Today sees the release of a new project by Los Angeles based duo Pic Vicious and director/producer Karolyn Szot. The music video for Pic Vicious song ‘Sweet Revenge’ premiers today, after a long, collaborative process between the duo, the director, and her creative team. A nationally ranked fencer, Szot knew she wanted to make a video featuring the sport at some point. Szot stated: “It’s a sport that has been so unexplored. These athletes are all over magazines in Europe, just like David Beckham, yet in the United States no one knows who they are.” She had the idea and the passion, what she didn’t have was the right music. She spent time researching and found Pic Vicious. They incorporated all the elements she was after; sexiness, musicality, glamour, grunginess, and a raw, medieval quality that would allow for a plot line more interesting than the cliched Zorro sword fights which seem to be the only mainstream association anyone has with fencing.
The three began working together and the project was born. What began to unfold was a modern day David and Goliath story. Pic had this to say: “Conceptually we wrote it to be a reversal of the classic revenge tale with this having the lead woman saving the man from the villain rather than the other way around. This also having the villain being the queen villain rather than a male. Right after Letta & I wrote the treatment, we were walking around downtown & happened to see Amazon Ashley walking by which Letta immediately was drawn to her & knew she was the one to play the queen villain. We sent a picture of them standing together to Karolyn & she loved her for the part as well. It was the perfect David & Goliath style visual. After a month or so of building on our ideas with Karolyn and her team, everything was ready to go which we ended up shooting it last winter.”
Each member of the crew played a pivotal role in the making of the video and the way everyone communicated even the most fleeting of ideas was via a Pinterest board. All ideas, from costume ideas for costume designer Ashlie Kodsy, lighting ideas for Director of Photography Jonathan Mahoney, prop suggestions, thoughts on color schemes; any and everything went on the Pinterest board.
It seemed to act as a community brain amongst the crew and serve as an efficient way to share ideas without having to text, email, or send a a series of Facebook photos. It also offered a stunning visual presentation of all of their ideas presented together and provided a clear visual of what it would all look like when put together.
The video is rather dark, with pops of red and white and the definite grunge-glam that Szot was hoping to accomplish. Production Designer, Molly Burgess: “As far as production design goes, the theme of fencing was more loosely interpreted as a focus on movement and drama. I used sweeping fabrics and hung branches to complement the fencing-inspired choreography/costumes and as a contrast to our very industrial location. I really enjoyed the chance to approach visual storytelling from a more abstract perspective, creating moods out of the interesting vignettes from the story.
All departments worked really closely together to create a cohesive visual aesthetic. It helped that Karolyn had very specific ideas for the world she wanted to create yet trusted the department heads enough to give us creative freedom within her vision.“
Contrast is essential to this video. The contrast between light and dark, good and evil, and hard and soft. Great effort was taken to insure that the appropriate mood was set at all times. DP Jonathan Mahoney said: “I light scenes within the video at varying levels of light and darkness. Karolyn and myself felt that the main fencing scenes needed to be the most stark of all the scenes. A cinematographic approach to the fencing scenes was to photograph the action with only one large light source. This formal decision was made to thematically represent the struggle between the two dueling forces, while practically representing the battle between light and darkness.
Karolyn Szot explained that there’s a natural elegance to the movements of fencing that rather easily allowed for dance incorporation
The dancers’ grace and fluidity look effortless in the finished video thanks to choreographer Tiffany Stacey. Stacey took great care to learn, not only about fencing, but what makes it similar to dance, stating: “The amount of physicality and technique goes far beyond what is already visually apparent and into a deep sense of muscle memory and intuition built up over years of training. As a choreographer, I have spent many years investigating movement. When you start to look at any sport you begin to realize it is all a dance. Fencing is quite unique because it relates to the same principles of ballet. Through my exploration, I felt it was my duty to really take my experimentation to a new level and let it be guided by the vast nuances of fencing technique. I have the utmost appreciation for Karolyn allowing me to be a part of such a unique experience. She is really spectacular at pushing more and more of all our your creative juices. I will cherish this journey with her forever.”
Jonathan Mahoney told us about he and Szot sitting in on dance rehearsals: “Karolyn and I would go to the dance rehearsals to watch how the pieces were coming together. We would give our input on how certain dance moves could be shot, but mostly so Karolyn could make sure that the dancers were holding the foil right. It was very important to us that the dancers actually used at least some fencing technique.”
Costume designer Ashlie Kodsy used the aforementioned elegance and movement for reference when drawing inspiration for the costumes. “I focused on different types of armor for the ‘Sweet Revenge’ costumes. Karolyn’s inspiration of course inspired me. I became fascinated by how the fencer’s body is protected and how it is vulnerable during a match. This influenced many of the design choices. Elements of modern fencing attire, such as mesh and boning, made their way into the designs. For the dancers in white, Karolyn and I chose to keep the costumes sleek to mimic the elegant lines of movement in fencing. For Letta, the lead-singer, I reinterpreted the silhouettes of period armor into an edgier, more abstract look.
Perhaps the most integral part of the entire shoot was the fencing itself. In keeping with the gender role reversal, Szot recruited her former Northwestern University teammate and NCAA Fencing All-American, Samantha Nemecek and 2012 Olympian, Doris Willette and their dual parallels the battle between Letta and Ashley.
While very conscious efforts were made to showcase strong, empowered women in the video, it is perhaps worth noting that strong empowered women made the video. A team led by a female director/producer, with many extremely talented women supporting and advising her isn’t unheard of, certainly, but it’s not the norm. The video is the melding of industries still dominated by men; the music industry, film, and video production. The artistic goal may have been a new interpretation of a classic story and Pic Vicious and Szot did that by way of reversing the gender roles, on a larger scale they eliminated them altogether.
All photos courtesy of Karolyn Szot
Some links for you:
If you’re interested in working with or looking further into the careers of the department heads, look below:
Director/Producer~ Karolyn Szot
Production Designer~ Molly Burgess
Costume Designer~ Ashlie Kodsy
Director of Photography~ Jonathan Mahoney
Choreographer~ Tiffany Stacey’s performance reel and other choreography work can be viewed on her YouTube Channel youtube=http://www.youtube.com/user/TstaceyChoreography (*WordPress isn’t liking that link at the moment, apologies.)