Surf Trains in Zimbabwe in this Powerful Music Video

Surfing – that is freedom, fun, and thrill. Millions of people enjoy spending their holidays trying to master waves around the world. Botswana-born director William Armstrong chose this as the idea for his latest music video for Dublin DJ and producer Kormac’s new song New Day, which also features vocals by Irish singer Jack O’Rourke.

William Armstrong flew to Zimbabwe for the shoot. There, William made a film about young locals surfing – though not on the classic board, but on trains. William created a compelling video to match the entrancing sound of Kormac’s music.

We had a sit-down chat with Kormac and William about their experience.

THE PLUS: What is the resounding message of your song, New Day? What’s it about, for you?
Kormac:
I initially wrote the track for a show I premiered this year, Equivalent Exchange. It was music written for a huge ensemble that included a chamber orchestra. The initial idea behind the track was to highlight the subtleties that a chamber orchestra is capable of producing. You can hear scratchy strings played with the edge of the bow, creating interesting effects and tensions. I sent a very early, work in progress version to Jack O’ Rourke and he came back with quite a big soaring vocal that brought the track in a new direction. I reacted by writing the very melodic, epic string lines at the end to compliment this new vocal. Although the subject matter is personal to Jack, one of the main ideas behind writing the track was to show some different textures that a big string section can create.

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TP: What was it like working with William? Do you like the final video?
Kormac:
When we received the initial video treatment/idea from Will, it was a complete “no brainer”. We said yes straight away as it’s a fascinating story of how people find escape in their lives. Will did a fantastic job on it and was a pleasure to work with. I love it.

TP: William, how did you come up with the idea for the video?
William Armstrong:
When I was living in South Africa, train surfing captured my attention as an incredibly cinematic adrenaline rush. They hang out of trains in India and Russia, too. But in South Africa they climb on top, hopping between moving carriages and dancing as they dodge wires. It’s obviously extremely dangerous, but year after year there are kids still doing it. They are looking for that thrill or that calling card to cement their reputations for risk and bravery.

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TP: How long did you spend in Zimbabwe?
WA:
In total we were there about ten days. Nonetheless, I had scout pictures coming in from about two weeks before arriving, so we already had an idea of the locations available. The shoot itself was two days and a rehearsal day on the train, checking our safety procedure and rigging wires to anchor points on the train with a stunt team.

TP: What did the casting process look like?
WA:
We looked in both Cape Town, SA, and Bulawayo, Zimbabwe. In Cape Town, we spent quite a bit of time in Langa meeting young guys who all train surfed. We found some incredible personalities. But when the Zimbabwean casting came through I knew we had found our guys. The three friends you see in the film are best friends in reality, they are 18-19 and are really committed acrobats – self-taught and extremely dedicated. They were doing mad three-man vertical stacks and backflips off each other every day in the build up to the shoot. After a few camera tests they were complete naturals. Tatenda – the lead – has an amazing face, strength and sometimes hardness but also a vulnerability. That mix really helped explain that this was a character going through a personal conflict – the responsibility of adulthood clashing with the desire to escape it.

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TP: What was it like shooting on the train?
WA:
Like every shoot, I wish we had more time! There were some incredible parts of the train we didn’t get to, like open cars carrying coal piles that could have been really interesting places to stage another section of the film. We had an expert stunt team that gave the crew and cast the sense of security. We needed to focus on the story – but of course it’s slow going, rigging up harnesses for every shot. It was not at all stable on the rooftop and definitely a bit terrifying, but also a privilege to be able to put a lens onto. Access to a train like this is almost impossible in so many countries, so we were really lucky to find it.

TP: Were there any unexpected difficulties involved with the shoot?
WA:
The week before we got to Zim there was some political unrest and the military stepped in, banning drones from use or entering customs. This happened a day before the shoot, with our drone team literally at the airport about to board the plane. Our wides and landscapes were lost on the spot. Still, we had full control of a train and the ability to tell the story.

Kormac x William Armstrong- New Day

TP: Is music video a flexible genre in your opinion?
WA:
Absolutely. It’s a chance to be creative and tell a short story that would have no audience otherwise. Also, it gives the chance to be inventive and collaborate with an artist in a way that gets their image out into the public eye in a crafted way. There are no rules, and that makes the concepts unpredictable but often full of new creative energy.
Music videos overall are making a resurgence – it’s still an unregulated process with a lot of great ideas being left behind in the pitch stage. One could go a long way to better harness those, but it’s an agile part of the film industry. You adapt to briefs on short notice and it encourages progressive ideas being put out into the world.

TP: What are you working on next?
WA:
I’ve been working on several ideas inspired by my South African roots. This is the first of three stories that I’m hoping to make over the next couple of years. One mixes voodoo and religion into a surreal trip of a story.

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