We couldn’t drive up the mountains by car, so the whole crew had to be ready for a day-long hike every day. It was a very exhausting, but also incredible experience.
RO-SA is filmmaking duo Katarzyna Sawicka and Adam Romanowski, who were recently commissioned to create the official music video for ‘Closer’ by Sykoya! The breathtaking video was shot in the snowy mountains of Poland, with the crew taking a huge hike each day to get to the location. We caught up with the duo to chat about their collaboration, the production and getting nominated at the Berlin Music Video Awards.
Tell us about the creation of RO/SA! How did each of you get into filmmaking, and when did you start collaborating together?
KATARZYNA: I know it’s a huge cliche, but I was very passionate about film, since I can remember. Even when I was still in high school, I was snooping around professional film sets, trying to learn everything I could. Seven years ago I started studying Editing at the Polish National Film School in Łódź, but it never stopped me from going on sets, to help and learn from my fellow students (mostly from the Cinematography Department). I even went to their classes whenever I could. Thanks to my education in film editing I’ve learned how to tell a story, and am using it now for writing treatments and scripts.
Me and Adam met 2 years ago at a party during our studies at the Polish National Film School, and we’ve decided to work together on a mockumentary, which Adam was supposed to shoot for his cinematography class. For many reasons it never worked out, but he called me up few months later with a documentary for Lari Lu, a Polish singer, who was just about to release her debut solo album at that time. So I got engaged in that project, mainly as an editor, and since we were spending a lot of time together, we quickly became friends. A year later, after a lot of vague talks about how the Polish market needs to put more focus on music videos as a promotion for not only musicians but also for filmmakers, we’ve decided to start working together as a creative duo. We want to bring something new to the table here in Poland, to remind people that music videos can (and should) be done by experienced filmmakers.
ADAM: Music was my biggest passion for around 12 years, before I got into the film industry. In between I became interested in photography, which started to take up more and more of my time. At some point I realised that it wasn’t enough for me, and after a while I’ve got into the Polish National Film School in Łódź, Direction of Photography and TV Production Department. Music was still a very important part of my life, so after gaining the basic knowledge about filmmaking, I started shooting music videos. It’s actually a really funny story, when it comes to RO/SA. I met Katarzyna at a school party, few years ago. After drinking quite a few shots of cherry vodka, an idea of working together came to our minds. We’ve collaborated on few projects, but a year later, in the second half of 2015, we thought of making it more official, and that’s how RO/SA came to life. We wanted to make something more personal, and work only with the things we like. After a while we found the brief on Genero, to write a treatment for Sykoya, and since then we’re not slowing down!
Talk us through the concept for the ‘Closer’ video.
K: It is based mostly on the lyrics for the song. A woman deeply misses someone, who was very important to her, and is not in her life anymore. I think that the snowy, cold and stark landscapes picture the loneliness, in which she’s lost. She has so much became a part of this world, that she’s almost transparent, it’s hard to find her among the huge piles of snow. Everything around her is asleep, the only thing she ‘blindly’ follows are the memories of the person she loves. The idea came to us quite easily, especially because I was going through a very similar state of mind at that time. Adam helped me develop it into a story which is visually interesting.
A: Very vivid imagery came to our minds after listening to the song. Cold, empty and minimalistic landscapes contrast the dark, shaky and out-of-focus details of a human body. We only needed to work on the story. We were really inspired by the song, so it didn’t take long. The main character of the video is an albino girl, all dressed in white, travelling through the snowy landscapes with her eyes closed. She tries to recreate the memories of her lost love – she touches the tree bark, the snow, frozen lake in search of the loved one. In the hazy, dark shots we can see her past visions. After wandering for so long, she finally opens her eyes and lets the memories fade away.
The snowy landscapes and scenery you featured are incredible. Can you tell us about where you shot the video, and what it was like working on set in that environment?
K: We’re very lucky to have magnificent landscapes in Poland – from the sunny seaside, through beautiful lakes, forests, and cities, to folksy, high mountains. We knew from the beginning that we would like to include it in the video. After careful consideration we chose to shoot in the mountains as it guaranteed at least the smallest layer of snow, which was already gone in the centre of Poland. Luckily the night before we were supposed to start filming it has started to snow, and continued for two days. When we reached the mountains, the conditions were spectacular. Unfortunately working in that environment is always hard. We stayed in the city, which is located around 30 min drive away from the mountain trails. For three days the four of us (Adam, me, Ola – our actress, and Kacper – set coordinator) woke up in the morning and hiked for around 6 to 8 hours, to get to the locations we’ve had in mind. Ola was incredibly brave through out the whole trip, and she still managed to keep a smile on her face after an exhausting day of filming.
