Behind the Lens: On the Set of Oh Land's Video for "Cherry on Top"
Here's an on-set interview with Oh Land, director Duncan Winecoff, and supermodel Helena Christensen (who makes a cameo). Plus exclusive behind the scenes photos.
All photos by: Thomas Wolfe Northcut.
It’s magic hour and the wintry light is pouring through the floor-to-ceiling windows at New York’s Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. Oh Land, a.k.a. singer Nanna Øland Fabricius, sits at a baby grand playing the sweetly melancholic piano line of her new single “Cherry On Top.” The fading rays filter through her blonde hair—currently dipped shades of blue, purple, and pink—as she pushes her whole body into the instrument, sunflares glinting off her cheekbones. Her expression as she mimes the words is both intense and middle-distance magical. Director Duncan Winecoff watches at the monitor rapt. He knows what he’s capturing is golden, and everyone on set— supermodel Helena Christensen, the crew, the fleet of teenage ballet dancers—stand immobile watching, equally enamored.
In this latest installment of Behind the Lens, we’re behind the scenes on the set of Oh Land’s shoot for “Cherry on Top”—the second collaboration with director Winecoff and his production company All:Expanded (they brought “Renaissance Girls” to life last year).
But before Winecoff, Noisey talked Nanna and Helena Christensen (who is onset to make a cameo). The pair became fast friends after Helena, who's also a photographer, shot Nanna for various magazines like Rika (which Helena describes as “an arty magazine that always portrays women’s strengths.” Check out the mag here.) Helena adds: “Just like Nanna’s always trying to do more videos with this team, we’re always trying to find a reason to do more photoshoots.”
How does the video concept fit in with “Cherry on Top” the song.
Oh Land: It’s a song about always going for the win, always focusing on the result and sometimes missing the process because you’re such a perfectionist. The narrative is pretty literal: it’s about a boy who is so determined to get what he wants he ends up being very alone when he’s old. Career-wise he got what he wanted, but he didn’t have anyone to share it with. [As a former ballet dancer] I can relate to that. There was a time when I was so focused and so goal-orientated, I was just like, “Shit I haven’t seen my friends for two weeks.” I just remembered who I wanted to be and that that was more important than, you know, that medal.
What’s Helena’s role in this?
Oh Land: She’s a super strict ballet teacher.
Helena: She only has me in the video so we can chit-chat in Danish!
Do you have any experience in dancing?
Helena: I used to do jazz ballet and figure skating when I was growing up and I actually took a ballet class a year and a half ago, but I was totally overdoing it. I was doing ballet, tennis, and I’ve done boxing for nine years, and immediately my knees were like, “Either you stop doing this or we’re going to explode.” So the boxing stayed but the ballet went!
Who are you wearing?
Oh Land: It’s vintage Dior from the 70s and it smells like it too! My jewelry is vintage [Danish designer] Georg Jensen. We’re trying to keep the colors very coordinated, very red and blue. I guess some of the inspiration is from the film The Red Shoes, but we wanted to portray the dancers as more athletic, strong, and cool rather than the typical pink, cutesy, My Little Pony style. So we did these warrior-esque braids on them—they’re pretty badass.
Is the 70s an era you identify you feel a particular affinity with?
Oh Land: Some of my favorite movies were from the 70s like Rosemary’s Baby and The Exorcist—thrillers is my favorite genre—and all of those movies have that special light and color to them. So that’s where we got the 70s aesthetic a little bit.
What is it that you like about working with Duncan and his team?
Oh Land :We’re all just really open for different ideas. Sometimes when you say something that you know sounds crazy you immediately take it back, or make excuses, but with them I feel like I can let my brain explode and they’ll just be like, “Yeah! Let’s do that!” It’s really inspiring to work with them because you never feel quite as insane as you are.
Helena, “Wicked Game” is in my top ten all time favorite videos, but you’ve been in others too right?
Helena: Yeah I was in one for a Dirty Vegas song called “Simple Things.” It’s a really beautiful song and in the video I have an argument with my boyfriend and my tears drown the entire apartment and I swim around in it.
Sounds pretty physical…
Helena: Yeah I had to swim through furniture with my eyes open, which is hard! It was exciting. Also the Duran Duran video for “Girl Panic.” I flew all night and went straight on to the 17-hour shoot. But it really didn't feel like we were even shooting a music video, it was more like hanging out with friends I hadn't seen for years, so I don't ever even think of it as me being in a video. But that was a cool one to do! Playing drums—awesome! When Nanna asked me to do this, of course I said yes. To be strict with Nanna is so peculiar! I mean I did suggest I should hit her a bit, slap her around…! Nanna and Helena laugh.] I hand her some notes and I was like, “Why don’t I just slap her real hard on the butt as she walks away!” It would have been so cool! I don’t know—they never think my ideas are very good. [Laughs.]
