Singer/Songwriter Halsey released her all-new album-film If I Can’t Have Love, I Want Power in 2021. A potpourri of Halsey’s latest album with a medieval horror aesthetic, the film is not only genre-defying but an artistic wonder that explores and challenges the nature of femininity. The album-film was directed by Colin Tilley and shot by DP Elias Talbot at a castle location in the Czech Republic. We sat down with executive producer Jamee Ranta to discuss the film and its success.
FILMMAKERS ACADEMY: Can you tell us what sparked the idea for If I Can’t Have Love, I Want Power? At what stage of the project were you brought on and was this always intended to be an album-film?
JAMEE RANTA: Luckily, we were brought on from the very beginning. It was conceptualized and written by “Ash” Halsey (Ashley Nicolette Frangipane) and it was supposed to be eight music videos. Then, her manager and I were talking – they had met up with IMAX and I also had a connection with IMAX – and he said what if we turn it into a feature film? So, the conversation eventually turned to, ‘Okay, how are we going to shoot it? Is it going to be a musical? What kind of a film is this?’ And it ended up being a feature film with her album as the soundtrack of the film. I’m really grateful for how it all turned out but it wasn’t always meant to be that way. It was supposed to be eight music videos and that’s how it was contracted.
FILMMAKERS ACADEMY: Since Halsey wrote the film, what was her inspiration? Were the eight music videos originally set in the medieval era before it was decided to adapt into a feature film? Or, was it the result of the creative process after the fact?
JAMEE RANTA: I think Halsey always wanted to do something medieval. So from day one, I was asked to start looking at location options where we could shoot in a castle. She really wanted to do something that was a period piece. She’s really into a lot of medieval art. So, I looked at castles in Croatia, Ukraine, Prague, France, and London. And we ended up shooting in Prague with my dear friend Lida Ordnungova, who I have worked with before. I just felt like their team was incredible and I was already familiar with them.
I knew that it was going to be a difficult task to achieve so I wanted to be with someone that I felt safe with. Plus, they have incredible locations and castles. So, it just seemed like a no-brainer to shoot in Prague. I was able to present all options and then convince them that Prague was the go-to location for this project.
FILMMAKERS ACADEMY: As the executive producer, what does If I Can’t Have Love, I Want Power mean to you? After the idea for it was conceptualized, what about the project directly inspired you?
JAMEE RANTA: After having a couple of conversations with Halsey, her manager, and then our director Colin Tilley, I was really interested in the styling aspect of it, from the color palette to emotive characters. It was very important for me to also make sure that the cast was very supportive of Halsey as an actress as this was her debut acting job. In addition to her being an artist, she’s an incredible filmmaker. She’s a makeup artist; she did all of her own makeup, and I’m just overwhelmingly impressed by her artistic capabilities in all types of mediums. She even painted some of the paintings in the hallway of the film herself. So, it was really, really, empowering – the work that she puts into her project – and I wanted to match that effort on her behalf.
I wanted to make sure that the cast had really strong expressions and that the wardrobe was also strong and able to support her vision and complement her beauty and expression. The goal was to try and find characters that were diverse in ethnicity, size, and age – but most importantly – have really strong facial features. So, like deep curves, crevices, jowls, brow lines, deep inset eyes, spaces between teeth – all types of things to make an incredible piece.
FILMMAKERS ACADEMY: What did you want the audience to take away from this film? It conveys themes like love, the power of women, strength, and fearlessness, while also tackling heavier subject matter and imagery that focuses on the human body and motherhood. Can you speak about the unified message that Colin, Halsey, and yourself wanted to communicate to the audience?
JAMEE RANTA: The ultimate takeaway is that you can experience feelings of pain and strife and sadness and anger and regret and loss while also experiencing love, wholeness, pureness, beauty, and an emotional experience of living in two spaces simultaneously. Especially as a woman. One of the things that we wanted to get across was how Halsey said how she wants to have a child and be a mother and do all the very feministic things that women do by nature with our bodies and how we communicate with the world. But at the same time, she is this powerhouse and has certain expectations. As both a business owner and a female who is in a very similar situation, I really resonate with that.
