It was like something out of a film script, at the start of 1984 I’d never made a film, by the end of the year I had a music video being played on National TV. I was told I couldn’t do that – make videos to be put on TV, that I had to start as a Runner. But I’m a fairly resourceful bloke and in two weeks I learned the basics of video production by making lots of calls, asking lots of questions and generally sweating golf balls, hoping that I’d got it right.
It all started at college when I was interrupted from writing my thesis by a twelve-inch record flopping onto the desk in front of me.
‘Stop that!’ a voice said ‘and do this instead.’
That was the moment my life changed. The voice belonged to Rob, who I was currently making an animation film with and the record was ‘Police Officer’ by Smiley Culture.
The song had made it into the lower reaches of the charts. Fashion Records, the independent label, were taken by surprise. They were told: ‘Make a video’ and this song will go top twenty. But this was the 80s and videos meant expensive exotic locations, supermodels, hanging out on yachts with Duran Duran and generally a budget of £30 000. Unless, of course, you got students involved.
So, along with my college animation partners, Mike and Rob, we quickly drew up a story board and agreed we could make the film for £1200. Basically we were told that’s all the budget there was. We were going to have to beg and borrow. These were the old analogue days when everything was shot on film (16mm – super 8 wasn’t allowed as a broadcast standard), when editing was a physical cutting process (thank you Carol) and the only phones available to make bookings were either in red public phone boxes or the tutor’s office. A lot of calls were made at lunchtimes.
The only thing I’d previously organised was a football match at a campsite in France (we won 6-5). I was as nervous as hell. The shoot day was a blur but went well; Smiley Culture was great, performed brilliantly. I think we shot 3 rolls, 30 minutes of rushes, but we got everything we wanted ‘in the can’, as they used to say.
The whole process of film production was a steep learning curve full of new technological jargon (totally redundant now) and I did bargain hard using my wide-eyed naive style, especially with the broadcast video transfer suite.
Me: ‘How much would it cost to transfer 16mm to broadcast video?’
‘Telecine (the transfer suite) is £150 an hour which includes an operator, the minimum booking is half an hour. So, you’ll be looking at £75.’
‘We don’t need half an hour.’
‘It takes half an hour to do this.’
‘But the film is only 3 minutes long.’
Laughter on other end of the phone.
In the end I think they took pity on us and let us have a slightly reduced rate. Personally I think they just wanted to see what a real life idiot looked like.
But, we got the job done. Within the week ‘Police Officer’ made its debut on Channel Four’s The Tube. It was introduced by Paula Yates and commented on by Jools Holland afterwards; ‘What a great video!’ he said. That was it. We were promo directors and if Jools said it was great, we knew we had a music video making future. So we formed a company called ‘giblets’.
Why? because we could.
When people tell me I can’t do things, it makes me all the more determined. I’ll soon know whether I can or can’t do things. In this instance I made the right decision.
Police Officer peaked at No 12 in the UK charts. As giblets, we made two further promos for Smiley Culture but for me, this first one stands out as the best. It’s fresh and has an energy, plus I feature in it – but only for a blinking moment.