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Singing Billboards and Sydney Sweeney: Inside the Rolling Stones’ ‘Angry’ Video

Director François Rousselet explains how he had to fake signs along the Sunset Strip and search the band’s archives for the perfect lip-sync footage of Mick Jagger

The Rolling Stones music video

Courtesy of The Rolling Stones

Music video director François Rousselet had to fake nearly 40 billboards on the Sunset Strip to create the Rolling Stones’ new clip for “Angry,” the first single off their upcoming Hackney Diamonds album.

Inspired by photographer Robert Landau’s 2016 book Rock ‘n’ Roll Billboards of the Sunset Strip — which documented the proliferation of ads for rock bands in West Hollywood between the Sixties and Eighties — Rousselet sought to pay homage to the heyday of the rock billboard for the clip. He culled footage from the Stones’ archives and digitally replaced ads on the Strip’s current billboards, so vintage versions of Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, and Ron Wood could “perform” the song as actress Sydney Sweeney rocked out and rolled past them in a cherry-red Mercedes convertible. But advancing technology made things difficult.

“Unfortunately, most billboards are being replaced by digital screens,” he tells Rolling Stone on a Zoom from Paris. “There was a big, massive Barbie screen taking over a building. That’s sad because this whole beautiful era of creativity with the billboard, the way the ads stick out and were so cleverly made, is over. What you see [in the video] was what’s left; there’s about 70 of them.” Rousselet featured 109 billboards, adding 39 reshoots of the Strip’s current placards, in the “Angry” clip.

The idea for the video came from the Stones’ request to show the band progressing over the years. Rousselet drove it home with the image of Sweeney speeding through the band’s history right into the present with recent footage of Jagger, Richards, and Wood as they ramp up to release their first album of original music in 18 years. There’s imagery from the Stones’ 1981 comp, Sucking in the Seventies, their 1974 concert film, Ladies & Gentlemen, their 1982 tour, and on and on — all mixed up and all made to seem like they’re performing “Angry.”

The filmmaker previously worked with the Stones on their video for “Ride ‘Em on Down,” a blues cover from their 2016 album, Blue & Lonesome. Jagger already had an eye on him for a few years before that; when Rousselet pitched them with the idea of Kristen Stewart rocking out and driving a blue Mustang along dusty roads, he got the gig. “I knew the legacy of the Hollywood actress in their videos was important,” says Rousselet, nodding to the band’s past videos with Angelina Jolie and Patricia Arquette. “They also liked that it was about her driving around.”

This time, asked to pitch a video treatment for “Angry,” he proposed the billboard concept. “Mick said, ‘Should we have someone’s point of view? Who’s driving? Who’s watching?’” Rousselet recalls. “I explained that Robert took his photos from the sidewalk, but we’ll be driving past. And everybody was like, ‘We should put in someone’s eyes, someone driving past and give a little bit of context.’” They threw around a bunch of actresses’ names and settled on Euphoria and White Lotus star Sydney Sweeney.

Sweeney was thrilled to get cast: “I freaked out, called my family, and brought my mom,” she said last week at a press event at East London’s Hackney Empire. She added that she’s done videos before, but “nothing like this.”

With their star in place, they were in the fast lane. Rousselet began work on the clip in mid-July and finished it up only recently. He had only one day to photograph Sweeney. “Sydney was just going for it,” he says. “The original idea was just like, driving casually, watching what’s going on, pointing fingers and close-ups of her eyes reacting to billboards. It was just going to be her sitting in the back of the convertible. And during the shoot, she actually did way more than that: She’s, like, flipping around the car in three dimensions. She almost tried to be [another] member of the Stones, singing along and even playing Keith’s parts.” (Part of the reason she felt comfortable, he thinks, was because her chauffeur for the day was a stunt driver from Euphoria.)

The crew had a single police escort who helped clear the way along the busy street. Rousselet was able to hop in and out of the car to get the shots. Some bystanders recognized Sweeney and took photos, but since it’s Los Angeles, and they’re used to that sort of thing, they mostly left the production alone, allowing Rousselet to get the right shots swiftly.

The filmmaker shot the clip with 35-millimeter film, which takes more effort than digital video, even though they were in a rush. Much of the Stones’ archival footage was captured on 16-millimeter, and it wouldn’t have looked as good when paired with a digital image. Plus, he says, film won him a better picture than digital would have. “There was a beautiful sun, and the light in the sky was magical,” he says. “At night, when it was pitch black, you still get the purple sky of dusk. Only film can get that.”

The real work came later: Very quickly, Rousselet realized that fitting the archival video to the new song would be cumbersome. Artificial intelligence wouldn’t help, he says, so he and his editor started combing through past Stones lyrics in search of words or mouth shapes that resembled the lyrics in “Angry.” “We tried to find things like ‘angry’/’Angie’ or ‘pain’ for ‘windowpane’ — a word that just had the same mouth,” he says. “I think Mick was right to push us to make the sync as best possible, because that was the cool factor.

“I know it’s not 100 percent perfect, but it does the job,” he continues. “And sometimes it’s very disturbing to see a young Mick Jagger or Ronnie, Keith, and Mick singing the lyrics. As for Keith, and being a guitar fanatic, the chords are not right, but that’s the case with shooting music videos in general.”

Editing became time consuming. Rousselet was still working on it in late August, swapping shots on the billboards to get them perfectly synced and making sure they weren’t overusing images of Richards in his red shirt from Ladies & Gentlemen. They also wanted to have a mix of artwork that represented album covers, tour posters, and videos. Only two billboards display lyrics from the song — one that says “angry,” and another with Jagger’s words, “I’m still taking the pills and I’m off to Brazil” (because Rousselet liked the words so much). The band’s record label, he says, didn’t want a lyric video.

A few of the billboards say, “on tapes and records,” just like the ads in Landau’s book. He also thought ahead with some of the touches, such as putting a Stones lips-and-tongue emblem on the Mercedes in place of its usual hood ornament.

They also made it a point to include footage of late drummer Charlie Watts, even though he didn’t record the song. “The music starts with the drums,” the filmmaker says. “Mick said it was OK to have Charlie. So we have him in some of the wide shots and a couple of close-ups. We wanted to be true to everything — the visual, the lineup of the band — as well true to that record.”

Because he needed to make the clip so quickly, Rousselet says he didn’t hear much in depth from the band about the finished product — but he knows that they liked it. “At the Hackney Empire, Mick came onstage and the first thing he said was, ‘We’re going to show you the album and the premiere of the video,’” the filmmaker says. “I think in just that sentence, it means he was happy to show the video to everyone in the room.”

Sweeney’s a fan, too. “This is the biggest thing ever,” she told the room at the premiere.

From Rolling Stone US