Video Chats: Lance Drake and Mindy Kelly on "The Future" by Five Knives
Posted by Doug Klinger on December 2, 2013 in Interviews
Last month, director Lance Drake and Five Knives introduced us to the most badass kid of all time through their music video for "The Future." The 4'11" ass-kicker goes by the name of Dallas Liu and is described by stunt coordinator Mindy Kelly as the future of "tricking," a extreme form of martial arts that Mindy herself helped pioneer. From the start of the high-energy video, Dallas is literally flying around kicking dudes in the head and face, taking them out one by one. With the combination of Lance’s story/vision, Mindy’s choreography, Dallas’s badassery, and some BEMO effects to boot, the video feels like a cross between a live action video game and Anime film all balled into three minutes. We talked to Lance and Mindy about working together on the video, coordinating the stunts, working with BEMO, and casting Dallas as the lead.
Doug: The first thing I've got to ask is where you found the kid. He's amazing. How many kids did you audition for that part before you found him?
Mindy: After reading Lance's treatment, a couple of young men living in the Los Angeles area immediately came to mind. Dallas Liu was at the top of that list. Dallas has been competing in an international karate circuit that I used to compete in and still keep an eye on. He's also the future of a martial arts movement called "tricking" that I helped pioneer in its first generation.
Lance: We saw a couple talented kids that Mindy and Sarah brought in, but it was a no brainer that Dallas was an unbelievable talent. I still remember when he walked in with these two huge katanas and did a routine in Doomsday’s old tiny conference room. He was so quick our casting camera man could barely keep up with him.
Doug: How much time did you have with the actors to choreograph the stunts and action of the video?
Mindy: You usually don't have much time on music video productions. The budgets just don't permit it and things come together very quickly. It's a couple of long, intense days by the time I come on board. I came up with the choreography on a Wednesday night with stuntmen Damien Bray, Marc Canonizado, and Vincent Clemmons. We had Dallas come in Friday afternoon after he was finished with school. He learned the fight choreography that night and then filmed Saturday and Sunday. In most big action films the actors/stunt performers have months to learn and map out choreography. Dallas and the stuntmen were able to learn and perform all the choreography in one evening. I was absolutely blown away by Dallas. I was so excited to finally have a chance to work martial-arts tricking into my choreography. Because I am almost as small as Dallas I was able to think of the choreography practically and it was so fun to create ways to take these guys down and make it visually interesting. Damien, Marc, and Vincent were our only stuntmen. Every time you see one of the masked villains on screen it is one of those three guys. It was such an interesting challenge for me and especially for Lance. We wanted the illusion of there being endless bad guys. Lance really pulled it off.
Doug: How closely do the director and stunt coordinator work together on a project like this? Do you guys work on your own and then bring your ideas together, or is it pretty collaborative the whole time?
Mindy: Lance knew exactly what he wanted and the treatment was very precise. He also trusted me to create something new. I worked out ideas that he gave me. I sent him previs that I filmed on my iPhone. He cleared what he liked and would tell me what he didn't like. I would often present Lance with a skeleton and he would put the meat on the bones and make it really come to life. Lance was there for the Friday rehearsals and was with the team working out ideas. Lance is a dream to work with.
Lance: I think I was specific enough, but at the time I didn’t know all the language of fighting. Mindy taught me so much along the way! I knew there needed to be a progression to the fighting, I didn’t want the first scene to be the strongest, wanted to keep our cards tight and slowly let the viewer see Dallas’ abilities. More than anything I wanted us to be able to cover as much of the fighting in long takes because I didn’t want this video to be fast cutting. I wanted the viewer to understand there were no tricks with this kid, its all him.
Doug: While shooting the video, are both of you guys giving stage directions to the actors?
Mindy: I would set up the blocking for the action and Lance would come in and work with Dallas on his performance/intensity. I must say the stunt performers killed it. They had zero visibility in those masks and were still able to perform and execute difficult fight action blind. Truly amazing!
Lance: For the first few shots I was directing Dallas in a manner that I would typically direct a kid, using imaginative thinking and making it feel a bit like a game. But it became clear quite quickly that Dallas wasn’t a kid. He has been training for years and all I really needed to do was be very specific about the actions of the scenes. He didn't need me to over explain. I felt like a sensei. When it came to the fight scenes I think Mindy and I found a rhythm where it was better for me to communicate to Mindy what we needed and she could direct him. Instead of the kid getting notes and direction from several people in the chaos of the set. The real heroes of the project were Damien Bray, Marc Canonizado and Vincent Clemmons who played the militant school monitors. To take a beating over and over from a 4’11 kid with very limited visibility must have been terrifying.
Doug: This video at times seems like a live action anime film or video game, was there anything specific that the visuals and characters were inspired by?
Lance: The inspiration for this video was originally based off the iconic masks that the band wear live. Their hooded mirrored masks reminded me of a Maya Deren short Meshes in the Afternoon and George Lucas' THX 1138 and with a title like "The Future" the video had to feel sci fi. So pulling from THX I thought of this policed world and I wanted to feature the band as the villains, which I thought was a clever spin. The song kind of sounds like a fucked up videogame / Saturday morning cartoon theme song, so that’s where I pulled the anime and martial arts influences from. The lyrics sound like a mantra sung by a choir of kids to me, which made me think of my years spent in Catholic school. The wardrobe, the badges, the hopscotch, the class portrait, and the knighting scene are all pulled from my experiences in Catholic school. School for me was kind of like being the broken gear in an assembly line. So I worked in this flashback storyline that this kid is the bad egg of the student clones. In the school portrait scene our lead in the bottom right isn’t singing the lyrics and the headmaster looks at him. In the chalkboard scene you can see our hero is writing a different Japanese character than all the other kids. All the other clones are writing, “Stay in school,” while our hero writes “Freedom.”
Doug: Lance, what kind of direction did you give BEMO for the VFX? Did you have an idea of what you wanted those to look like when you handed it over?
Lance: My dream was to have BEMO work on the video because out of any VFX artists working in videos and beyond today, his approach and style is very BEMO. He has a signature feel to all his work and I felt like this video aligned with his aesthetic. We spent a few days looking at the footage and brainstorming. We came up with a lot of really cool and creative concepts. Initially the effect work was more vibrant ANIME looking but as we started to drop in the shots, it became apparent that the effect work needed to feel darker. My favorite effect we came up with is the “Electro cube” shot at the end of the staff fight scene. You can see the light staff pulling apart the hall monitor’s face into floating cubes. As a final nice touch you can see when the kid releases the guard form the staffs polarity, the cubes fall in the foreground. Very sexy, BEMO rules.
five knives, lance drake, mindy kelly, the future, 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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