Video Chats: Sophia Peer on 'Young Again' by Paul Banks
Posted by Doug Klinger on October 29, 2012 in Interviews
Weve all been bullied. No matter who you are, there was a time in your childhood when you encountered a shitty kid, and that shitty kid was mean to you. As an adult, your days of being bullied are likely over, but its hard not to wish you could go back, as a smarter, faster, bigger person, and show those bullies the deal. In Young Again, directed by Sophia Peer, Paul Banks does just that. We talked to Sophia about the video, the inspiration for its tone, and how dodgeball can be a pretty messed up game.
Doug: Were elements of childhood part of a brief that came with this video, or did that idea come from you?
Sophia: I've never collaborated with the artist on an idea before and I had to find myself in it, which was fun. He came to me with a treatment, he had already written it all out. I took that and wrote one based on that and sent it back to him. There was a little back and forth. He wanted to do this idea and I wanted to help him make it as awesome as it could be.
Doug: Was the collaborative process pretty fluid? Did you guys keep from trying to change each others ideas?
Sophia: We definitely didnt want to cramp each others style. I was really interested in using an idea based on those educational films from the 70s, the kind about how drugs are bad, or how you shouldn't talk to strangers. There are really great ones out there about puberty that taught me a lot about how maxi pads used to work. They all had these vary confused children making these big decisions that they didnt understand anything about. This really confused, isolated vibe that I wanted to take and use it in his idea. The biggest change I made to his original concept was emptying it out a lot. Instead of it being a school full of and kids and teachers, and instead of him performing at a talent show in front of a huge audience, it became more empty and isolated which I think is more him and more how the song feels to me.
Paul Banks and Roberta Kirschbaum, chillin'.
Doug: So, the idea of not filling the school with teachers and kids, that was more of a stylistic choice than a budgetary constraint?
Sophia: Sure, it would have been more expensive and more time consuming to have even more kids, but I dont think it would have added to it. I think it almost would have taken away from it, to have more things happening at once when the focus is Paul being in the school. I wanted the school to feel empty, lonely, sort of surreal and sad. It was also really important to me to have the camera continually moving all dreamy like. I wanted the camera to be facing Paul, tracking backwards, so you weren't seeing what was ahead of him for a lot of the video. This unknown future kind of thing.
Doug: Humor is an element that youve explored before in your videos, was it something that you guys had planned on incorporating into the video from the beginning?
Sophia: It was definitely intended from the start to have subtly comic tones throughout. In those education films from the 70s, all the scenarios are super basic and easy to read. You know the girl walking home from school is a good, sweet girl, and that guy driving by in the car in the black turtleneck with a pinky ring is a creep, you know immediately whats happening. So for this, I wanted it to be very easy to read, in almost a comedic way. The only time that was completely funny was the game of dodgeball. Having the girl mouth that really hurt and things like that.
"I don't understand acting."
Doug: That scene is actually one of my favorite parts of the video. How did you guys do that logistically? Was Paul actually chucking dodgeballs at children? Were their reactions real?
Sophia: It was a combination of everything. That was definitely a wild part of the day. I asked the kids if anyone was OK with getting hit really hard by Paul with the ball, and there were two or three boys who raised their hands very eagerly and were excited about it. Paul only threw the ball at the kids who were OK with it. But, there was an actually game of dodgeball going on in front of us, and that game if fucked up. The shit got real. Even when they were "pretending" to play, instinctually the kids wanted to hurt each other, or were scared of each other. A few kids started crying. I was one of those kids. I always pretended to have asthma or my period for almost every gym class just to avoid that.
Doug: Is there a technique to working with kids in a chaotic scene like that?
Sophia: In that scene it was more just yelling, If you get hit, you fall! so that everything that was hitting them seemed like a bigger impact. There was just a little bit of coaching beforehand. I think when youre working with them more intimately, with only one or two kids, you can talk to them about what their mood is going to be. But in something like that, I think its best to just have them do their thing, thats when were going to get the best responses. Having the actual game happening is the best thing we could have done to get the right performances.
When you get hit, you fall.
Doug: And with a set thats full of kids, does that also mean its a set full of stage moms?
Sophia: For one, the mom just dropped the kid off and was basically like, Here you go. That was weird, I dont know if that was so awesome. Most of the parents were around, but not right near me. The producers were really great at keeping that separate. There was enough going on that it would have taken a lot more time parents were around the whole time.
Doug: So you didnt have anyone in your ear making sure their kid is getting screen time?
Sophia: I have worked with kids in the past and have definitely encountered that vibe, but I didnt this time. All the moms, and dads, and caretakers were awesome actually, because the day was long. I felt bad, the kids are working all day on a Sunday. There were a lot of, as usual, last minute changes to who does what and when and everyone was just rolling with it. I felt realty lucky with that.
An impromptu guitar lesson.
Doug: You gave us a photo you took while shooting the performance sections of the video with Paul showing one of the kids his guitar, can you give us some background on it?
Sophia: That was a highlight, and a much needed highlight that came at the perfect time. The shoot was 18 hours, and around hour 16 people were getting angry, mad, uncomfortable, and tired. We were setting up the lights for Paul to perform on the stage, and Jayden, the kid in the dinosaur costume, was just getting a guitar lesson from Paul. Suddenly, when we noticed that was happening, everyone was just like, Aw, look! Dinosaur! Guitar lesson! I think that gave us that last bit of energy to finish out the day.
Doug: How about working with Paul as an actor? Hes got to pull off this kind of aloof demeanor throughout the video, even during the performance parts. How easy was that for him to pull off?
Sophia: Paul is awesome because he is just so Paul, he is just authentically and sincerely himself. I dont know if he can be anything but who he is. Not in a bad way, in a really great, charming way. I wanted him to bring that out, to make the whole narrative unfold around him so he could be himself in it.
Doug: In your mind, how should someone feel about Paul at the end of the video? Should they be happy because he beat the people who were picking on him, or should they be a little uncomfortable with the fact that this grown man is chucking dodgeballs at little kids?
Sophia: I thought it would feel great to watch him snap out of the sleepy, zombie, dreamy mode and suddenly go at it. It seems like thats when he wakes up in the video and decides to take actions and get revenge. The kids were bullying him, and not being so nice, and taunting him. It seemed like a happy ending to me.
paul banks, sophia peer, video chats, young again
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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