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Behind The Video: Gregg Masuak On "Another Cup Of Coffee"

Why are we featuring a video for a minor hit from 1995? Because it's freaking brilliant, and because the director can articulate exactly how he did it.

Married life can indeed be "unbearably normal," which is the basis for the Mike + The Mechanics song "Another Cup Of Coffee," a track from their fourth album. The group is led by Mike Rutherford, who was never big on performing in videos but holds them to a very high standard, as his band Genesis ruled MTV with groundbreaking clips directed by Jim Yukich ("Land of Confusion," "I Can't Dance"), who also did the videos for the early Mechanics hits ("Silent Running," "The Living Years").

Gregg Masuak, who made his mark with videos for Kim Wilde, Take That and Kylie Minogue, got the call. The vibrant visual is a great example of creativity run amok in the last days of analog, when everything was recorded and edited on tape, with certain effects generated by the camera itself. Gregg has a keen eye and a highly attuned sense of story in the way music producers hear things most ears don't pick up. Here, he takes us through the video, from concept to design to execution, and explains how music videos changed as digital took hold.

Carl Wiser (Songfacts): How did you come up with the concept for the "Another Cup Of Coffee" video?

Gregg Masuak: The most fun I ever have is when I can run with an idea and there aren't a lot of worry-warts around saying, "Why that image, I don't get it," coz the images I love creating are more visceral, they have a feeling rather than necessarily pure reason and sense.

But with this, the lyrics were pretty clearly talking about someone whose personality was buried in the mundane and I wanted to depict someone trapped in an uncommunicative relationship with an unbearably normal routine and falling into the more appealing world of her imagination, where she could vent her anger and frustrations. Eventually it's a descent into madness with the idea of the swirling spiraling cup as the whirlpool of madness sucking her in.

Songfacts: What did you do to get the striking look?

Gregg: I actually preferred the pre-digital grading system. I got more intense looks, more specifically aligned with my sensibility through those, and as digital grading came in it became harder and harder to get the precise feeling I loved: color, contrast, just somehow the exact vibe I wanted to create was easier to achieve.

And of course before cameras became so technically perfect, I used a lot of stop/start on/off switch imagery, giving the flashes that naturally happen when a camera winds up and off of prime speed. That look isn't very well achieved in a false, post production kinda way, which I discovered when camera technology got "better." Sometimes "better" eliminates some of the things we love to achieve and makes them actually harder. You'll not see a lot of "that" look anymore, and that's simply because no one thinks about it as technology has eliminated the inconsistencies that actually can be favorable elements within the art.

Songfacts: Who is the actress, and how did you direct her?

Gregg: Stephanie Buttle. She was a friend of the DOP [Director of Photography], Alex Melman. He recommended her and she was perfect, not just physically but as an actress. I wanted to have a kind of Mia Farrow in Rosemary's Baby look - where she's ill from the pregnancy and her eyes are sunken and she's pale and lifeless. For the most part I wanted her to be absolutely deadpan, or whatever she did, return to deadpan, which gives the performance a kind of comic strangeness.

It's actually fun doing in-camera things like the over-cranked stuff with her motions and the under-cranked smashing of coffee cups. Most of what we did was in-camera and we got on the wonderful set that was created to look like the kind of 1920s modernist look of that era of many films, with skewed walls and corridors that become smaller and tighter - the interior of a house that's folding in on itself and constricting - combining that with lighting that was flickering and flashing and on the move, and hey presto, with her performance it really gave the whole piece a volatile comic-tragic style.

From Stephanie:

Just looked at the video "Another Cup of Coffee" for the first time in years. It brought back a flood of memories. To me you can see on screen the good energy that was on set that day. Gregg Masuak enabled a very creative opportunity for me. He was clear and focused about the scenes he needed for his cut but within the setups I was free to improvise and to build up the character of the woman that represented the lyrics in the song. I clearly remember having a fantastic time. It was also at a time when my acting career was going well - I had just finished shooting a feature film with Juliette Binoche and William Hurt called A Couch in New York and I was on set that day with lots of friends who I'd worked with over the years as a dancer, including my best mate Alex Melman the DP. So for me that shoot was about as good as it gets as far as giving me a supportive platform for exploring and pushing my performance.

Gregg is a confident and sensitive director with talent. I remember him letting me run with it, occasionally stepping in with a note.

Since then, I have experienced many different creative opportunities and directions including a period of directing short films and commercials. More recently I took three years out to study at Central Saint Martins to nurture and figure out all these different strands that had all played such important roles but non-singularly had held me completely, within art and more specifically within ceramics. I am building a practice that explores my narratives within the theatrical environments of installation and site-specific responses. I am using film to document work and to explore contemporary perspectives on performance.

Check it out at stephaniebuttle.com

Songfacts: What is Paul Carrack wearing on his head?

Gregg: No fucking clue.

