‘Vegetate’ video shoot with Ragnar Ólafsson – Toppstöðin, Reykjavik; August11th, 2019
Oh my! This past Sunday a fan dream came true for me and I was allowed to attend and photograph a video shoot by my friend Ragnar, who also happens to be one of my favorite musicians. Days later I am still high on happiness and cannot stop smiling. For 11 hours on said Sunday I was in the middle of a creative process, seeing ideas come alive in front of my eyes. It was a rare look behind the scenes of the music I love, a glimpse at how to make a video in true diy-fashion and most of all a lot of fun. I could not have though of anything better to do with my time than being there and felt honored to be invited.
Two days earlier, after Rokk í Hafnarfirði, Ragnar had told me about the video shoot and I’d exclaimed how much I’d love to be there, hoping for, but never expecting I’d actually get the chance. He said he’d sleep on it. The following day I received a message telling me the director had agreed and to bring my camera. I was over the moon and spent the rest of the day with a big smile on my face. 😀
On Sunday at noon I arrived at Toppstöðin as agreed and waited, wondering how all of this would work. I had no clue at all and expected having to be quiet during the actual filming and staying out of the way mostly. Still, the prospect of being the fly on the wall for something I usually would not get to see was rather exciting. I also loved that it was taking place at Toppstöðin, where Árstíðir have their rehearsal space and lots of old machinery create a special atmosphere.
Shortly after 12 a car arrived, packed with stuff and people. Out tumbled Raggi, his brother Ingo, their cousin Hilmar, Ingo’s girlfriend Unnur and Luke the dog. We carried all the props and lots of food inside and met Gussi, the director, who was busy setting up the room where the video would be filmed. After unpacking all of the food and getting some plates and silverware from the kitchen, Ragnar showed us a demo of the video together with written stage directions, all in Icelandic. I didn’t ask for them to be translated, figuring I’d see soon enough. Raggi helped Gussi on set, while Ingo took Luke for a walk and the rest of us had some food. I snapped a few pics of the equipment and the room where a chair was being bolted to the floor in front of the camera and naked light bulbs were hanging from the ceiling.
Soon it was time for a dry run which involved Raggi walking in, slumping down in the chair in front of the camera, sitting there while all sorts of stuff happened and walking out in the end. As he sat there the others walked around or stood behind him at times and, most importantly, reached over to Raggi, handing him stuff or taking it away. On the screen, as far as I could see, was mostly Raggi, so I assumed we would see their hands reaching into the frame later. Luke the dog didn’t seem to like all the action, but also didn’t want to be alone with a blanket, so he came and checked out what was happening from time to time looking at everyone as if he was wondering what we were up to. Me, I was staying on the sidelines, doing my best not to walk into the picture and merrily snapped away with my camera.
After the dry run some last minute preparations ensued and everyone changed into their video outfits. Unnur was responsible for make-up, while the duty of handing things to Raggi was split between Ingo and Hilmar. From then on it was several full takes and then a bunch more where only parts of the action happened. In between there were breaks for food and changing of outfits as well as lots of laughter. A big surprise for me was that everything was done to playback with Gussi calling out directions, so I didn’t have to worry about my camera being heard. I watched and I smiled and sought for the best way to capture the action from as many angles as possible. Most conversations happened in Icelandic with bits and pieces of English thrown in, but I did not feel excluded at all. It felt very natural and I mostly got the gist of what was going on. We had lots of fun!
For most of the full takes Raggi was wearing a black T-shirt. What changed were the sunglasses he put on and his hair being either up or down. It started with him walking in through the door and among the light bulbs and finally dropping onto the chair in front of the camera. First thing that happened then was Hilmar reaching over from his left and taking the sunglasses off of his face. For the “I own three or so guitars…”-line Unnur and the guys would walk around behind the chair, carrying said guitars around and finally off to the side. Raggi then stared at and typed away on an old mobile phone to “post something clever on social media”. During the next few lines Hilmar sat on Raggi’s right and Ingo to his left. In tune with the bit about going out to a bar Hilmar would hand over glasses of beer, Raggi would take a sip and hand them off to Ingo. For “I went out and bought a car.” Ingo handed over a steering wheel and then he got a cigar from Hilmar. Towards the end of the song, they gave him a trumpet to look at, smell, pretend to play. When the chorus came along the other three stood behind Raggi at different distances holding sheets of paper, while he raised his arms.
Afterwards followed several variations of this basic storyline. For instance the cigar did not come in until the second or third take. I’m not sure the trumpet was there from the beginning either. When Raggi’s hair was down, Unnur pulled at it from the side and it also went flying as he raised his head somewhere in the beginning of the song. Instead of just standing behind the chair with sheets of paper, they stood there with guitars. I remember a few funny moments when Luke ran among them or just sat there and stared up at them. He also sat at Raggi’s feet for a while, but I don’t think he was ever in the picture which made it all the more amusing. For the chorus, confetti were added during a few takes, shot at them by Gussi. The final take of this run, had Raggi in a white shirt and the three others stood behind him doing jazz hands. He also got confetti in his mouth and made us all laugh when he spat it towards the camera.
