Video Chats: Brian C. Lehrer on 'Tribo Fuego' by TWST-1 featuring SEEK SELEKTA
Posted by Doug Klinger on February 25, 2013 in Interviews
Brian C. Lehrer’s video for “Tribo Fuego” by TWST-1 features fire dancers, dark rituals, and a dude in a loincloth who also happened to be the key grip. It’s not unusual for people to take on multiple roles on the set of a music video, but this has got to be the first instance of someone pushing a dolly while covered head to toe with white paint. We talked to Brian about finding costumes on Etsy, fire dancers, and the awesome locations featured in the video.
Doug: You usually spend most of your time producing - you’ve directed a little bit but typically you produce. How did you find yourself directing this particular video?
Brian: Actually, I always intended to direct. After getting out of school, I kind of fell into producing because I had some friends who were already directing - they wanted me to help them out, and it turned out I was a pretty decent producer. I wanted to lend a hand, get into the scene, and meet some artists. I’m very detail-oriented, and a bit of a perfectionist, so I had a knack for setting up a production and keeping all the moving pieces running smoothly. However, since I intended to eventually direct, I needed to get some work of my own out there, like this video. My friend Nate Gold, the DP who shot the video, is actually also a musical artist. He approached me to direct a video for his DJ moniker TWST-1, after we had made a little promo together.
Doug: Given your background in producing and in the film industry in general, it wasn’t much of a transition then for you into the role of a director, right?
Brian: I actually came into producing the other way around. I was always more interested in writing and cinematography. I still work as a DP from time to time – I actually just shot a Fatburger ad. I ended up producing because I wanted to work. For example, my friend came to me with the Nervo & HookNSling “Reason” video he was directing, asking me to produce - I had just done the same for Dada Life. I liked the artist and figured, “Why not?” Producing was more of a detour. Directing, writing, cinematography – that’s what comes more naturally to me. Of course, I’m still open to producing for the right projects.
Doug: Getting to the specific video, I’m curious about some of the elements that only a handful of people in the world can do. Were certain elements written around the cast members, or did you write things in like a fight with fireballs and stuff and then have to find someone to fill in those positions?
Brian: It was an interesting situation: The artist came to me wanting a video with fire dancing. He had filmed fire poi himself in the past, and wanted it to play a central role. His brother is a fire dancer featured in the video – the man in black – not to mention the percussionist on the track! Luckily I didn’t have to go out and find fire dancers myself! His brother had a bunch of similarly-skilled friends, and they filled in those roles. In my treatment, I constructed the mythological setting, the battle sequence, and the story around the fire elements - that was the original inspiration for it. I kept having this vision of a man with dreads running in a forest with a torch, carrying a message, and dying upon reaching his destination - drawn from Greek myth.
Doug: As far as the rest of the cast members, many of them have a really unique look. Where did you find them?
Brian: The guy with dreads is an old film school friend, Donato. He was actually the key grip as well - so if you can imagine, he was in full costume pushing the dolly in a loincloth. It was pretty awesome.
Doug: So that’s not his typical clothes?
Brian: No, no! He does have dreads, though. The girl is a friend of mine named Xian, a professional model/actress I met doing some fashion work. She just agreed to sign on as a personal favor. She’s really blowing up now actually – and she’s an absolute trooper on set.
Doug: Did you draw any influence from anywhere as far as the style of the video and how you styled each of the characters?
Brian: In general, the aesthetics came from a bunch of places. I’ve definitely been watching and reading a lot of Game of Thrones, and I knew I wanted to do something fantastical and far-removed from reality. I decided that fire dancing in real life was impressive in person, but somewhat bland on film. People shoot that all the time at Burning Man, etc. A bunch of guys in normal clothes doing fire poi didn’t do much for me. So I set them in a fantasy world, drawn from several sources. I tried to weave in a subliminal element of “culture clash” – drawing from ancient conflicts between the Spanish and the Mayans; and the Romans and the British/German tribes. TWST1 and I collaborated on fleshing out the story. In terms of each character’s look, I actually drew sketches of all the costumes and sent them to my amazing costume designer, Artemis, who is a godsend with tons of experience. She brought my little lame cartoons to life.
Doug: Did you just hand those drawings off to her and let her take it from there or are you more involved in that with her?
Brian: I gave her my drawings and references, and was so nervous I kept bugging her about them. She just assured me that it would be OK and would send me pictures of the items she was considering, and I would tell her how I felt about them. You’d be amazed what people put up for sale on Etsy! I did hit up the costume house with her once – we have an awesome picture of her body sticking out of a giant bear head.
Doug: As far as the overall narrative of the video, there’s definitely some graphic, heavier scenes in there. Were you looking to push it a little bit in that sense, or did those elements come naturally just through the writing of the treatment?
Brian: In terms of visual style, yes - I definitely wanted it to have a semi comic book graphic feel, in regards to the compositions and the color palette. In terms of the content, in retrospect, I actually wished I’d pushed it further – gone edgier - but I wasn’t consciously even working in that direction during conception. It was an abstract story I came up with, and the “graphic” nature of the content, if anything, just flowed from the treatment I wrote.
Doug: Do you have anything specifically in mind that you have done that would have been edgier?
Brian: I guess more violence and, I don’t know - nudity? (laughs)
Doug: Where did you shoot this video? You said that it was a low budget video, and I hear that pretty regularly, but this one truly doesn’t feel like it when watching it. Where did you guys find these locations?
Brian: It means a lot to hear you say that – one of my goals was to make it feel expensive. We shot the opening beach sequence in Malibu, though we got kicked out of the beach we had planned for because we didn’t have a permit. The park rangers were nice enough to direct us to a non state-run beach nearby, and that worked out really well. The interior sequence was all done on a sound stage at Culver Studios in LA, which was basically donated to us. Most of the epic, crazy locations to which I’m sure you are referring are primarily in San Francisco, in the national park around the Golden Gate Bridge. There’s a bunch of amazing structures there. We had to get a permit, but it was totally worth it.
Doug: Some of the unpermitted stuff, is that some of the ways that you were able to stretch the budget and make it seem much bigger than it was? Were there other techniques at work there as well?
Brian: Yes, though the biggest element is probably just a network of friends willing to do favors for a creative goal. Almost all the crew and cast worked for free, which is not something I like asking people to do. But everyone knew this was a passion project and had a great attitude, even on a remote freezing-cold seacliff. Friends at the Funk Factory lent me a second RED for one day as well, augmenting the one we rented. Most of the budget went to things we couldn’t get for free: The costumes and props, the one permit, and expenses like food and hotel rooms. With help from Ali, the producer, the money definitely went further than it had any right to! If the fantasy world didn’t feel complete, if any element felt too cheap or accidental, the illusion would be broken!
brian c. lehrer, seek selekta, tribo fuego, twst-1, video chats
Doug Klinger is the co-founder/content director of IMVDb and watches more music videos than anyone on earth. You can find him on twitter at @doug_klinger.
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