FILMMAKERS ACADEMY: Your team did an amazing job capturing these themes, not only in the writing but the imagery as well. Since this was the first time you did the IMAX delivery pipeline, what was it like handling a project with those technical logistics? How did you prepare with cinematographer Elias Talbot going into principal photography? Was this the first time that you had to manage something this large?
JAMEE RANTA: Yes, this was the first time that I’ve managed something on this scale. Working with IMAX was a dream. I’ve worked with them at the very beginning of my career as a camera intern on IMAX 3D Hubble, which is a space-themed film that premiered at science centers across the United States. This was kind of like a full-circle moment for me in my career – to be able to shoot on IMAX.
Even more importantly, to work with our post team and our post house, working with IMAX in the delivery formats, and learning how to deliver things internationally; and the whole process of closed captioning in multiple languages; and then also the quality control (QC) phase where we had to make sure that every frame looked incredible. That’s something we had to keep in mind from pre-production all the way through post-production, because while you might see something on a monitor as the DP or as a film director, it’s going to be blown up six stories high in an IMAX frame. So, we really needed to pay attention to detail, pay attention to exposure, pay attention to framing.
A lot of our typical formats go to the internet or go to people’s cell phones. Now, even though it goes to the internet and cell phones, we still shoot in 4k, which is great quality for those types of devices. However, when you’re shooting in IMAX, it’s a very different experience.
FILMMAKERS ACADEMY: What were some of the preparation that you did with Elias and Colin per the scope of this project? For instance, you knew you were shooting with larger camera systems.
JAMEE RANTA: We shot on the Alexa 65 and so we went to Arri for our camera tests. And then we went to the IMAX theater in Marina Del Rey, Playa Vista area, and we would review the tests. I was the subject. And we tested the lighting, we tested the different frame rates, and we tested the camera and different exposure settings. We also tested the depth of field in those environments because another thing to consider when shooting in IMAX is that the focus is hyper-sensitive. It might look like it’s in focus on the director’s monitor, but it’s going to need to be perfectly in focus for a large format in order to tell the story appropriately.
FILMMAKERS ACADEMY: What was it like shooting overseas in the Czech Republic and trying to execute such a large-scale vision?
JAMEE RANTA: This is not the first time I shot in the Czech Republic. I shot there several years prior and I am very much an international producer. I’ve shot in so many different countries and each country has its own unique set of strengths and weaknesses in terms of filmmaking and crews. I thoroughly enjoy shooting overseas because when you shoot in another country, especially a country like Prague, there’s a different structure in the way that they run their sets. And I like the variety of personalities and the variety of roles and the way in which they approach things is different than the typical union-Los-Angeles-studio-Hollywood-production-way of doing things.
However, I will say I do appreciate every country’s level of safety, and how they operate with their teams. I think that’s a universal thing that I’m realizing is that every country values its crews, and every country is extremely safe with how they go about running their sets.
FILMMAKERS ACADEMY: What were the big differences or challenges of shooting stateside versus filming abroad?
The unique thing about this experience was that the country was technically completely shut down due to COVID. You couldn’t even drive on the highways without a permit, so we had to get special access for our 20-person crew. There were only three of us filmmakers and then the rest of it was Halsey’s team, her wardrobe, makeup, behind-the-scenes, and so on. But for us, it was 20 personnel that flew from the United States over to the Czech Republic that needed very special visas and special permission just to be there. And we were able to push that through by a miracle.
Then, in addition, we were able to get our permit passes for our transportation team to permit us to and from the set. To be honest with you, the castle location that we shot at would not have been available had the country not been shut down, because its main bread and butter is tourism. And they do a lot of tours throughout the day.
FILMMAKERS ACADEMY: What were your favorite parts of shooting overseas?
