joe to find out how it came together in a matter of days.

LBB> What was the first that you heard of The Rolling Stones releasing their first single in eight years?

Joe> I got a call from my music video agent Alexa Haywood on April 7th mentioning a track and looping me in with the commissioner at the record label. I was already creating these fisheye photographs thinking that they could be creatively interesting in the future, not thinking of using them at the minute. Once this track came in however I felt the urgency of the images matched the track beautifully. The treatment was completed quickly and signed off and we were away. 

LBB> And what were your initial thoughts?

Joe> My initial thoughts to the track: joy. It felt like an irrepressible Stones track, urgent, immediate. It felt like a great, great Stones track so that was a real joy. 

My next thought was one of creative gymnastics. We're inundated with images of empty streets across multiple platforms and there's nothing intrinsically thought provoking about these anymore, we're almost saturated with this aspect of the crisis. I felt that any response had to move the conversation forward, to try and find a visually unique perspective on this global issue and in some ways create a deeper artistic response rather than just show and tell. I feel that we won't know the true scale, cost or meaning of this crisis until we're well into the next decade and so I wanted to create something that felt immediate, personable; evoking the bewilderment and confusion of the time. The fisheye lens really spoke to me as a perspective that matched the epoch: you get this all encompassing yet claustrophobic image, it feels like a point of view; wide eyed and overwhelmed. It also felt like a lowbrow perspective, this is a lens usually derided for it's warp and perspective but its beauty is in this distortion; the view matching our own distorted understanding and experience of what is going on. 

LBB> Where did the idea for the video's concept start and how did that develop?

Joe> I just wanted to feel a street-eye-view of the emptiness of the city streets. I wanted it to feel immediate and punk in tone to show the bewilderment felt by many during this time. I didn't want it to be high brow or high art, lofty or pretentious. I wanted it to feel as emotive to the global feelings of confusion and disorientation as possible.

LBB> These are some of the most beautiful shots of cities under lockdown I've seen since the pandemic began! What was the key to capturing them just right?

Joe> The key to getting these photographs was commitment to an artistic method. In commercials and music videos we're always looking for 'safety', we're always watering down artistic responses to make sure we've got a 'safe' version in the bag and it's become so prevalent that even the images of this current crisis are passive in some respects. One of the reasons I peppered the video with these 'beautiful' slow full frame images was to almost highlight the difference between the two perspectives. The normal and the abnormal; the presented and the felt. I feel something when I see these fisheye images; it provokes a response in me and that is the aim of all art; commercial or otherwise, to create a genuine response.

I briefed the photographers around the globe to only shoot on the fisheye and to not get me any safety shots or to cover off any other perspectives or options. I just wanted a genuine, street level, raw interpretation of these cities under lockdown. The emptiness is impossible to ignore when you're not trying to purposely frame it. 

The final element in why this video and these images are so striking is because of the work done by BlackKite Studios and Rich Feron in the grade. It's a challenge to craft something to the standards that we have pre lockdown and the set up the guys at black kite have created post lockdown meant that I could get huge amounts of high resolution images from all over the globe and into the edit in no time and then remotely grade with one of the best colourists in the business to polish this piece perfectly. 

LBB> From a production perspective, how did you get all of the shots from around the world?

Joe> It was a really tough ask to produce a global response in a short space of time but I reached out to a close network of photographers and friends in different cities and found people with the equipment who could contribute. The facilities at Black Kite Studios and their remote setup and access to their servers meant we could pull a huge amount of data from around the globe and get it into the edit as quickly as possible. 

A few of these images needed treating, pre work done on them to get them workable in the edit and strung together in master files that could be confirmed and this all had to happen in minutes of getting the footage. The guys turned that around with amazing speed. This was a global team effort working under unusual conditions to create something which I think will artistically stand the test of time. 

LBB> And what was it like working with arguably the most famous band in the world? And under such strange circumstances at that!
Joe> I've been really privileged in my career to work with acts I deem important; from Coldplay to The Maccabees, Paul Weller to Placebo. I've been really really lucky. This however is a different level of importance; not only the legendary status of the band but the freshness of their sound, the manner of the release and the global situation. It's been a real privilege to be given that platform to curate an artistic expression, it's a once in a lifetime opportunity. I'll realise the importance of this project in a few years when I realise what happened during the last 14 days

LBB> And how about the edit? You must have had a tough time fitting all the pieces together.
Joe> Yeah the edit was super quick. But there was a beautiful cyclical nature to it. I trained as a theatre director and I started making films after becoming the projectionist at a local cinema. I was part of the 5D revolution and learnt like so many others in my bedroom cutting on a bootlegged version of Final Cut… and after 10 years of making commercial films and working on some monster projects with huge crews and large resources, there was something really wonderful about being sat in my kitchen, cutting a promo I self shot, for one of the biggest bands of all time. It was a really poignant realisation of the joy to be found in getting your hands dirty at the coal to speak. 

LBB> What will be your enduring memory of working on this?
Joe> The effort of everyone involved, from the photographers to the post to to commissioner and my agent, it's been a team effort to craft something beautiful. We arrived to make something of substance and quality, we didn't want to use stock footage or iPhone shots and I think the collective effort of everyone has meant we've ended up with something to be proud of. To be asked to make work which reflects the age, to create a piece of work for the greatest living rock band in response to a global crisis not seen in a generation is a huge honour. I know the reach of a band like the Stones, I just wanted to make something that resonated as true and there's not many chances in your life to have that opportunity.   
Work from LBB Editorial
Hero: Focus
Full Story