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Work / Film

Oscar Hudson on channeling the polite awkwardness of lifts for Radiohead’s latest video

Inventive director Oscar Hudson has directed the latest Radiohead video for Lift produced by Pulse Films. The track was originally a B-Side recorded during the OK Computer sessions and unreleased until 2017 on the 20-year anniversary release of the album OKNOTOK 1997 2017 .

Directing a Radiohead video is a daunting task for any filmmaker, but for Oscar there was an added pressure due to the song being one already familiar with the band’s avid fans. However, the freedom given to Oscar by the band and label has created a short that fits in seamlessly with the Radiohead’s back catalogue of famed music videos.

Below, we chat to Oscar about the many multi-faceted areas that have come together for Lift.

As a music video director, directing a Radiohead video is one of the coolest things you can do, what was your reaction?

It was a real honour and quite a surreal experience actually. Radiohead were a big deal for me growing up, as I think they were for a lot of people. They’ve always had fantastic music videos too, but the ones from OK Computer are particularly strong, so it was really exciting to get to contribute in someway to that body of work.

The process of making a video for a 20-year-old song like Lift – a track that has its own special place in Radiohead folklore – brought a whole new perspective to writing an idea, which was a particularly interesting side of working on this. I was keen to do something that didn’t feel overly backward looking and nostalgic, but simultaneously acknowledged what the track stands for, and that it already had a life of its own when I sat down to it.

What was the brief and how did the idea develop?

There was no real substantive brief from the band or label, which is not automatically a positive thing. Sometimes when you receive a 100% open brief for a track you submit an idea only to have it held under the magnifying glass, dissected and micromanaged to death – but this was absolutely not the case for this project.

Proper creative freedom is not something you just give during the brief stage, it’s something that is maintained throughout the entire collaborative process and I was so lucky here to have been afforded a huge amount of trust and freedom from start to finish. From where I’m sat now at the end of everything, I think I better understand the connection between the level of creative space Radiohead afford to filmmakers and their history of very strong, but stylistically quite varied music videos.

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Oscar Hudson: Lift by Radiohead

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Oscar Hudson: Lift by Radiohead

How was the day of shooting?

The shoot went really well actually. We had three days of building beforehand because we had so many sets to construct. But, no matter how much prep time you give yourself it’s always a bit of a scramble. Thankfully I had the fantastic Luke Moran-Morris on production design, Mia James on art direction and Richard Morrell as construction manager who did an incredible job on what was a pretty mind-meltingly complex shoot, and kept us on course throughout.

Aside from when the camera goes overhead during the choruses, the film is made up of just three unbroken takes. So, when it came round to shooting there was a lot of art department choreography and character blocking that we had to figure out.

Since we didn’t shoot in a real lift, we had to figure out a way of changing the hallway scenes outside the doors nice and fast. We did this by constructing all our hallway sets so that they could slide sideways in front of the lift on a waxed floor. We also pre-programmed all our lighting set ups into a desk so we could easily change these in sequence too. Throw in actors, prop changes, the manually-operated lift doors, and the timings of all the cues into this equation and you have a hell of a lot that can go wrong!

It usually took four or five attempts for us to nail each of the three scenes, the first assistant director Ty Hack did a fantastic job wrapping his head around all the insane blocking and cueing – the success of the shoot ultimately rested on that challenge, and he totally nailed it.

We also wrapped on time. To the minute. That never happens.

What was the casting process on who would jump in the lift?

I wrote the script based on the characters that I thought belonged in that kind of building, which I imagined to be some kind of London tower block. I wanted the characters and the floors to be in a dialogue with each other as they moved down the building. As well as this I thought about the track, its meaning and its place in Radiohead history, and tried to let that in without letting it dominate the film.

Casting-wise the process was relatively normal, except for that my goldfish got to feature briefly in the film with auditioning. Nepotism is rife in the film industry.

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Oscar Hudson: Lift by Radiohead

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Oscar Hudson: Lift by Radiohead

What sort of directions did you give Thom?

I just asked him to try to channel that very polite sense of awkwardness that you find in lifts, all the nods, half smiles and shift eyes, it’s something everyone is familiar with. Lifts have a social dynamic unlike any other public place, the intimate bodily proximity, the way you’re travelling through a nowhere-place between floors with a total stranger for short bursts of time. All this naturally produces a pretty ripe kind of tension, and performance wise you don’t need much more to bring that out. Less is more really.

The film was created in real time rather than with a green screen, what do you think this approach adds?

My approach to music videos often begins by thinking about physical sets and what’s possible to play with in that area. Once I have something I like I often kind of reverse engineer that back into a narrative. With an idea like this you could have realistically pulled it off with green screen, and it would have afforded you all sorts of possibilities. But, sometimes the limitations of physical effects can be useful, as well as restricting.

Very early on I decided that I didn’t want the lift to become a sort of magic tardis that can take you anywhere. I preferred the idea that it was grounded in a single location and universe, and I wanted to use the repetition of the hallway scene as an anchor throughout. A green screen approach would have lent itself better to a lift-as-tardis version, but the surrealism I am generally more interested in is a slightly more grounded, mundane variety.

It may sound to some like a hell of a lot of work doing stuff physically but actually CGI is a lot of work too! We’re just doing the labour during the production rather than after. I really enjoy turning a film shoot into something like a physical experiment, it seems to galvanise the crew together behind something challenging and new. As well as the obvious stress of doing something difficult that none of us have done before – there is always a palpable sense of adrenaline and excitement, and come the end of the day, achievement too.

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Oscar Hudson: Lift by Radiohead