Video Chats: Jordan Bahat on 'Teenage Daughter' by Dog is Dead
Posted by Doug Klinger on November 20, 2012 in Interviews
We all cope with life in different ways. Some people go to therapy, some take medication, while others build giant men out of golf balls to keep them company. As unusual as that last one may seem on paper (or in a blog), when placed in a music video by director Jordan Bahat, it somehow makes perfect sense. We talked to Jordan about Teenage Daughter by Dog is Dead, a video that was staff picked by Vimeo, and features the aforementioned giant golf ball man.
Doug: Pretty much every blog that talks about this video uses a quote from Rob of Dog is Dead saying that the song is about biting your lip and taking life head-on. Was that quote part of what the band asked you to create with the video?
Jordan: The funny thing with this video is I actually had no band interaction at any point. I wish I did. The brief was pretty much completely open. They just sent a couple of other videos as things that can be inspiring. I thought that quote was great, I just had not seen it until after the video was released. The brief said, "The band would like to tell the story of someone, or a group of people, doing something that is unusual in relation to their setting. For example, a firefighter in Iceland or children going to school on a zip-wire in the Himalayas. ie. Mundane, regular work in unusual circumstances, or an unusual job in regular circumstances." So, I didn't see that quote, but it seems applicable to what this video is actually about. It started with just this unusual job that becomes mundane. I wanted to make something that feels surreal, but at the same time very grounded and authentic. The Aroma Spa, which is this four-story driving range in the middle or Koreatown, came to mind at some point because it's such a strange place. It's this monolith in the center of urban LA, surrounded by high-rises, and the next thing you see is this reflected green, four-story driving range. I actually pitched it specifically to shoot there, and hopefully everything's all-good at Aroma Spa, but the fees that they wanted were prohibitive beyond belief. Like $6,000 an hour. This leads me to think that maybe they just don't want people snooping around with cameras. But, I thought of a golf course, and then the name of the song and the repeated line in the verse about teenage daughters, I knew I wanted a female lead. I took an amount of inspiration from the lyrics in a really literal way, and then just spun out on it.
Doug: What were you looking for when casting the lead actress?
Jordan: The image that I had on the wall for casting was Rinko Kikuchi in Babel. That character has a youthful edge and fineness behind whatever she's doing. When I was casting, we were looking for someone who was similar to Rinko Kikuchi, perhaps someone who didn't even speak English. What's interesting about that golf course, even the one that we actually shot at in Alhambra, it is like 98% Asian. Alhambra as an area has a heavy Chinese influence. I wanted the video to start at this course and we don't realize that it's LA until maybe people start to recognize Koreatown. Some friends of mine abroad who saw this video even asked me what country I shot this in. Koreatown is it's own district, and without sounding like the plot of Crash, that is essentially a self-imposed ghettoized, homogeneous zone that doesn't really cross over, and that was something I wanted to play with in terms of setting. That influenced the casting very much. I took a golf course and wanted to give everything around it a real sinister edge. Even the lighting is innately sinister, patches of bright green exploding out of black. Even thought we don't think of golf as this real manly thing, it obviously has this real chauvinistic history. The idea of this young girl who goes around getting objectified, and making this environment that we think of beautiful and hoity-toity, into something that feels uncomfortable and sinister. So working backwards from that, I wanted her to have a youthful look but with sensitivity. I don't know if they showed up in any of the shots, but we put a bunch of extra earrings in her ears and colored her nails neon. You know when you go to the doctor, and the nurse has a tattoo that's barely concealed, and you suddenly see it? You're in a professional environment that you only identify with their professional pedigree, and you suddenly realize the idea that they have a secret life that you have no idea about. That concept is something that we tried to subtly play with in that character.
Sketches by Alessandro Marvelli.
Doug: And about this characters secret life, I'm curious how you were able to achieve some of the aspects of it, specifically the giant man made out of golf balls. What was the process behind building that?
Jordan: We had an insanely talented art department. The production designer is a very eccentric character named Alessandro Marvelli. He's an Italian guy and his art department is all Italian and they work on a lot of off shore productions. They had tons of flair. We started just talking about what this golf ball man was going to look like, how human it would be, the idea that it would be a chicken wire cage constructed out of found elements, or discarded elements. It was all very conceptual and we had a good idea going into it. Of course budget always dictates certain things. Basically, because of our budget, we had to build the golf ball man on site. With the materials we could afford, they created a Styrofoam core to the stature, just the basic shape of the man, then they covered that in the chicken wire shell, then filled the space between with balls. Only the outer layer was golf balls and the foam core man was built on a PVC pipe frame. The first day of shooting, we shot the interior apartment and the Koreatown streets. We started off shooting around the apartment, and then shooting everything except the ball man, we were going to get to him last. They worked for hours to build it on site, we just didn't have the budget to transpo something more solid. Just before we were about to shoot it, we didn't account for the weight of the balls against the PVC pipe frame. Just as we were turning the camera to shoot the first shot, the statue collapsed. It snaps into two at the waist like a sad Peter Griffin hit in the nuts. Just folds over in half so its face is hanging into its crotch. Then it falls onto its butt and balls shoot everywhere. I'm diving to cover the camera lens so we don't get a major insurance claim. Everyone had a mini freak out, but then they rebuilt it in about 20-minutes. It was amazing what they were able to do since they had nothing to work with.
Doug: I noticed the video was staff picked by Vimeo, I'm curious how that works. Do you just sign onto Vimeo one day and see your video on the homepage, or do they email you to let you know?
Jordan: Vimeo is incredible. I've been posting all my stuff on Vimeo since I've started making things. My website is just Vimeo embeds, so they're sort of a cornerstone of the distribution of my work. I forget that they're actually just very personable people who happen to run this amazing website. I got an email from them and couldn't believe it. The day before, a Vimeo staffer liked and commented on the video, and I thought, "that's really fucking cool. That's a real human being." Then, the next day I woke up and there was an email from Vimeo that said my video had been added to their staff picks. The video went from 6 likes to 103 in an hour. It was bananas. It's really cool how they can get the word out like that.
Jordan's email from Vimeo.
Doug: Do you find that the feedback on Vimeo for the video is different than what you see on YouTube? You seem pretty excited about the Vimeo love, but the success of the video is mirrored on YouTube as well.
Jordan: Yeah, I don't think it's something I've picked up on just from this video, but there are definitely two different audiences at work between YouTube and Vimeo. Vimeo is a place for video creators, YouTube is a place for pure marketing. At least in how they interact with music videos, there is obviously a symbiotic relationship. You can make a shitty video for a great song and great artist, and it'll still have millions and millions of views. The question is, does that reflect on the quality of the video? Where as Vimeo seems to be a more accurate litmus test for the quality of purely your video work.
dog is dead, jordan bahat, teenage daughter, 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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