Video Chats: Bradonio on 'Level' by Zombie Nation

Posted by Doug Klinger on February 13, 2013 in Interviews

Staff Post


There are many ways to lure unsuspecting extras into your music video. For "Level" by Zombie Nation, director Bradonio turned to the old standby "sexy belly prop trick," as well as the classic "hustling people getting out of taxis move." The result is a hilarious music video with some great cast and random people on the street performances. We talked to Bradonio about the "Whaaaat" factor in music videos, proper belly prop grooming techniques, and commanding people to dance over Skype.

Doug: Does this video represent a shift into a more comedy-focused path?

Bradonio: It isn’t a shift, it is a cutting out of the excess. Even when I was kid, we were doing this type of visually quirky, stupid stuff, and that’s what I still enjoy really doing. I also just simply enjoy working and filmmaking, so when I’d get briefs for any style or genre, I’d generally say yes and go for it. It’s given me a lot of experience and got me introduced to a lot of projects, but now it’s time to focus in on what I’m most passionate about.


Photo by Raphael Gibbs

Doug: What is it about that style, the quirky humor and the offbeat style, that particularly drives you to it?

Bradonio: Just to make people smile or laugh. I don’t think it’s “hilarious” stuff, I think it’s awkward, and I think that people giggle or do more of a Beavis and Butthead laugh than a full-on, Will Ferrell, “This is hilarious” type of laugh. I love watching straight-up comedy, but the stuff I like to create is where people will just shake their head and go, “Whaaaat?” and just also walk away feeling good. When you screen this stuff, and someone shows a collection of your work, the ones where you can hear complete silence, and then all of a sudden there’s that collective giggle going on, that’s a lot of fun. There’s something really exciting about seeing people smile after seeing your work, then coming up to you afterwards shaking their heads and happily commenting on little moments from the video.

Doug: Do you think it stick more with people?

Bradonio: For me, it sticks with me more when they respond in that way. Someone that creates action films gets excited to see people sit on the edge of their seat, someone who does a socially-driven story likes that people walk away hopefully being more thoughtful and changed, and so on and so on. I think people have different purposes and different times in their life to do different things, and right now to just make people smile is the most exciting thing I could imagine doing.


Photo by Raphael Gibbs

Doug: From that, where did this particular idea build?

Bradonio: I think that a lot of directors have that journal of concepts and ideas and sketchings of half-ideas and stuff. This is one of those ones that was sitting there all lonely and looking for a home. Originally it was about a guy with a speaker in his chest, and then when Scion AV approached me to do this music video with Zombie Nation, I was trying to figure out a good idea to match the beat. I realized then that “musical body parts” would be a good solution, and that’s when the speaker idea popped back up. I moved it from the chest down to the beer belly. I thought, “Why did I ever think about a speaker in the chest? This guy should have a beer belly and the speaker should be coming out of that." That’s the concept. If you’re going to put a speaker somewhere - there are a lot of places you could put a speaker, but of one of the places that is a little more PG - the stomach is a good place to be. If I had a bigger budget it would have been a musical with a larger group of friends with this same magical body part. Or a gang. Yeah, I didn’t think about it too much because I didn’t have a huge budget, but it would have been nice to create a full gang of boombox people making their city dance. Imagine them attacking city busses and parks and retirement homes.


Doug: How did you determine how you were going to then build it? Was it always going to be primarily a practical effect?

Bradonio: I called up a few different contacts - some were completely the CG side, others on the practical side, and some were mixed - and priced them all out, looked at how we could do all these different things. In the end, I found a team that was able to do it with the limited budget that we had, and was able to do it practically. They're a duo from the Philly area named Ruby Ann Muro and Lauren Palmer. My biggest fear was if we did it with CG without the right budget, that one, it wouldn’t look good enough, and number two, that we might just hit a dead end - in the sense that you do too many shots, you’re not budgeted for it and the next thing you know, it takes months to finish and you don’t hit the deadline. In the end, knowing that we could do it practically was really great. What we did in a few choice moments was actually move the speaker in post, thanks to EP*Vision. If we had more time, we would have moved a lot more often, but I think it still works as is. I’m a very hands-on director and I like everyone to be involved on set and have a good time with it. Having the actual belly there with the speaker in it made a huge difference. When we were on the street, for example, I was hoping to try and get people involved. In the end, people came to us because they saw this guy dancing with this speaker in his belly on the street and they were like, “What are you guys doing?” And we were like, “what are YOU doing just standing there asking questions instead of getting up and dancing with this guy,” and all of a sudden they were joining in and the crew's laughing and everyone is busting a move. So again, having something to actually look at, a practical prop, was a wonderful way to get everyone involved and excited in the moment. Tracking marks on a belly don’t quite raise that same level of excitement.


Photo by Raphael Gibbs

Doug: There is this great montage of people just starring at the guy as he dances. and the jump cuts to them dancing with him hardcore. Were most of the people during that section of the video found on the street?

