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My Underwater Brush With Midnight Oil

February 13, 2013

While going through some files recently on a long-forgotten floppy disc, I rediscovered a bunch of documents I hadn’t looked at for ages (yikes! – seventeen years to be precise!). So for something different this week, I thought I’d share with you guys     this concept I devised for a music video which almost nearly happened.

midnight oil underwater cd single

In August 1996, after achieving relative success with my previous music clips,           I was invited by legendary aussie rock band Midnight Oil to submit a proposal         for a video for their song Underwater – a single off their ninth studio album Breathe.

I was one of only three lucky music clip makers to be considered.

With a budget of $25,000, the concept I proposed was to be shot over one and           a half days. As this was to be the highest profile act I had worked with since Rick Wakeman in 1985, I was very much looking forward to this particular project. The following is an excerpt from the pitch document which accompanied my proposal.

With the Oils returning to their roots, my team and I have set about complimenting the live, raw sound of ‘Underwater’ with like-minded intent. Listening to the track, my first response (with regard to creating the visuals) was to steer well away from the slickness of overproduced high-concept and go for a more earthy, low-key approach.   I feel that to do something completely abstract would overpower what is essentially   a simple, unpretentious pop song. If people see a video and say ‘Great video – now what was that song?’, then the filmmakers have failed. It must be a cohesive assimilation of visuals and music to work successfully. To reflect the idea of the band returning to their roots, I’ve decided to use the front bar of a suburban seaside pub as the main setting. A connection between the clip, the song and the single’s cover art will be made using the deep sea fish motif. We’re planning to use state-of-the-art CGI technology to incorporate these creatures into the live action footage during the main instrumental break. These effects will be used sparingly so as not to detract from the overall low-key feel of the clip. Although we plan to shoot the clip on Digital Betacam, the finished pictures will be virtually indistinguishable from 16mm film, thanks to the talents of cinematographer Aaron Gully and the advanced post production techniques we have at our disposal. Shooting in the ‘wide screen’ format will also enhance the film look we’re after.

midnight oil

So now, here revealed for the very first time, is my long lost proposal for Underwater.



Written By Gregory Moss

August 26th, 1996

We open on a panoramic view of a tranquil sea. It is late afternoon, the sun low in     the sky. On the soundtrack we hear the waves gently lapping the sandy beach (there is no music, only natural ambient sounds). Then we see five figures emerge from the waters – each person wearing an antique deep sea diving suit (complete with port-holed brass helmets).

deep sea diver suit

It is the band.

A series of matched dissolves abbreviates their progress, as they make their way     up the beach. We notice that the group’s leader carries a small wooden sea chest.

pirate sea chest

We dissolve to a reversal shot to reveal an old-style pub overlooking the beach.

The group approaches the entrance and we cut inside to the front bar …

A few old-timers are scattered around the musty room, silently nursing their drinks. The barmaid (a spirited young woman, dressed casually in jeans and t-shirt, hair tied back) polishes glasses with a cloth behind the bar. No one seems to take much interest as the five divers enter the bar (except the barmaid, who greets them with a smile). The leader places the sea chest on the bar and his four companions remove their helmets. They reveal themselves to be Martin Rotsey, Rob Hirst, Jim Moginie and Bones Hillman.

Finally the leader removes his helmet to reveal himself to be – Peter Garrett.

As the other four band members take up their waiting instruments in the corner, Peter Garrett perches himself on a stool at the bar. The barmaid places a beer in front of him, next to the sea chest and Bones Hillman starts his slithering bass line. Garrett sips the froth of his beer then turns to face the band. He sings the opening verse. Then Rob Hirst comes in with the rest of the band (we notice that Hirst is using a 24 gallon drum as part of his kit). Garrett rises off his stool and joins the band to sing the next verse. When he gets to the lyrics “No one can make her – no one can break her down”, the barmaid comes out from behind the bar and starts wiping down tables. After a few bars of music, she realises the lyrics are referring to her, and tosses the cloth on the bar. Taking a position in front of the band, she moves sensuously to the groove. What follows is a montage of various shots of the band playing, the girl grooving and the old-timers looking on.

Just before the main instrumental break starts, the camera tracks up to the wooden sea chest on the bar. On the change, the lid suddenly flies open and a glassy fountain of water erupts in a column from inside the chest –


The shaft of water connects with the ceiling and spreads in a pool across the plaster. From inside the water column, half a dozen deep sea Anglerfish (like those on the CD cover) emerge and then swim around the room. These nightmarish creatures dart in and out amongst the band members, the dancing girl and the patrons, all in time with the music. At the end of the instrumental break, the fish re-enter the water column and it retracts back into the sea chest.

The lid slams shut.

As the song eases into the final lead out, we see each one of the old-timers mouthing (in turn), the repeated line “Underwater … overland”. This is the cue for the band to put down their instruments and for the girl to stop grooving.

Retrieving their helmets, the band put them on and leave through the exit. Peter Garrett is the last to go. He picks up the magical sea chest and follows them out.

We dissolve to outside as the five band members head back down the beach, silhouetted against the setting sun. Through a salt-encrusted window, the barmaid watches them with a wistful look on her face. A series of matched dissolves abbreviates the band’s progress as they are finally consumed once more by             the deep marine …

Taking into account that I only had three days to come up with a concept before faxing off my submission, I’m really quite pleased with the result. According to the band’s manager, Gary Morris, my concept was well received by the guys (Rob Hirst in particular took a real shine to it). Unfortunately, as the Oils where about to embark on an international tour of Australia, the US, Canada, Germany, France and the UK, they were unable to take time off to shoot the video as conceived and so they passed on my idea. The video which was ultimately produced was a combination of live concert footage mixed with stock surfing images and was created by Maurice Todman and Tim Bonython.

It can be viewed here:

I guess it goes without saying, that I was absolutely thrilled at the possibility of working with such a legendary band and was naturally disappointed when it didn’t come to pass. But having said this, I was indeed humbled to be offered the opportunity of being considered in the first place.

Greg Moss is a film school graduate with a background in directing music videos   and is currently seeking representation as a screenwriter. He likes creative people, feeding the cat and watching genre movies.

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