Friday, October 21, 2016
  • Monday, Apr. 4, 2016
Spring 2016 Director's Profile: Sophie Muller
Sophie Muller
Going live and staying on Target for Gwen Stefani, Deutsch

Sophie Muller is an accomplished director best known for her music videos spanning collaborations with such artists as No Doubt, Shakira, Blur, Beyonce, Kings of Leon, Garbage, The Killers, Coldplay, Alicia Keys, the Dixie Chicks, Beck, One Republic, James Bay, One Direction, Selena Gomez, Sam Smith, Rihanna and Sade. Muller won a Grammy Award for her work on Annie Lennox’s “Diva” video album, followed up with a Brit Award for Shakespears Sister’s “Stay,” MTV Awards For Lennox’s “Why” and No Doubt’s “Don’t Speak, and assorted UKMVA and MVPA Awards. Muller has also earned Director of the Year distinction from the MVPA.

Yet with all her experience, Muller acknowledged being “a bit terrified” over a recent high-profile project involving her long-time collaborator Gwen Stefani—a four-minute live music video/spot for Target which aired during February’s Grammy Awards telecast on CBS. “I had never done anything quite like that ever before,” she said, noting that the biggest challenge was not only making the live performance viable, immediate and entertaining but also ensuring that it would translate into a worthwhile music video unto itself in perpetuity.

“Live filmmaking is not just live—that’s not enough,” affirmed Muller. “As a director you want it to be filmmaking, to have production value, for everything to be lit beautifully, to do full filmic justice to the performance. At the same time, you need to retain the excitement of being live, feeling a little afraid.”

Helping on all these fronts was the director’s history with Stefani, including videos (“Spark The Fire,” “Used To Love You,” “Cool”), commercials (for L’Oreal, MasterCard) and four concert tours. “We know each other so well—for 20 years,” said Muller. “I know Gwen’s capabilities, her penchant for costume changes, how to make her shine. Neither of us had worked with Target before. They wanted to do this live video and we weren’t even sure what the song would be at that point. The only requirement was that the end shot had to resemble the circular Target logo. With Gwen, I knew this would be an exciting adventure.”

The song for the live video via agency Deutsch turned out to be “Make Me Like You.” Shot on a 32,000-square-foot soundstage on the Warner Bros. lot in Burbank, Calif., backed by a crew of some 250 people, the video entailed a number of set and costume changes (seven by Stefani) in real time, as well as a daring roller skating sequence during which Stefani falls down, a planned stunt which tapped into the sensibility of the live experience produced seamlessly by Wondros, the production house which handles Muller in the U.S. market. (Her U.K. roost is RSA Films.) The large stage, added Muller, was also necessary “because the final shot had to show the whole set basically. We needed the tallest studio in Hollywood to take a camera up 65 feet to see the entire studio and the sets, forming the [Target red bullseye] logo.”

Limited rehearsal, extensive prep
Adding to the live excitement was the fact that the video wasn’t overly rehearsed. “With seven costume changes and the multiple sets—in a 1950’s motif—it took way too long to reset each time for more rehearsals. We had done one run through and prepared as thoroughly and meticulously as possible,” said Muller. “Most of my work was in the weeks of prep. Deutsch was completely involved. The transitions were carefully planned. There’s a quiet moment when Gwen stood by the piano singing. We showed her in a closeup as we got her shoes off and roller skates on. The roller skates were being put on her while she was performing.”

Muller related, “Then once you go live, you roll with it. You watch everyone else doing something such as the costume changes and set transitions. It’s like looking at an ant colony working together for a common cause. It was absolutely lovely to see.”

Muller also had to adapt from her production norm of being “so used to having control of everything from a postproduction point of view. We were doing a live production, live cutting. There was no post protection for what we shot.”

Being experienced in live production, though, helped Muller immeasurably. She was accustomed to turning out quality live concert shows centered on quality performances in varied venues.

The live dynamic is the first such endeavor for Target but was well timed, tapping into the trend which has seen live musical TV events—such as Fox’s Grease Live this past January and NBC’s The Wiz Live! the month before—garner impressive ratings and much chatter on social media sites like Facebook and Twitter. Making the live Stefani video an event sparked audience interest in anticipation of its airing and then after its showcase on CBS. The tie-in to the Grammys was a natural, generating much attention in social media before and after the live telecast.

Target and Deutsch set up second views of the live experience through Facebook Live, Periscope and Snapchat during the Feb. 15th broadcast. Social influencers also were lined up to participate. And there were Easter eggs in the video ranging from a tabloid magazine with gossip about Stefani, and a salon setting named after her hairstylist Danilo Dixon.

Target’s partnership with Stefani additionally included selling a deluxe edition of her “This Is What The Truth Feels Like” album, which was released last week, featuring exclusive cover art and four bonus tracks.

Working with Target and Deutsch adds further to Muller’s credentials in the ad arena which also include spots for Lexus, a MasterCard/J.Crew tie-in, MTV, Gillette, Venus, Reebok and L’Oreal. The live Grammy experience has whetted the director’s appetite for more creative collaborations with agencies and brands. Muller said she found working with Deutsch and the breakthrough Target video to be creatively gratifying and is looking to pursue more ambitious projects through Wondros.