Bradonio: Yes, all of those people were found on the street. Once we got them lured in with the sexy belly prop, we had them run it two ways. First they would stand there and just stare blankly. Then they’d join in and dance along. From here I knew I could jump cut between the two and have some fun with the immediate change of emotions. I've worked a lot of non-actors before, and I’ve learned to not give them too much to do. I also just like deadpan type of humor. The most difficult part was them not laughing while staring at him. At one point the crew was walking down the sidewalk when we literally bumped into a guy getting out of a taxi. It was sort of awkward as it felt like we were all surrounding him and then one of us said, “We’ve been waiting for you.” And he said, “OK, what for?” So we told him and two minutes later he was dancing on a skateboard going by Boombox Man. He was great.

Doug: What about the execution of the actual speaker belly, did you try to gross people out at all, too? It’s definitely got some hair going on there.

Bradonio: If you’ve got a speaker in your belly, then I imagine that’s how it’s going to look. The conversation came up a lot, "how much do we push it really weird and gross, and how much we back off?" In the end, we just tried to keep that balance in the middle where we didn’t want it so gross that you didn’t want to see it, but not make it so clean that it didn’t look real. Right before the first take I was definitely plucking out a few hairs to lesson the gross factor. It looked like a pile of pubes lying on the ground around him. Not the prettiest of sites.


Photo by Raphael Gibbs

Doug: What was the process behind casting the lead?

Bradonio: While still searching on if we were going to do this in CG or practically, we were looking at different body types and how we could accomplish this look. In the end, with the team that’s making this, we needed a more medium build to fit into the suit in the first place, and then add the belly on top. A heavier set person wouldn’t have worked with the costume they were able to make. From there, we had a bunch of people come in for a casting, and we also did some over Skype. It was basically just dancing in the room to the music and working on the different looks and moves, followed by the dancing and the walk. Edward Rafter, Jr., the guy that is our main actor, was actually found through the team that did the belly, and we had to do the casting over Skype because he was down in Philly. I think he was a little bit weirded out in the beginning when he saw three producers with their faces in the Skype screen and big smiles on their face. “Hi Ed, nice to meet you. Now…. DANCE!” He was like, “Wait, I’m sorry, what’s going on?" Eventually I stood up and started to dance, and he stood up and started to dance, and we had a virtual dance party. “Now Ed, more hips! More belly!.” And the dance party went on and one until we developed a style of movement that fit Boombox Man. If someone would have hacked into the conversation I think they would have been quite confused, like they were looking into a very awkward Chat Roulette session - on second thought, I’m sure 99% of Chat Roulette sessions are much more awkward than this. I’m also quite certain that Ed thought this was all a practical joke on him at first.


Photo by Raphael Gibbs

Doug: What was the process with casting the disco-head lady and the rest of that crew?

Bradonio: That was always a bonus that I wanted to have happen. I thought "If there’s a Boombox Man with the speaker in his belly, what friends would he have? Probably Disco-Ball Head, Smoke Machine Ears and Light Hands, and they could party awesomely together." And since they are all very complimentary characters, all with their own very specific trait, it made sense to cast a wide variety of people.

Doug: There’s this one female, she’s an actress in the bar scene in the beginning, who’s just when she’s dancing, she is just so into it. I wish I could describe more about her so you know who I’m talking about.

Bradonio: I do know! She’s right up front, and one of the very first clips of the café dance scene, she throws her hands up in the air is like, “Yeahhhh!” It kicks off the party basically.

Doug: That's her! Was she found on the scene to or is she someone you hired?

Bradonio: Everyone in the restaurant was casted, and she was fantastic. The instructions were that when we got to the dance party moment, that everyone just really go for it. If you know how to dance, then great, dance. If you don’t, just shake your body, jump up and down, throw your newspaper up in the air, point at the belly, yell with excitement. They all did great, and she really nailed it. I could watch a whole video of people like her just happily having the time of their life.

Doug: You said you like to screen your work so you get that audible reaction from people. Is there an internet/YouTube equivalent to that? Do you look at the comments afterwards and get some joy in some of the comments that point at the humor as something they enjoyed?

Bradonio: Looking at YouTube comments is such a mixed bag. The anonymous and disconnected nature of it makes it mostly ridiculous to read into the responses too much. One person will say “That was the best video I’ve ever seen,” and the next person is like, “That’s the worst video I’ve ever seen!” and then the following will same something like “balls!” But when you find a thoughtfully positive or thoughtfully negative comment, it’s nice to soak it in. Vimeo is actually a wonderful place for that, it’s a community of people actually interested in the project so the feedback can be really nice. One of the videos I did, “Planet of the Apes Party Fun Time” - it was a passion project, a very unofficial one where we remixed the old Planet of the Apes into a new story, and it’s about Charleston Heston going to the Planet of the Apes to join a dance party, and he has shiny disco pants and glow sticks - had a comment that stuck with me from Boing Boing, “The absolute best combination of stupid and clever. I love it." That really made my day. Again though, there’s nothing like screening the work in a room with actual people there, and getting honest insight on if they are enjoying it by hearing/seeing their reactions in the moment, and then talking with them afterwards.

bradonio, level, video chats, zombie nation

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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