Since the country was in lockdown, they were able to shut the castle down for, I think, 11 days straight. So, we were able to shoot in this castle, live and breathe there from the 11th century with priceless works of art that we were able to use and get permission and releases for. And that’s rare; very unheard of in filmmaking. So, the whole thing was a wonderful experience – equally wonderful and stressful at the same time. So that’s something to be said that ties in with the theme of the film itself.
We were put under these crazy, ridiculous circumstances with COVID and with Halsey being pregnant, and with it being below freezing at the beginning of the shoot. COVID was a challenge in and of itself with the number of cast members and horses and animals. Everyone had to go through extreme testing, quarantine, and we had to provide food, water, shelter, testing, medical assistance, warmth, and everything for people during their quarantine. So, it was quite the production.
FILMMAKERS ACADEMY: How long was principal? And was it hard getting a lot of these variables into play and off the ground? When did you shoot the project?
JAMEE RANTA: We shot this in 2021 – actually March of 2021. So, one year ago.
FILMMAKERS ACADEMY: And how many days was principal?
JAMEE RANTA: I think it was 16 days.
FILMMAKERS ACADEMY: That’s really good. Was it hard getting the ball rolling to get the production going? Or, were you surprised with how easy some of these variables came into play once you got into the Czech Republic?
JAMEE RANTA: Once we knew we had access to the Czech Republic and access to the locations, then everything kind of fell into place. So it was really nice to have, like I said, Lida and her team and all the support I knew that they’ve given me before. I was like, ‘Guys, this is going to be an intense challenge. This is not going to be easy, but I know that if we can all really plan this out and structure it accordingly, it’s going to be worth it.’ So, there was a lot of heavy planning.
We didn’t have a lot of prep time. I think we prepped the entire film in three weeks – and that accounts for the challenges of it being international with that many background [members], that specific wardrobe, COVID, and pregnancies. When you work with a pregnant woman, she can only work so many hours in the day. So, then, we had to fill up the rest of our shoot days with any sort of reaction shots and the things where Halsey’s not in the frame. We also had a body double that we would use occasionally for shots from behind, over-the-shoulder (OTS) shots, stunts, and whatnot.
FILMMAKERS ACADEMY: Our audience is mostly comprised of filmmakers who work on projects like commercials and narrative films. Can you speak about the general differences when it comes to working with record labels as opposed to studios?
JAMEE RANTA: One of the main differences for music videos is that they’re work for hire, like a commercial. That’s because it’s considered marketing for the artist and their song, so you don’t own the rights to anything. That’s the tricky part. So while it was a blessing to be able to make this film, it was not the initial intention. And it was contracted work for hires music use.
On the narrative side of things, filmmakers get points on the back end of sales, ticket sales, streams, and so on. So, there’s the difference there. And then in terms of working with music video or label side of things, they do things so quickly and rushed, whereas narrative has a lot of prep time. They’re quite rushed at their marketing processes for various reasons. A lot of times things are prepped in a very short amount of time with high expectations and with high art concepts and major artists as the star. So, it’s a bit more tricky in terms of production.
FILMMAKERS ACADEMY: What’s the difference between producing music videos versus movies?
I personally think that a lot of filmmakers will look at a music video and be like, ‘Okay, but that’s a music video. Can you do a movie?’ And it’s like, no, but can you do a music video? Because I’ve worked with A-listers who are trying to do a music video and then I’ve worked with music video teams who are trying to do narratives. There are many ways that the mediums crossover.
However, I do think they’re very different. It takes a very specific type of person to be able to pull music videos off so smoothly and successfully with minimal prep. You’ve got to have a lot of experience and a lot of connections and understand systems, structures, and logistics, as well as have problem-solving skills in order to pull off music videos seamlessly. Especially with the amount of time that they give you and then be awarded for something like that. Or, to be publicly acclaimed for something like that. And I find that there’s a lot of value in the hustle and in the grit of what it takes to do a music video versus narrative pieces.
