Clairity - Red Balloon
A song this elegiac and beautiful needs an equally elegiac and beautiful video to do it justice.
The emotional core of this song suggests a romantic relationship and in hearing Claire’s voice we might automatically imagine it is one between a young woman and a somehow unpredictable and charming (perhaps older?) man who will eventually, inevitably, float away. Its tragic and bittersweet and beautiful and made even more so because the woman singing knows it.
What we’re going to do is flip that and make the story of the video about a much older man in a relationship with a younger woman. She is the red balloon that is floating away from him and despite the obviously doomed outcome, he still longs for the love/ happiness/connection they once had, even if it makes him a fool.
Also, various random things in the mansion/house he lives in are mysteriously starting to levitate, including a grand piano...
A few things to note right off the bat:
1. This whole video is in slow-motion: the ballad-like feeling of the song asks for it and it will serve to seriously heighten the mood and tone of the story. You’ve only seen about a hundred thousand examples of this but here’s a famous one:
2. All the action takes place over the course of one night: we are watching an 80 year Old Man going through the sometimes laborious process of getting ready to go to bed. He has a Nurse/Assistant (played by Claire) who helps him with this.
At the same time we see his wife, a Woman about 40 years his younger, getting ready for a night out on the town. Eventually we’ll find out that she’s going to meet a Young Man at a restaurant in what could be the early-experimental phases of an extra-marital affair. Sounds dramatic? It is. And there’s an extremely dramatic, insanely good movie that involves a story like this. Its called Magnolia and the relationship between dying TV Producer Earl Partridge (Jason Robards) and his wife (Julianne Moore) not to mention his hospice-nurse (Philip Seymour Hoffman) is not a bad model for what we’re going for:
3. Throughout the video we cut between the story as it unfolds and Claire playing and singing the song at the aforementioned grand piano. Its night and the house is beautiful and opulent and dramatically lit and this grand piano looks amazing in the big, high-ceilinged entry room where it lives and where we see Claire (in different costume than the Nurse character) performing the song.
In fact, the dark-dramatic look that runs through the video is not unlike many high-fashion spots set in luxurious, palatial estates inhabited by Charlize Theron and her friends:
This setting might tempt the audience to assume that this attractive and vivacious 40 year old Woman only agreed to marry the Old Man for his money (cha-ching, cha-ching) but we’re not going to let them get off that easy...
4. Oh yeah... I said things are levitating, right? Yeah, I did. Floating away, really. Kind of in a subtle, anti-gravity, space-magic sort of way. I have a few examples of this but how about this test shot I filmed in my Apartment:
And those other examples:
This levitating is obviously inspired by the lyrics of the song and the image of the Red Balloon. We’re going to clue the audience in on the metaphor early as we introduce the characters:
We open on the Woman in a red swimsuit walking into a bedroom past the Old Man. We guess she’s on her way back from an evening swim and she throws her towel at him as she passes, playful, maybe a little flirtatious and exciting, like the lyrics suggest:
You are something special, something frightening and challenging
but I like the suspense of never knowing what you’ll do
The Old Man watches her pass and in his face we can see the mixture of amusement and the deeper feelings of sadness...
But I am just a child [the Man’s wrinkled face]
with a little red balloon [she starts to pull off the red swimsuit as she walks]
You always float a little further from me, fading from my view [she enters the master-bath, closing the door behind her]
Its a little sexy only for the sake of making the audience feel the obvious discrepancy: He is really old and not doing so great, she is still quite young and beautiful—we can pretend that nothing is wrong here but clearly a storm is brewing...
The first two choruses focus mostly on Claire at the grand piano performing the song. We also catch our first glimpses of a few small objects mysteriously starting to float (a picture frame on the bedside table, a toothbrush in the bathroom, etc.) We still intercut between both of our main characters as well and while the story leans a little bit towards the Old Man’s point of view, we see the Woman’s side of things too. In the first chorus, after she enters the bathroom, we see her deflated look in the mirror. A bit later, we see her receiving a text message as she’s getting dressed. A close-up on the phone reads:
Another person: Do you still want to do this?
Her: I don’t know
Her: (she finishes typing) Yes
At the top of the 2nd verse we see her kiss the Old Man on the forehead routinely before walking out the front door. He watches her go and nearly becomes ill—a visceral indication of the poor state of his health and an action that reflects the lyrics:
Now everything is bittersweet, the taste of it is making me
feel sick and its embarrassing to know when to ignore
We cut to a quick pair of shots at a dimly-lit restaurant (the only other location we have apart from the mansion) at which the Woman is having dinner with a Young Man. We only glimpse him for a moment as our focus is more on the Woman and the tension between her enjoyment of the evening and the guilt/pain lurking inside.
The 2nd Chorus again focuses more on Claire’s performance but we also see the Man finally settling into bed and the Woman leaving the restaurant with her paramour (as a trash can floats off the sidewalk).
Then the magic really starts to happen...
At the bridge, over the ethereal “Ooh-Ooh-Ooh-Ooh”’s of the song, we watch the Old Man’s body begin to slowly rise from the surface of the bed. He is still sound asleep as his body begins to float out of the room and down the hallway, hovering in mid-air. We watch him float into a large empty room (perhaps the same room where Claire has been playing the piano). Then, as the last two sustained notes of the progression make us hold our breath, his body is set upright and his eyes open:
What he sees and what we see is comprised of one continuous, revolving shot. Here's a crude animation of what IT would look like from overhead (the little triangle is the camera moving around the characters):
Standing across from the Old man is the Woman. We watch as they walk towards each other, but as our view passes behind the OLD MAN and comes out the other side... we see the Young Man we briefly glimpsed in the restaurant instead of the Old Man. The shot continues to revolve around them as they come together, passing again behind the back of the WOMAN, and again, as we emerge, it is the Old Man, now locked in a desperate, loving embrace with his wife.
At the end of this shot we see the piano bench start to lift off the ground and another tight shot of Claire singing as the walls slowly sink behind her. Then we’re back to the Old Man and Woman in each others arms as they too begin to rise off the ground. This intercutting builds to the vibrant cymbal splash that marks the end of the final chorus...
And then suddenly we are watching the Woman coming home through the front door. She enters the bedroom to find the Nurse franticly trying to help the Old Man who lies on the floor beside the bed in a crumpled heap, unconscious. The Woman runs to help and the two manage to lift the Old Man back onto the bed. We still cut back and forth from the dream: the Man and Woman rising, spinning, rising off the ground—but then back to the Woman trying to revive her Husband, terrified that she might be losing him.
Over the last two notes of the song his eyes open and he sees his wife, sobbing, kneeling at his bedside, holding his hand...
And just before we cut to black we catch a glimpse of one last wide shot of Claire at the grand piano, floating just about ten feet off the ground.
MAYBE ALL THIS LEVITATION MAGIC SOUNDS COMPLICATED BUT ITS ACTUALLY A FAIRLY SIMPLE PRACTICAL EFFECT TO ACHIEVE. HERE’S ANOTHER QUICK TEST:
What really makes this concept doable on a modest/low budget is the minimal number of locations and talent that would be involved. There would be just three actors in addition to Claire and only two locations: the house and the restaurant where we briefly see the Woman on a date with the Young Man. It may be quite possible to find an estate with a dining area that could be faked as this restaurant without much trouble. Even if thats the case, surely this one location that has everything we are seeking in the decadent, lap-of-luxury mode that we want is going to demand an appropriate location fee—but this would be the only big-ticket item on the menu. The shoot could be executed in just one night with enough thoughtful pre-production, or perhaps two nights if budget allows. That’s it!