October 2018

Smoke, Screens & Mirrors

Words: Oliver Georgiou Images: Krozm

Krozm is a Melbourne based, three-part directing collective made up of Chris Hill, Lachlan Dickie and Ewan Macleod. After only three short years together they have managed to compile an impressive reel of music videos for local acts including Midnight Juggernauts, Cut Copy, Van She and Jet. Drawing from a seemingly never ending skill set, Krozm utilise pretty much every film making technique, from hand drawn animation to CG, rotoscoping to live action, stop motion to digital effects and all the way back again. After gaining US representation with Mighty 8 earlier this year and recently directing Jet’s latest film clip in LA it would seem that Krozm are set to make Australia proud…

Oliver Georgiou: Krozm seems to have pretty much popped up out of nowhere and blown a lot of people away. How did you get together and what were you doing before?

Chris Hill: In a nutshell we all went to university together and come from backgrounds in art and music. More specifically just before Krozm I worked as a part-time director and editor for a design studio called Alter. This is where I had my first real introduction to commercial directing. Around the same time Lachlan, Ewan and I were working together on various animations, video art and short film projects. Most of our friends are musicians so after they saw our work we were asked to start creating stuff for them. This was before we were even aware that we were a directing collective. We were just having fun creating stuff together for our friends. After a few successful music videos we came to the conclusion that we were indeed a directing collective and that we could continue making music videos for a while. Although it has been a steep learning curve it was a fairly natural progression for us all. 

OG: Your clips are all rich with obscure characters, from rocks with eyes to convertible driving drag queens. Where do they come from?

CH: Basically if you open your eyes the world is full of strange and wonderful characters and at the same time literature, film and art is abundant with equally bizarre characters. When the three of us get together it’s easy for us to get lost in our own little invented world of Krozm which consists of an amalgamation of reality based influences and fantasy/dream based influences. In coming up with ideas we often create a whole back story for our characters which determines the rules of any particular video. I sometimes think that the combined world of ‘Krozm’ has its own extensive mythology in which all of these characters have precise functions and meaning.

OG: The Midnight Juggernauts clip ‘Tombstone’ is definitely my favourite. A form of vented controlled animation and effects mayhem held together by the live set footage underlay. Was this a fun clip to make?

CH: For ‘Tombstone’ the Juggernauts wanted to make a low budget video which somehow used the live footage they had already shot. Our idea was that we would each take it in turns to mess with the footage via animation or lo-fi effects without necessarily taking into consideration what the other person was doing. It was definitely fun but that sort of frame by frame animation takes a long time to do. There were a few cases of RSI during the making of that video and I don’t think we’ve pitched an animated video since then. 

OG: Earlier you were in LA to shoot the Jet clip ‘She’s a Genius’, also you are now being represented by Mighty 8 in the States. Is expanding your horizons outside of Australia something that you’ve proactively been in pursuit of?

CH: Although we’ve always considered our work outside the realm of Australia, I think our physical isolation from the rest of the world has to some degree helped us develop a distinct ideology and aesthetic, and I guess at the same time that’s partly why we have gained a bit of attention overseas. Strangely enough we actually seem to get far more attention from film and creative industries in Europe and America than we do within Australia. This is at times slightly disheartening but understandable considering the Australian film industry is so small, especially within the music video medium. This interest has spurred a little proactive pursuit on our part and in light of that we recently visited London and Paris to meet some production companies that we have made friends with over there. There are definitely possibilities for us expanding our horizons beyond Australia but we first have to work our way around the distance and jet lag.

OG: From clip to clip your mediums vary, as do the cameras that you use. Do you have a preference for shooting digital or film?

CH: We definitely endeavour to create something different with every video and as far as format goes it really just depends on the concept and the aesthetic we are going for. Sometimes a crunchy VHS video format shot handycam style can look just as beautiful as 35mm film shot by your favourite cinematographer. Of course we would be lying if we said that we didn’t prefer 35mm film over practically any digital format but the reality is most of the time music video budgets don’t allow for the luxuries of film. In saying that though I must admit that one of our favourite formats over the last 18 months has been the RED camera which is a digital format that can shoot at the same resolution as 35mm film and works on the same principle and file format as a digital SLR. Coupled with our favourite 35mm lenses this format can look amazing. 

OG: I found myself totally mesmerised by your clip for Cut Copy’s track ‘In Ghost Colours’. The fact that it’s pretty much one slow motion shot that loops over, first backwards mirrored then forwards back to the beginning was a pretty bold move. Was it a pre-conceptualised idea or did it come together in the edit?

