Kaotican Alphabet

Interview with Mat Whitecross (Christmas Lights video director) – pt 1

The first part of our chat with director Mat Whitecross about the new video

Mat, pictured left, on the Christmas Lights shoot

Hello Mat, how are you?
Good thanks, just on my way to watch the band at Top Of The Pops.
Well, congratulations on the video.
Aw, thank you.
When did you first hear you were doing it?
Phil rang me, probably about a month before we shot it. He just said, "We don’t know exactly what we’re going to do yet, but I think we want something very low key for this. We’re busy on the album, so it’s got to be something small." And then I spoke to Chris and he said, "Really, I just want you to come along and we’ll walk along Oxford Street and you can film us with a Handycam. Really simple."
And then from that little acorn…
Exactly! It was supposed to be a tiny little video. And then after a couple of days, Chris suggested doing something like the Beatles’ video for All You Need Is Love, with a lot of friends and family in the studio, doing something which wasn’t too obviously Christmassy, and not too cheesy. Just something which was fun and felt like it was a kind of family Christmas event.
What happened to that idea?
Well, then they talked to the techies in the studio and they pointed out that the band are right in the middle of making an album and everything’s set up how they like it, so it could disrupt the flow of the recording. So, then we thought about finding another studio to do it in.
But that didn’t happen either?
No. That was when Will mentioned that he’d been to Willesden Music Hall before and that he loved that as a venue. He suggested we did it there, so that it felt more like something on stage, with a nice Christmas vibe. But all the music halls around town were booked up, for Christmas. And then they suggested getting Misty Buckley involved.
What was her role?
She’s this incredible designer. She did the Take That Circus tour and she does Glastonbury every year. She’s sickeningly young and talented. So she came in and we sat down and tried to work out what we could do without being able to book a music hall, and we came up with the idea of building our own music hall and putting it in a really interesting location. And that was the start of the video that it became.
And that decision was made with just a few weeks to go?
Yeah, this is with three weeks left. Misty was right in the middle of several other things and I was finishing off something too. And it still wasn’t definite at this point. So Chris said we should all come into the Bakery and have a chat about it with the band, and we started brainstorming and watching things online and Misty showed us some of her designs. The band got really excited and said, "Yes! This is what we’re definitely going to do. Let’s start from tomorrow."
The band were quite involved in it all, then?
Yes, that’s what’s great about working with Coldplay. Whenever I’ve worked with them, they’ll brainstorm and have hundreds of ideas and then you just try and take the best ones and put them into the video. So Chris would just come out with these ideas. Like he’d ring me up in the middle of the night and say, "I really want there to be three Elvises playing strings, in jumpsuits." I thought he was joking. And then two weeks later, there they were!

What other ideas did Chris have?
Well, it was his idea to be lying on the floor next to the piano as the beginning of the video. And he wanted some kind of illusion quite early on. So we got in touch with this illusionist. He suggested a few things – some of which just didn’t work with our one shot idea – and we ended up kind of using the levitation idea. I think Chris’s starting point was that we wanted to do everything live and real as much as possible, and to try and do it as one shot if we could.
And then you had to find a location.
Yes. We talked about doing it in tunnels under Waterloo, then Chris suggested doing it on a rooftop and we managed to secure the roof of John Lewis in Oxford Street. But then Chris thought it’d be good to do it by the river, to tie in with the line about where the sea and city meet. Then we got down to the South Bank – and this is now about five days before the shoot – and he loved it. So it’d gone from being this tiny little video we were going to shoot as mates walking down Oxford Street at midnight, to being something quite huge. That was great, but also borderline terrifying.
Was it a stressful experience?
Yeah, that would be a fair description! The band and the crew were absolutely lovely and patient, but it was one of the hardest shoots I’ve ever done. I think I probably put pressure on myself because they’re friends, as well as people that you’re working with. So, I was desperate not to let them down. It’s always pressure when you’re working on a film or music video with people who professionally you want to do a good job for, but when it’s with mates, and they’re trusting you with their money, you really don’t want to cock it up!
It would’ve been awful if, after all that, the video was rubbish.
Oh God, it would’ve been horrible. When we finished that night, because it was such a complicated shoot and we were all freezing – particularly the band and the Elvises who weren’t wrapped up – I really wasn’t sure if we had it right. The band were incredibly patient, though. It was so cold. I think a lot of other bands would’ve just walked.

But you’re pleased with the video?
Yeah, I really am. It’s such a beautiful song, we just wanted to do it justice. But the response has been fantastic.

Christmas Lights is available to download now from Look out for part two of our interview with Mat soon, in which he tells us about meeting Coldplay and making the band’s first ever video.