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Frame by Frame #11: Tucan – As It Was


Back in June, Sligo instrumental band Tucan released easily one of the more interesting music videos from an Irish act that we’ve seen in quite some time. We called it “gloriously messed up”, concluding with “charmed or abhorred, you can’t look away.” Two months on, Colm Laverty delves further, talking to co-director Bryan Quinn about the inspiration behind and the production of the video.

Hi Bryan. First off, tell us a little bit about your role on this music video.

Bobby (McGlynn, co-director) started the sentence “We should just film someone performing the song, like…” “Jonathan Gunning?” I said. We made the rest of it up as we went along and are now taking credit for a series of extremely (to mildly) unforeseen accidents.

In a sentence, what sets ‘As It Was’ apart from other Irish music videos?

The release date. We’re not aware of any other videos on the mossy rock we call our emerald Isle being released on that date. So in that respect it’s entirely unique. Other than that it’s just your usual disturbing and humorous collection of grimaces and flailing by unusual looking gentleman wearing only his underpants.

How was the idea conceived?

We wanted Jonathan Gunning to play the part cos of his amazing boat race and his genius physicality; see what it’s like when you get him to do indescribable actions and fragments of routines. As soon as it became dance or clown or drama we threw it out. He wanted stuff you couldn’t quite put your finger on. That’s what would hopefully keep the audience interested. Because of the layered nature of the tune we wanted to represent these layers with movement/activity from Jonathan. That last sentence wasn’t very interesting but it is true.

Gunning’s appearance is notable in its oddity. Was he in mind for the part from the beginning?

Yep – he and I attended the same theatre School in Paris. He’s a standup comedian turned actor/clown. So he looks amazing but he also has an insanely large repertoire of stuff he can do. He works with another Lecoq trained actor called Miquel Barcelo – they’re called ‘Gombeens’ and they do magical street shows around Ireland.

Take us through the process of directing such an eccentric performance. Approximately how much footage did you collect in total?

Two days of riffin’, bluffin’, scriptin’, wheelin’, dealin’ and such. At one point we got a big light and we took it in turns to move it back and forth to make moving shadows on his face and body. There were many accidents and some of them were quite happy. If memory serves, they were eight hour days with Peter Martin shootin pretty much all of the time.

Where and when did the shoot take place?

Sligo. In the Model Arts centre. Bless their cotton socks those hosers hooked Sligo native’s ‘Tucan’ up with the space for free. We were mad grateful and Olly and all the dudes there were right accommodating.

How large was the team working with you on the shoot?

1 DOP, 1 Gaffer, 2 Directors, 1 Band member helper outer, 1 Production member from the Model.

How well do you feel the video reflects the themes and concepts behind the track itself?

We don’t feel bad about lying when we answer this next question because everyone who answers a question like this must be lying a little bit. On a serious note (which is usually C Sharp played on a cello) we feel that the humorous acting bits in the build up of the tune provide nice counterpoint to what’s happening in the music but at the same time don’t ruin the disturbing/sinister moments. We never opened up Donal Gunne’s mind to find out what was in there when he was penning the tune but he still speaks civilly enough to us so we presume we didn’t make a complete mess of it.

To what extent do you feel the lack of vocals affects your choice of visuals?

I once heard Miles Davis say in an interview that he’d been playing instrumental music for 50 years and how proud he was that his music never had the prescriptive narrative that is impossible to circumnavigate when dealing with language. I think we ran with the lack of ‘language based narrative’ and took it as far as we could in the aim of making something that the viewer could engage with from start to finish but didn’t necessarily have a story (that wasn’t of the viewer’s own making.)

How well were you able to find the right balance between artistic freedom and compromise?

We wanted to have a little baby in the background watching the action. It was possibly all a little too freaky for his Mum and Dad. Oh well. Other than that, we got to do exactly what we wanted. In our lives we have both had equal measures of being the megalomaniac dude who gets to do exactly what he wants and how he wants it; and we have both been the ‘grunt from sector 7G’ who gets told to do exactly what to do and when to do it. Thus the pendulum swings and we all shuffle down this mortal coil.

Tell us a little bit about the editing process.

Bobby did most of it. Like everything in the world of 80/20, 80% of it was done straight away and the last bit was awful. Myles O’Reilly helped. He told us to make it black and white. He resized some frames too. We had some small fights with Final Cut Pro, the editing package. It changed some settings when we’d gone to bed and were fast asleep.

Has producing videos affected the way you now perceive (your own) music?

For me, I think that all of the few songs I’ve written should have videos and making videos for other people reinforces that notion no end.

How do you feel Irish music videos have changed over recent years?

For us to start spouting guff about how it was and how it shall be would be worse than that being subjected to the imprecise ramblings of a drunken taxi driver who talks over you as he drives you the wrong way home. We are newcomers to this game, we only started directing videos together twelve months ago. We planned to make six videos for our pals for free, and then be mad famous and have Jaysis Z, Daniel O’Donnell and the rest of those high rollin’ gang bangers knockin’ on our door for a vid to fit their latest jam. So far, one person has contacted us by email to let us know they like ‘Fellas’ and you guys have asked us to answer these questions.

In what ways has new technology affected your attitude toward music videos, and the industry as a whole?

There’s a line in a song by The Replacements: “A person can work up a mean, mean thirst, after a hard day of… nothing much at all.” Anyone with a friend with a smartphone can make a music video. Having the opportunity and not taking it means you can sit guiltily on your couch watching the ‘gadget pile’ inch higher and higher, neck and neck with the ‘resolution pile’.

Do you have a favourite Irish music video?

I have a couple that I’ve liked that spring to mind. ‘I Wanna Fight Your Father’ by The Rubberbandits tune is still a big favourite too – our pal, the now reluctant director Michael Kelly made it. There’s a U2 video about a dwarf in a circus who loves the trapeze artist so he tries the trapze to get her to love him and dies doing so. It came out when I was a kid and I liked it cos it was like a lil three minute feature film. Like ‘Stan’ by Eminem.

What would be your nomination for the greatest music video of all time?

Our next video.

is a Belfast-based photographer and filmmaker. He also plays bass in three-piece A Northern Light. Hit up for a consultation here: