Video Chats: Tim Erem on ‘Down On Life’ by Elliphant

Posted by Doug Klinger on December 13, 2012 in Interviews

Staff Post

Tim Erem

Showing up drunk to your first meeting with an artist might not seem like the best way to start a working relationship. That is, unless you’re working with Elliphant, in which case she’ll just laugh at you and then things will ultimately end up great. As crazy as that sounds, that is exactly what happened to Tim Erem while directing Elliphant‘s “Down On Life” music video. We talked to Tim about the video, working with horses that are afraid of everything, and staying awake in a meeting while intoxicated. 

Doug: Was there a significant brief going into this video? Or was the concept pretty wide open?

Tim: I was sitting at the Universal office here is Sweden, I was doing another thing for them. They played this track for me and I said, "Hey, I got to do this music video." Then they said, "We already have two music videos for this EP, so we're not going to do something for this one." It basically just ended with them saying they didn't have any money for it. A couple of days later, they sent me the track and said, "Hey, let's go." So I told them to hook me up with Ellie, who is Elliphant. I actually forgot about the meeting, and the night before I was at a party that went on for way too long. At 11 o'clock in the morning I realized I had a meeting in an hour, and I'm shit faced. I'm so drunk. I took a taxi to the meeting and Elli came in and was like, "What the fuck happened to you?" I'd never met this girl, only talked to her for about 5 minutes over email. I told her the truth. She just laughed at me. I think she loves that kind of stuff, she's crazy. You could come in and look however you want. You don't have to be proper to work with Ellie, but I didn't know that. I don't remember much about the meeting. I remember that I was almost falling asleep a couple of times. I was throwing out ideas, stuff that I had thought about before, but they didn't like it at all. She said, "This does not sound good at all." I was just thinking, "What the fuck should I do?" I just came up with this idea to go to Iceland and we just melted all the ideas together into one idea. We just started to talk about everything, but I really don't know, I can't tell you much more about it.


Doug: The idea of shooting the video in Iceland came during that drunken first meeting that you had?

Tim: Most of it. I had a template when I walked out, and I thought, "Oh my God, are we going to go to Iceland with this budget?" The budget was really small because they weren't supposed to do anything for the song. I woke up and called them and tried to ask them, without really asking them, what we were talking about. I remembered everything suddenly, but we didn't talk about much. The rest came up on the way to Iceland. We had a week between the meeting and going to Iceland because the deadline was really short. I had a week to produce everything and to get all the idea. Elli and I were hanging around the whole week and just came up with ideas on the way.

Doug: Had you shot in Iceland before?

Tim: When we got to Iceland, I had seen some pictures. My DP had shot two commercials there before so he knew a lot of locations and I told him what I wanted. He showed me the locations that I wanted with pictures. Usually when you see pictures of a location they look better than they do when you get there, but when we got to Iceland, it was so beautiful. It was so strange. We wanted to shoot everything, even on the way to the locations. Ellie would say, "Can we not stop and shoot something here?" And I'd have to tell her, "we have to go to this location right now or we're not going to have time to do something else." We wanted to shoot everything. It's like five hours between locations in Iceland. We stated from one side of Iceland, stayed there overnight, went two hours to another location, then back to Reykjavík and had two nights in Reykjavík, and then for the rest we just moved around each day. It was so nice everywhere, I think I talked about Iceland for two weeks to everyone I met. They didn't care about it, but I was still talking about it.


Doug: As far as capturing that beauty, it looks like you used a helicopter for some of that shots. I'm sure you didn't have it for the whole shoot, so how do you plan how to use it?

Tim: We had the helicopter for one day. The good thing here is the DoP and the focus puller have been doing a lot of helicopter shots, it was actually my first time doing it. I talked a lot with them about what I wanted to have. Since the budget was so small, we had to do everything the first take. We couldn't go back and do anything again because of the budget. I just told him what I wanted to see and they just told me immediately what was possible and what wasn't possible with the ideas I had. We started to talk more and more about it, and on the way to the airport is when we talked about exactly what we wanted to do. I stated to draw up some stuff, which we didn't follow at all because when I jumped into the helicopter it was completely different. The camera was on the other side, and it was so windy, and I couldn't do everything I wanted to do. I basically had to improvise in the helicopter and tell the pilot what to do. Luckily we asked for the best pilot there and we got the best pilot. If we wouldn’t have gotten the best pilot I don’t think have been that good looking because the stuff we wanted to do, we only had open chance to do it. If we missed something, we ad to just continue on to the next shot.

Doug: How were you able to manage the logistics of everything? 

Tim: I actually didn't go immediately to the airport, I went to the beach where we started where the main helicopter shots are. The DoP and focus puller went to the airport and took the helicopter to the beach location where we were waiting and I was going through with the horses and the girls. Directing them and telling them what to do to see what we could do with the horses, because they were so afraid of everything. The water and everything. They didn't like to run away from the city, they wanted to run toward the city and run home.

Tim Erem

Doug: You use several animals in this videos, were they among some of the main stresses that you had to deal with? How were the animals to deal with in general?

