Interviewing Cinematographer Matt De Sousa Part II – Q&A on Music Video ‘Groove Me’
Discover how cinematographer Matt De Sousa shot the music video for Shunské G & The Peas’ hit song, ‘Groove Me’.
Shunské G & The Peas, ‘Groove Me’, Space Shower Music, 2017
Matt De Sousa is a Tokyo-based self-taught cinematographer who has worked with the likes of Etihad Airways and AirBnB, as well as musical artists including Kilo Kish and Japanese up-and-comers Shunské G & The Peas. We talked about his history and work in Part I of this interview, which you can read HERE.
Read on for Part II, in which he answers questions on how he shot ‘Groove Me’ for Shunské G & The Peas, a music video which currently has over 62 thousand views on YouTube and ended up being broadcast on TV through Space Shower Music.
English Language Film School: How did you get involved on the project?
Matt De Sousa: I was brought on as director of photography/editor. A friend of mine who works under the name MNDSET is an audiovisual producer/DJ who has been doing some filmmaking projects over the past couple years. We’ve done a bit of work together and he brought me along to do this. He got approached to do this music video for this up-and-coming funk band. That song has had an incredible amount of radio play; I remember my partner messaged me saying she heard it on the radio at work, which is crazy. They’re this small band, it was their first album and it just kind of blew up.
MNDSET was director-producer on this project and he got this old open house, out in Chiba, on the coastline, and on the property they had this big bamboo forest as well. We drove out and we stayed there for three days, including a day of prep.
We had this lighting crew, Hikari Asobi. I think they’re based out in Chiba, though they do a lot of work in Tokyo. They’re two brothers and I think their father actually worked for Kurosawa, so they’ve got a legacy. They do a lot of lighting in film but I think now they do a lot of events: big stadium concert things. They somehow came onto this project to do lighting for us, and it was fun because the two guys and myself collaborated on it. They brought a truck filled with stuff, some of which I had never come across. We rigged out this whole bottom floor of the house, with bars going across the ceiling, spotlights, disco balls, filters and gels, to give it as distinct a look as possible, with a very brightly-coloured retro feel.
We did the same thing with the bamboo forest. We got a key light going, then just went crazy, putting colours wherever we thought were cool. For me it was real fun, and this is why I wanted to talk about it. It’s the reason I love doing music videos and probably the most fun I’ve had on a project, as we had full reign to just go crazy. The band were happy to go along with anything, and the director was happy to go along with what we were doing as well, in terms of lighting. He had a few ideas but otherwise we could just go crazy, just make something look incredible.
ELFS: It looks great.
MDS: Yeah I was really happy with it.
ELFS: The vintage VHS look, was that post production?
MDS: Yeah, we used the Red Giant Universe package, their VHS Plugin. I’ve seen it in a lot of projects now; anytime people want to do a VHS thing they use that. It’s cool, you can customise it to a really minute degree — you can even control how often those little ripples in the tape appear. That was the director’s idea to give it a VHS look, and the band really loved it.
Going back to what we were saying before about being hired because of a foreign perspective, I’ve shown that video to a lot of Japanese people who go ‘Ooh, very gaijin.’ I don’t really see it, I just think what we shot looks cool. When I shoot things I just try to make it look nice but I guess there is something to it that I don’t see and they do, and probably the reason a lot of [foreign] filmmakers get hired here.
ELFS: Do you approach a project differently if you’re editing it to if you’re handing off the footage to someone else?
MDS: I’ll take more risks if I’m editing it because I can picture how I’m going to cut it. Or I can go, ‘Okay, I’ll take this extra shot just so I can play with it in the edit, just to see.’
I shot a music video last week for a foreign artist coming to Tokyo who wanted to shoot something on an indie budget, so we ran around the city and shot a bunch of stuff: a few performances pieces, we rented a karaoke room for half an hour and just did a couple takes, we went to a love hotel. I told the artist on the day that I was going to do a couple extra shots because I wanted to see how it would look in the edit, and that was it. I went to edit it and it doesn’t really work, but that’s fine. It was an experiment. I can only really do that when I’m the one getting to cut it. If I’m not editing, I’ll generally be a little more cautious or a little more strict about how I follow the brief.
ELFS: So the Shunské G video was all shot on that one location?
MDS: Yeah, that house, and outside the bamboo forest there’s a little area as well. We had a big disco ball we could take around to each location and used it to get a sparkly effect but it was all just on that one property. We shot from about 8pm to 4am but about halfway through I got injured sort of bad.
