Music Video Premiere: Ellie Goulding ‘Bittersweet’ (Director's Cut) Directed by Isaac Ravishankara

Posted by Doug Klinger on December 28, 2012 in Music Video Premieres

Staff Post


Making a music video that ties into a film is hard enough, but making one without showing the song's artist, or characters from the film, or characters in general takes it to another level. Director Isaac Ravishankara tackled this problem in his director's cut for Ellie Goulding's song "Bittersweet," which appears on the soundtrack for The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn (Part 2). We talked to Isaac about the challenges of making the video, his love of Portland, and how a music video turns into a lyric video (and then back again).

Doug: The song "Bittersweet" comes off the soundtrack for the newest Twilight movie, were you asked to base the video on any of the elements from the film?

Isaac: Very much so. I've done another lyric video a few years ago, but this project wasn't initially a lyric video. I got the song sent to me as a brief to do an official video. It came with this very specific set of stipulations that made it really interesting to try to come up with the concept for. It basically was, "Here’s the song, Ellie is not going to be in it, and none of the Twilight characters can be in it, but it has to incorporate footage from the film." As we talked about it a little bit more, they told me that there couldn't be any other defined characters in it in a real, real sense. They were afraid that it would conflict with either Ellie Goulding's branding, or with Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson's branding. That was a really interesting nut to crack. Every time we come up with a treatment, it’s like solving a puzzle in a way. Here are all the ingredients, so what's the solution?

Lyric version of the video.

Doug: What was the process like trying to bring those elements into one piece?

Isaac: The initial concept came from those parameters, and the initial idea, for me, really evoked this sense of chasing. With both the lyrics and the pace of the song, it was always going to be this stop and go chase thing. Like heavy fast-motion with heavy slow-motion. I wasn't super familiar with the Twilight films, so I watched two of them. It turned out they do a lot of action that way, too. Basically the concept came to doing a chase scene with a guy and a girl, and then having them switch between the girl chasing the guy and the guy chasing the girl. I wanted to cut together a big scene with as much footage as they could give me from Twilight: Breaking Dawn 2. I would use elements of that to define the scene. Basically start out by cutting the film together into as much of it as possible, and then either recreating shots, or filling in the gaps with stuff that we shoot, so it feels like a continuous piece. This way there is no defined narrative, just hints, and there are no definite characters because the characters I'm casting are just hand and eye close-ups to fill in the gaps with what I'd be using from the actual film footage. That's what the idea started out as. The films are set in the northwest and they shoot the films up there. Plus I've had this love affair with Portland for a while. I have been wanting to shoot up there since I helped on Hiro's "It's Only Life" Shins video. The idea was to go up to the same environments that they shot the film in, and fill in the rest of the chase scenes, which was really well received from the commissioner. Everyone seemed really on board, and it started moving forward like that.

Doug: So at what point did the video turn into a lyric video?

Isaac: I take a great deal of pride in the layout, formatting, and design of my treatments...But this is the first time I've had a commissioner get back to me saying, "Hey, we think this treatment really looks great, the graphic design skills are on point." I think that got the seed planted in his head. At some point along the lines, the video went away. I was already in Portland visiting friends, so I actually went back to LA, went to Mexico for the weekend and my phone was off the whole time. When I got off the plane, I had an email from my rep (Danielle Hinde) saying, "Hey, I don't know if you're into this, but they want to do it as a lyric video. You would need to shoot it as soon as possible. Could you alter your concept in a way that it would work?" I thought about it for maybe 20 minutes, and realized that the exact same thing could happen whether or not it was a real video or a lyric video. We could just incorporate the lyrics in all the macro close-ups that we were going to be shooting anyway. The idea for the lyric video basically spawned out of that, we just decided to put the lyrics in every close-up shot of a foot or a hand. I think the commissioner had the idea of me doing it basically because there where a few pages in the treatment that looked similar to what the concept ended up being in the end. I think they kind of saw it before I did.


Doug: So once you heard back from them, did you go back up to Portland to shoot the video?

Isaac: Yep. I still wanted to shoot up in Portland. I shot it myself, which is something I haven’t done in a year or two. It was a nice opportunity to shoot something on my own. I went up to Portland and got together a few people up there, the whole idea was to shoot it as a very small crew so it wouldn't be this big production, it would be something that these friends were making together. I got an assistant camera person to shoot it and operate on many of the shots as well, and then a producer, and the two actors, so we had a five person crew. I picked Portland not only because I love it, because also because we still wanted to match the look from the film. Those locations literally came right out of the trailer from the movie. It was a two-day shoot. Day one was in the woods right outside of Portland, and day two we all got in the van and drive up to Mt. St. Helens in Washington. All of the stuff on the mountain, the Iceland tundra looking place, all the dead trees in the second half of the video were from the Mt. St. Helens blast, and that area is one of the most magical places I've ever been.

Doug: So, if I went to those locations right now, would I find Ellie Goulding lyrics written still all over the place?

