Doug, Adam, and Adam from Fringe Music Fix are joined by NORTON to discuss his video for "25 Bucks" by…
Posted by Doug Klinger on June 18, 2013 in Interviews
If your music video reminds viewers a TV show, it's good news if it's a show that costs $6 million an episode to create. One of the most ambitious videos of the year so far, "Reload" by Sebastian Ingrosso, Tommy Trash, and John Martin, with its dragons, action sequences, and love story, has been drawing comparisons to Game of Thrones. Despite being compared to one of the highest quality shows on TV, the crew for this video was almost shockingly small, with around 6 cast and crew members total working with director Jodeb on the project. We talked to Jodeb about making the video, shooting in Iceland and Guatemala, and thinking like a woman.
Doug: I've seen a lot of comparisons to this video and the show Game of Thrones, so I have to ask, was it an influence?
Jodeb: I actually never heard of Game of Thrones before yesterday. It’s crazy, and I feel so naive, because now that I've looked at it and read about it, I think, “Wow, what the hell, that really looks like I did a homage to it," but that isn't the case. I’m really happy that people have reactions, regardless of they're good or bad. I think every artist would agree that it’s important that people react in any way than to not react at all. If people think it looks like it, that’s it. That's my mistake to not have looked into it. Would I do it differently if I knew about Game of Thrones? I don’t think so, because I really had a strong direction with this idea. What I don’t like is it makes me look like a pop culture guy, which is not the case. I don’t watch TV and am not very aware of the latest trends. I was listening to a lot of indie rock, a lot of hard core, and metal music when I was doing the VFX on this project. I was reading a bunch of books at the same time, that were not related at all to science fiction. It’s just weird how I create sci-fi stuff, and personally I’m not that much into it.
Doug: So when it came to this idea, did you have it ready to go prior to getting the track? Or is there some influence from the track or the artist?
Jodeb: So far, I haven't made anything that was thought of in advance. I don't have a dormant project somewhere that I take out on the first occasion. I really believe in authenticity, and I think it starts with respecting the artist and the music, and the initial creative spark that comes with it. If it's majors, or alts, or whatever, I think you have to respect the core of the project. At first, I received a version that didn’t have any vocals over it. That was in February, so it’s been a long time, it’s four months for me. To me, it sounded like a badass dance track, like the ones I listened to when I was a teenager. I thought of a murder story with a lot of violence that was really deep and dramatic, a little bit in the vain of the Vincent Haycock videos, but more surrealistic, I’d say. Then, they said, “No, it’s a love song,” and I think, “What the hell, it's a love song?” I think it’s a fucking dramatic, violent-oriented song. Then they sent me the vocal version, and I was speechless. It changed the song into something really love story-oriented. At first, I was really unsure, but I finally went along with it and wrote a totally new story. I just kept some elements of it, like the volcano transition from a cold to a warm worlds. That was a really esoteric idea, and when they asked me to adapt it to a love story, I brought these characters into it. I think the video says, in an obviously abstract way, that if you love someone, or if you pretend that you love someone, take care of the person and never take them for granted. That’s the premise of the video. That’s maybe all over the place, but to me, that makes a lot of sense. I’m aware that people will just either laugh about it, or thinks too crazy when they read the treatment, but I like it. You can see how people are by their comments. It’s just some people are really first degree, and there are other people that like to push it further. It’s interesting how women analyze the music video, though. They seem to capture the esoterical aspect of it quicker than the men. Maybe I’m wrong, or maybe I think like a woman.
Doug: Do you think that the music video form encourages a variety of different interpretations of the work? You had a very specific goal in mind, but it seems that people are interpreting in lots of different of ways. Do you think that’s a result of the art form of a music video?
Jodeb: Christopher Walken said something really interesting about acting, and I think it also goes for everything that is about interpretation. He said something like, “As long as an actor knows what he's talking about, people don’t have to know what he's talking about." That’s when an actor looks right and real. I try to apply the same thing when I direct, especially these music videos. I’m really happy that people interpret it in different ways, but if I didn’t know what I was doing, people wouldn't know it either. As long as they know that there’s a strong intention behind it, I think that's where it works. Yes, I think to answer the question more directly, I think definitely a music video encourages different interpretation, because that’s what music does to us. When I listen to a track, I don’t want anybody to tell me what to imagine. I want to imagine my own stuff. A music video has to be as open as possible. I wanted people to think outside of what they’re seeing. I want them to go out and travel after watching my videos. I want them to discover the world, like I’m doing when I make them. I don’t want them to really be forced into a specific meaning. I’m happy when someone finds more.
Doug: You talk about traveling when making these. At what point do you consider location?
