Editor’s Note: Earlier this spring, while scrolling through Facebook, I happened upon a great image of the SIGMA fp camera on-set of a music video. As it turns out, it was a BTS shot captured by DP Joe Rubinstein, who was working with the legendary alternative rock band The Pixies. Even better, the director of the video was none other than Paz Lenchantin, bassist of the band. A few emails and text messages later, we’d lined up an interview with both DP and Director to learn more about how this project had come together, and how the fp camera performed on location. JH/SIGMA America
Prior to the beginning of each tour, Pixies bassist Paz Lenchantin (@pazlenchanting) receives the same text from bandmate Charles Thompson. Although the act of walking through a door is open to a variety of symbolic interpretations, for Lenchantin it represents becoming a member of the Pixies. Recalling her first rehearsal with the group eight years ago, “I stood in front of the door [to the rehearsal space] and hesitated for a good three minutes. I took a deep breath, put my hand on the door and said, ‘Once I open the door and walk through it, I will now transform into a Pixie.'” She shared this story with Thompson, explaining that she gets “the same feeling every time I walk out of my house to go on tour. I turn the knob, walk through my door and then I have my nose and little ears and wings and I’m a Pixie” and the tradition of pre-tour texts between the two bandmates was born.
The symbolism of doors and the act of walking through them is rich with meaning and Lenchantin used it to her advantage when she was invited by the Pixies to create a music video for the single Human Crime, the group’s first release since September 2020 due to the pandemic. Although “not a literal visual translation,” Lenchantin explains, “in some ways the main character in the video represents my feelings of joining the Pixies by going through that door.”
Music has always been part of Lenchantin’s life (she started playing the piano at age 5 and continued expanding her mastery of other instruments growing up), but she also has a passion for filmmaking and animation. Her grandfather gifted her with his 8mm “wind-up” Bolex when she was 15 (“that got me going”). Lenchantin then fell in love with a Canon Super 8 camera. Super 8 “is not only nostalgic but I think it looks beautiful” and pursued her passion with Super 8 animation courses, “my favorite form of illusion and magic.”
In the late 1990s, she was working on the animation for a Tool video because “that’s what I thought I was going to do” as a profession. Then “Plan B came to the horizon,” she recalls adding that “Plan B always turns out better than Plan A.” And Plan B was Maynard James Keenan of Tool approaching her saying, “I heard you play some bass.” They formed a new band, A Perfect Circle, and that’s when Lenchantin’s profession as a bass player really began to take center stage and led her to join the Pixies.
While her musical career continues to take center stage, Lenchantin still maintains her passion for creating music videos. She’s directed, shot, produced and even acted in a number of music videos for various bands over the years, including Classic Masher for the Pixies.
Lenchantin faced a number of pandemic-related challenges when planning the video for Human Crime. “I don’t have the lingo or whatever it is,” she explains, “so I rely on my team — the people who know how I work, how I do it and don’t do it.” But due to Covid “people had to cancel” and even her DP was not able to work on the video.
For Lenchantin, Plan B is “when you think you’re doing it one way and you fall into what is supposed to happen. And Plan B has always shown up better than I could have imagined.” Plan B showed up in a big way for the Human Crime video in the form of a new main actress, Olivia Jenkins, and a new DP — cinematographer and photographer, Joe Rubinstein (@joe.rubinstein).
Working with new people always has an element of risk to it but there was instant synergy between Lenchantin and Rubinstein. “It’s very important to me with a team that you can get along” and when Rubinstein was doing some tests at Lenchantin’s house, she was thrilled that they were “Immediately on the same page where you don’t have to explain every single detail… Some people just get it and not only do they ‘get it’ but they up the ante and working with Joe [Rubinstein] is like that.”
Rubinstein brought with him a strong background in cinematography, editing and art, as well as extensive experience shooting music videos. He also introduced Lenchantin to the SIGMA fp mirrorless camera and the Digital Bolex (Rubinstein developed the latter camera in 2014). Lenchantin, who only shoots with her Canon Super 8 camera, was immediately intrigued since this was “the first video that I directed that didn’t use Super 8… It was my first step away from working with film” and it wasn’t long before she appreciated the flexibility and immediacy of digital cinema.
Setting the Scene(s)
The video was shot at two different locations: the Gold Diggers Bar in Los Angeles and a deserted WWII bunker in San Pedro, CA. Interestingly, the bar scene represented what they called the “real world,” while the graffiti- and debris-laden bunker reflected the “world of the Pixies.” As Rubinstein explains, “It’s the opposite of what you’d expect. You’d expect the land of the Pixies to be fanciful.” But, he added, “We wanted to say that the world we all live in normally is the world that has a lot of illusion build into it and when she goes through the door to the Pixies, where you’d expect more magic, there’s actually more realism.”
Rubinstein’s approach to filmmaking was influenced by famed cinematographer Vittorio Storaro (perhaps best known for his work on Apocalypse Now). “I saw him speak once when I was a very young cinematographer and he said he doesn’t like the term DP because there should only be one director on set and that’s not him. He said, everybody on set — from the PAs to the grips to the cinematographer and even the writer — are there to create an empty frame that the director and the actors get to play in. That’s like a moral compass for how I make decisions,” says Rubinstein.
