How the Steadicam Operator's Work with Top European Filmmakers Informed His Move to the Director's Chair

If you follow European cinema, odds are you’ve seen the Steadicam work of camera operator Loïc Andrieu, whose résumé includes director Bertrand Bonello’s Nocturama and House of Pleasures, Leos Carax’s Holy Motors, Jacques Audiard’s Dheepan and (as one of two credited Steadicam operators) Luc Besson’s Angel-A, among many others. Now, he’s moving into the director’s chair. His music video for “The End” by Paris-based electronic trio KCPK features portentous, sexually charged (and sometimes NSFW) imagery, an apocalyptic sensibility, and a mobile, relentlessly probing camera. We asked him about what he learned as a camera operator, how he collaborated with DP Nicolas Loir, VFX artist and CEO of VFX house Digital District David Danesi, and — just a little bit — what it all means.

Watch the video, below, then read the Q&A.

StudioDaily: You’ve operated Steadicam for some of the world’s most celebrated directors. When did you know you wanted to direct? And how has all that Steadicam experience informed your aesthetic?

Loïc Andrieu: As far back as I can remember, I always wanted to become a screenwriter and a director. So it all started from a storytelling perspective. It felt essential to me to first learn the directing craft working as Steadicam operator, really close to established directors.

Luc Besson is the master. He taught me how to tell a story with a camera and how to coach the actors. Working at Jacques Audiard’s side, I learned to write and direct the exposition of a main character by revealing his backstory only through indirect lines of dialogue. On set, Audiard showed me where to put the camera in order to develop the main character’s point of view throughout a whole movie.

Collaborating with Leos Carax I learned to use dream language by allowing the subconscious to overwhelm my visuals without providing any tangible explanation to the audience. With Bonello, I realized as a director how to reveal underlying violence by hiding it behind ordinary behavior.

How did you end up working with your DP, Nicolas Loir, and Flame artist David Danesi? Had you all worked together before?

This video music is all about encounters. Two years ago, I conceived this project without any track or artist attached. I tried to submit it to musicians like SBTRKT, Para One or Koudlam, and for some reason it always failed.

Eventually, the whole concept was triggered by my producers, Pierre Cazenave and Grégoire Giral of [Parisian production company] Soldats. They gave me KCPK’s EP and I literally went wild about the title “The End,” with its never-ending guitar rise on an electronic beat.

In order to achieve the complex lighting set-ups I had envisioned, I chose to hire talented director of photography Nicolas Loir. We share a common respect, solid prep, well crafted shots and traditional blocking for each scene.

It was my first collaboration with the key component — aka VFX master David Danesi.

Can you say a little bit about the story behind the video, and where that idea originated?

Throughout “The End” I catch fragments of a tormented student’s nightmare as she struggles between a torn relationship with her mother and an unreciprocated romantic obsession.

The visual depicts an odd journey through adolescent angst bathed in underlying sexual tension. Like a puzzle of the heroine’s senses and feelings flowing with a gradual force and oppressively constant.

It’s a snaphot of coming of age. At this stage rules get rewritten as never before. You open your eyes to what lies beyond family and school. It is the first time you’re seeing yourself in the world, but emotional reactions overwhelm your ability to understand and cope.

What camera and lenses did you shoot with? Was it important to shoot anamorphic?

We shot on a Red camera with Hawk anamorphics. I wanted the audience to feel the main character overwhelmed by the scale of the sets, of the architecture and, of course, by the size of the wave. The anamorphic lenses provide an epic and cinematographic mood that perfectly suits the storytelling.

How did you three all stay on the same page creatively? Did you have any specific visual references in mind, perhaps from favorite films or other works of art?

With Nicolas Loir and David Danesi, we worked mostly around feature films references like the VFX storm scenes from Take Shelter by Jeff Nichols or Donnie Darko by Richard Kelly. The dark wave in the stadium was inspired by amazing YouTube videos of the 2011 tsunami in Japan.

Can you talk a little about the lighting set-ups? What kind of lighting did you use, and did the use of so many flickering lights add a layer of complexity?

In this video, the lighting itself can be considered as a character. For budgetary reasons, I chose to scout locations already equipped with huge ceiling lights. The flicker effect is used to blur the frontier between nightmare and reality. It brings a required feeling of insecurity, but it also helps to reveal the variety of colors composing every set.

How were the VFX designs conceived? And were they difficult to execute on a music video budget?

Fluid conception and management is one of the most complex visual effects to achieve. David Danesi is the wizard who made it happen. I trusted his experience on 3D, Houdini, Nuke and Flame. His input on the project was crucial and went beyond any of my expectations. Without his tremendous involvement and dedication, we couldn’t have cracked the entire post-production process.

You set up an impressive variety of scenes and environments in a six-minute music video. What were the trickiest shots to get right?

Every shot was carefully prepped for months in order to optimize my time to work with the actors on the set. From a VFX perspective, the opening sequence with the wave in the stadium was the trickiest one to handle. From a lighting perspective, the fencing scene was the most complex set-up. And from a directorial perspective, the scenes involving the mother interacting with her daughter were the biggest challenge.