CH: It was definitely pre-conceptualised although we hadn’t chosen what song it was going to be for and thus it was always going to rely on the timing of the edit to make it work. The clip is actually part of some stage projections we were commissioned to make for Cut Copy’s last tour for their album ‘In Ghost Colours’. We chose five songs and our idea was to create a piece for each track that was more like a moving still image that would slowly change over time. For that particular piece we were interested in using the mirror effect that was used on a t-shirt that Dan from Cut Copy had designed for the band although as our image was moving we wanted it to somehow split and merge into different variations of the same image so that it had an almost climactic and narrative arc. To do this we basically planned out a figure eight like track for Lachlan (who stars in this video) to run along so that theoretically in the edit he would appear out of the landscape, split in half and then form back into one as he ran past the camera. We are quite fond of this piece ourselves and feel it could actually stand alone as a music video. 

OG: I’ve noticed quite a few signatures and running themes throughout your work, including a lot of smoke, screens and mirrors. These are also tools of the trade for magicians. Is the trick of the eye an important part of film making for you?

CH: Film making is all about tricking an audience into believing the reality of what is happening on screen. The whole principle of film making is based on this manipulation of a created reality but specifically in regards to our work we are always looking for ways to create effects and transitions in camera rather than relying on the computer or the edit and in this way our work could be compared to a live stage magicians show. We often consider that directors have to become masters of the ‘slight of hand’, as in the ability to coerce an audience into concentrating on one element of a scene whilst you change another element. This is one of the basic principles of editing. It’s the same as a magician who uses smoke and mirrors to disguise the mechanics of his trickery. I would also say that the whole smoke and mirrors thing is probably a reference to our fondness for the mysterious and surreal and is probably directly influenced by some of our favorite sci-fi, fantasy and horror films. 

OG: The film making process can be a logistical nightmare and things can go horribly wrong at any stage, have you ever had an actor, producer or hard drive explode?

CH: Yes, all of the above. Film making is like going into battle and you have to be prepared as much as you can to avoid or tackle any problem that may arise. So for the possible interest of other film makers I’m going to be completely honest in this answer. We’ve had various nightmarish incidents on our shoots – everything from a lead singer with chicken pox to one who couldn’t stand still and chewed gum all day, from drummers forgetting drumsticks to production assistants almost killing half our crew by falling asleep at the wheel after a particularly grueling all night shoot. As far as technical problems go – everything from camera’s overheating to lights exploding through to our personal favourite, a motion control technician who took five hours to program a simple motorised camera movement because he was too stoned to differentiate left from right. 

Luckily for us, most of the bands we have dealt with have been great to work with but on the flip side dealing with some band managers and record labels can be it’s own logistical nightmare. Sometimes squeezing the budget out of a record label to pay for production is like trying to squeeze blood from stone and some band managers seem to think that they actually know more about film making and our own concepts than we do which is what happened with our recent Jet video. Some ‘managing genius’ who I won’t name decided it would be a great idea to re-edit the low-res internet version that we sent them by splicing in random live footage and then also add a scene they invented where the Wookie masked character barges its way past a bouncer to see a live Jet show. They then sent this re-edited, out-of-sync, low-res internet version to television stations for both standard and HD broadcast. Subsequently we all cringe whenever this video is played on TV. This was probably one of the biggest lessons we have learnt yet. Specifically not to depend on the creative integrity and general intelligence of the people who have the money. Anyway the original version of the video can be viewed on our website. 

I hope that doesn’t scare off any potential clients. So to finish on a positive note we have definitely worked with a good share of very accommodating and forward thinking record labels and band managers. I would also say that mostly our shoots operate like a well oiled machine and this is partly due to all the experiences we have encountered as producers and directors along the way. We also believe that it is a necessary part of a directors skill set to solve any technical and creative problems that may arise in the middle of a shoot and I would say after a few years experience we have become quite good at this.

OG: What’s next for Krozm? Any secrets to share?

CH: At the moment it seems we have hit a point in Australia where we are being asked to pitch on a wide range of music videos but a lot of the time our ideas are seen as too weird or too risky for the average Australian pop or rock star. However every now and then someone with similar tastes and ideals lets us run with our collective imagination and we plan to take full advantage of those opportunities when they arise. 

Recently we have been able to fit in a few small creative projects here in Melbourne and there are a few quite interesting things on the horizon here but nothing we can really discuss at this point. There are also a few interesting music video briefs coming in from Mighty 8 in the US so hopefully we can land one of those jobs and visit the refreshing climate of Hollywood again soon. However at the moment after our trip to Europe, which was an exhausting yet inspiring tour of meetings we would really just like to jump straight into a bigger and more challenging project. Ideally something that really lets us flex our creative muscles.

Krozm

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