For 24 hours from the moment British pop-rock outfit Coldplay’s video “Up&Up” was released, its Israeli directors Vania Heymann and Gal Muggia were inundated with “countless text messages, emails and phone calls from people we know and don’t know,” Muggia said at the end of that first day. He said among the fan mail were very strange emails from Indians who had decided to praise them personally as well as unrealistic job offers from bands.
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“‘Let’s film our clip next week,’” he recounted at a Tel Aviv hamburger joint to Natan Schottenfels, the clip’s producer, about one such offer. “We made a lot of noise.” Heymann joined in the conversation via Skype from his home in Chinatown in New York.
Heymann got the opportunity to submit a proposal for the clip about six months ago. He turned to Muggia, and the two developed a creative concept via transatlantic digital ping-pong. The duo, both 30, met each other four years ago. Heymann was directing short skits for the satirical television show “A Wonderful Country” when he was invited to direct an interactive video for Bob Dylan’s website and moved to Manhattan, where he mainly directs ads and videos, among them for CeeLo Green. Muggia directed ads and videos for Israeli artists like Dana Ivgy, Ester Rada and the electro band Terry Poison. The Coldplay video was their first collaboration.
This video was not the first one in which Coldplay turned to Israelis for help. Yaron Yashinski added all the visual effects to the band’s “Hymn for the Weekend,” which was released in January, in collaboration with L.A.-based Uzi Mor, a fellow Israeli.
The work on “Up&Up” was performed in utter secrecy until Chris Martin, the band’s lead vocalist, lauded the video a few days before its release on Beats 1 radio.
“The video is – I’m going to drop the mic here and say – I think it’s one of the best videos people have made,” he said. “Even if you take the music away. That’s my point. It’s made by these Israeli guys, these young guys. I can’t believe that that’s our video. If that was someone else’s video, I’d be so jealous.”
Muggia actually thinks otherwise. “I disagree with what Chris Martin said, that the video was good even if you mute the music,” he says. “The flow of the video, the editing and the movement in every shot is connected to the lyrics and the sound of the music at that moment. This video would not work with any other song.”
A few days earlier, when the video was almost ready, Martin invited the two for a personal talk that stressed them out. “He called us to discuss ‘some dramatic changes that need to be made,’” recalls Heymann. “We traversed the United States to make the meeting, and we were sure that it was over, that he was going to destroy the video. And what does he say to us? ‘I want you to remove some shots from the middle of the clip and make an opening shot of “Directed by” with your credits.’ Our jaws dropped to the ground That was his big request. He couldn’t have sent that by email?”
The idea was to place a border in the sea, a very simple image that would speak for itself.
Making the video involved complex planning, with detailed tables planning out each tenth of a second. It included three days of filming at Ukrainian studios and more days of filming in New York with members of the band at a studio and in the city streets, at a laundry automat and in a subway station. They stitched together different images to create incongruous new images, a technique known as compositing.
Heymann and Muggia’s compositions have been a subject of controversy among the clip’s viewers. “The Photoshop culture of our day inspired us,” says Muggia. “To take quality pictures from America’s golden age, the 1950s, the leisure and the abundance, and to put in them a small twist that reveals the future found within them, is an acceptable, collage-like aesthetic.”
One of the video’s impressive shots shows a bare concrete wall on a beach separating bathers from the sea. [see 1:40 of the video] “The idea was to place a border in the sea, a very simple image that would speak for itself, but people attribute local significance to it,” says Muggia. “In America they thought it was Donald Trump’s wall, and here everyone thinks it is probably the separation barrier. To tell the truth, it is a wall that the Israeli company Real Motion created for us in 3D.”
In addition, there are elements in the video that look like they draw upon Israeli current events, among them a butterfly on an offshore drilling platform, refugees in a bathtub and demonstrations against houses of cards. “It seeped in totally subconsciously,” says Muggia. “There’s a series of shots in the video that are more political but with a social context. There was no stage when we said, ‘Wow, we have to talk about Yitzhak Tshuva, we’ll put a butterfly on an offshore drilling platform,’” he laughs.
If I am not mistaken, it’s the biggest band in the world.
Schottenfels says it is a real butterfly. “We filmed it in the studios in Ukraine. They gave a little nectar to this cute one, and he stayed with us, and just at the right moment he spread his wings. They gave nectar to another butterfly, and he flew away. It is important to note that no animal was harmed during filming. And when the butterfly finished his job in filming he was immediately released.”
The video was well received on social networks, but many used the opportunity to point out its problem, that there is a Coldplay song in the background. “Coldplay is a band that arouses a lot of antagonism,” says Muggia. “When their first two albums were released when I was in high school, I loved them. After the third album came out I could not permit myself to love them ”
Because they became too big?
“If I am not mistaken, it’s the biggest band in the world,” says Heymann. “There is no band as successful as they are, only artists like Rihanna and Beyonce.
“I tried to maintain myself as a marginal entity. I went through a process to understand what I loved in the band, to identify the authentic element that manages to touch so many people,” adds Muggia. “I think that we found it and learned to love the song, because when you work so long it gets into your blood vessels.”
Heymann says that at first you don’t know if you love the song, and then it turns you on, and during editing it turns into white noise that your ears filter out. “I only enjoy it when it’s played on the radio, then I can experience the song for what it is,” he says. “When you hear the same work many times it becomes a continuum of strange sounds. I heard this song perhaps tens of thousands of times.”
From religious cynicism to New York
Muggia is a native of Tel Aviv, a graduate of Thelma Yellin High School of the Arts and Tel Aviv University. His father, Danny Muggia, heads the theater department at the Beit Berl academic collage, who spent most of his career teaching high school. Heymann and Schottenfels grew up in Jerusalem. They met in the religious scouts and later studied at the Hartman School for Boys. Neither wears a skullcap today.
“We grew up deprived of a certain culture,” says Schottenfels. “Although we were not ultra-Orthodox, we were religious with a knitted kippa from left-wing homes. Because I didn’t have a television at home, I always feel the gap. Vania’s parents were actually not so strict with television, and we would come to his place to watch the NBA and videos on MTV all night.”
Heymann recalls he was a terrible student. “Natan was the teacher’s favorite, a very sharp Talmud student,” he says. “We grew up as part of the religious Zionism that has many faces and many shades, and I am glad I grew up in a shade that maybe was religious in every respect but also did not reject another shade. It was a shade that recognized that our culture is part of all cultures, and people create all over the world amazing things, and there is no reason not to enjoy their creations, their movies, television and music. We heard very varied political voices at my home, not out of obsession but out of an aspiration that every child compile his own manifesto of what he believes.”
Heymann says his aspirations in general are to make a feature or perhaps a series, but notes that these are only dreams. “To direct a video for [rapper] Kendrick Lamar is an aspiration that I hope to fulfill sometime,” he says. “And to get less worked up by critiques or reactions, that I will have the ability simply to create and not to relate to what comes back to me.”