Much before the concept for Better Man music-video took shape, its inception had started with the purchase of a Nikon F5 camera body. Arguably the fastest SLR ever made. One of the main features of this immaculate beast is an automatic film advancement system that can fire at an astonishing speed of 8 frames per second. - Accurately and continuously. That means it is nearly as fast as an early 20th Century “motion picture” camera (silent-era movies were filmed at 12-16 frames per second). No wonder then, that when I first heard the sputtering sound of the F5 shutter, it was music to the ears and stirred my imagination. I could visualise black and white images moving at the speed of Charlie Chaplin.

Choosing black and white

The decision to use black & white film for this video was undeniably directed towards recreating an authentic early 20th Century cinema’ pastiche. However, we wanted to go a step beyond the peculiar imagination used in vintage cinema and obtain the unique “film-damage” characteristics of dust, speckles, scratches, wobble etc. This is caused over-time due to the fragility of the medium and, taking advantage of this fragility, we aimed to naturally create these effects with a “hand-made” approach.

Intentionally incautious

This is just the opposite of the best practice where one is carefully working towards a clean negative. However for achieving the film ageing effect, our approach was intentionally incautious. Handling 600 feet of Kentmere ISO 400 film that was hand-rolled into 100 reusable film canisters and exposed over 2 days of shooting. Then un-spooled, loaded into film processing tanks and hand-developed using home-made D76 recipe.

Upon drying, approximately 4 thousand negatives were sequentially cut, sleeved and then batch scanned using a flatbed film scanner. The natural artefacts created during these processes lent the image a layer of genuine ageing without employing any digital effects. For example the wobble in the video (akin to the wobble caused by a film-projector) was created from the misaligned marquee while scanning of negatives which we chose not to digitally correct.

Le Voyage dans la Lune

Conceptually, we took “A Trip to the Moon” or “Le Voyage dans la Lune” (released in 1902) as an inspiration. The iconic moon landing shot from this film stirred the concept for Better Man music video. And, an abstract narrative was charted around this shot as imagined by the pioneer filmmaker Georges Méliès (France 1861-1938).

We also utilised some in-camera “special effects” like substitution splice or jump-cuts and stop-motion. These were first introduced by Méliès the Magician. And, in a way this video is also an ode to genius and lost art. We used other nifty tricks like forced perspective, in-camera double exposures, transition-flashes and generous use of optical props.

Ankur Sabharwal

Ankur Sabharwal - the singer and songwriter of Better Man, stepped up to play 5 different characters in the video. The protagonist “Bip the Clown” was inspired from the stage persona of French mime and theatre legend – Marcel Marceau. (France 1923-2007). Like all mime acts, Bip represented the common man with all their trials and tribulations. In the video, he travels to the moon, transforms to become an astronaut and, aided by the angel, Bip saves planet Earth from the clutches of the devil.

Trust in Film

This was an independent project and our production approach was similar to a college project, with limited budgets. Our sets and costume were purposely minimal. Rendered in monochrome to give us a better idea of how they'd translate on black and white film. We were constantly rehearsing and shooting since we had limited stock and no digital safeties were being shot.

Yes, we had put our trust in film all the way. Shooting rushes of approximately 5 minutes sat on the timeline for a 3 min 15-sec video edit. Each scene was meticulously planned and executed. Maintaining a strict shooting-ratio, we stuck to the analogue methods as much as possible and the results looked satisfying.

The history of motion-pictures or “Movies” slowly evolved from still photography in the late 19th Century. And, in many ways, Better Man music-video enfolds that journey in its own making, combining aspects of analogue photography and vintage cinema.

Shoot, Prep & Post-Processing Conducted @MAZE COLLECTIVE, New Delhi

Video, Images, GIFs - Copyright @ Mrinal Bahukhandi 2022