Doug Klinger of IMVDB, aka the Internet Music Video Database, lives in the future, but also in the past, Last week he’s asked me to do a director’s commentary for the Atmosphere music video, and, after about half a dozen false starts, I managed to get one through. I think we will be doing more of these for the past videos.
I pulled a muscle in my neck this morning, so I’m not having a great time typing or sitting upright right now. I’ll keep it short. The friends at Rhymesayers called me up in January, very excited about an idea. I was in the middle of a commercial project that was getting bigger by the week, and was just fantasizing about doing another music video with my friends at Scandinavia and goofing off on set. The timing was good. The guys had a very fun premise: Bonnie and Clyde with old people. They also made it clear that we won’t try to be funny or try to laugh at them, but these are folks who love what they do and love each other, and we should envy their conviction.
I’ve actually never seen Bonnie and Clyde, instead I just watched Friends of Eddie Coyle again (after Mr. Oswalt reminded me what a great film it was), as well as some older Takeshi Kitano movies, scouted a bunch of Bay locations (places I’ve shot at and loved, such as Viracocha, as well as places I’ve always wanted to shoot at, like the race track), and began re-writing the story.
I originally wanted to cast Silk E from The Coup as the lady, but there was a scheduling conflict, so I ended up going with Chinaka Hodge, based on Boots’ recommendation. She was actually younger than me, but she just looked so badass killing hipster zombies in that video, that everyone was down to change the age of the character. For the gentleman I always knew I was going to use Mr. Takahashi, my landlord who was almost going to be in the Delicate Cycle video but was cut out last minute. He’s a gunsmith who owns San Francisco’s last and only gun shop, and he’s had a crazy life. I know he’d be good in the role, despite minimal acting experience, hard of hearing, and lack of confidence with the English language. The pair hit it off, and here’s the video.
It was my first time handling quite a few new elements on my own as a director, but luckily the team at Scandinavia more than backed me up. I’ve got a robbery script in the works for some time now, and having done this project just makes me all the more excited to finish it.
I’ll be chatting with Doug from IMVDB about the making of this video, so check back in the coming weeks!
It’s been a fun year so far, though most of my works have yet to find their ways to the public just yet. Here is one from earlier this year that was a fun little session. Williams-Sonoma asked Teen Sensation Eric Wolfinger to photograph their spring catalog, which happens to be named OpenKitchen, just like a certain small-but-scrappy-video-label. The music was by Tom Hagerman of DeVotchka, who has scored quite a few tracks for us over the ages.
This was a music video I had to direct twice; due to a freak drive crash on set. It was for Megan Keely’s single “Just Enough Time.”
As per usual, I was given some budgetary, spatial, and time constraints, and we figured out the concept from there. The video was a dedication to our dear friends who, for some reason, all have been through a ton this past year - in particular the very talented and ill Wolf Larsen.
This is an excerpt from a director’s statement I had to prepare for the video premiere on Paste:
It was an especially rough year for way too many people I know. Therefore when Megan sang this song a cappella for me in a car late last year, I was especially moved. Right away I told her I wanted to make a music video for it, so earlier this summer my team and I went to work. We were determined to reflect the comfort I found in the song, and sought to create a 360 degrees set that could augment (but, at the right moments, also hide) all the performance and visual tricks we set out to capture. Central to the construction was Viracocha, a store/venue/art space in San Francisco that is my second home.
We used the store as an inspiration for production designer Margaux’s exquisite, skeletal set. The folks behind the store, Jon and Charlie, offered us their time, their materials, and their labor, at no cost (and this wasn’t their first time being this kind for one of my music videos). The experience was so memorable and sweet that, when a freak technical accident forced us to re-shoot the entire video, almost everyone returned (some bringing friends) to sweat thru the re-do.
But this year is not easier than the last. I’ve known way more good folks battling illness, death, evictions and heartbreaks. In fact, even our beloved Viracocha is in danger of closing by the end of December. I am grateful to have this little video (amongst my others) to remember Viracocha by. Furthermore, I’m proud the whole Viracocha family for demonstrating, amongst other things, how to exquisitely and respectfully give misery the middle finger salute.photo by Nicola Parisi.
The immeasurably capable Eric Jacobus came to me with a very funny idea, given to him by an also very capable Clayton Barber (who, as a producer, has been championing Eric’s many efforts): a fighting man’s Groundhog’s Day. Eric flew with the idea; he was excited. I got excited too.
I ended up co-directing the picture with him, which took just four days to shoot. We ended up channeling more Buster Keaton than any Jackie Chan or Groundhog Day bits. Our job was to keep all the elements as straight as we possibly could, never once winking at the audience, nor parodying any known scenes. We went to the corners we loved, from Oakland to Emeryville to Treasure Island, knowing that if we could keep the comedy real, then we could let loose with the climatic battle no problem. Watch out for some cameos - like Boots Riley’s house, or little Jacob (and his house), whom’ve all made appearances in my previous work. Especially Jacob. That kid’s everywhere.
This was a small project that snowballed into something pretty grand, at least by our standard. We were given a couple of cool wine dudes and a couple of vineyards, and we were asked to make the most epic little video within the given means.
About a year ago, Eric Wolfinger was approached by Hoffman/Chrisman to do a video portrait for a winery. He took the usual suspects with him and they went up to Russian River Valley to grab some gorgeous harvesting shots at Michael Browne’s new project site, even sent Drew up on a helicopter. Two seasons later, I was brought in to bring the footage to life.
Over a few very intense sessions involving multiple parties, we decided to do a mix between a very simple story, with very laborious methods to get the most beautiful shots. The result is a grape farmer’s drive to work that spanned over 8 months and nearly four seasons to shoot and edit.
