Video Chats: Hiro Murai on ‘Chum’ by Earl Sweatshirt
Posted by Doug Klinger on December 12, 2012 in Interviews
Whenever a music video comes out that features anyone from Odd Future, we pretty much assume that at one point or another, things on the set just broke down into chaos. We clearly have a poor perception of reality because according to Hiro Murai, director of Earl Sweatshirt’s “Chum,” it was (almost) nothing like that. We talked to Hiro about directing the video, Greece, and the energizing powers of Tyler, The Creator.
Doug: With the lyrics of this song being so personal, and with Odd Future in general being pretty video savvy, I'm curious how involved Earl was in the overall process.
Hiro: Surprisingly, not that involved. Since Odd Future videos have been directed by Tyler in the past, I was expecting a lot more involvement. They kind of left it open ended, the only thing they wanted was to keep it performance based, very straight, and on the dark side. Pretty much everything else was filled in on my end, then obviously we went back to Earl for feedback.
Doug: I've seen you describe this video as a passion project. What exactly does that mean in this case, what about this video makes it a passion project?
Hiro: This is a crass way to put it, but if I'm doing a smaller budget video, it's because I really want to make that particular project. The odds are really against you when you have no money. Even outside of me, the people I usually work with, they're taking a gigantic pay cut and are doing it to help the project out. There is definitely a sense of not just comradery, but that we're trying to make something interesting. We're not doing it just because it's a job.
Doug: What's your pitch to your crew? Do you hope they're all Earl Sweatshirt fans and will have that connection to the project? Are they more doing a favor for you? How do you convince them to work for less?
Hiro: I think it's a little bit of both. Whenever there’s a really good artist or track, it definitely helps. Like Larkin the DP, he's very aware of all the music that's out there and what tracks are getting a lot of attention. I think people who are in the know of that kind of stuff are very aware of it. With freelance, there's always this sense that, especially with music videos, that you're not always going to make your rate. Most likely, and ideally, it'll come back to you with a bigger, better job later. The pattern is that you get paid on the big stuff and then come and help us on the little things.
Doug: Do you have a type of video that you prefer to work on? Do you prefer a bigger budget video for someone like David Guetta, or do you enjoy yourself more on those passion projects?
Hiro: David Guetta was an interesting one because even though it was a big budget video, the freedom on that video was almost like a smaller video. It's hard to compare it to an LA production because we were in the middle on nowhere in Iceland. That video was it's own beast, it had a very different feel than any other production I've been on. But generally, the ones that I call passion projects I'm definitely more emotionally invested.
Doug: You mention they asked for this video to be straight forward, and based on what I've seen from Odd Future behind-the-scenes they seem to be whatever the opposite of straight forward is. Is that reflected in their off camera personality? Because Earl definitely plays it very straight in the video, was he also pretty even keeled off camera?
Hiro: It was really interesting. I didn't know much about Earl, I guess nobody knew much about Earl when the track came. With the back and forth, and listen to the song, I got the feeling that he's the smart quiet one of the group. I don't know, maybe I'm just painting him how I want to, but it's kind of the vibe I got. He's a really smart dude but also reserved in a way. When I started writing, I was very aware of the fact that even though this was coming from an Odd Future world, the dude has a distinct personality and his own voice. Even though there is a lot of absurd elements in the video, it's played very straight and understated, which I think is his vibe. Even in the performance, he's very zonked out and not trying to be Busta Rhymes. Tyler actually has a microsecond cameo in this video. It wasn't planned, he just showed up to support Earl. As soon as he got there, the tone of the set completely changed. Earl is a very low key dude, he's a funny dude but is relatively soft-spoken, but the next second I know, Tyler and his entire crew are all riding the shopping carts, and pushing each other, and start storming into the set. It was actually amazing. I think having Tyler on set on an all night shoot is the greatest energizer. It just invigorated the set in a weird way. He just starting climbing all these walls and jumping around, it was crazy.
Doug: At what point during production did Tyler show up? Were you afraid you were going to lose control of the set?
Hiro: He showed up in the first half. But, I wasn't really worried because he directs and understands how sets work. He kept fucking with Earl a little bit, though. It was funny, the dynamic between the two of them. We had a very close-up performance of Earl, and Tyler was next to the camera making faces at him. Mid-performance, Earl started yelling, "Fuck you! Fuck you!"
Doug: How did you guys technically achieve some of the effects that you used? Like Earl upside-down and the giant frogs?
Hiro: For the upside-down, we actually hung him upside-down, which I'm sure he didn't enjoy too much. I don't know if you've ever hung upside-down and tried to perform a song in front of 30 strangers, while 10-15 feet off asphalt, but it's not too comfortable, and we had to pin all of his clothes down so it wouldn’t fall off.
Doug: I haven't done any of those things.
Hiro: I haven't either, but it looked really uncomfortable, but he stuck it out. The frogs we just shot separately and then comped them in later. All the street scenes were just inserts without the frogs, and we just comped them in and matched the lighting.
Doug: I noticed on Twitter that Earl got a bit upset over the delay in the video release. As the director, do you share in those frustrations? Do you have that same anticipation of when you think a video is going to come out?
Hiro: Yeah, but at this point I have to say I'm pretty laid back about it. I feel like I used to freak out about that stuff more when I started. For people on our side of the music video thing, we have so little control once we hand it over that I'm just happy if it comes out and hasn't been reedited or changed. I totally understand his frustration, but I just sat back and watched the whole thing slightly amused.
Doug: There were two classic tweets that came from the release of this video, one from Earl that reads “Chum was directed by Hiro Murai, and delayed by The Man.” The other was from you to someone asking what the video is about, in which you responded that it's about the economic downturn of Grease. Do people frequently ask you what this video is about?
Hiro: I get that with pretty much every video I put out, even ones that I think are pretty straight forward. People are always trying to decode it on YouTube. I like people deconstructing it, but I don't like the idea that it means something very specific and that it should be concrete. My least favorite thing on the planet is when we release a video and blogs have a synopsis of what happens, because to me what happens in the video isn't really the point. It's more of a tone thing, or you should just experience it in conjunction with the music. When I see a blog that says, "Earl is floating and then there is gigantic frogs" I just think, "Well, yes, that happens in the video, but it isn't what it's about." So when people ask what it's all supposed to mean, that Tweet was basically saying, "What do you want me to say? It’s about the economic downturn in Greece.”
chum, earl sweatshirt, hiro murai, 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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