Magazine article American Cinematographer

Die Antwoord's "Freek" Show

Magazine article American Cinematographer

Die Antwoord's "Freek" Show

Article excerpt

The jury for the Music Videos Competition at the 2012 Plus Camerimage festival presented the Best Music Video award to Die Antwoord's "I Fink U Freeky." Shot by cinematographer Melle Van Essen, the video translates a number of American photographer Roger Ballen's still-life installations into dynamic moving images.

Van Essen has a lot of documentary credits to his name, but they don't look like most documentaries. For instance, take Mama Calle, a stylized doc from 1991 about the street children of Mexico City. "Some people think that once the cameras are rolling, you're a fly on the wall, but I don't believe that," he says. "I find it interesting to give a documentary a signature look, and that all depends on how you bond with the people you're filming."

In 2005, Van Essen collaborated with Ballen and Dutch director Saskia Vredeveld on the narrative short Memento Mori, an extension of Ballen's Shadow Chamber, a collection of black-and-white photographs taken in an abandoned women's prison in South Africa. Meanwhile, South African rave-rappers Ninja and Yo-Landi Visser of Die Antwoord were using Ballen's flash-blasted tableaux as inspiration for the kitschy "documentary fiction" in their music, live performances and music videos. Early last year, Die Antwoord asked Ballen to co-direct with Ninja) the video for "I Fink U Freeky," and Ballen asked Van Essen to shoot it.

On his previous films, Ballen had found himself working more as an art director; he was happy to shoot stills with his Rolleiflex 6008 while Vredeveld directed and Van Essen lit and operated the motion-picture camera. "I was most concerned with the objects filling the screen and how they related to each other," recalls Ballen. For "I Fink U Freeky," Ninja focused on directing himself and the other performers while Ballen focused on the animals - "rats, ducks, bugs, all those things" - and their behavior.

Van Essen was tasked with translating Ballen's work into motion pictures; a pair of hands extending out of a bathtub, clutching a duck ßathtub, 201 1); a woman's head in a cage with a white snake curled around it Caged, 201 1); hooded bodies draped with muddy newspaper (Retreat, 2009).

When Van Essen landed at Tambo International, he was escorted to Marcia's Studios, "this weird warehouse in the suburbs of JoBurg where some strange people were painting the walls and making the sets," he recalls. "I have to say, there was great energy. Even I was painting things on the walls! " Ballen and art director Ben Crossman created a total of seven separate installations for the shoot.

Van Essen hoped to shoot "I Fink U Freeky" on film or with the Arri Alexa, but the project's budget led him to choose a Canon EOS 5D Mark II. (He used Canon 16-35mm f2, 16-35mm Í2.8 and 70-200mm 12.8 zoom lenses and Zeiss ZE primes ranging from 21mm to 100mm.) "Until then, I'd actually tried to avoid the 5D," he reveals. "It's too small, and my fingers are too thick to handle it. It's not my cup of tea, so to speak."

Digital-imaging technician Jonathan O'Connell handled all of the 5D's settings, which included the aeation of a monochrome color profile and bracketing each lighting setup over and under by a stop to help determine exposure. "I know what's happening with the camera, but I prefer to have someone take are of the technical settings so I can be free to frame and light - you know, the things peopie expect you to do as a director of photography! …

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