Prettybird directors Bradley & Pablo tell Addison Capper about an epic harvest of watermelons on Harry’s farm, inspiration from old pictures of Jack Nicholson and Paul McCartney, and racing against the setting of the sun
You could take Harry Styles' new promo for track Watermelon Sugar one of two ways. You could look at it and feel a little aggrieved at his shameless cavorting in the outside world, all touchy feely with a gang of beautiful people on a white sand beach. Then again, you could stop being such a grouch and take pleasure and immerse yourself in the vicarious joy of watching people doing pretty much everything that you would like to be doing right now but can't.
At least, that's what I took from the film, which was directed by Prettybird duo Bradley & Pablo. Dedicated to 'touching', Watermelon Sugar is an ode to the summer that we all deserved and crave. It's packed full of sun, sea and some of the most impeccable eating of watermelons you could possibly witness, which it turns out were all grown and harvested from Harry's own watermelon farm.
Bradley & Pablo told LBB's Addison Capper about how they brought this film to life via an epic harvest of watermelons and one-day against-the-clock shoot.
LBB> When you first heard Watermelon Sugar, what was your definition of a "watermelon sugar high"?
Bradley & Pablo> Honestly not sure we had one... maybe because we’re too naive. It just sounded nice. Luckily Molly [Hawkins, creative director], Bryan [Younce, commissioner] and Harry opened our eyes.
LBB> When did you first begin working on this promo? And what were your initial thoughts and plans when it came in?
Bradley & Pablo> We first started working on this song about a week before we shot it! We’d been trying to work with Harry on the album for a while - we had written two or three other ideas for other songs last summer by the time Watermelon Sugar came around.
In the end the timing felt kind of poetic. It was the last project we shot before the lockdown and it really was the complete antithesis to the situation we find ourselves in now. It feels super meaningful now that this has been released during the pandemic because It speaks to what everybody is missing right now - physical human touch and connection.
LBB> It’s a joyful bit of film anyway but even more so because it’s full of all the things that everyone wants at the moment. Did you ever debate changing it? Or did it all suddenly seem even more perfect?
Bradley & Pablo> We never debated changing it but we did start to get concerned that the record label wouldn’t release the video because they felt it was insensitive or tone deaf or something, but when we started talking about releasing it again, we had the idea of adding a tagline to the front of it like ‘in loving memory of touch’ or ‘dedicated to touching’ and it re-contextualises it in a way that feels perfect for the time.
LBB> Aside from the dedication to touching, did the film change at all due to the pandemic?
Bradley & Pablo> No it didn’t! It just came out a little later.
LBB> I get vibes of like old school hip hop videos but with a Harry Styles vibe. I like it. Were they an inspiration at all? Where else did you look for inspiration?
Bradley & Pablo> That wasn’t a conscious inspiration for us but that’s definitely a cool one to think about. We knew from talking to Harry and his creative director that they wanted to basically dedicate this song to girls and boys and sexual pleasure, it was about creating an atmosphere. We loved the idea and the spirit of it and we felt one of our main jobs was to portray this idea in a tasteful way.
There were two key references at the beginning of the project which Harry and Molly gave us. One was an old picture of Jack Nicholson eating a watermelon with this amazingly mischievous grin and the other was an image of Paul McCartney at a beach party in the ‘60s where he looks like he’s tripping on acid in the best way. Both of these really informed and encapsulated the spirit that we wanted to bring to this whole thing.
We also looked at photographers like Stephen Meisel to inspire some of the more composed setups and Guy Bourdin playing with the playful, sexy innuendos that you find in some of his work.
Other than that one of the biggest inspirations was actually just Harry’s own image that he and his creative director Molly have created around this album campaign. We love his progressive fashion sensibilities and Gucci campaigns and so we just wanted to make something that would fit into his world. He also has this effortlessness, he’s so magnetic and cool without trying so we wanted to make sure we created a scene where he could champion that.
LBB> Harry does some pretty pristine watermelon biting. How did you coax those out of him?
Bradley & Pablo> Sadly we can take no credit for that... Guess he just really knows how to eat watermelon.
LBB> What was the production process like? Where did you shoot? Where in the world has such an abundance of perfect watermelons? And what was the mood like on set?
Bradley & Pablo> The production process was fast! We shot in a location in Malibu. It was a private beach at this amazing house. Harry actually owns a watermelon farm in a secret location that we can’t disclose. So the day before the shoot we went with our whole crew, make-up artists, set decorators, focus pullers you name it! We all rolled up our sleeves, got stuck in and did the biggest harvest anyone in the USA has ever seen!
The mood on set was really good. Credit goes to the whole cast and Harry himself, who were all amazing to work with, they all had such amazing genuine warm energy and a big part of the success of this video is owed to them for being so much fun. We think you can really see that reflected in the video.
Meanwhile we were actually inwardly freaking out a little because we only had one day, we had to shoot from sunrise to sunset (which is a very small window in January) and there is an even smaller window within that where the light is actually good enough to get that punchy graphic blue sky and beautiful looking skin, and shooting on a beach is HARD! The shoot was also quite a new, different kind of challenge for us because it was loosely structured - we were flexible with what we were shooting - there was no real story it was more about just creating an atmosphere. We also tend to usually shoot with lots of lighting and art direction but we didn’t really have much of anything so it was a different kind of test in directing for us.
LBB> From an aesthetic point of view, what were your main aims and inspirations with the grade, art direction and costume?
Bradley & Pablo> We were definitely very influenced by the rich Gucci styling and the ‘60s era of the Paul McCartney image. The art direction and pallet started with the styling and grew out from there. We wanted to mix busy patterns/textiles with block colours like warm oranges, browns and the graphic blue skies to create this warm, hazy nostalgic aesthetic but with a modern contemporary edge that also came in part from the casting and some detailing in the wardrobe.
LBB> How did you capture the vintage looking shots?
Bradley & Pablo> We shot on 35 and 16 mm on an Arri SR3. That was really a core component that we would not compromise on. It was also just about keeping that side of things simple, hats off to Frank Mobilio [DOP] who, with a 16mm camera, a mirror and a reflector, managed to make such beautiful images. We also worked with our regular colourist Dave Hussey who always elevates things in his particular way.
LBB> What were the trickiest components and how did you overcome them?
Bradley & Pablo> TIME! As we said we were working against the sun. As we often do now on shoots, we split up and direct two separate units simultaneously. It's nice to be able to do everything together but we are in a place now where we can trust the other as they go off more autonomously which massively helps us to be more ambitious with a shot list.
Also, learning how to keep those slices of watermelon looking fresh. The best solution seems to be to eat it and cut more slices.