I’m gearing up for my month-long cookbook shoot with author and chef Cathy Erway next month, trekking cross country then across the globe to finish her book on the food of Taiwan. Here’s a little set I’ve thrown together of some of my favorite food shoots in the past couple of years:
Last October, I was approached by Anastasia to craft a music video for her. She told me the song was about migration, and was written as a tribute to the immigrants who’d gone through incredible hardship to uproot themselves and embrace a pretty harsh journey. I thought it’d be fun then to turn those feelings into a pulsing run, and I re-imagined her as an Amish girl on the run from bounty hunters.
We built long dolly tracks in unforgiving San Francisco rain, with a camera department led by cinematographer Drew Daniels, and lead grip Alan Cecil. The crew laid down some serious tracks in the Presidio, which was also later matched with Napa. Then we pretended the rain didn’t exist and hauled ass with the shots.
For the cast I summoned the always trusty and inspiring Eric Jacobus, who also helped me with some of the action elements; Anastasia’s boyfriend Ben, who gets to chase her with a rifle; and my old friend Terry who bares an uncanny resemblance to a very athletic Leonard Cohen. Also amongst the usual suspects were brothers Jacob and Joshua Munoz, who played a pair of wild boys. They were styled by Kat Yeh of Style Kouncil, and Candice Santaferraro, a farm girl who did fashion design in her past life.
It was a fun shoot, trying to fit an intimate song about California’s migrant workers into a story about Amish hunters and rifles.
Here it is, the second video I directed for Magic Clap. It’s a b-side video in which Cosmo Ray's texts dance with Patton Oswalt's meta charade with my frenzied editing and Margaux Rust's prop work (courtesy of Hot House Comedy).)
A few months ago my good friend and musician Boots Riley of The Coup casually mentioned to me that one such Patton Oswalt was interested in doing a remake of Magic Clap. Boots had been asked by interested parties in premiering another music video for the same song, on account of all the new fans the song has garnered, particularly in Europe and inside the US.
I wanted to be on board so badly, but I know between the two guys, they have more than enough talented and available friends, and I knew that scheduling a shoot in LA with someone as busy as Mr. Oswalt was gonna be a mountain in and of itself. But somehow Boots just kept me in the loop the whole time, and really sold Patton on the idea of having me direct this second video.
I came up with this idea while on my back for three days after pulling a muscle because I was a producer on a set and I wanted to lift something heavy to show my boys that I was one of the boys. The pain made me feel old and useless and also I was squandering two VIP passes to The Lumineers show courtesy of a very good looking and generous band member. I spent 72 hours on lotsa pills and green tea, trying to figure out a concept that would be free, quick, and non location specific. This was what I came up with (taking notes from Lasse A. Gjertsen’s “Amateur” and David Armand’s interpretive dance set to “Torn”). They got onboard quickly, I got nervous quickly, and we set off to LA to shoot this sucker.
I had never worked with a hero of mine before, and was pretty nervous, but the shoot couldn’t’ve gone smoother. We blocked out 11 hours for the shoot, but wrapped in under 4, with candy breaks and all. A lot of it had to do with my new frequent collaborator Margaux (pictured above kissing Patton on the cheek), and how she got the ball rolling by being so easy and so funny. We were in a comedy studio, and she, along with intern Richard, just went to town with the props.
After it was done, I asked Cosmo Ray to insert just a few effects shots for me. He liked my edits but hated the way I overlayed the texts, and volunteered what ended up being a whole week to correct my incompetence. Same with Jeffrey Schwinghammer, who gave up sleep to color correct all the shots.
So here’s the result! Please enjoy. It’s something that I’m very proud of, and it’s one of those rare shoots in which nothing went wrong and everyone involved jumped in and slaughtered the beast way harder than my original demands.
Click here for a little behind the scenes interview I did with IMVDB.
Back in March Eric Wolfinger asked me to follow him around for a few hours one afternoon, to capture some honey bees in action, as a part of his ongoing series for 7x7 Magazine, titled From Scratch. I showed up and it was such a nice little break from all the massive music video projects I was in the middle of. Last weekend I finally got around to editing it. I hope it zens you out the way the shoot and the edit did me.
I was brought on, semi-last minute, to direct The Uncluded’s first single from their upcoming album. The song is called “Delicate Cycle”, and the duo is comprised of old friends Aesop Rock and Kimya Dawson.
I directed it with my best friend Ben Fee, my usual DP Drew Daniels, my usual SF crew had my back, but this time we also flew up to Portland for parts of it, and recruited some new family members, and we were tasked with the challenge of dealing with a huge cast everywhere we went. More on that later. For now, here is the video:
About a year ago, Guru Khalsa and I co-produced and directed a ballet piece for a very talented dancer by name of Victoria Ananyan, who was a principal dancer at SF Ballet at the time. She’s since then done big things in Mexico and Amsterdam.
The piece was called Krounk, or Crane. As a tribute to the composition of poetry by Komitas, an Armenian priest from the last century, who’d slowly gone mad after surviving and witnessing the genocide of his people. Victoria herself is a survivor of war and famine as a child, so the works of Komitas carries a special connection. It was choreographed by Noemi Araxi, a fellow Armenian dancer and choreographer with a school in the Bay Area. The two lovely ladies, though differ age, share both extreme dedication to their work and zanily romantic outlooks on life. I was thrilled to spend the day with them.
We spent the day shooting in the dance studio with a few small lights and a skateboard dolly, then finished it during magic hour in The Presidio, with the help of Matthew Washburn (my DP for Magic Clap), who manned camera C. The idea was to have a dancer imagine herself in the wild as she put on a very private and personal performance by herself in the studio.