Rikky James - Behind the Scenes
A good director isn’t just someone who is good at coming up with ideas or the person who’s in charge of the creative direction of a project; it’s the person who’s a great communicator.
As a director it’s your job to make sure people understand what’s in your head no matter how complicated, technical or confusing it may be.
These elements can be performance, actions, inhabiting a character and wide range of many other, for the lack of a more pretentious word, “stuff”. All elements are made more challenging when the actor you are working with is blind...
“Move to that marker”, “Shake hands”, “Make really big gestures for this scene” are all instructions rendered moot when the person you are directing is unable to see, in fact it’s quite interesting the number of senses we rely on/take for granted when on a set.
We use our body language to help communicate or emphasise, we use referential actions that are as simple as “shake your head” or “look sad” to articulate a scene, but what if you have no idea what these things actually look like?
Before the shoot for Rikky James’ ‘Scapegoat’; directing a blind or visually impaired person wasn’t something that crossed my mind.
Upon meeting him and witnessing his adamance and confidence in playing the lead role combined with his charm I was sure he was up to the challenge, the real question was; was I?
The first challenge was coming up with a music video concept that is inclusive of a blind character that although doesn’t play up to the disability; does not hide it either.
The story behind the song helped immensely (a story of love, mistrust and lost love). What could be made out of this emotional journey? Lots of things.
The thing that seemed to jump out as both a creative piece while being true to the theme was a film within a film where Rikky would star as the sound recordist on a shoot who, through the things he hears with his sound equipment, falls in and out of love with the make-up artist.
The next natural step was making sure Rikky was happy with the content, that it was something he was happy doing and a story he was happy telling.
That done it was a question of running through all the elements described as succinctly as possible. It was his video after all so he needed to know what would happen, when and who would be involved; that way the day would hold no surprises.
Realizing that there was a lot of content that relied on actions and expressions to sell the video for sighted actors alone I had to consider how to achieve this with someone who couldn’t see.
There were ideas, there were thoughts but to be honest you can’t be 100% sure what will bring out the best until the day of the shoot…
Touch played a major part in directing Rikky. Of course a full run through of what he would be doing, in the order he would be doing it and who with was among the first things we did (but to be fair that’s no different from any other shoot).
When the cast, crew and extras are in position and the pressure is on it was a combination of physical interaction and very specific words that was most effective.
How do you know what an adequate frown is if you can’t see it? Through touch. Placing my fingers just above his eyebrows instructing him to frown until he feels it in those points helped create the desired expression.
Speed of movement was another area. What’s quick? What’s slow? You can’t use yourself as an example so instead physically moving his head, hand or arm gave an idea of the speed for which to replicate and luckily Rikky’s professionalism made this task easier as he was able to remember specific commands for different takes and set ups.
Markers was the final threshold to pass. Think about it; all those actors and extras need to know where they have to stand, what their cues are and where they are in focus. All rely on sight. Removing that sense how do we know where our markers are?
The solution was right in front of us or more rather carefully laid out beneath us – cables! There are many dangers spread across a set that I myself have been guilty of tripping over, the safe option is to cover or “secure” them with thin rubber matting so you no longer trip over them but can still feel them beneath your feet.
Using this principal a cable would be laid out and covered with rubber which would be Rikky’s path; two steps along the cable and that’s his marker, step to the left or right and he’s out of focus.
This was a unique immersive experience that I leapt on as a director, where conventional approaches went out of the window and replaced with more practical adaptive approaches in order to come out with an end result Rikky and I are proud of and to be honest Rikky is FAR from the most difficult actor I’ve worked with.
Tai Campbell, Creative Director at EPiK Music Videos.
Watch here: Rikky James - Scapegoat