Prettybird director Yousef on a raucous, mind-bending, body horror that stars none other than Barry from EastEnders himself, Shaun Williamson
It’s a bleak old world out there at the moment – so if you’re in need of a cheeky pick-me-up, look no further than the new music video from director and designer Yousef. He’s channelled the relentless techno of Italian DJ Piero Pirupa’s new track Braindead (Heroin Kills) into the most gleefully disturbing anti-drugs PSA.
At the centre of the action is actor Shaun Williamson, known in the UK as Barry from EastEnders – and known to comedy fans around the world for his turn in Ricky Gervais comedy series Extras as, err, Barry from EastEnders. The promo starts off as a straight pastiche of a ‘90s anti-drugs PSA, complete with a VHS-inspired grade and aspect ratio, before devolving into sweaty body horror as Shaun bulges, twists, snorts mini versions of himself and vomits himself up like an emetic Matryoshka doll.
LBB’s Laura Swinton was full of questions and so caught up with Yousef to find out more.
Check out the director's cut here.
LBB> The lyrics and relentless insanity of the track really lend themselves to this mind-bending video, but when you were developing all of the visual ideas in the video what was your starting point and how did you find inspiration?
Yousef> The two main take-aways from the label’s original brief were that they want a celebrity and they want them to lip-sync to the track. At the time, the track I was pitching on was about four minutes long so I wanted to keep it interesting without being a purely performance-based video. What I wanted to do is find a way to do that but also build a story around it, and that’s where the idea of it being an anti-drugs PSA came from.
I had no idea there was a radio edit at the time of pitching, and if it had been presented with the brief, the concept would have had some major changes. The eye shot and the brain pulsating shot are key to the thumping beat in the middle of the track and the ‘Tiny Shauns’ I thought of because the vocal samples during that section of the track sounded like tiny, impish sort of characters dancing and chanting.
The original cut of the track also had a long intro, for which we shot a long Steadicam shot of Shaun getting ready in the makeup area and gliding through the studio as he made his way in front of the camera.
LBB> Barry! Why Barry? How Barry?
Yousef> Why not Barry! It really feels like it couldn’t be anyone else but him. I remember sitting in the PRETTYBIRD UK office, and myself and the team were thinking of different actors and personalities. None quite fit the bill. My amazing producer Jake (River Parker) and I are big Extras fans, and since we mentioned his name it was difficult to picture anyone else playing themselves.
LBB> For our non-UK readers, can you give a bit of context about Shaun/Barry and the scenes in the video that come from EastEnders?
Yousef> Shaun / Barry is a wonderful actor who was part of a long-running UK soap opera about 17 years ago until he was killed off with an iconic death, being pushed off a cliff by his newly married wife. A couple of years later he played a fictionalised version of himself in Ricky Gervais’ hit show Extras, and since then fans have referred to him as ‘Barry from EastEnders’.
LBB> I've heard Shaun being interviewed and some colleagues met him at a comedy night - he seems up for anything! How did he get involved and what was his initial reaction?
Yousef> I’ve been following Shaun’s work for a while, and when we approached him for the role I spent a while listening to various interviews and podcasts he’s done to find out more about him. I sent over the treatment to his agent and they seemed very much up for it, which was a relief because some elements of the video are super strange. It was another reason we wanted to work with him - he's down for anything!
LBB> And how did you guys work together to get this bonkers performance?
Yousef> We didn’t have much discussion with Shaun up until the day of the shoot, but as soon as he got there he knew exactly what to do based on the treatment and mood film I put together. He knew the vibe and is highly experienced in playing exaggerated versions of himself. We met at the 3D scanning studio initially and got chatting, it really helped ease us into the day. We shot the video chronologically, which also did wonders as we could ease into the weirdness as the video progressed, rather than jumping in at the deep end at the start of the day.
LBB> The video really goes for it in the variety of techniques and you worked with artists from all over the world. What were the challenges of incorporating all of that?
Yousef> I think time zones were definitely one of the trickier aspects of the post-production workflow. We had freelancers working all over the place so I’d have to be ready to give feedback essentially 24 hours a day so we didn’t lose time.
Another challenge was predicting how well the 3D scanning process would turn out. It was new to me so I had to do a lot of research and figure out a variety of possible approaches we could take to get a realistic 3D model of Shaun within time and budget. We ended up going with a 3D scanning place in London close to the set, and then sending that data over to LA to be cleaned up and rigged for animation use. Thankfully it turned out great. The other animators and I were really impressed with it.
LBB> What was the production like and what was the energy on set? What are your favourite moments from that?
Yousef> It wasn’t too crazy! There was a relaxed vibe on set throughout. It’s all set in one location so we had the luxury of not spending time moving locations and equipment, but we were still up against the clock as we had a lot to shoot. I remember distinctly the crew giving a round of applause to Shaun after a three-minute take of him dancing relentlessly to the track.
LBB> The music video has come out when people are going a bit stir crazy at home. Obviously you couldn't have predicted that what are your thoughts on this mad video coming out at this very mad time? What do you hope people get from it?
Yousef> People have been feeding back that it’s something which has put a smile on their faces during the ongoing crisis. I think people really needed something to give them a bit of a lift. Hopefully, for three or so minutes, they’re distracted enough to not worry about the current state of the world.