Affinity for the Dark Side: Inside the Mind of Director Favourite Colour: Black
Watching an early work of Director Favourite Colour: Black (AKA Chris Turner), it’s not hard to see why he chose the moniker – inverted crosses and tar-covered skulls abound in fashion film G(O)OD+(D)EVIL.But alongside the deliciously dark imagery, you’ll also find an impressive mastery of technical shots and a keen eye for crafting mesmerising visuals, which have come to define his distinct style. It’s just one example of Favourite Colour: Black’s rich grasp of in-camera challenges and his resourceful ability to craft visual splendour without having to depend too heavily on special effects.
Honda, Jaguar, Adidas, BMW, and Sony are just some of the top commercial brands Favourite Colour: Black has worked with. In music videos too, the One Show Gold and D&AD-winning director has collaborated with artists such as Birdy, Hurts, the Kooks and Corinne Bailey Rae. Here, the Park Village director reveals the practical challenges of capturing authentically grungy aesthetics, the endurance-testing experience of capturing a one-take music video for pop newcomer Alice Chater, and directing blazing stuntmen.
Q> How did you get into directing and what’s the story behind your directing moniker?
Chris> One of my first big jobs out of university was at Time Out. I started out as graphic designer before art directing front covers for the magazine – my first cover art direction featured Elastica’s Justine Frischmann. I started making moving image for MTV, Channel 4, and Nike, and eventually began combining my experience in graphic design, art direction, and photography with branding elements, before directing commercials and music videos outright. The name Favourite Colour: Black came out of the fact that I like creating dark stuff in my films and it stuck because there’s a lot of Chris Turners about!
Q> You directed hotly-tipped pop star Alice Chater’s first three music videos: Girls x Boys, Heartbreak Hotel, and Hourglass. What was your vision with the debut, Girls x Boys?
Chris> I first heard about Alice as this brand-new artist who has huge potential to become the next Madonna or Christina Aguilera. As a debut music video, the budget was tight and what really drew me in was the dark and gritty brief – the opposite of the conventional polished pop finish. The aesthetics were right up my street.
We shot in a four-storey house in South London that was just about to be gutted. We had to be inventive and resourceful, as it presented all the production challenges expected of an abandoned building. There wasn’t enough power in the building to run big film lights, so we used the bare bulbs in the house as well as a single lens mounted ring light to shoot the video. The shower scene we intended to shoot became practically impossible in the freezing temperatures we were shooting in, with no heating. Instead, we decided to shoot Alice in the bath and the team boiled water in kettles to raise the water temperature – which made for a fun shoot! Considering how little we had to play with, I really like how the grungy, Nan Goldin-esque aesthetics of the end result contrast with the beautifully polished track.
Q> What are some of your ‘must’s when dealing with tricky production challenges like that?
Chris> Having a strong team is really important and doing whatever it takes to get the job done. For example, Alice’s second video ‘Heartbreak Hotel’, we shot at a well-known filming location in Clapham but because of strict council regulations, we could only access the house between 8:30am and 5pm - a near impossible window to shoot a music video. To make it happen, we maximised the time we had in the house and used a nearby property (belonging to the commissioner, Ailsa Robertson) to shoot additional scenes and simple cutaways.
Q> Shooting one-take films is challenging enough as it is, let alone having the added pressure of capturing rapidly-moving choreography in a huge space as you did with Alice’s ‘Hourglass’ video. How did you manage to pull that off?
Chris> It was definitely the most challenging of the three Alice videos I’ve directed. As with any one-take shoot, there was a very real chance we wouldn’t be able to get the footage we wanted. We were shooting in a massive warehouse with an exposed layout, using rapidly changing camera angles. One of the biggest challenges was making sure that me, the choreographer, the steady-cam guy, the focus puller, and camera assistant were behind the camera at all times. I saw the BTS and it looked like utter chaos - we all looked ridiculous constantly running from one end of the warehouse to the other while trying to stay out of shot.
Another challenge was capturing the speed changes in the shots of Alice smashing mirror balls and keeping them in time with the song. We had to make special versions that would speed up and slow down. In the end, only two takes worked - it was hard work but one-take videos are fun to do when you pull it off.
I was lucky to be working with great collaborators, without who this wouldn’t have been possible. Choreographer, Mark Jennings, had a tricky job to do on Hourglass and worked incredibly hard – simultaneously choreographing Alice whilst making sure he was behind the constantly moving camera. Across the entire trilogy, Alice herself was great to work with – she’s a very creative artist and self-aware performer, who always brings a lot of ideas to each project.
Q> You’ve mastered impressive technical feats in your commercial work – with one stand-out being ‘The Evolution of Stunts’ for Honda. Do you naturally gravitate towards finding practical and creative solutions in-camera?
Chris> Yes and I credit Park Village with helping develop that too. When I first joined, we began pushing for more technically challenging work. I love on-set problem-solving and getting to collaborate with people who are really good at what they do - like stunt experts and specialist camera people.
I worked with Channel 4 and Little Dot to develop the script for the Honda ad, which became a theatrical piece revealing the inner workings of stunts that normally get re-touched. We worked with an amazing stuntman, Damian, and his team. I’ve never set anyone on fire before, so this was terrifying. Traditionally, stunt-people run whilst they’re on fire so they don’t breathe the fumes in, but Damian was on a travelator, so he had to hold his breath whilst running and doing the somersault. Ideally, you learn something new on every job and the Honda and Hourglass projects were both great experiences in this respect.
Q> Is there anything you want to do you haven’t yet?
Chris> Tons! If it’s got the right people, I’m open to anything. I’d love to do more stunt work and a feature script. In-between my commercial work, I’ve been doing a lot of photography in the past few years. I love shooting portraits and always having a film in development.