Doug Levy is a staff copywriter and editor for the Shutterstock blog. This post was originally published on the Shutterstock blog and has been reprinted with permission.
Late last year, Abel Tesfaye, better known to his many fans as The Weeknd, performed a sold-out concert at London’s massive O2 Arena. It was a major milestone for the space-age R&B star, and an event the folks at GoPro decided would be the perfect showcase for their Hero 3+ Black Edition camera.
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Available in a Music Bundle with specially designed mounts for musicians, the camera is a great accessory for performers—and the GoPro crew was armed with dozens of them when they filmed the London show. The result is the captivating new short film One Night with The Weeknd, created by filmmakers Gabriel Noguez and Will Hoover. We caught up with the pair to find out more about their process, and how such a small camera can capture such a big event.
Shutterstock: How did this project originate? What made The Weeknd the ideal choice as an artist to work with?
We were interested in his personal story. He was originally unknown, living an ordinary life in Toronto, and produced an amazing mixtape (House of Balloons). Similar to the rise of GoPro, his rise to fame was fueled by passion, new technology, and the power of the internet.
How many different ways was the GoPro used in the shoot? Did you use a lot of cameras, or just a few?
We took 40 cameras. We mounted them all over the stage, to the band’s instruments, with members of the crowd, and even flew a drone around for establishing moments. When filming with this many GoPros, you feel like a filmmaker from the future—carrying 40 cameras in your backpack, you’ve got the power of an entire film crew on one person.
Suddenly, you find yourself straying from the concept of a “primary camera.” Instead, you set traps with your arsenal of GoPros. The cameras are so small and unobtrusive that a subject can forget about them, act natural, and deliver a real moment.
What challenges did you face in capturing the footage you wanted? What kinds of things did you have to plan for beforehand?
Working on GoPro projects can be nerve-wracking; sometimes you only get one chance to capture the action, and there’s usually little time to prepare. Also, filming with A-list artists can prove to be tricky. When shooting with a GoPro, the filmmaker enters a very intimate role. We’re not sitting back on a beach chair filming long-lens surf stuff—we’re smacking cameras to surfboards and swimming, taking a beating in the water to get the money shot. Fortunately, Abel and his crew were amazing and welcomed us with open arms. We had the pleasure of capturing some of the most intimate footage of The Weeknd to date.
Did you end up with any unexpected surprises or happy accidents? What’s your favorite thing that came out of the shoot?
We underestimated the acoustic warmup scene. We were unsure if the plain room would work, but it ended up fitting well with the frenetic video. Short videos are all about rhythm. I love Godard’s quote: “A story should have a beginning, middle, and end, but not necessarily in that order.” We sculpted the video to dance back and forth in time, following the rhythm and vibe of the songs.
How involved was the artist in the process? Did he just let you do you thing, or did he play an active role?
We were very open to hear Abel’s suggestions for the film. We were excited to feel so close to the crew. A lot of times, we hear people talking about documenting the moment vs. living the moment. I think GoPro allows you to do both. The best films always offer an experience—something people can take home after watching. Entertainment alone is not good enough.
We wanted to make a film about Abel’s determination and perseverance to inspire other people to do the same, to follow their dreams. Abel is constantly working on his music. He travels with a producer, just to keep writing on the road. We were happy to be able to capture some of that.
How did you handle the sound for the project? Was it difficult to edit everything together?
Fortunately, this was something we decided early in pre-production. They recorded the board feed and mixed the final version. It was very cool to see The Weeknd camp’s devotion to quality. They hopped into the director’s chair here and had complete control over their music and how it was presented. That’s why it sounds so good.
With the black-and-white scenes, we wanted to reference his mixtape aesthetic—washed out, black-and-white portraits with clean typefaces. The transition to color was his full realization of this amazing experience and entrance into his studio-recorded album. Only a handful of people can say they played a sold-out show at the O2 arena.
What aspects of the Black Edition did you take the most advantage of for the shoot?
The low-light quality of the HERO3+ is amazing. With newer, more powerful camera tech, we’re able to film more and more things. We recently filmed a music piece (to be released in the future) in an incredibly dark cathedral in Montreal. Our past selves simply would not have been able do that. Editing with this low-light content is great too. We were able to hide a lot of cuts thanks to the consistent blacks and flashing lights. It was nice to see dark shadows with no grain and a wide range of grays. Our details are stronger than ever.
Are there any plans to release more footage from the show, or will the short film stand alone? Will there be any future “One Night with…” projects?
Funny you ask! We’ve been expanding our distribution platforms and just released a GoPro Xbox channel where some new content will live exclusively — keep an eye out. Personally, we’d also love to work on a night with AlunaGeorge.
What kind of response have you received from the music world about the Black Edition in general? Have you seen anything else captured with it that’s really impressed you?
People are using the camera to document themselves playing music more and more. The Weeknd was a story of someone sharing their music online and getting really famous for it. GoPro makes it easy to set up a unique shot, capture your craft, and share it with the world.
A member of the New York Philharmonic strapped a GoPro to his trombone and received incredibly smooth, perspective-changing footage. Check it out, it’s wild.
What advice would you offer to other musicians and filmmakers who want to capture great GoPro footage?
You can put this tiny camera anywhere. GoPro goes where other cameras can’t. Find a stable spot that tells your story in a unique way and take it for a ride! The HERO3+ Black Edition/Music Bundle offers music-specific GoPro mounts, which make it easy for musicians and DJs to mount the camera to instruments, turntables, mic stands, and other stage equipment and capture immersive GoPro-style footage and unique points of view.
Artists can also use the GoPro App on a mobile device to control the camera if it’s mounted out of reach, while GoPro’s free editing software, GoPro Studio, makes it easy to edit professional-looking videos for self-promotion across social-media channels.
From a more technical standpoint: Plan as much as possible. If you’re going to film yourself playing music, choose the best lighting and the most interesting background. Scout unique locations and frame exciting shots, something people haven’t seen before. Be honest, unique, and interesting. And most of all, have fun—and tag #GoProMusic!