Forsaking the mirror balls and pop imagery associated with U2 these days, director Jake Scott of Portfolio/Black Dog Films and director of photography Salvatore Totino took a less ironic, more abstract approach to propel "Staring at the Sun," the second video from the band's POP album. The kitsch of "Discotheque," the album's first video featuring U2 in Village People garb on a mirror ball set, is absent from this performance clip which nonetheless has a transcendent visual style largely created by carefully choreographed lighting effects. Closeups of band members are bathed in various spectra of colored light, alternating with traveling lines and orbs of white light that encircle or streak by. And, in a literal nod to the song title, a sun rises to radiate around and then eclipse Bono and company.
Having worked on numerous videos together (Live's "Lightning Crashes," Tracy Bonham's "Mother, Mother" and Radiohead's "Fake Plastic Trees," among others), the director and DP approached this video with a shared visual vocabulary and ready-made collaborative process. "Jake had some ideas of doing a lot of Flame work on it in post while I came up with another approach I've been wanting to do for a long time--to use a shutterless camera," says Totino. "We did some tests using the shutterless camera with an over-under rig that houses two cameras which Clairmont Camera developed. The camera above looks into a mirror down into a beam splitter and sees the same image that the camera below sees."
This approach proved so effective that the majority of the lighting effects were shot in camera; only a few images were manipulated at London-based postproduction house The Mill. Experimenting with the camera setup led to effects such as the intermittent streaks of light which were created by using a shutterless camera on top of the rig, and a camera with a shutter below. However, one of the DP's favorite illusions, an orb of light traveling around band members' faces, involved more than tricky camera work. "I used this little wand with a 12V/75W bulb on the end plugged into the camera battery," the DP explains. "We developed the wand in our test stages, and that's how the light traveled around them."
While the wand made light magically appear around closeups, Plexiglas was part of the secret behind making the sun rise. "It was actually a triangular piece of Plexiglas that we lit at an angle to get a certain color spectrum," says Totino. "Then Jake bent and curved it in Flame in post. The mist coming off it was from a Mee Fog System that we lit separately and then shot."
Lighting equipment on set at Paris Studios in New York was a standard order of "Maxi Brutes and some Lightning Strikes," says the DP. He adds that camera assistant Mark Williams was invaluable in mastering the camera equipment, which had to be brought directly from Clairmont Camera in Los Angeles to New York because of the special rigs.
After two days of shooting and more intensive time at the post house, the video wrapped, allowing Scott and Totino to see their concept fully realized. Although gratifying, the process came with a healthy dose of uncertainty, according to Totino. "What was difficult about shooting this video was that every once in a while Jake and I would look at each other and say, 'Is this going to be okay?'" he remembers. "You always think you can do more tests and evolve it to another stage. And when you're doing all of this post work and shooting the elements separately you have to envision what it's going to be like. You're not getting any direct visual results, so you have to rely on your experience and gut instinct that you're going to make it work."