FILMMAKERS ACADEMY: It really shows with the final product of If I Can’t Have Love, I Want Power. Especially when considering that you only had a three-week window for prep, working internationally in the Czech Republic, and all of the moving pieces that you outlined. This is very good for producers to understand, especially the newcomers.
JAMEE RANTA: And the problem-solving. When mistakes are made, own them and move forward with another option.
FILMMAKERS ACADEMY: The limited run of the film sold out in over 70 theaters around the world, breaking nearly $1 million at the box office. Did you expect this level of success and positive reception, especially during the pandemic?
JAMEE RANTA: I absolutely did not have any expectations of something like that, especially considering there was the pandemic. So, to see theaters opening worldwide and to be sold out was wild and I got the opportunity to go to Grauman’s Chinese Theatre and watch the film on the premiere, opening night. And then I got to go again a couple of days later, and I just kind of sat there. When I walked out of the theater, I listened to the crowd and the things that they were saying. I had no idea how invested her fans are – extremely invested and loyal – and to her story as an artist. They could kind of see some similarities in the film and they were putting things together and asking each other questions. That’s what filmmaking is about. It’s asking questions. How does the film affect the audience?
This piece is something very different. I don’t know if you can quite fit it into one genre. It’s a bit of a horror film. It’s kind of like a big, long music video, but no one’s singing along to it. So, it’s not a musical. It’s an hour-long, but it’s not your typical length of a feature film. And it’s definitely longer than a short film. There’s not a whole lot of dialogue. It’s mostly music-driven. So, I haven’t really seen anything quite like it or created anything quite like it before. I’m not exactly sure how to categorize it or put it into a box. But with all those things being said, to see how it affected the audience, that was my joy.
FILMMAKERS ACADEMY: That’s an incredible achievement in and of itself. I would love to know what the biggest lesson or takeaway that came from this project for you as a producer.
JAMEE RANTA: I’ve done pyrotechnics – lit things on fire – I’ve worked with animals, worked in other countries all over the world, but the one thing I never really got a hold of was the distribution element. The distribution of a film and how to distribute it and the process of how a film gets into AMC theaters for theatrical release was something new. I’ve packaged many features, worked in different states in terms of film incentive programs, and I’ve bid things out, but the distribution element is the most important part. If you make a film and no one sees it, what’s the point? So, it was really an honor to learn every intricacy of how to not only distribute a film in theaters but also distribute a film internationally in theatres in IMAX using Dolby Surround Sound, which is 12.0 mix. That experience meant everything to me.
FILMMAKERS ACADEMY: I can only imagine what the distribution process is, especially using IMAX and navigating those waters. It’s really incredible. What advice do you have for producers that are new to the craft or entering their first big project?
JAMEE RANTA: My advice would be to understand that you’re going to fail multiple times. And that how you respond to failure is going to determine your success. So, you need to have the bravery to get out there and take on projects. And when you come across a mistake, own it, learn from it, and find the solution. That’s the most important thing. I think that a good producer has the humility to own their mistakes and to move forward.
With her keen eye for innovation, Jamee Ranta produced dozens of award-winning music videos and commercial spots. Ranta is GRAMMY-nominated for her work producing Justin Bieber’s music video “Peaches.” She also manages up-and-coming bilingual pop star Nathalie Paris.
Known for her work as a music video producer with clients including Justin Bieber, Halsey, Kendrick Lamar, Bon Jovi, Cardi B, Selena Gomez, J. Balvin, Demi Lovato, and Jennifer Lopez, Ranta brings cutting-edge tools and top-of-the-line production value, maximizing the output and outreach for all her clients.
Ranta executive/produced Halsey’s full-length feature film If I Can’t Have Love, I Want Power, a genre-bending film scored by Halsey’s latest album of the same name and directed by Colin Tilley. The film premiered in IMAX theaters, selling out its limited global premiere run before becoming available on HBO Max and other major streaming platforms.