While many music videos utilize what he calls a “floating camera” that moves around constantly, Rubinstein works mostly with a tripod in order to create that empty frame for the performer to communicate their message. But even when he’s shooting with a shoulder rig, he’ll mimic the movement of the performer. “I want the viewer to focus on the performer.”
A lot of brightly colored lights, some of which were animated, helped create the magical illusion of the bar scene. Rubinstein also created his own 4×5″ filter, which he placed in front of the lens. “I took a clear 4×5″ filter, put a very thin layer of black spray paint on it and then a very thin layer of gold spray paint.” The custom made filter mimics “putting a blur filter on everything except the hard lines. The hard lines stay hard but the skin goes really soft and feels buttery, especially because I used the warm gold color.”
The bar scene was shot with the 24-megapixel, full-frame SIGMA fp and Rubinstein paired the camera with 35mm and 75mm Schneider Xenon lenses. He was, however, disappointed that he didn’t have a set of the SIGMA Classic Cine lenses for this video (he subsequently shot a couple of other music videos with the original SIGMA Cine lenses with excellent results). But as much as he liked the original Cine lenses, the Classic Cine lenses are on his “I want to own a full set” wish list. “I love lens flares and the smoothness of the image. There are a lot of lenses where you get a very nice, clean look and the SIGMA Cine lenses do a really good job, but the look of the SIGMA Classic Cine lenses with those colorful lens flares is much more rare.”
While some people might miss having in-body image stabilization or Log on the SIGMA fp, they are superfluous for the way Rubinstein works. “The reason I have the SIGMA fp and am very excited about it is that it doesn’t have those features and it doesn’t need them.” Key for Rubinstein is the file format: the SIGMA fp “records a completely uncompressed Cinema DNG file in 4K that I can shoot at Super 35 and full frame.” Uncompressed Cinema DNG files “give me a really robust ‘digital negative'” in order to have the most control in post processing. “In-camera compression causes banding and can make it difficult sometimes to do color grading… I want the closest thing to pure sensor data and that’s what the SIGMA fp gives me — something that even the Arri Alexa doesn’t.”
Shooting in the dark Gold Diggers Bar put the fp’s low light performance to the test and the camera did not disappoint. Rubinstein was impressed with how well the SIGMA fp handled the dark interior of the bar. “The SIGMA fp has dual native ISO of 100 and 3200 and we were at 3200 the whole time for that scene,” adding that, “The SIGMA fp at native 3200 is just great for low light.”
At 4.4 x 2.8 x 1.8 inches and weighing a mere 14.9 ounces with battery and SD card, the SIGMA fp is extremely compact, easy to handle and takes up very little space in a gear bag when traveling. Even though Rubinstein generally mounts his camera on a tripod or a shoulder rig, the fp’s small size is definitely a plus. “The camera is so small you don’t have to de-rig anything. You can just pop the camera off with a quick release plate and move it. That makes it really efficient timewise for switching between a tripod and shoulder rig.”
The fp offers other features for filmmakers including the ability to set the shutter angle as well as the shutter speed. And, instead of trying to pull stills from video in post, they can be captured while filming.
For the outdoor “Pixies world” at the bunker, Rubinstein shot with the Digital Bolex citing its ability, like the SIGMA fp, to create uncompressed Cinema DNG files with “strong color resources,” albeit in 2K. And, because they were “running around and following the actor,” the Digital Bolex — with its pistol grip — worked well. They also used a drone to shoot overhead for one of the scenes.
Lenchantin enlisted graffiti artist Jules Muck (@muckrock) to create the visuals for the video’s animations. Rubinstein set up a Canon 5DS and clicked off individual shots with a remote as Muck worked her magic in stages. “The spray paint artist would spray a little, I’d take a frame… when you see the lips, she did maybe 4-5 different poses and I synced them to the singing.” Lenchantin was amazed at how fast Muck was able to paint each stage of the various animations. “You can only do the animation once,” Lenchantin noted. “You can’t go, oh, let’s try that again” but Muck nailed each set of visuals with speed, accuracy and the artistry she’s known for.
Time was a concern for Lenchantin. “We only had four hours at the [bunker] site, there were multiple shots of the actress Olivia Jenkins and we were also dodging the rain — the one week it rains all year was in this time frame.” But they managed to get all the shots and then some. “Joe was great. He said, ‘Pax, we’re ahead of time. Do you have other ideas?’ Of course I did and we were able to also shoot those, too.” Rubinstein estimates that “We probably shot double the number of shots she [Lenchantin] had storyboarded.”
This first experience “stepping away from film” into digital was extremely exciting for Lenchantin. “It’s so awesome to know what it’s going to look like and even go outside of your storyboard.” And, thanks to Rubinstein’s exceptional editing skills—and Lenchantin’s “very good, very clear instructions on what she was looking for from the edit—the entire video was edited in only two days. After a few minor changes at the request of Lenchantin, the music video for the Pixies’ first single since the pandemic began was complete.
“I’m so thankful that Joe came into my life and shared his treasures and resources with me. I wanted to start expanding and working with other people and working with Joe opened my horizons. Hopefully we can work together on the next single.”
Rubinstein’s off shooting more music videos and the Pixies are on the road again with a new record coming out this year. Although Lenchantin couldn’t reveal many details, she did say, “I’m extremely excited about it. It’s the best record I’ve done with the Pixies.” Be sure to check pixiesmusic.com for tour dates and locations.