A word with director Duncan Winecoff (with Oh Land, above):
Noisey: How long have you been directing and what drew you to making music videos in the first place?
Duncan: I’ve only been directing for about a year now, but I’ve always been into film and all the elements that go into making one: acting, photography, music, etc. Film is an artistic expression that allows you to explore many disciplines, with the most impactful perhaps being the molding and shaping of emotions, and I think this is what really interests me… every project can mean something profound if you treat it with care.
My younger brother Stuart went to NYU to study cinematography, and as he approached graduation I developed a scheme to use him as my tool to get into film and directing. We have that “brotherly connection” that I suppose does make certain things easier to accomplish. I trust him to carry out any vision I may have, and he trusts me to lead him into the right projects and in the right way. We’re developing our own style as a duo and that’s really fulfilling to see come to life.
Together we formed a production company, All:Expanded, with some great friends. We took on a small investment to make our first short film, and from that point it all kind of took off. Now we’re making commercials, fashion films, music videos and short narratives. We’ve been very lucky to work with some incredibly creative folks like Nanna, which has helped us find our foothold.
What was the experience like working with these young ballet dancers? I was pretty much in awe watching that little boy in particular. Also—how funny that every moment for them was like a photo op! Even in repose they were perfectly poised.
The kids in this video were so incredible! They were punctual, attentive and super talented. I guess that’s what you get with ballet dancers. Our star, Drew Minard, is pure magic. He was on tour as Billy Elliot in the official theater production, so he can do it all. The most impressive thing about him though, and what I think everyone was in awe of, is his approach to his work and craft at such a young age. He is humble, positive, hungry to learn, super sweet, and delivered execution like someone you would expect to have 20 years of experience. It was an unforgettable experience to work with him and the other dancers.
In this video you also directed Helena Christensen who is in one my all time favorite ever music videos “Wicked Game.” What was it like working with her?
“Wicked Game” is amazing. We were stoked when we found out we would be working with her. She’s one of those people that can never look bad, so directing her was a breeze. It definitely adds a layer to the video to have someone iconic like her in it.
Were there any difficulties with this shoot? Any tough situations you had to surmount?
Being that All:Expanded produces most of the shoots I direct, including this one, I also act as a producer on set. This always adds an extra amount of pressure, but at the same time, it allows me to be involved in every little detail of the project. In most cases, I wouldn’t want it any other way.
I also have the best team of producers, production designers, stylists and crew, most of which are dear friends that I trust deeply, so I always have the support I need. Working with friends and family makes for an incredible energy on set, where everyone wholeheartedly wants the best for the production. Also, working with the right post-production team is key! I wanna give a HUGE shout-out to Carl Walters at The Mill for being a total badass and being super patient with me. Those guys are the best in the biz.
What are some of the music videos you have derived inspiration from and why?
I look to different videos or films for inspiration for each project. For “Cherry On Top” I found inspiration in Sigur Ros’ video for “Valtari,” and the film version of Billy Elliot for dance elements. Also Wes Anderson’s Royal Tenenbaums for a 70s-inspired color pallette and Kendy’s “Behind the Move” for use of intimate, hand-held cinematography. In general, I’m always inspired by the originality, boldness and clear desire to take risks in videos like Woodkid’s “I Love You” and Earl Sweatshirt’s “Chum.” [“Chum” was actually directed by Hiro Murai. Read his Behind the Lens interview here.]
Talk to me about this ongoing collaboration with Nanna. It started off with “Renaissance Girls,” now this one, and there's some other videos in the pipeline right? What's the deal with the trilogy and what is it about working with Nanna that you find so inspiring?
Yeah, I was lucky enough for Nanna to trust me to make “Renaissance Girls” with her without her seeing any portfolio of work—at that point I didn’t have one. We have an awesome working repertoire, in that she is able to tell me her crazy cool ideas, and I can develop them into feasible endeavors.
Our plan, with “Cherry On Top” being the first installment, is to do a larger series of three short films, which will grow in length and depth as we continue. A music video inserted into the middle of each dialogue-driven narrative will eventually be able to be watched in this series, and a larger storyline will emerge, having much to do with dance, music, love and the power of the human spirit.
It’s a very fun project and I happy to have Nanna in my life, as a musician/performer/actress/friend who is open to in-depth, and perhaps untraditional, forms of collaboration, in hopes of pushing the envelope creatively. She’s a rare breed of artist, to say the least.
Kim is Noisey’s Style Editor and She’s on Twitter - @theKTB