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Interview with Mat Whitecross (Christmas Lights video director) – pt 2

The second part of our interview with the maker of Coldplay's oldest and newest videos

Mat, pictured left, on the Christmas Lights shoot

Do you enjoy working with Coldplay?

Definitely. It’s all very low key, as if it’s just mates putting something together. If they wanted to, I’m sure they could pick up the phone and do a music video with Michel Gondry or Spike Jonze or someone. But instead they’re talking about it as if they’re a band who’ve just been signed and are having a bit of a muck around.

Which, of course, you have experience of, having directed their first ever video.
Haha! I do. That was probably just as stressful. With Bigger Stronger, Chris rang me the night before and changed the song. It was going to be Spies, but they changed it at the last minute. I remember I’d been working on a student short with Penelope Keith and he rang me up pretending to be her. And I was so tired that I was completely taken in. He actually rang me the night before the Christmas Lights shoot and said it wasn’t going to be that song any more. Luckily I knew he must be winding me up!

How many videos have you made with them now?
Bigger Stronger, Violet Hill, Lost!, Lovers In Japan and this. So five. Six if you count Lost+. And we’ve shot in the studio and filmed lots of gigs, as well.

You met them at university?
I did. I was living in UCL in halls with them. And over the summer holidays I slept in the place in Camden Road that Jonny and Chris used to live in. They put me up for a bit while I was looking for a job. So, I’ve known them for a long time now, since ’96 or ’97.

And you’ve always kept in touch?
That’s the amazing thing – there’s group of about 20 or 30 of us from college who are all still in touch. And the reason is really that we all meet up at Coldplay gigs! But the main thing with working with them is that it almost feels like making a home movie or family video. The atmosphere on set is always very, very different to anything else I work on. It’s like working with friends, which is incredible.

What did you think of the Coldplay fans [recruited via Coldplay fan site Coldplaying] who were on the boat for the Christmas Light shoot?
They were amazing! I’ve spoken to a few people who’ve seen the video and assumed they were a special effect! But it was so beautiful. I think the band were really touched that they turned up and actually did that for real, and that they were patient enough to sit there in the freezing cold and wait for us to get on with it. There’s something quite moving about hearing them singing along to the track. I really like it. They sounded brilliant.

There are so many great little touches in the video.
Well, there are even some accidental ones. There’s a cross where the piano is supposed to go from one of the earlier takes, which is next to Chris’s eyes at the start. In a way, it’s those little mistakes that make you realise it’s real. There are quite a few little things like that in there.

Did the shoot go smoothly?
Actually, it was a bit of a nightmare. We had problems with the piano and with the crane. But you forget about those things when you watch it.

Christmas music videos tend to stick around for a long time. This is a video that we might well be watching in 50 years.
I hope so. The track’s so good that I’m sure people will still be listening to it. It’s very, very difficult to pull of a decent Christmas tune, but I think they’ve done it.

What else are you up to at the moment?
I’ve got a few things on the horizon. I’m doing a film with Ray Winstone, early next year. It’s like a road movie thriller, which we’re hoping to be filming in March. And I’ve got some TV series and some movies and another documentary that I’m working on. It’s quite tricky for film makers to get things financed at the moment, but fingers crossed some of it comes off.

It’s been a good year for you, though. Sex And Drugs And Rock n Roll was a big success.
Yeah. And I did the Take That thing too. But, actually, since April I’ve been trying to get this road movie made. That feels like a really long time. I just want to crack on with it.

Do you think making the Bigger Stronger video opened doors for you?
I’m not so sure that one did, because it was such early days. But I honestly don’t think that I’d have got to do Sex and Drugs if the band hadn’t asked me to do Lovers In Japan. They never believe you when you tell them, but people do take you much more seriously when you’ve worked with Coldplay, on videos of that scale. It’s helped enormously.

Finally, the question we always ask interviewees, what’s your favourite Coldplay song?
It changes all the time, and there’s so many that I love, but I think in terms of connecting with something, I remember when they used to play Careful Where You Stand. I love that tune. I still find that one really beautiful and haunting. I used to listen to it a lot when they were first starting out.

The choice of a hardcore Coldplay fan!
Haha! I just feel lucky to have seen them grow from literally jamming in a bedroom to being one of the biggest bands on the planet. It’s very surreal. But they wear it so lightly and they’re such lovely guys, who are still in touch with all their mates from that time, that it actually feels completely natural. I’m very proud of them.

Read part one of the interview

You can see the Bigger Sronger video, with the band’s commentary, on the Timeline at Sept 99.

Christmas Lights is available to download now from