UK rapper AntsLive tears through the Dolomites on horseback in his latest stand-out music video for ‘Number One Candidate’. And to achieve this opening scene, the up-and-coming artist had to learn how to ride a horse in just 10 days…
Since its release, the video has been quickly racking up views, including over seven million on TikTok. Directed, edited and produced by Tom Emmerson, it was shot on 16mm film and processed and scanned by Cinelab Film & Digital.
To find out how this project came together, LBB’s Sunna Coleman speaks with director Tom who shares his favourite moments on this surreal set, why he chose to shoot on film and how he juggled many hats to bring the final piece together.
LBB> Tell us about the initial concept stage for this music video.
Tom> Initially Ants sent me a track called ‘D n D’ where the hook says ‘I’ve been lowkey more time my phone on D n D’. It had all these windy, aspirate, zephyr-like tones and, paired with the lyrics, just sounded like the mountains to me.
I started pulling references from there. However, about three months later he sent me ‘Number One Candidate’ immediately after making it and I just knew that had to be the lead single and the idea for the mountains still somehow felt right (especially with the idea of pairing the horns with traditional Alphorn players).
LBB> And how did it develop from there? Where did you draw inspiration from?
Tom> I gathered references for six to eight months whilst we negotiated and sourced the right record deal and funding (I’m his manager as well). It gave me a lot of time to just sit with the record and to develop ideas as and when they came.
As soon as we were ready to film, I headed out with my co-producer/creative assistant, Billy King. We had 100-150 reference images, a location itinerary and the video wrote itself from there. All I knew heading out was that we were going to film in the Dolomites, have some horn players and have an opening horse riding shot for the first 15-20 seconds.
The storyboard wrote itself as we visited locations and became more and more inspired by the landscape.
LBB> You decided to shoot on film for this project - what led to that decision?
Tom> It just felt right. I think 35mm film can be made to look like digital and that digital can sometimes be made to look filmic but 16mm still sits in that special, elusively ambiguous space of simply having a certain magic.
Also, Ants is a great performer. He nails all his takes. So we could afford to only shoot certain sections of the track as opposed to doing full run throughs, making it more affordable than it otherwise would have been.
LBB> You worked across the whole project, editing and producing too. What were the benefits of working this way? And what were some of the challenges?
Tom> The challenges were brutal. The job nearly killed me. I couldn’t move for four days after filming as I was so exhausted. But it was also one of the best experiences of my life.
The benefit of editing is the quality. I don’t think anyone will ever take as much care over my own film as me. Every single cut in that video was played with over ten times with incremental frame differences to make it land just right. That’s something you can only do if you’re doing it yourself. Also, as everything was storyboarded to the millisecond, it was simply a case of compositing the timeline to the markers.
Producing was out of necessity and budget constraints. I typically would never advise a director to also produce and I don’t intend to do it again (if I can avoid it) but magic came out of the challenges.
I kept telling myself it would have been so much easier if we just had a bit more budget but I also believe there’s a chance that it wouldn’t have been as special of a video.
You really have to separate your producer and director brains and not let yourself compromise your creative ideas through production concerns. You come up with an idea as a director and then you have to make it happen as a producer. It’s incredibly intense but we had to make it work so we did.
LBB> What is your favourite medium and why?
Tom> I’m a director and that’s my passion in terms of creating but I certainly don’t limit myself to cinema or film as a source of inspiration. I love all art. Furniture, architecture, painting, literature all inspire me. Why film? Hard to say. It’s just how life worked out.
LBB> What was it like shooting in the Italian Dolomites? What were your favourite moments from set?
Tom> One of the best experiences of my life. It’s the most beautiful place I’ve ever been. I felt continually grateful. I couldn’t believe it at points. Getting to travel the world making films you love with your best friends with total creative freedom is my dream. We were living my dream. I felt beyond lucky. If that’s all I ever accomplish it’s enough (though I hope to accomplish much much more).
My favourite moment was when we pulled off the opening shot. It was the first shot on the first day of shooting and I think it set the tone for the rest of the days of filming. The excitement, the beauty, the electricity of it all; of seeing it come to fruition after months of hard work. It was incredible. I hope to remember that feeling for the rest of my life.
Also the meals with the team in our small flat in the evenings were great. We’d come in exhausted and cook together whilst we planned the next days of filming. Truly some of the happiest days I’ve lived (whilst also some of the most stressful).
LBB> What was your reaction to the finished video? Did it align with the vision you had in mind?
Tom> I loved it. I still love it. It matched the storyboard perfectly and excelled my expectations. Whilst I knew we’d made something special, I was torn between being convinced it was going to go viral and worrying it would only get 5k views. I’m relieved it was the former. I told myself, ‘If this doesn’t work, I don’t know what will.’
LBB> What is your favourite scene from the video?
Tom> The opening shot. It excites me every time. I visualised it in my head for six months before filming. Seeing it in real life still doesn’t feel real. It’s perfect to me (even though it’s riddled with imperfections).
LBB> What feedback have you had on the video so far?
Tom> I’ve been blown away by the reaction. My inbox has been inundated. It’s had seven million views on TikTok and 500k on YouTube. It’s done more for me than I could have ever hoped for. I just can’t wait to make the next one now. So, if any brands, commissioners, agencies etc are reading this: please reach out to me with your best briefs and let’s make something even better!