Astrid's Film Shoot: Music Video for Stems.

Yesterday we spent the day shooting a music video for UK Art Rock band, Stems, starring my hand carved marionette Astrid. Working with director Matthew Smolen of Balloon Tree Productions, DOP Shaun Herbertson and Creative Director Ted Adair we had an absolutely amazing team with a vast and varied skill set. 

Contacted by Stems in February, this project has been a long time in the making, and I'm sure has some time to go yet! The idea between Stems and myself was always to collaborate on a music video. At the time, I was living in the UK, studying at the London School of Puppetry and did not have the time, nor the connections I do here in Oz, to make the video happen. So as a compromise, I offered to develop a live show to the bands track "Anahata" with my marionette. I would work on it as one of my performance assessments for school, and then later, back in Oz, work on translating it into film.

This process yielded fantastic results; not only was I able to approach my creative team here in Oz with a substantial piece of work to build from, but I was also left with a beautiful live show that I will hold on to forever. In the UK, I even had the chance to perform live with Stems at LSP's showcase event... but that's another story (see earlier blog post Living Room Theatre for more).

Prior to my return to Australia, I contacted Matthew Smolen to pitch the idea to him and see if he might be interested in helping me with this project. A true theatre kid, my knowledge of film, and the processes associated is fairly minimal and so I really needed a creative team with these specialized skills. A film director, producer, writer and editor, Matt has a wealth of knowledge in these areas and creates some absolutely stunning work. Approaching Matt, I was eager to collaborate, combining our skills and knowledge to create something really beautiful while staying fairly true to it's theatrical beginnings. Matt was very open to my ideas and agreed to come on board as director, intrigued by the challenge of shooting a marionette, something new for both of us.

Working alongside Matt was Ted Adair. Ted works as a motion graphic designer and animator, but also has incredible passion and skill in areas of photography and film. Coming on board as our creative director; from the very beginning, Ted understood my vision for the video and helped enhance my ideas with his own. Ted's role in the shoot was to keep this vision alive, while also offering constructive feedback to the entire creative team. In post production, Ted will be incorporating some after effects to enhance the atmosphere of Astrid's world.

The final member of our team was Shaun Herbertson; a colleague of Matt's, I had never met Shaun prior to this project, however his skill and passion became immediately apparent. Shaun is a highly experienced DOP, and also has an incredible catalog of equipment at his disposal which was a great asset for this project.

With our creative team assembled, we began to discuss the project and how we would approach it. On my return to Australia, I performed my piece live for the team to allow them to understand exactly what they were dealing with. I had no doubt that this team would produce incredible results, and after a few meetings and rehearsals, the day finally came.

Almost nine months on from Stems original contact, yesterday we shot the entire video. A long and challenging day, it was an entirely wonderful experience. Working with this incredible team of professionals, I felt totally supported and trusted their judgement implicitly. Matt was wonderful to work with as a director. Prior to the shoot, he and I had met for a rehearsal, Matt explaining that he thought it necessary to develop a clear understanding of how to communicate with me as a marionettist. During the shoot, I was so grateful for this, the communication between us incredibly open and honest, Matt always double and triple checking that I was satisfied with my performance.

We had decided in our meetings, after much discussion and some debate, that we would attempt to frame me, the puppeteer, out of the clip. This presented a significant challenge for everyone involved, and caused us all to have an almost permanent expression of puzzlement throughout the day. With almost every shot, the challenge presented itself, often causing me severe discomfort, or worse... resulting in sloppy or strained technique. I did wonder at times if it was really worth it, but every time I watched the footage back on the monitor, it was clear we had made the right choice. A marionette operated well is a magical thing, even when the puppeteer is standing there right before you. You may be very aware of my presence during my live show, but Astrid is so engaging when she is "alive", you soon forget I am there. Reviews I received from our showcase at LSP were astounding, with audience members being brought to tears at the sombre nature of Astrid's character (see earlier blog post Living Room Theatre for more). A puppet with a puppeteer is engaging, but seeing Astrid "alive" on screen all by herself, in her own world... to quote Matt: "gave me goosebumps".

Though the day was long, and sometime's frustrating, I could not have been happier with how it went. My primary school's motto was "Always do your PB!" and I really try to live by that rule. Yesterday all four of us put in our personal best and then some. I am so grateful to Matt, Ted and Shaun for their time, their energy, their patience and their unwavering support. What a day! We strolled in to that space at 9am... covered the floor in sand... and walked out almost eleven hours later, tired and satisfied, having just shared something completely magical, leaving only a few unruly grains of sand behind. It was a truly collaborative effort, with every person playing their part. When I think back to Astrid's beginnings and how many people have contributed along the way, well... there are too many to mention... It really warms my heart (see earlier blog post Astrid's Journey for more). You all know who you are!

Of course I must give mention to Stems: Their amazing music played throughout the day and it really played an incredibly important role. Any time I felt I was losing the emotion or the intention of the piece; focusing on trying to keep my toes out of the shot, or stop Astrid's strings tangling on the suitcase, it was the beautiful sounds of Johns guitar, Tom's violin and Christine's cello that would bring me back into the moment. I can never thank you guys enough for giving me the chance to play with your song. It has been an incredible journey!  

I can not wait to see the final product... it is now out of my hands. I know that it will be something we can all be incredibly proud of.


And now, post production begins. For updates on this projects progress, you can follow me on Twitter or like my Facebook page (see links on the navigation bar to your left). Ted also took some amazing photo's throughout the day which I will post up very soon. See the gallery for a few more beautiful stills by Shaun.

I will be performing Astrid's show live this Saturday night at "The Clown and Puppetry Sessions" in Hughesdale. Book tickets here:


For more about Balloon Tree Productions visit:

For more about Ted Adair visit:

For more about Shaun Herbertson visit:

For more about Stems visit:

For more about Astrid's Journey you can read the following blog posts from my archive:

Marionette Carving at LSP

Astrid's Journey

Living Room Theatre


Peace out Puppet People!!