Isaac: The official line is no. We actually did a really good job cleaning up. All the lyrics were done by hand by me and Luz, who is the girl in the video. The whole thing that I try to have on a lot of my videos, not just this one, is that everyone wears multiple hats. For this one, everyone was going to be doing at least two things, so she was my art department. Basically we printed all the lyrics on transparency paper knowing that we were going to be cutting them all out with exacto knives, and then spray-painting them as stencils. Initially, we wanted to carve them into things, but it wouldn’t have been legible enough to read quickly, so we settled on spray-paint. We spent about two nights cutting out of the lyrics, which takes forever, much longer than I planned on. We'd find the location, set up the shot, figure out where the lyric would go for that shot, and then spray-paint the lyrics onto it. The goal was always to wipe it off. We might have missed a few, but in general we got them. It was never on any living trees.


Doug: The last time we spoke, you talked about each set having its own culture to it. Can you describe what the culture on this set was like?

Isaac: For this video, the whole culture is everyone in a car, with lyrics cut out of paper, spray painting them, shooting it together, and moving on to the next thing. Literally just gallivanting around these amazing locations, knowing that it's just a few of us and a camera, no lights. Everyone was really hands on with doing all the lyrics and everything like that. The concept is really simple, the whole goal was the more I can shoot, the more I can edit with. If there is ever a point where it's taking too long to figure out, we just shoot something else instead. It needed to be a very nonstructured “set.” My producer was our location scout, and my AC also operated. I needed two people to act in it who were going to look compelling visually, but that also could be my art department. The culture on this one was that everyone was going to wear two hats and had to be able to fit into a minivan That was the goal - five friends in a van, ten hats.

Doug: How did you decide on who to cast for this video, beyond them being compelling and artistic?

Isaac: The female lead in the video is Luz Elena Mendoza, a good friend of mine in Portland and the lead singer of one of an amazing band called Y La Bamba. I immediately thought of having her in the video, because her look is so striking. Even if it was just a bit of hair, a bit of eyes, and a bit of hands that we would have a character. I was really excited that the label let me cast her. Madison Rowley, who is the male lead in the video, is also a filmmaker, so he was very comfortable helping out with the camera stuff on top of art stuff. I met him through Luz, because he was working on a project for Y La Bamba.


Doug: When a director releases a Director's Cut of a video, I initially assume that it might have been a slight or conflict or something like that. Rather than a conflict, would you say you embraced those changes and just take them on as additional challenges to the video?

Isaac: Yeah, definitely. I knew going into it, even from the initial brief, that they were hesitant to have fully developed characters. I knew I was going to shoot it how we were going to shoot it, then cut more of it down to what’s appropriate. As long as we got the lyrics, we'd be good. I was really, really excited about my initial cut of the video. Not to take anything away from what we released as the lyric video, because I'm really proud of what we put out. But in my initial cut, I was really excited about the tone that it had, with having them as characters while still maintaining the ambiguity of it. The notes came back that everyone was super, super positive about it. But then had a hard line of not having their faces, or at all seeing who they are. At that point I asked my rep to ask them if I could put out a version on my own. I just felt so strongly about it. You get so much out of those moments in between the chases, when they stop and they look at each other. You don't have to define the backstory, I actually think the looks on their faces really makes you wonder. I really loved that, and it came naturally out of how we shot it. In the treatment there were always going to be eyes and eye close-ups. I don't think anyone involved realized how much eyes define a person, until we ended up cutting it together. It's definitely something I embraced, the challenge of making it a lyric video, and it didn't feel like a slight at all because everyone was straight forward about what it needed to be. I don't think the Director’s Cut will get their push or their distribution, but just the ability to have the version of it for people to see, especially the five of us who made it, is really great.


Doug: Was actually asking for permission to release the Director's Cut all in the hands of Danielle, or do you take part in that as well?

Isaac: The whole industry, honestly, there is a big amount that happens outside of the room that I'm in. It's one of those things where I asked Danielle if it would be cool, and the next day she emailed me and says, "Yeah, it will be cool." I don't think it is ever something that will ever be promoted by Ellie Goulding, it was something for the Twilight film more than something for her as an artist. It's not at all contentious. Many directors cuts are “This one is my version, this one is the band version”. I know in general, a lot of it comes from creative conflict between the director and the label, or the director and the band. This was more of a compromise, an understanding that when you're making a music video, it's halfway a creative product and halfway a commercial product. I think that the ability to put out the Director's Cut as an alternative version is a way for me to say, "Here is my creative visions of what I thought this could be...” It's always nice to know what the director intended, and this one I think it was an interesting difference, not just a few shots that were hanging up. It feels like a very different thing without the lyrics and having these characters. I also changed the aspect ration in the Director’s Cut to 2.35:1 instead of 16:9. Not for the cinematography, but to help crop lyrics in some key shots.

bittersweet (director's cut), ellie goulding, isaac ravishankara, music video premiere

Doug Klinger is the co-founder/content director of IMVDb and watches more music videos than anyone on earth. You can find him on twitter at @doug_klinger.

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