Working on any project, you have to take health and safety really seriously. I was shooting a take inside the house and because of how small the space was, I was shooting everything handheld and it was just the band and me. I went to do this sweeping motion behind the keyboardist and I didn’t see the guitar amp behind me. It was one of those really solid vintage guitar amps and I wasn’t wearing any shoes because of the tatami floor; people live there so it was important to be respectful. I ended up hitting the back of my heel on the wooden part of the amp just crazy hard. I couldn’t walk essentially.
This was about midnight and we still had four-ish hours to go so we just had to keep going on. Between takes I was sitting down to rest my foot but I would still have to stand up and do the take. So make sure you have an adequately-stocked first-aid kit.
ELFS: I’ve had a couple similar experiences in the past.
MDS: This shoot was seven or eight months ago and ever since then safety’s been my greatest concern. Especially as a freelancer, I don’t have sick pay, I don’t have insurance. I have health insurance but it’s not going to cover my income if I’m injured so it’s paramount that if there’s any shoot that has any kind of risk there has to be something take care of it, whether that’s having a first aid kit handy or knowing where the hospital is.
I was doing a commercial last month and we were shooting a lot of it on a Ronin [camera stabiliser]. The director was thinking, “Why don’t we get a hover board and you can use the Ronin and go backwards?” And I was like, “Theres no way I’m doing that.” I know a family friend who broke their foot so badly that the bone came out of the foot riding one of those things, so I’m not going to operate several thousand dollars’ worth of equipment on a hover board and break that and myself.
There are unnecessary risks that you don’t need to take. There are other ways to get the shot. In the end I just ran backwards and we shot at a higher frame rate so there was clean usable footage. We also did one shot in a car, just a tripod in a car driving along. There are other things you can do without risking your own safety.
ELFS: Jumping back to the music video again, the interiors you said were quite a tight space, what lens was that shot on?
MDS: One of the things I enjoyed with this shoot was that we went really minimal, as far as camera stuff. It was really more about the lighting so we just had the Sony A7s with the 16–35 lens, and we shot everything at either 16 or 35. All the wides were at 16, and sometimes if I wanted to get a little bit of a weird shot I’d get close up with that focal length. Otherwise it was wides at 16, mids at 35. We did a few close up shots all on the 35, and that was kind of it. Real simple shoot. Shot that into the Atomos Ninja Flame just to get 1080p ProRes, nothing at 4K because we didn’t want it sharp, we wanted that VHS look.
ELFS: What were the challenges of doing the exteriors on that shoot?
MDS: It was a real bamboo forest, so while we had a day of prep, a lot of it was getting to the location, picking up a lot of props and things like that. As far as lighting prep we did maybe half a day’s worth of setting up lights, making sure it looked good. Because it was a proper bamboo forest, we couldn’t really damage it; it was a rental properly and we couldn’t really alter it too much, so it was just a matter of monkeying around into the environment and figuring out where we could put stuff, how it was going to look and where we could actually shoot from. There wasn’t a lot of flat ground to walk around on so we were very restricted. The biggest challenge was placing stuff in an aesthetically pleasing way, while still being able to practically shoot everything. And getting a smoke machine to work effectively out there.
ELFS: Was that all running off a generator?
MDS: Yeah we had a couple generators powering everything — massive lights, nothing LED. One of the great things about working with a dedicated lighting crew bringing their own stuff was that they knew it really well, so for me it was quite liberating.
I know that working as a solo operator, a lot of the time you’re having to set up everything yourself. You bring your own lights, set it all up, you have to know what it is exactly that you’re bringing along and how to operate it. Whereas working with a crew like that to whom I was able to say as we were prepping, ‘Hey can we try this room in crazy orange and have these little things going round, and see how it looks?’ and within ten minutes they’d have something rigged up and ready to go, it was just ridiculous.
To me that was the turning point, realising I love this job. You just get to play with light. Going back to having a good crew, that was, for me, the first time overseeing a larger number of people and having that much control and ability to make stuff look interesting.
ELFS: It looks great. I’m curious about the interiors, there are these discs of light on walls and ceiling, are they projections?
MDS: This is my lack of film school knowledge, we had that thing where you punch a light through it, a cookie cutter kind of thing, [a gobo]. We had coloured gels inside it and just played around figuring out which ones we liked. We also had these cool little LED strips, where you could change the colour and do half-and-half, and mess around with that. There’s a lot more that we shot that didn’t end up in the final edit. Stuff like two-tone lighting on the vocalist in a separate room. It was just so much fun. I guess going back to what I love about doing this is playing with light. That’s probably the most fun thing about the job.
You can find De Sousa’s website here: mattdesousa.com.
You can also follow him on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook.
Want to learn more about Matt De Sousa’s work and inspirations? Check out Part I of the interview, where we discuss launching a career in Japan, shooting in Tokyo, and advice for filmmakers.