Somesuch director Dan Emmerson explains why he feels ‘Vote For Me' is the Ghost Town of our generation and how he brought it to the screen
In 1981 UK 2 Tone and ska band The Specials released Ghost Town. The song encapsulated the social breakdown and levels of deprivation across parts of Margaret Thatcher’s Britain that would end up igniting riots the day before the single topped the charts.
Almost 40 years on, the group’s new single ‘Vote for Me’ continues on the same path, taking the pulse of how many in the UK feel, politically and socially.
The music video for the new track sees Somesuch director Dan Emmerson depicting the divided political and social climate in Britain in a distinctive side-scrolling mixed-media style. Stitching photos of real life London together into a sort of tapestry, Dan later had these scenes hand painted by his friend Frank Laws and then scanned back in so the video could track through the scenes from left to right, before integrating original footage into the final film.
LBB’s Laura Swinton caught up with Dan to talk about the political backdrop to the video and how he brought it to life.
LBB> The song is so meaty and political - why did that chime with you?
Dan> I had been wanting to make a video like this for a while. The song perfectly captures the political and social climate we are in at the moment and I wanted to try and convey this in my video.
LBB> And, for our international readers, can you explain a bit about the social and political background to the video?
Dan> London lost 132 young lives on the streets to violence last year alone and the political climate caused by Brexit has divided the nation and had a huge impact on us all. A campaign that was built on numerous lies by the government has led to a heightened sense of disillusionment from the general public. The tension is palpable.
LBB> What sort of conversations and collaboration did you have with the band?
Dan> The band were pretty much up for letting me crack on with the video after having read my treatment. It was probably the easiest ride on any music video I've ever done in that sense, I think we made one small tweak to the picture after the first time they saw it!
LBB> The video weaves together a history of rioting and political protest - starting with Thatcher and the poll tax riots. Why did you want to start then and feature that as a background to the more contemporary setting of the animation?
Dan> I just felt like it was important to show how similar things are now to how they were back then during the Thatcher era. Also it made sense because that's when the Specials were making their music and songs like Ghost Town were released. I feel like Vote For Me is the Ghost Town of our generation.
LBB> The aesthetic and animation style is really compellingly bleak - kind of reminds me a bit of Lowry almost? What were the inspirations and ideas that went into developing the look of the promo?
Dan> I wanted to create a kind of take on a tapestry with one continuous background that was a collage made up of various plates shot around London. I wanted to create a visual style that felt original and wouldn't age in a hurry. A hand-painted look was something I was interested in. After working out a realistic workflow I approached my mate Frank Laws, an artist from London, who was the perfect fit for the project.
LBB> Who did you work with to create the backgrounds? And aside from Downing Street, I wondered if they were taken from any other specific locations?
Dan> I started off by photographing buildings around London, mainly around East London, Whitechapel and Dalston. I actually took a lot of the photos around Downing Street and the Whitehall area during the Brexit vote, so it was cool to get some actual important moments in our history in there. We then made a collage out of all the photos in a timeline in After Effects. Then we printed the background out on sections of paper and my very talented friend Frank painted over the photos with water-based acrylic paint and pencils to create the final backdrop. We scanned the hand-painted pieces of paper back in, then stitched them together. We shot all our cast individually and in small groups against a green screen and then placed them onto our tapestry. Then we took frames out of the footage to achieve the animated movement effect and blended some of Frank's brush strokes over the footage to help it sit properly with the painting.
LBB> Tell me about the casting - who are the people you have protesting - are they activists?
Dan> Our casting team was incredible and everyone in the video was street cast, everyone who took part was really generous with their time which we're super grateful for. I just wanted a real cross-section of the British public, all ages, all backgrounds, everyone was welcome. I think we managed to get 82 people to a tiny studio in the middle of a hard-to-find industrial estate in North London.
LBB> What was the most interesting challenge creating the video?
Dan> With ideas like this it's difficult to envisage everything until it actually comes together towards the end. I usually shoot everything in camera, so when we've wrapped the shoot I know that we got and what we need. So it was definitely a challenge for me as a filmmaker to work in this way, but I really enjoyed it.