Posted by Douglas Klinger on March 4, 2013 12:35pm
Crying on cue can be difficult for even the most seasoned actors to achieve. However, when using the right techniques, even nonprofessional actors can pull off a convincing on camera cry. In the June Zandona-directed â€śLapsarian," Lady Lazarus pulls it off pretty much the entire time she's on camera. We talked to June about what techniques they used to achieve this performance, the inspiration and styling of the video, and working with perishables.
Doug: I read in the NPR release of the video that when you were approached by Lady Lazarus to do the video, she already had some reference points for you to build off of. How did that work? Did you from that point write your own treatment and submit it to her?
June: Yeah, I did. I got a good vibe of what her tastes were because of the material she sent to me. I sent her two different treatments, and she responded really strongly to the one that had the bleeding onions. Itâ€™s one of those things where you write it and youâ€™re like, â€śTheyâ€™re either going to love this or theyâ€™re going to think Iâ€™m insane.â€ť She really liked it, so that was awesome.
Doug: You mentioned that you guys were trying to avoid a traditional music video approach for this video. I wonder if you could just elaborate on what you mean by that.
June: I tend to be very narrative, so I had to go against type on this, which was a fun exercise for me. I kept the visuals abstracted instead of suggesting a narrative as to why this character is sad. Did her kids leave the nest, did her husband leave her? We left that up in the mind of Melissa, who was playing this character, but didnâ€™t allude to anything specific. Thatâ€™s what we meant by avoiding a narrative - allowing a lot of space for the viewer to interpret all of this weird imagery. It was a little bit of a gamble. Iâ€™m happy with the results, but it was a little bit challenging for me to do that and that was part of the fun of it.
Doug: So was the goal to just play with these images and this character in the video, rather than to try to tell a story?
June: Yeah, it was almost like working backwards. We started with this crying woman and you assume that sheâ€™s going through this heartbreak. You start inferring all these reasons, and then the onions were a visual get for us, so thereâ€™s a little bit of tongue-in-cheek joke there.
Doug: And sheâ€™s really crying there, right? Thatâ€™s how you guys did that?
June: Yeah, and it took us a while to get there. She was really game. Itâ€™s hard, when youâ€™re not an actor, to cry on camera and you have all these people in your kitchen. She did a really good job.
Doug: You said it took a while to get there, what was the method of getting there? Just thinking of sad things, or did you do something different?
June: My suggestion to her - and Iâ€™ve seen people do this on set to great effect - is to use music. Because she was a musician, I thought she would respond really well to that, so one of my suggestions was to pick a song. Everybody has those songs that undo you when you hear them. You relate it to a specific event in your life or they just get you there. Iâ€™ve seen actors do that a lot on set, theyâ€™ll have their little iPod in their jacket pocket, and they pop their headphones in. It allows them to cut out the noise of being on set and tune out the lights and the crew and the weirdness of the situation in general. I think music can be a really powerful tool. Being a musician herself, I think that was a quick way to bring you into a moment that is far away from where you are physically. Sometimes I suggest that. It seemed to work really well. I donâ€™t know exactly what she was thinking about, but it definitely looked great on camera. She was very game for going there and being vulnerable in that way.
Doug: Do you know what song she was listening to?
June: We didnâ€™t play that loud. The song itself that we were making a video for is intensely personal, her whole album is. Sometimes she would just sit very quietly before a take and it seemed to me that she was channeling the space she was in when she wrote the song, which is melancholic to begin with. You could see her really going there when she would sing songs. That was cool.
Doug: Sheâ€™s pretty much got these tears going in the entire video. How much time of the day was she spent just in tears?
June: We tried to keep it a really concentrated, short amount of time, because itâ€™s pretty exhausting. Iâ€™d say we were in that onion cutting part of the shoot for only two hours. For the beauty stuff where itâ€™s just close ups and stuff, we used glycerin. We had a makeup artist with tears because it was more about the look. Then with the performance stuff, that was all her. We did, I donâ€™t know, maybe six takes, different sizes, but I didnâ€™t want to burn her out. I think most of the video came from maybe two takes where the fake eyelashes were down around her chin by the end of it, just really real and intense. We mined every bit of that we could.
Doug: Another thing that would strike me as something that you would want to get in and get out and that takes too much time shooting, itâ€™s just you got a lot of food on set, like a lot of Jell-O and tons of chopped onions. You guys were even burning flowers at one point. Were those also some things that you wanted to get through swiftly? Is there a time limit on how long you can have food out on the table shooting before you have to wrap it up?
June: With the onions, my production designer Lillian Kingery and I did a little bit of research and we did some tests on just how long things could last. We used lemon juice and ran the knife under water, just so the crew could be in the room with all these onions without all of us getting pink eye or something. The onions lasted all day, amazingly, same with the Jell-O. I think the only casualty is we lost some dry ice, but it all held up pretty well. The onions were an unknown but everything lasted pretty well. It was just putting a little forethought into how to shoot things in which order and make sure we had enough time to do it right without melting everything.
Doug: About working with Lillian, your production designer - Iâ€™m curious what that process in general was like with her. Did you just give her notes and let her take control, or were you more hands on with that?
June: I just gave her images, a lot of this music video's really subconscious. It was like, â€śIâ€™m imagining a pot with tentacles in it.â€ť I was just throwing out the weirdest stuff at her and she was so receptive. We talked about the theme, like super-feminine, lots of pinks and yellows, so we exchanged a lot of reference images. She did a lot of the shopping independently and she just has really good instincts, sending photos back and forth while weâ€™re running around town. Everything came together really well. It just seemed like she was on the same page from the start. I tend to use a lot of reference images but she definitely had the creative license. I told her flowers and feminine, anything in that feeling, and then she brought a lot of jewelry and just weird stuff, like this creepy element like dead bugs and jars of eyelashes and the squid. The squid was interesting, you donâ€™t want to keep squid and milk on a stove for too long. That was a really quick set up. That was so gross.
Doug: Was it a surprise for you, the stuff that she was bringing? Did you expect Jell-O with animal bones in it, or was that something that was that a surprise?
June: It was half and half. I told her I really wanted a scene where there is hair in the sink, because thereâ€™s something very loaded about that imagery of a woman cutting her hair. It tends to be something that women do in time of mourning, or distress, or during a break up. With the Jell-O mold, my sister did an art project where she made these crazy Jell-O molds with different items in it, for an installation project and I really loved that. I asked her for her permission to borrow that and shoot it, but she did the bones, so it was like a meeting of the minds. I would throw out one image and she would play off that and bring something really cool to it, or pull it together in a way that made it real. Itâ€™s like describing a dream to someone, and when they recreate it for you, itâ€™s like, â€śOh yeah, that looks way better than I thought it could.â€ť