Director ZMARAKS searches for mayhem in the mundane
ZMARAKS is a British filmmaker and visual artist from Bradford who works between their home city and London.
Last year, ZMARAKS was one of five unsigned British directors to win a place on Three Minutes – Crack Magazine’s incubator scheme funding five music videos by rising talents. The scheme is produced in association with our production company Ground Work and made possible by Burberry, Shure and BFI NETWORK. The project has also received funding from the England European Regional Development Fund as part of the European Structural and Investment Funds Growth Programme 2014-2020.
ZMARAKS approaches their work without any preconceived notions around prescriptions or constraints. Inspired by artists like Three Minutes panelist Flohio, Sevdaliza and FKA twigs, they take an holistic approach to their art – creating high-concept, abstract atmospheres fuelled by sound and vision.
For their Three Minutes project, they were able to expand their vision of caustic scenes and immersive narratives by connecting with two artists with a similarly hyperreal worldview. Meet London-based oddball pop producer MISOGI and French singer/composer Oklou. On their collaboration, Bunny, the pair find a common ground on a high-impact, tears-on-the-dancefloor banger. It’s the kind of song which makes anyone with a visual imagination run wild. And they did.
Ghouls, fat cats, a Lynchian butchers and bandaged punters; Zmaraks’ knack for finding horror and fantasy in everyday scenarios is in full effect on this pint-sized blockbuster. Shot at Purpose Group‘s Tottenham creative space and working with industry-leaders like colour-grading house Company 3 and Greenkit lighting, the vision is brought to life with scale and intensity. There’s also a psychedelic whirlpool interlude captured and rendered at the Good Measure studio.
On the collaboration, MISOGI told Crack Magazine over email, “When I saw the treatment for the video I knew I had to go with it. Aliyah understood from the beginning that I wanted the juxtaposition of a creepy video and a cute song to be really prominent and they definitely delivered exactly what I wanted. I’m beyond excited about the video because it feels very much like a movie more than just a music video. Aliyah was very considerate of the fact that my on-camera performance is pretty reserved and was able to create a great video out of that. They a great collaborator.”
As this one-of-a-kind film is unleashed on the world, we speak with ZMARAKS about the concept, the prosthetics and all the wormholes.
You’ve always said you wanted to create “holistic” work that sparks full-on, sensory reactions. What was your reaction when you first heard Bunny?
It sounded very otherworldly – it had this digital realm [quality]. It’s such an upbeat but melancholic song and I was really feeling that in my life at that moment, so I really connected. And that chorus – “Tell me if I’m doing it wrong” – that’s how I felt when I was young. When you’re trying to navigate your identity and you’re seeing crazy people or things you’re meant to be angry at, it can be a really trapping moment. When I started tying down the themes I started thinking of really eccentric ways to communicate them. The song hasn’t left me for the past nine months!
And where did the actual narrative come from?
It really was a reflection of where I was at. At the time I was writing the treatment I was in Pakistan stuck with my grandma. I was watching anime and kept thinking there had to be a way of bringing that in. I started thinking about the Manga series Tokyo Ghoul, it’s got this element of “human vs. monster” which I wanted to communicate. I wanted to bring forward some really beautiful, non-binary, ethereal characters showing this energetic confidence – we have MISOGI playing a character similar to Ken Kaneki [from Tokyo Ghoul]. I wanted to reflect the song but also stay true to what was in my head at the time.
Are you interested in how themes of fluidity and non-binary identity can exist in sci-fi and fantasy?
My way of communicating – whether it’s identity politics or heavy meanings – is not to do it in a pointed way. I feel like it’s already so numbing, there’s so much going on already. Taking into account the pandemic and the mundanity of life, I wanted to make a video that could actually provide a safe space for people to experience joy.
© Henry Russell
Beyond Tokyo Ghoul, were there other references you had in mind?
A lot of it really just came from my brain – the references I pulled out were to help the team. I wasn’t allowed outside much as a kid so I really used to daydream. But when I look at he video now I see some elements of David Lynch with the crazy cafe that is real but also not. There’s also Requiem for a Dream – I kind of had that vibe.
The makeup and styling is incredible. What was that process like?
I really wanted to access the anime world but also pay tribute to a lot of DIY fashion cultures which exist in London. It’s funny – when I look at the outfits I’m like, ‘Oh my God, that’s just a Pxssy Palace catwalk!’ If you go to a queer night you’re gonna see someone looking wavy and almost unhuman, but real. I felt like I needed to attribute this element of ghoulishness… but then make it sexy.
How was the challenge of imbuing a personality into the mask?
The mask is a big reference to Tokyo Ghoul – Ken Kaneki has a ghoul mask to hide his identity. I wanted to work out how cover the eyes without it obstructing the performance. But in some ways it really helped. MISOGI has quite a reserved personality and I think it helped him get into this isolated world. He reflected the character really well.
What were your conversations with MISOGI like?
Really free! He literally let me do whatever. It wasn’t like he wasn’t saying anything but he was happy for me to do whatever I wanted. That is the dream for a director!
Tell us about the 3D section…
I don’t like to do things the straightforward way! The 3D scene helps emphasise the alienness of it. I liked the element of a breakdown occurring – in order to be free, the world has to break away. That’s been a theme in my life, hitting rock bottom in order to feel grounded. I wanted to translate that through someone getting sucked up into a wormhole as the world is breaking away from them. I feel like this vortex was so cool! I’d played with 3D scans before but seeing it get done to such a professional standard using the Good Measure studio was amazing.
And what about casting? How did you pick your stars?
For me, casting is always about representation. Even with the team, it’s so important. I even think I put “QTPOC” on the treatment – it’s really important when casting people of colour that you have a team who know how to work with them.
The track has a nice blend of futuristic, alien production and very human-sounding lyrics. Was that something you wanted to reflect in the video?
Definitely! That’s what I think is so sick about what MISOGI has done. It’s almost contrapuntal – an innocent sounding voice with this really obstructive production. It’s a clash. I took me to this theme of belonging so then I had think, ‘Right, how can I make this crazy?’ My way of working is trying to create something nobody’s ever seen. The sonics really helped with that.
How has the Three Minutes scheme helped you as a director?
It’s been such a catalyst for my career. This is literally my second video! It would never have happened if it wasn’t for Three Minutes. I have major imposter syndrome and this process has really established my confidence. It’s shown me that I’m worth it. There’s so much to say. To have learned so much in such a short amount of time – I can’t even put it into words. It’s been sick.