Jodeb: This video was shot in Iceland and Guatemala, and we had a good budget. I think usually people with such a budget would have spent the money on big lighting, a bigger crew, but I decided to go the guerrilla-style way with a bigger budget. I was convinced that the shoot had to be a strong/life-changing experience in itself for everybody in order to make good work over the long shoot. So traveling to these locations ensured me that it would look amazing, authentic, and inspiring. I was really adamant about bringing the Alexa camera with us. I really wanted to have one of my favorite directors of photography, which is Yon Thomas from LA, a very experienced and fearless individual; and I really wanted to have Courtney Davies as a producer also. The two location suggestions came from Yon and Courtney. Personally, I was down to shoot the winter part in Québec, where I live, because winter looks beautiful here, and I know the place. I was also down to shoot summer parts in Hawaii, which would have also been easier, because it was in the States, and Hawaii is a lot more production-friendly because there’s already cameras there and crews. But Yon said, “Hell no, let's go to Guatemala. I've been there. It’s a beautiful, wild country. That would make for an exciting shoot and probably, we’ll feel it in the camera." As for Iceland, Courtney felt it would be more magical and production-friendly, so she suggested that we go to Iceland. I really needed a crazy winter storm, and I really needed a tropical world, so that’s how the locations made sense. But, when we got to Iceland, it was so warm that there was pretty much no snow. It was a bit of a strange situation, as we wanted to go to Iceland to find snow! There was only on the glacier. But it was not snowing at all. So all of the falling snow you see in the shots is all done in post. CGI snow. Overall, we met fantastic new friends during this surrealistic adventure packed with unforgettable memories.
Doug: You said this project took four months, how did that time break down? How much of that was the shoot, and how much of that time was spent post-production?
Jodeb: They reached out to me in the beginning of February. Agreeing on an idea took about three weeks, because the Swedish House Mafia crew have so much going on - with shows, advertising, Disney, Cirque du Soleil, etc. - that this music video was just a little part of a whole. It’s funny, because we only had four days to prepare the shoot, because the project got green lit only few days before the first planned shoot day, which is crazy when you think about all the time we spent on the back and forth. It’s always like that for a music video, but when there’s that much money and that much logistics involved, it's even crazier. My team did an awesome job. We shot over two weeks. Nine days of shooting, which is also crazy for a music video, then I spent a month and a half in post-production.
Doug: Even though for a music video it’s huge, it’s still not very long to basically get all what you needed for the video done. It seems like despite the fact that there was a larger budget involved with this project, that didn't relieve any pressure at all. In fact, it added to it, and it just piled it into the days. Is that a fair assessment?
Jodeb: Yeah, we felt like we were shooting a $20,000 music video, but nine times. I wanted to do something wild, and I wanted as much flexibility as possible - which means to have a small but extremely efficient team. There were the two actors (Latoya Shaw and Jean-Pierre Vertus), myself, Courtney the producer, Yon the DP, and Mic Waugh, our steadicam operator. That’s an extremely small team for the ambitions we had. There were not many more people involved on the shoot, only Bui Baldvinsson and Alfred Gisla in Iceland, and GG in Guatemala. The team had to bring like 25 huge cases of gear by hemselves from LA to Reykjavik to Antigua. Just going through the airports and the check-ins was crazy, a puzzle in itself.
We all get to Iceland on the first day at 5:00 am. I've never been to Iceland. I land in this crazy beautiful country, all black, we meet our two local producers from Iceland. These two guys, Bui and Alfred, were the most adorable human beings on earth. I swear. These guys were authentic Viking heroes. I can’t explain it, but when we left Iceland, I felt tears on my face, and everybody else too I think. That was really intense. We became friends and almost brothers with them, actually.
The first day was just scouting, but it was a shock as Iceland’s landscapes are so mysterious and unique. Just to start with that was crazy. The scout really started well because we were in an amazing cave that went two kilometers underground. At any moment, there could have been an earthquake, and we would all die. Then, we scouted also some glaciers where we finally shot the monster scenes. We went to a place where there was a black ice cave, centuries-old ice mixed with volcano ashes. It’s what you see at the beginning of the video with the very first shot with the titles, that’s black ice. That is crazy, because you stand in front of that, you put some lasers into it, and it’s like it was thousands of mirrors inside that huge block of ice.
Doug: It’s a natural structure?
