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This Is How Mykki Blanco Does 'Romeo & Juliet' [Behind the Scenes]

Baz, beware. Director Matt Lambert gives us an inside look at music video triumph, "High School Never Ends" (ft. Woodkid).

An explosive tale of star-crossed lovers comes to life—and shrieking death—in the new music video for Mykki Blanco's "High School Never Ends" (ft. Woodkid). Produced by Iconoclast in collaboration with The FADER and !K7, the seven-and-a-half-minute epic tells the story of two competing street gangs in the small town of Freyenstein, in Brandenburg, Germany. But way beyond Shakespeare's classic Romeo and Juliet story, the refugee crisis and violence against LGBT people set the backdrop, captured in both lush and stark tones by Control cinematographer Martin Ruhe and rising star director Matt Lambert.

"I've seen Europe change, I have seen the surface of acceptance and the novelty of my brown skin become a frown in a public square, a belligerent rant in grocery store with a cashier telling me to 'Go Back to My Own Country...'" Says Blanco, who, since 2012, has lived off and on in Europe. "This story is about outsiders, forbidden love... when the Far Left & the Far Right are willing to go to any extreme to prevail in their truth."

Simply put, Baz Luhrmann hasn't got shit on this.

Director Matt Lambert gave The Creators Project an inside look behind the scenes of "High School Never Ends," which you can check out, following the music video, below:

The Creators Project: The use of a classic like Romeo and Juliet makes your music video way stronger than any on-the-fly original narrative, but requires quite a bit more conviction to pull off. Can you talk about these considerations while developing the story and treatment for "High School Never Ends"? 

Matt Lambert: Few of my films present characters and worlds are traditionally represented on screen. However, the goal is for the narrative to resonate with a larger audience despite the specificity of it’s elements. As we packed in so many themes from race to gender to the refugee conflict to war, love and hate, I wanted to make sure we could still pull people in with some structural familiarity. 

Photos: Lukas Keuchel

​It's obviously a pretty freeform take on Shakespeare's original, though. Can you tell me a bit about other versions of the R+J story you incorporated, as well as other visual inspirations?

Most of film and photo work is about love, relationships and intimacy in general. From the beginning, we knew this would be a love story and specifically one in which our characters were holding on to a nostalgia of pure love that struggled to stay alive. We also wanted to comment on the refugee crisis in Germany that is a daily presence for us as well as the shock of so many African-American friends that come through Berlin and experience such a latent racism — one that is still very potent throughout Europe. It’s something so many people don’t really see. The story I wrote was one that aimed to take one step away from reality and into the world of fairy tale.

Visually, we wanted to split our world between fantasy and reality, and one that had one foot in the present and one in the past. We chose the town of Freyenstein as a backdrop for the story. With it’s 750 year old history that has medieval castles down the street from DDR housing projects, it was a perfect cross-section of the idealogical history of conflict of Europe. 

I worked with the acclaimed cinematographer Martin Ruhe to bring the world to life and people like my husband and producer, Jannis Birsner, our costume designer, Larissa Bechtold, and the rest of the team are all part of a film family I’ve worked closely with over the past 5 years and the visual language we’ve built with films like ‘Heile Gänsje’, ‘Alpha Dog’, ‘War’, etc. have all been building toward this piece.  

Photo: Lukas Keuchel

Basic production details, please! 

We were writing off and on for 3-4 months as Mykki and I have known we’d wanted to do something together for quite some time. Actual pre-pro was about 3 weeks. There were about 45 of us including cast on the first day and about half that on the second day of shooting. 

Photos: Lukas Keuchel

When discussing shots with Martin Ruhe, what were the conversations like? 

It was my first time working with him, but we’ve been talking about it for sometime. The biggest strength he brought the project was his feature film and narrative experience — and of course the calm head and laser focus of such a veteran definitely allows me to flex as a director. 

Photo: Lukas Keuchel

Any good casting or on-set stories you can tell us? 

Pass on this one… ;) 

Photos: Lukas Keuchel

As a director, what do you hope you brought to the project?

Every detail from script to sound mix is my concern, but I suppose the most important on projects like these is to build a team that is able to empathetically translate my vision and to create a warm and safe space for our actors bring an intimate and authentic performance to life.  

Photo: Lukas Keuchel

Photo: Lukas Keuchel

"High School Never Ends," is off Mykki Blanco's as-yet-untitled upcoming album. Click here to visit Matt Lambert's website. 

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