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Your Shot

Your Shot: SVIBES’ Abstract Story of Hope and Escape

Tool of North America’s Rachel McDonald on having full creative reign over this dreamy new promo

Your Shot: SVIBES’ Abstract Story of Hope and Escape

Director Rachel McDonald had worked with musician Sanders Bohlke on a music video in their shared home state of Mississippi some years ago. Rachel is now repped by Tool of North America and Sanders’ latest musical project is dreamy electronic R&B duo SVIBES. 

Rachel had been chatting to Sanders about collaborating on a music video again and, while in Valparaíso, Chile shooting a commercial, felt so inspired by her surroundings that she text him, enthused to shoot their upcoming project in the same area. After a short back-and-forth, Sanders gave Rachel the go-ahead to shoot the promo then and there, giving her full creative reign over the narrative. The result is an ethereal, abstract story of escape, hope and exploration. 

LBB’s Addison Capper chatted with Rachel to find out more. 


LBB> What did SVIBES initially approach you with and how did it lead to the final script? 

RM> The music video came together in an unconventional way. SVIBES didn’t initially approach me, I had been in a conversation with Sanders Bohlke [of SVIBES] about collaborating again with the release of SVIBES’ new album. I was shooting a commercial in Valparaíso, Chile and I was enamored with the colourful, bohemian town. Our local team and crew were beyond wonderful, and the local producer offered to get some of the crew and a camera back out for a day if I had an idea to make something else before I left.  

Inspired by the place and people that surrounded me, I texted Sanders Bohlke telling him that we needed to come to Chile and shoot a music video for his new album. Over a series of spirited, overzealous texts, Sanders gave me the go-ahead: “Just shoot it while you’re there… to whatever song you like.” The whole team and I sat at a dinner table and listened to his new album multiple times. It was unanimous. ‘Colored Walls’ was the one that kept speaking to all of us.

LBB> As you’ve mentioned, you had pretty much full creative reign here, plus SVIBES told music mag Variance that there was “little input” from them at - how did that inform your approach to the film? How do the lyrics and song fit with your promo?

RM> There is something haunting and poetic about the instrumentation and the vocals in ‘Colored Walls’. I asked Sanders for the backstory. He gave me some insight into the song, while disclaiming that he did not want the video to be literal. He said: "It’s like One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest and about feeling you are trapped somewhere you don't belong and everyone is crazy but then you start to think maybe you're the one that's crazy.” I loved that input and it gave me the creative fuel to start crafting a narrative for the film.

I have never worked on a music video where the artist handed it over to us and just encouraged us to make something beautiful. That trust in me as a filmmaker and the freedom to explore and create was so amazing and inspiring. I worked with Sanders on a music video in Mississippi, where we are both from, years ago, so thankfully there was an established relationship and taste that coalesced.

LBB> Tell us about the narrative? What’s happening? 

RM> Once I had that backstory from Sanders, I started thinking about where we were: a port city, a city nestled in the hillside and painted from head to toe in graffiti. I started thinking about the type of character who could end up here, perhaps on a boat. And then I started thinking about some of the heart-breaking stories I had read about refugee women around the world. They flee to other countries, strange new places, seeking asylum often in an effort to escape from severe situations. This film is not meant to be a platform or a commentary on refugees and asylum seekers, even though it’s extremely topical at the moment and an issue I’m passionate about.

This narrative was more abstract, hopeful and an interpretive journey with the song. Yeri’s character was initially inspired by real stories but it evolved with the music. I liked the idea of her coping with life by dancing through these unfamiliar streets and inside the city walls. She’s almost trancelike at times. Yeri and I choreographed the dance together and we really just went with something that felt viscerally connected to the song.

LBB> Who is the leading lady and what was the casting process like? 

RM> While I was shooting the commercial, there was this striking woman acting as an extra in our spot. All day, amidst the chaos of the shoot, she kept catching my eye. This was Yeri, the local woman who we ended up casting as the lead in this film. She was an absolute delight to work with. 

LBB> The desert location is pretty stunning - where is it and why is it right for your story?

RM> This location is on the coast of Chile about 70 miles from Santiago. It was unbelievable and only an hour from Valparaiso, where we shot the rest of the film. Valparaiso was really what initially inspired me. It’s a magical little port city tucked in a hillside and covered in graffiti. The place has this bohemian, nostalgic vibe that pulled me in. We were staying there while shooting the commercial and I said to my producer, “I can’t leave here without creating something in this beautiful place”.

LBB> What were the biggest challenges that arose during production and how did you overcome them?

RM> The most challenging thing was just time. We wanted to shoot sunrise and dusk, but we only had one day to shoot and had limited resources, but we made it work. I think we took a two-hour nap after a full night of shooting and made it out to the boats before the sun rose. We took a very small skeleton crew for this scene. The lack of sleep was totally worth it. I love the shots on the boat and it was an unforgettable experience. We were out in the Pacific Ocean on a tiny fishing boat alongside big ships while local fisherman were our guides. 

LBB> Any parting thoughts?

RM> Just that this was truly a labour of love and passion and I felt it from everyone involved. We got inspired and each person on this crew and team truly poured their hearts into it. That’s one of the best feelings as a director, to look at the other artists around you and know that you’re all in it together and it’s all out of the pure desire to make something, to create something special.  

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