Tim: We were lucky, we had like two extra hours with them because the helicopter rigging went over schedule. So with these two hours we just tried everything out. The guy who owns the horses, he just left them on the beach. When I came there a bit late, I asked the local producer where the guy was who owns the horses because I don't know shit about horses, and she was like, "He left!" So I stared asking, "Who can ride? I can't ride." Luckily, the local producer, who is from Iceland, knew a lot about horses. I just asked her a lot of questions of what we can do, and we just talked it through. She told me, "This horse is the crazy horse." Since one of the blonde girls from Iceland is more experienced with horses, she took the horse that was supposed to be crazy, but that one was the calmest one. It just wanted to be in front of everyone. I thought that would look strange because I wanted Ellie to be in front if someone was going to be in front. After an hour, the horse that Ellie had was really crazy, he didn't want to do anything we told him to do, so they changed horses.

Doug: How did the horses deal with the helicopter?

Tim: I finally got a call from the helicopter saying they would be there in two minutes. I went up to where they landed, jumped into the helicopter, we went up, and we couldn't see the girls. Suddenly we saw them, and I tried to talk to them because we had a radio. I told them to start running, but they weren't answering me. They didn't do anything, they just stood there, and it costs a lot to just stand there and wait for them to do something. I got upset and bit and started to scream at them, but they still didn't do anything. Suddenly, they started to run, and I really didn't understand what was going on. The horses looked so scared. I was trying to figure out if the horses were scared, or if the girls were scared. Then when we got closer to them, the horses started to run to the other side of the helicopter. We didn’t know what to do because we were on the other side of the ocean and the horses we in the middle of us starting to panic and tried to run into the water. The pilot, he's used to this kind of stuff, so he tried to do some other stuff to help. When we landed, I asked everyone, "What the fuck happened?" And they told me that Vigdis, the girl with the crazy horse who switched horses with Ellie, actually fell off her horse. The horse threw her off of it's back. They were all really scared, and they were still trying to do everything to get it done.


Doug: So the two girls in the posse behind Ellie are local girls that you cast and were more familiar with riding horses?

Tim: One of them wasn't, but the one who fell off was the most experienced off, so luckily it was her falling off. They still did it, though. I didn't understand why things looked so strange when they were riding, but since we shot everything in sow motion it looks good enough. But just one week ago, right before the video was released, I talked to Vigdis, the girl who fell off the horse, and she told me she's been home since the shoot because of falling off the horse. She said after three days of not feeling anything, it just stated to hurt a lot. She went to the hospital and something happened with her muscles, I don't remember what it was, but she has to stay home for a month.

Doug: At what point during production did she fall off the horse?

Tim: It was the day before the last day. We had one more day after the helicopter day. We planned the helicopter shoot in the middle of everything of the three-day shoot.

Tim Erem

Doug: When it comes to directing Ellie, what kind of direction are you giving her? Do you have to work with her much, or is she pretty natural in front of the camera?

Tim: She wasn't used to being in front of the camera, especially the first days of shooting The first day we shot, I just let her do her stuff and tried to direct her and see how I can get her to feel more comfortable. I think everything felt strange for her because it was her first big shoot. I'm not sure if she was nervous or didn't know what to do, but I just tried to tell her slowly what she was doing wrong. I wanted everything to looks strange, so it was hard to get the right feeling. She wanted it to looks strange as well. The main idea of this music video is we wanted to shoot all of those beautiful locations in contrast with the crises on Iceland. The economy there isn't that good. It is now, but wasn't that good. I wanted to shoot at these beautiful locations in contrast to these really ugly locations, just to fuck up everything. I wanted her to be the same. I wanted her to be in this beautiful location and I didn't want her to fit. That was hard to get out of her because she wasn't used to the camera and what I wanted her to do. She tried to dance a bit more than I wanted, then she did a bit less than I wanted. In the beginning it was really hard, but at the end everything went really good because she knew what I wanted to do. It just fell into place. I'm not sure what happened, everything just went on great after that. If you look at the music video, I heard people that they feel uncomfortable with what they are doing and they think it feels strange, and that was exactly what I was going for. If you look at my other music videos, it's basically the same thing. I try to do characters that are over the line. I always try to do something strange with everyone I direct.

Doug: Has that always been your goal?

Tim: The first video I ever directed was basically exactly what I'm doing right now. I want everyone to feel really uncomfortable. Not over the line, but almost too much of it. I think people see this differently than I do. I always want it to be strange. It shouldn't feel perfect. I don't like things that are perfect, because when it's not perfect, people start talking about it and then they remember the video. I think they remember the video if something is strange. If everything is perfect, they just forget it. For me, perfect is when everything is strange. My style is to get different reactions from people. I even showed the video to one of my editors before it was done and he told me I shouldn't have the ugly locations, and that's exactly what I want people to say. He told me to stay on the beautiful locations, but that's not what I wanted to do. I want to have those ugly locations in contrast to the beautiful ones. That how I develop stuff, if you look at all my music videos, almost all of them have a strange string there, and people react to it in different ways, but I like it. I don't care if other people like it, but I think they do.

down on life, elliphant, tim erem, 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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