A: Thank you! Polish mountains are so wonderful and rarely filmed, so it was obvious for us to choose them. We spent some time going through the pictures of the snowy trails to find the perfect locations. Filming in the mountains on a small budget is really different to a regular film set. We couldn’t drive up the mountains by car, so the whole crew had to be ready for a day-long hike every day. It was a very exhausting, but also incredible experience. When after a very long hike you reach such wonderful places – you just can’t compare it with anything else. The shots created themselves. We were also incredibly lucky, as it was one of the few days when it snowed in Poland this year. We experienced some funny moments as well – when our actress hiked fully dressed in her white costume, other tourists wanted to take pictures with her, they bowed and kneeled before her, calling her the Snow Queen.
You had quite a small crew for this one. Who was involved with the production?
K: Because of the budget and a very tight schedule, we had to limit the number of people working on the video. We were forced to produce it ourselves. Everything we’ve done, we managed to do only with the help of our friends. Kacper Plawgo, who took care of getting us to the locations and the set itself, is an editor, we’ve been studying together. We cannot thank him enough for what he’s done for us on the video.
A: As we mentioned before, we shot the video in the snowy mountains with tough weather conditions, so we wanted to limit our crew to make the traveling as easy as we could. We had 4 people on set, both in the mountains and in the apartment. Kacper was also incredibly helpful – he was our driver and he coordinated our work on set.
What gear did you use to shoot the video?
A: Because of the hard conditions (strong wind, snow, rain, low temperature) we’ve had to limit our equipment. We needed a small, light, and a very resistant camera. After few discussions we’ve decided to work on an old, good Canon 5D Mk III. On the first day, we had with us a big set of lenses, a tripod and a rig, but for such a long and hard hike it was too much anyway. For the next two days we only used the rig, Canon and one stabilised lens with a zoom. When it comes to the dark, hazy shots – it was still Canon, but we worked there with the free-lens technique.
The video merges such a fascinating setting with some fantasy elements. Are you always drawn to stories that are a bit surreal?
K: Not necessarily. After hearing the song for the first time, we were convinced that this style of cinematography and the setting around it would suit the music’s dark, mysterious and thick sound. We always try to visualise the sound of the track we’re making a video for. Our latest work for a Polish band BOKKA is very ‘dirty’, the camera is shaky, we zoomed almost every shot, it’s way different from the calm and slow video for Sykoya’s ‘Closer’. But it was all influenced by the punk-rock sound of the BOKKA’s track ‘Answer Me’.
A: Our main assumption while thinking of the story is for it to correlate well with the music. With ‘Closer’, the fantasy elements where a natural choice. We’re very fond of mixing reality with dreams, but it will very much depend on the music we’ll be working with.
You headed to Berlin after the Sykoya video was nominated in the Berlin Music Video Awards! What was that experience like?
K: After getting an e-mail about the nomination, we both couldn’t believe it was actually happening. We were jumping up and down on the phone with each other, almost crying out of happiness. It is our first video that we’ve fully done together as RO/SA. We are aware that we’re incredibly lucky to be noticed by this festival at the beginning of our collaboration, and to be nominated with the people we look up to. The festival itself was way different from what we’re used to. We’re both huge fans of the Camerimage Film Festival in Poland, which we attend every year, and it has set the bar very high for others. BMVA’s were way different, the festival was very low key which we loved. It was interesting to experience the Berlin artistic scene.
A: The event itself was really fantastic! It was way different from the big, pretentious film events. It was organized as a very good music festival. We had the chance to meet other music video creators from around the world, and screen our video next to the clips of Tame Impala, Beyonce or Rihanna – we’re super lucky!
What can we expect from you next?
K: I don’t even know that myself. I was sure that we had a certain way of filming, a certain ‘Scandinavian’ look we’re influenced by, but our latest work proved us otherwise. It’s interesting to discover things in yourself, which you’ve had no idea existed. I’m certain it has a lot to do with the tunes we’re working with. I’m very curious of our next projects, and of what will our future collaborators bring out in us.
A: Currently we’re working on many projects. A few days ago our music video for BOKKA released. Other than that, we’re waiting for a call from Flume and Florence Welch!
Director & Editor / KATARZYNA SAWICKA
Director of Photography & Color Grading / ADAM ROMANOWSKI
Cast / ALEKSANDRA OLBRYT / WACŁAW WARCHOŁ
Set Coordinator / KACPER PLAWGO
Camera Assistant / EWA RADZEWICZ
VFX / MATEUSZ KUKŁA
A huge thanks to Katarzyna & Adam for chatting to us! See more of their work here.