Songfacts: Technical stuff: This came at a time when we were moving from analog to digital. Please explain how you handled that transition and where this video fits in.

Gregg: It's not like there was this incredible transition between analog and digital at the time. Bit by bit things just began to be, well, different. And it was ages after this that the hype about filming on video being sooooo much better than film actually became a reality - much, much later. It's really been only about 10 years or less that diehard film people like me actually saw that they weren't hyping it up anymore and it really was a great thing. At the time of this video I don't believe that digital was even really something we thought about - it was still all pretty much old school (at least old school where we're at now!)

The thing is, when digital took over analog, the only thing I found I was struggling with was in the grading process. That was always something I was really, really great at. I was very instinctive and could easily express how to steer things. But suddenly the graders seemed to be struggling getting the looks that were easy to get, looking like they did. It was clear that the language had changed, the door you opened that would lead you towards a look that you wanted through analog was not the route you took in order to achieve that look in digital, and the crap thing about all of that is that you're paying a lot for time in that part of the process, and so graders had to appear like they knew what they were doing but I had this sense that they were struggling and it was very, very frustrating.

Not in this video, but later on, I found I was making do with a look rather than nailing it, and that to me was really hard, and I really didn't know what the solution was. I think that's why the look of so many films, commercials and videos are all quite pastel and somewhat washed out, generally - that's the way things tend to want to end up and not many people know how to get really impactful, dense, good-looking images, so they go with that.

Songfacts: What is your philosophy when it comes to creating music videos, and how does it compare to your other work?

Gregg: I have no philosophy with music videos hahaha. In a million years I never would have imagined I'd be doing them. I wasn't born there but I grew up in Sydney, Australia, and in my late teens/early 20s I was on my own in the middle of this really particular rock scene where everybody was in a band, including me, and I was doing film school at the same time. And while my film sensibility was very abstract and artistic (I was passionate about films like Resnais' Providence and Last Year at Marienbad and Robert Altman's weirder films like 3 Women and Images), suddenly I finished my BA and my film school studies and decided to move to London and haphazardly got into music videos and had to change from being an overly abstract and musically particular kind of guy to earn a living and have fun in the late '80s when most bands were pretty and popular (paying) music videos centered around a very different kind of music than I gravitated to.

So my philosophy on music videos became, I guess, how to serve the band/artist in the best way I possibly could. How much personality could I get out of them? How much expression can I get onto screen regarding the theme of their songs? Literally like that - I couldn't do a music video until I loved the track and the artist in some way, much like an actor has to fall in love with his or her leading co star "lover" - and so my philosophy was "I serve you" and not, what I felt too many music video directors did, was to serve themselves at the expense of the artist. I hated when I saw that - it was kind of a wank. Though I probably would have done better to have gone that route, it's just not the way I'm wired.

Songfacts: What are some of your videos of which you are particularly proud?

Gregg: Oh, I can't really tell! To be honest, I loved doing what I did but never really valued it - even though people seemed to - because it wasn't really my art.

High points are working with the fucking awesome Voice of the Beehive, who I am still mates with. They were an explosion of pure energy and joy and we clicked immediately and had such fun working together on... four videos???

I'm happiest and proudest when people just trust and back off a bit and let me do my creative thing, so videos like "Pray" and "Babe" for Take That were brilliant experiences as they really let me run with ideas - especially something as abstract as "Pray" which was just creative playing with very little notice, building ideas along the way and having a great team and things just coming together with a band who can perform the pants off anyone. I'm super proud of the video I've just finished, only two days ago, again for Take That - the first vid I've done for them since "Sure" a longgggg time ago - and the same thing happened - no time to really even discuss that much, taking the bones of an idea and running with it and I absolutely fucking love the video. Just love it.

But there's loads of videos I feel good about, and they're not always artists anyone heard of, and sometimes it was just the experience of doing them and getting attacked by wild dogs in our car driving on an icy road in the Atlas Mountains in Morocco and the car about to fall over the edge of a really, really horrific cliff and having to make a choice between being ripped apart by angry wild dogs or dying and laughing hysterically over how stupid that we actually have to make that choice was - and then suddenly unexpected Option 3 pops up and we get to live and not get eaten or anything. That sort of stuff is what I take with me in the world of music videos, and now that I'm doing more commercials and getting my feature and TV stuff together (I write a lot so have a bunch of ducks in a row lined up), what I do know about having had the intensive training in the music video world is, I think on my feet, I create out of nothing if I have to, and I am literally unfazable when a problem arises and know that often that very problem is what makes you come up with that extra something you were searching for and bam! Now you got what you really wanted, even though it looked quite daunting and alarming to begin with.

June 20, 2017.
See more of Gregg's work at masuak.com.

    About the Author:

    Carl WiserCarl was a disc jockey in Hartford, Connecticut when he founded Songfacts as a way to tell the stories behind the songs. You can also find him on Rock's Backpages.More from Carl Wiser
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