We caught up with Glasgow based video artist, Rachel Maclean to see what she’s working on…

Recently I’ve been working towards a 3-minute video for Channel 4 Random Acts. The piece was commissioned by Bold Yin, a newly formed Glasgow based production company, created by Robert Florence, Iain Connell and Joanne Daly and doing all sorts of work in and around the film, art and comedy genres.

Germs by Rachel Maclean
Here is a still of me with a ‘Miracle Mask’ facemask on. I had to direct the dialogue at a C-stand in order that I matched the correct eye-line for when the second character was composited in post.

Random Acts invite artists and filmmakers from a whole host of backgrounds to make videos which are then screened in amongst the normal Channel 4 schedule of programmes and advert breaks. In turn, unlike most previous projects I’ve worked towards, the end context for the work is not strictly within the sphere of fine art or film, as telly watchers could stumble upon the video involuntarily and without the normal preface you get in a gallery or cinema.

I decided to explore an advert style format, in anticipation of the video being screened either at the beginning or the end of a commercial break. I was keen that it might initially camouflage into the stream of ads, but then break down and slowly reveal itself to be a fraud. As a genre, commercials adhere to very specific tropes and I was eager to pick these out and play around with them. In particular I was drawn to the recurrent use of faux scientific cross-sections or magnifications of skin, hair, stomachs, toilet bowls etc. Often showing sterile looking, computer generated particles being swept in or out of the respective area, illustrating the cleansing and/or nourishing properties of a particular product. In many cases there is the implication that the comfort and safety of your personal space, either the body or the home, is secretly threatened by the habitation of destructive microscopic forces, whether they are ‘free-radicals’ in your skin or bacteria in your toilet.

Germs by Rachel Maclean
Here I am in the ‘germ’ costume, dancing to the ‘Mr Mask Multi-Task Germ Destroyer’ jingle.

Additionally, I was interested in looking at how accents and their class connotations are used as a way to communicate a particular brand identity. For example, bathroom-cleaning adverts are almost invariably voiced-over in an authoritative middle class male accent, often with a shouty, wartime British twang, as if implying that the extermination of toilet based dirt and grime is part of some larger military operation. However, the personified ‘germs in your toilet’, when vocal, are commonly Cockneys, addressing you with an aggressive or intimidating tone of voice.

After a long trawl through various adverts, new and old, I decided to create a short video that switched between a variety of commercial formats, specifically looking at perfume, facemask, yogurt and bathroom cleaner ads. I designed all the products and costumes so they would have a similar aesthetic, with brand names related to the word and function of a ‘mask’. So ‘Masque’ for the perfume, ‘Yogi-Mask’ for the yogurt, ‘Miracle Mask’ for the facemask and ‘Mr Mask’s Multi Task Germ Destroyer’ for the toilet cleaner. I then began to script, piece together a storyboard and work on costumes, part of which was produced during a short residency at the Mackintosh Gallery, called Three Points of Contact.

Germs by Rachel Maclean
Here is me preparing to vomit up a ‘Yogi-mask’ yogurt. Below is the same shot with the green-screen keyed out and the background added in.

I normally work with found audio that I mime to on camera, but in this case I was keen to explore the idea of scripting the piece then recording the audio. I worked with Kirsty Strain, a Glasgow based actress to record the vocals, which involved her performing the script in a variety of accents, from Scarlett Johansson to a ‘shouty Margaret Thatcher’. Her performance was brilliant, incredibly witty and well observed and I was amazed by her ability to switch between different voices. I also worked with Julian Corrie or Miaoux Miaoux on the audio, which was great fun. He did a brilliant job and produced an amazingly funny toilet cleaner jingle for the end section of the film.

Germs by Rachel Maclean

The video was shot entirely in a green-screen studio with me as the only actor, miming to the audio recorded with Kirsty and Julian the previous week. The 2-day shoot followed a manic and sleepless few days of costume and prop production, so I was pretty exhausted and confused. However, I just about managed to pull of an improvised dance routine in a life-size ‘germ’ costume, which was constructed using the contents of 2.5 double duvets. Consequently, the suit was so amazingly insulating that I was concerned I might pass out from heat exhaustion, so had to aim a fan into my face at intervals to cool down.

Germs by Rachel Maclean
This is a close up of me as a crowd of germs in your toilet.

David Liddell worked as Director of Photography on the shoot and did a fantastic job, the quality and subtlety of light in the shots was wonderfully effective. Producer Joanne Daly and Assistant Director James Houston also put in an amazing effort during the production, despite both being ill at the time and unfortunately landed with various glamorous jobs such as cleaning a second hand toilet and dragging a faux fur couch through a narrow doorway. James had the specialist task of creating a fake blood spray effect for a scene in the video where a giant germ attacks the main character with a cleaning product. This was achieved through the use of a weed killer spray bottle and plastic tubing, which was good fun, if not slightly nerve racking given my worry that both me and the entire green-screen could easily be inadvertently sprayed with synthetic blood. This didn’t happen, so we were safe.

Following the shoot I put together some backgrounds on Photoshop and with James’ help on the green-screen keying, composited it all together on After Effects and did the final edit and output on Premiere.

Germs by Rachel Maclean
Computer generated visualisation of the ‘Happy Bacteria’ in your gut.

It was a really fun project to work on and I’m looking forward to seeing the final video screened on Channel 4 and up on the Random Acts website soon. Keep an eye out and follow the links below if you are interested.

Update: View Rachel’s Random Acts film online here.

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‘Where I Make’ invites readers behind the scenes of artists from many disciplines to share photographs and a little insight about where they create their masterpieces. See more from the series here.