A veteran music video director of class acts like Birdy Nam Nam and Brodinski, auteur Nicolas Davenel just dropped a new video for explosive French electronic act KCPK's new song "Who Wants It," featuring Philidelphia rapper STS, from a new EP of the same name. The video reads more like a short film, using parables from the Russian mob as a vehicle to discuss humanity's unquechable desire to rise in the ranks. "Who Wants It" follows a Pulp Fiction-style mysterious package as it passes hands from a poor but ambitious kid all the way to the mafia don.
"'Who Wants It' has a really raw and powerful energy that struck me immediately," Davenel tells The Creators Project. "I felt a sense of being the head of town, of reaching for a crown and making it to the top. So I wrote about the attraction for power and why men strive for it."
Davenel's stark imagery of poverty and excess, love and lust and violence is meant to trancend the Russian mob persona, but he still paid careful attention to the details of the mob life and aesthetic. He researched local gangs, even casting a large number of actors who didn't speak English or French. Needless to say, communication was difficult. "I had an amazing first assistant director who was doing a live translation of my directions so I could get precisely what I wanted," he laughs. During the four-day shoot, the director found time to photograph many of the unique personas who bring the video to life behind the scenes, including the energetic children, depraved teenagers, and vicious-yet-jovial adults. The Creators Project presents these images exclusively below.
As for nailing the aesthetic, Davanel did what we all do when in need of inspiration: he looked to the masters. "I had [David] Cronenberg’s Eastern Promises movie in mind as a reference of a really well shot mob environment." We spoke to Davanel about how he came up with the story, why he loves "Who Wants It," and breaking language barriers.
The Creators Project: How did you link up with KCPK?
Nicolas Davenel: I had seen their previous music video, "Better Love," directed by Mathieu Cesar. The track is more electro but I really liked the vibe of it. KCPK got in touch with Iconoclast, the production company I am represented by, and showed me the track. They gave me the opportunity to have total freedom in creating a visual for the song. As a director that is what you dream of. I then wrote the idea and the band loved it, it was a really smooth collaboration.
How did you feel the first time you heard "Who Wants It"?
"Who Wants It" has a really raw and powerful energy that struck me immediately. The track gets more and more intense. It’s one of those songs that has great visual potential so I knew there was an exciting video to be made. STS has a sharp flow, I didn’t get all the lyrics but I felt a sense of being the head of town, of reaching for a crown and making it to the top. So I wrote about the attraction for power and why men strive for it.
How did you decide that this narrative would be best for the song?
To me the video is not so much about the mafia but about striving to be at the top. What those goals make you do. The video goes through four generations and every character is trying to gain access to a superior circle, until they reach the top one day.
This theme could be approached in many other environments or countries but I wanted to be far from the classic hip-hop aesthetic and I love the visual potential of Russia, which I knew from a previous project I did there.
Where did the ideas about the Russian mob in this video come from?
I did a lot of research about Russia and the mafia to find the best angle and most realistic way to shoot it. I also had Cronenberg’s Eastern Promises in mind as a reference of a really well-shot mob environment.
Some people from our russian production company had connections with ex-mafia members, so we hired some as actors for the scenes in the mansion.
How did you approach each strata of the mob differently from a cinematic standpoint?
We wanted to have a different approach for each generation, kids, teenagers, adults and godfather. I worked closely with the DOP, Nicolas Loir, who did a fantastic job on this, to get a different feel every time we jump into a new circle.
The main goal was to go from a very rough and wild energy for the kids to something really smooth and majestic the more we climb the mafia pyramid.
Technically, we shot all the kids sequences with a handheld camera, provoking alot of accidents so the camera would feel really innocent like those kids.
Then all the teenager sequences are shot with an easy rig, that makes it smooth while keeping the handheld feel, to get more structured footage.
When we jump to the real mobsters in the mansion it suddenly becomes very smooth, we shot everything with a steadicam but still with a good energy and quick shots.
Then for the last sequence I wanted it to be very peaceful, once again it’s steadycam but with really slow and steady moves.
At first we wanted to shoot the video on film and play with the sensitivity of it to show a really grainy and dirty picture in the beginning to a pure image in the end. But it was very complicated bringing film into Russia so we had to abandon that idea.
What was the biggest challenge you overcame in shooting this video?
Being understood by everybody was definitely a challenge as most of the people don’t speak English really well and most of the actors didn’t speak it at all. But I had an amazing first assistant director who was doing a live translation of my directions so I could get precisely what I wanted.
We also had a lot of sequences and locations to shoot which was a real challenge. But I had the chance to be able to shoot the video in four days, which is really comfortable for a music video, most of them are often shot in one. That’s probably the best conditions I had for this kind of project, but that is also essential to be able to achieve this kind of visually ambitious video.
How did you approach this video differently from your previous work?
I started my career directing music videos, which most of the time focus more on the visual and less on story, but I want to give a more narrative focus to my work.
Music videos can take an infinity of shapes and It can be also a great laboratory for narrative works. I love music videos where it could also be a short film, where you feel that the characters are alive and you want to see a longer version of it. That’s the kind of video I wanted to create.
What's next for you as an artist?
I want to take a more fictional turn in my work, so I’m working on a short film right now that I hope to shoot in the next few months. I will keep doing music videos, commercials and stills as I believe every kind of format and project helps you shape your style and abilities.