I would have loved taking a few pictures while standing across from Gussi, but obviously could not do that, because I’d be in the frame. I was once accidentally,thinking I was far enough to the side when he waved at me “I can see you” – oops! Lucky for me there was a lower level right behind the camera with some stairs going down so I went there a few times. We all got a good laugh out if Luke coming to check up on me from above. 🙂
Now it got even more interesting. Gussi filmed one take with an empty chair while we took a break, then came several different outfits and even facepaint. First up was a nice blue dress shirt that was made to look a lot less formal with a clip-on bow tie hanging loosely around Raggi’s neck. Now it was time for instruments other than the trumpet being handed over. Since nobody else was there at first, I had to take them from Raggi. When he had the ukulele he looked like he was channeling Svavar Knútur. 😀 It got even funnier though: he used a recorder flute to play along to the song and Gussi cracked up laughing. The others came back and stood around Raggi with saxophone, trumpet and some horn if sorts, pretending to play into his ears. I was laughing already then, wondering just how hilarious this video would be.
After one shirtless take with the triangle I learned that Unnur would cut Raggi’s beard. He’d brought several scissors, one pair big enough to cut tree branches. In the end they settled for the regular ones and Unnur tried them out on a sheet of paper. Since she was only gonna get one shot at this, they practiced a few times, with her motioning to cut with her fingers. Then things got serious, the black T-shirt was back on and Raggi’s hair up. The beard was cut during the “shy, but coy” line and the look on Raggi’s face was priceless. They took a few selfies with Unnur holding up the missing piece of the beard and Raggi looking scared before they both cracked up.
There was some fooling around with a huge blond wig before he went to shave. I mused that I had not seen him beardless since the release of Hvel, but I was wrong. He had shaved at the start of the Urges tour. We joked about the props and Raggi claimed he’d put the triangle up in the kitchen to call people for dinner. 😀 The mood was relaxed and I enjoyed hanging out with everyone. From time to time I just smiled to myself, knowing how lucky I was.
Raggi’s freshly shaved babyface (he instantly looked about ten years younger) was now painted by Unnur, Braveheart style. She even braided a strand of his hair. Getting ready for the next take he drank some Gatorade. I could not help but note that it had almost the same color as his face. That lead him to giving his impression of a Scottish accent, saying “We’re Scotsmen, we drink the blue Gatorade.” 😀 Filming was hilarious, because he had nothing to do until the chorus and made faces at the camera. Again, there were confetti involved. Before he went to wash off the face I got to take some close ups. I felt weird about sticking my camera in his face, but they turned out really nice.
Next paint job was a face like a member of Kiss with a star over Raggi’s right eye. It took a while so Gussi relaxed on the couch and promptly fell asleep. The other guys were shooting pool and I just watched the szene. Armed or armored with a leather jacket he returned for the next take and since the braid was still there, some jokes about Mel Simmons happened. Again mainly the chorus was important so he went crazy making faces at the camera during the verses. This take involved more confetti and more hair pulling. In the end he didn’t just walk out, but had to clean up confetti with a broom, then threw it away before leaving the frame. Luke was watching closely and since he is black and white Raggi told him they were the same now, but Luke did not seem convinced. 😉 More opportunities for close up shots during which Raggi posed for me before we returned to the break room. It was time for a tea and some cleaning up. In the kitchen I discovered the trash for “metal only – no hip hop”. Recycling Icelandic style. 😉
The last round of facepaint was Deadpool, complete with a red T-shirt. Raggi told us he’d never seen the movie so Hilmar and I talked about how the first one was great, but the second somewhat disappointing. During this take Raggi kept his eyes closed because his lids were painted white. He pointed here and there and did lots of weird arm moves. I laughed a lot and was happy I didn’t have to stay quiet during filming. One last round of close ups before he washed off the paint and got ready for the final take. Unfortunately his ears stayed red but were mostly hidden by his hair.
The final take was a full one with everyone going crazy. Unnur and Hilmar were in desk chairs rolling thought the frame, Ingo carried Luke instead if a guitar and handed him off to Raggi who cuddled him for a while before setting him on the floor. Unnur was blowing smoke at Raggi, Ingo hugged him from behind and everyone was all over the place. In the end they were all dancing and Gussi took the confetti we had collected in a bucket after the other takes and dumped it on them. “It’s a wrap!” he called when it was done!
We all cleaned up, gathering confetti, carrying props and throwing away trash. Part of the props was a big button labeled “easy” that said “Well, that was easy!” when pressed. We had some gun with that. It was a great day overall and I did not want to say goodbye. Still, I had an early flight the next day. Thus I thanked everyone for having me and hugged them goodbye. Raggi walked me to the door and we said goodbye one last time. 11 hours after my arrival I was on a bus back into the city, smiling all the way home.
It was a fascinating experience with a lovely crew and there was nothing I would have rather done.