When Object & Animal director Filip Nilsson began working on this promo for Major Lazer, the world was very different to how it is now. He planned a shoot in LA that was, in Filip’s words, “karate and horse stunts”. We’ll admit that we’re a little sad that we’re yet to see the video in question but understand that it wasn’t meant to be.
The film required a total rewrite as the effects and danger of Covid-19 became ever more apparent to Filip. Eventually the concept that he settled on was dance music that unites everyone in one big, global group hug. Enlisting the vision of renowned choreographer Ryan Heffington - who has worked with the likes of LSD, Sia, Florence & The Machine, FKA Twigs and Christine & The Queens - Filip reached out to artists with a simple request: “Do your best, it doesn’t need to be perfect. Be yourself. We like you as you are.” Among the artists and creators who answered the call were Israeli pop duo Lola Marsh, London dancer Ashraf Ejjbair, Dream Catchers Academy (an academy of orphan children in Nigeria) and Brazilian brothers Renan and Renato, one of whom is blind and is shown learning Heffington’s choreographed dance from his brother in the video.
The end result is unapologetically fun, something that seems missing in the world right now. Addison Capper chatted with Filip to find out more about the production.
LBB> This video was meant to be very different! What can you tell us about the early days of the project and your initial view for what the film would be?
Filip> We were supposed to do a completely different video to be shot in LA. It was karate and horse stunts. Things we all liked before corona came and closed down the world. It was hard by all means. The video we were planning to do was kind of a dream project for me. Diplo and his team were very collaborative so in the last minute I came up with this idea of doing a global casting for a Major Lazer kung-fu video. Then we all realised. Covid-19 is serious. No time to be silly. So I changed the concept again. Dance music that unites us all in a big group hug.
LBB> What inspired the idea to get people from all over the world to star in the film?
Filip> I wanted the video to feel big and diverse. I recently did a casting in several African countries. I knew a few dancers there that I wanted to be part of this. Casting is the spine of all good filmmaking. And it's almost always possible to do casting sessions. In the beginning I wanted to do more classic casting sessions.
But as Covid-19 became more and more threatening we decided to go for self tapes. Everyone should follow the rules in their country. As you can see some people are on rooftops, a few people on streets, but most of the people at home.
LBB> At its core, this film is fun, which it seems the world is pretty short on right now. Why did you decide to take that approach?
Filip> To me it was super important to do something now with a positive vibe. There’s just too much darkness right now.
LBB> You worked with Ryan Heffington on creating the dance - what was that process like?
Filip> Fantastic. He has a style that fitted this project perfectly. I knew I wanted a choreographer that could add something more than just 'dance'. I think his choreography added a lot of positivity to the film. Ryan is a super pro. He had some ideas the first time he heard the track that were really good. We tweaked it a few times and then he did a very good tutorial that we sent out to all our cast. I'm surprised how well people learned the choreography. I tried really hard myself but failed. So my kids are in the video instead of me doing a cameo.
LBB> Once the routine was in place, how did you feed it out to people to get involved? And what kind of direction did you give them? Who got involved?
Filip> We did filming briefs and a dance tutorial. Everything was very detailed with a wishlist of shots and what to do and where to be in front of the camera. Some did an amazing casting and with others we did three to four re-shoots to get it right.
LBB> Speaking of that, what was this like for you as a director? Because, in some ways, you've had to relinquish any control you have over the content! How did you find the experience? And the edit! What a feat. Tell us about that.
Filip> I’ve done a few jobs like this before. First of all you need to surround yourself with a great team that has as good taste as yourself or better… I did a lot of the casting on Instagram and TikTok - once the team understood my vision and what I was looking for it went really fast.
As soon as we got enough footage to start editing, the most difficult part started - which is to find a good structure in the edit. Luckily I collaborated again with editor Andreas Arvidsson. He is a tireless editing machine with so much musicality. We'd worked remotely several times before.
We decided early on that we wanted to do a fast-paced video where the climax is a musical sequence where the real instruments leak through. I spent a good amount of time doing selects while Andreas was editing non stop for 10 days. We got so much good footage. We could do new versions until the day corona is over.
LBB> What were the trickiest components and how did you overcome them?
Filip> To make this feel like one video and not just like clips from different parts of the world. The choreography, the fluid edit and the carefully selected cast made it all come together.
AND maybe more important. Major Lazer who trusted us. They let us do our thing and have been very supportive all the way.