Pulse Films directors Nathan Taylor and Joshua Hercules, known as Machine Operated, speak to LBB’s Zoe Antonov about their technically intricate music videos, adaptability and best projects so far
Nathan Taylor and Joshua Hercules befriended each other two years before Machine Operated was born, in 2016. That fateful year, Nathan and Joshua met at their friend Sony Hall’s 18th birthday get together. Quickly after, they became buddies and ended up going on holiday together where Nathan brought a Handycam, which led to some filming between the two. When they got back to the UK, they decided to edit it and upload it to Instagram as ‘a bit of a joke’, as Joshua puts it, but people ended up liking it. “So we started thinking about what else we could create,” he says. “We were making music videos together for fun and for friends,” adds Nathan, which ultimately led to the creation of their official partnership in 2018, fueled by their mutual obsession with design and imagery.
From their earlier days together, Nathan points out their music video ‘Cookie Chips’ for Rejjie Snow - a simple, yet very significant piece of work in their shared career, which means a lot to both to this day. On the flip side, Joshua points to Loyle Carner’s ‘Georgetown’ or Bakar’s ‘Noun’ as his personal favourites. Recently, they worked on an advert to launch the partnership between TikTok and Cannes Film Festival, working with a French script and directing French talent which Nathan recalls was an ‘interesting’ experience to say the least. But, as always, solid teamwork and adaptability saved the day and allowed Machine Operated to operate at their best and come out with what they hoped was a solid film. “Having Pulse assist us in building that strong team really helped us navigate some last minute changes in the script and helped us turn the project around in a very short timeframe,” says Nathan.
Joshua points out Daniel Caesar’s music video for his ‘Do You Like Me?’ song, in which Machine Operated planned on shooting an argument scene in slow motion, through five rooms in a three-story house. “The biggest challenge within this was the timing and the cinematography,” he says. “We had to make sure that the movement and actions through the entire house lasted exactly half the song time, as we were shooting double speed. We couldn’t have Daniel perform the whole song at double speed whilst also arguing and remembering choreography, so we chose a handful of key moments for him to deliver his performance, as if it was part of the argument.”
Once they got that part down, it was about where they could have Antoine Cormier with the camera, picking their moments to be as close to the action as possible, heightening the heat of certain moments of the argument. Then at other points, using the space to create a physical divide between the couple, creating wide shots of either subject in solitude for a split second. “We then asked Antoine to shoot the whole thing on his shoulder, which considering he had to blindly walk up two flights of stairs, move through pitch black rooms and avoid being hit by a plate - didn’t end up being a problem for him,” says Joshua.
This was surprisingly not the only challenge, though. Lighting was also tricky. After scouting a number of houses, the duo ended up choosing one that had a lot of windows and white walls - never a good idea for night scenes. However, the interior and architecture matched the script perfectly, while also providing enough space for the wide shots and the opportunity for a few blind spots to hide lighting on each floor. “The most technical bits were faking exterior lighting. We had a passing car light in the opening, and distorted rainfall light coming from a triangular ceiling window in the bedroom, which we had to light from the roof outside, with the art department pouring droplets of water onto a mirror reflecting a HMI,” explains Josh. “I could go on and on, but I will stop myself there. I think overall, we managed to create the kind of warm feeling we were going for, compliment skin tones for close ups, and create interesting silhouettes and shapes when we were wider.” A pure exercise in technicality and detail, the video turned out to be a great success!
So how do Joshua and Nathan go through so many intricate projects together? They complement each other in the best ways. Nathan says they both have different strengths and varying interests, but they all align when it comes to goals and vision. “So we are able to re-inspire one another which helps us create work we both love.” For Joshua as well, both halves of Machine Operated are similar in all the right ways - the same sense of humour, same taste, philosophies and outlook on life. But they’re also different in all the right ways - while Josh describes himself as the ‘emotional loud mouth’, Nathan is the ‘composed, thoughtful one’. The balance is near perfect.
But, when it isn’t perfect enough, come the disagreements. “We allow passion to drive decisions when needed, but we try to balance it with looking at things from a rational perspective,” says Nathan. Both also believe that communication is king in a creative partnership. “It all comes down to conversation, all creative decisions have to be discussed and agreed on. If one of us feels like there’s a better option then it’s about having open and productive dialogue,” adds Joshua. That way, you never get trapped in your own internal drama and help balance two minds with the ultimate goal of bouncing an idea ball until it wears down to the perfect sphere. “Having somebody that you can endlessly throw shit ideas at is invaluable,” says Josh, “One will end up being half decent.”
Since 2016 when Nathan and Joshua became friends, they have kept that momentum going and their holiday crowned by the handheld camera was not their last one - still, travelling is one of their favourite ways to spend time with each other outside of work, while also serving as inspiration for later. Besides this, you get a lot of the expected creative pastimes - cinema, galleries, bookstores, theatres, and restaurants. “But most of all, we just laugh,” says Josh.
About the ways they have developed each other, he adds: “Nathan has made me so much more patient and resilient. My awareness and curiosity have definitely also increased through our friendship.” Nathan simply leaves us with this: “It would be impossible to put into words how much I’ve learned from Joshua.”