Jodeb: Yes, it’s a natural phenomenon that only, I think, is in Iceland and other places like that, where there's snow and volcanoes. At the very end of the video, we were at the Blue Lagoon. It’s a very touristy place in Iceland where there is geothermal water pools. We finished the Iceland trip there, in order to take some time off and celebrate with champagne in this really warm water in the middle of black volcanic rocks. It was really amazing, and all of a sudden, I have a crazy idea. I had to shoot Jean-Pierre, the actor, coming out of the hot fuming water of a volcano crater in Guatemala. But right there it looked perfect so I said, “Whoa, let's shoot it here.” But I don’t think we were allowed, so "Fuck it. I’m going to take my 5D and do it." We only had like 15 minutes before we had to leave to get the airport at that point, so everybody was freaking out, saying, “You are crazy, don’t do that." I go take my 5D, and I just shoot the scene. And I think it’s one of my favorite moment of the video.
Doug: So everything else is shot on Alexa, and then you got some scenes with the 5D that you guys snuck in? That’s sweet.
Jodeb: Yes, there’s also one where you see the water bubbling, that’s a geyser from Iceland, and you have two underwater shots that had been done in a public pool in Iceland at night. The very first shot with the black ice was shot with my 5D by myself as well. On location, I give my directions and let the actors and everybody do their thing, and then if I see something interesting and have the time, I take my 5D out and shoot stuff. I’m just hyperactive when I shoot. I use the 5D only for steady shots, like landscapes or small details. Otherwise, it feels wrong. I’m a director, but I also see myself as a digital artist, like if I was a painter but with moving images. In the end, I want the camera that will capture everything in the most organic way, and the Alexa to me does that best right now.
Doug: You spoke a bit about Iceland, what about your experience in Guatemala? What was that like?
Jodeb: Guatemala is a third world country, so there are guns everywhere. The cartel is everywhere too. We were based in Antigua, a really touristy city, and every time we got out in the city, it felt wild. But I’m probably being extreme and naive here. It’s because I never visited such a country. It was a cultural shock for me, and a good one. Guatemala was fantastic and full of risks. For instance, for the helicopter shots, there’s no helicopter that you can use for shooting in Guatemala, so we, by ourselves, removed the door of the helicopter, and rigged the camera (and a very heavy zoom) with duct tape, and all our feet where hanging out of the helicopter. It was dangerous, probably illegal, and DIY, but so much fun! We were using a half-a-million dollar camera rig, with these French lenses that almost fell off of the camera because of the vibrations. But don’t worry, we are pros.
Doug: When you say you taped it, is that literally like gaffer’s tape on the side of the helicopter that you had the camera attached to?
Jodeb: Literally, yes. Our helicopter pilot was also in not such a good physical shape. In Canada and in the States, I think you don’t have the right to fly a helicopter when you’re not in good physical and healthy conditions, but that guy could have had a heart attack at any time. On top of that, we forgot that the temperature at 25,000 feet was freezing cold. So Yon and I were almost freezing to death up there, wearing t-shirts and trying to communicate with our Spanish-only pilot, right in front of a spectacular volcanic ash eruption. All good clean fun. The day after, we were on our way to the jungles to shoot the underground rivers in Guatemala for the monster’s belly, and most of us were super drunk off excellent Guatemalan rum. You have the right to drink, not while driving, but if you’re a passenger in in a car. I was drunk, and maybe the others too (not our driver and guide obviously) and then we did an improvised stop by a cartel-owned village in the middle of nowhere, in the mountains, and then we started to shoot a scene there. Man. It was looking so perfect and beautiful, but we just arrived in this village with cows, and animals, and old people that had never seen a camera their entire lives, and then we show up with a spectacular steadicam rig and we shoot our actor, and everybody’s looking at us in the village. Then we got the impression that someone’s going to come over to us and say, “Who the hell are you?” so we got hurried back to the truck. Yes it was stupid, but so much fun again.
All the shots that happened in the belly of the monster were shot in underground rivers in Guatemala. That’s in the middle of the jungle and we even met some indigenous people living there. We brought all the expensive gear in these underground rivers, and we had to swim ourselves under rocks and put the camera into the cases and wish that no water will go into the cases, and we did push the cases underwater to get across these rocks. The DP was game enough to put the Alexa on inner tubes to use it as a dolly, on a 30-feet deep river. Again, that was very risky. Then, we went to some Mayan ruins on that same day, riding on the back of an old pickup truck though some villages and cruising the Passion River on an handcrafted Mayan boat. That's where we got some of the shots on the river. Those were all Mayan people. They were not even speaking Spanish. We were on that river and were feeling exactly like in Apocalypse Now. At another point we were on the side of a volcano, riding with horses. Guatemala felt magical. We also shot a scene in the middle of a Semana Santa procession in Antigua, in the middle of a strange religious parade - it looked and felt timeless. I felt like I was in another dimension. And we were staying in a lovely villa in Antigua. Every morning, I was on the top looking at the volcanoes around the city. It was just like a dream.
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