Video Chats: David Wilson on ‘Mind Mischief’ by Tame Impala

Posted by Doug Klinger on February 7, 2013 in Interviews

Staff Post

David Wilson

Coming up with a music video based on the image of a butt isn’t a new thing. In fact, about 85% of rap videos from the 90s started with this very concept. Despite that, director David Wilson started with the idea of a butt and allowed it to grow into something unique and interesting in his video for “Mind Mischief” by Tame Impala. We talked to David about directing the video, collaborating with animator Thomas Ormonde, and directing a sexy video without making it pornographic.

Doug: You've mentioned before that the concept for the video originated from the guitar riff and that you envisioned a butt walking down a hallway after hearing it. In general, is that how you find yourself coming up with ideas for music videos? Is it usually based on the musical elements of the song first and building a round a single image?

David: I'd say so. All videos are very different, but I tend to find that's the strongest way into forming a concept. I don't hang on lyrics and I don't hang on titles of the song. It's always from the instrumental. I see it as a soundtrack that I can then create a filmic complement to. If I can create one strong image in my head, sometimes that's all it needs. Like head splitting in the Maccabees video - that's all I needed. Essentially, with Maccabees, it was continually having things splitting and it didn't feel like it needed any more. It felt like a challenge to put that all the way to the end. Obviously, with Tame Impala, it was one scene out of a very long video. But yeah, it started with the bum walking. Because I had spent quite a lot of time outside of the UK in the lead up to doing that treatment, I'd gone up and spent quite a bit of time in the States and in Holland and Denmark as well. It actually made me reflect on what's unique about what's on my doorsteps. You often lose perspective about what's special about the country that you live in, and what other people would fly half way around the world to get that's just on your doorstep. In that scene I just thought, "Bum walking down the corridor door, with this sound of this Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin sound, it fitted perfectly with English schools and a very English sensibility.

David Wilson

Doug: When casting the role of the teacher, was the butt a part of the casting process? Considering that was the impetus of this idea was having a butt walking down a hallway, were you basically looking at butts the whole time for the casting process?

David: Yes, my castings tend go down well in the production office, they love it. With my Metronomy video, when I had the runners go and edit all the tapes, all they were looking at was people putting their legs in the air - the splits. When I did my Sushi Song video, it was all about which person can shake their ass and that kind of bounce/dancehall way. With this one, I needed to make sure that our actress could do that very subtle, seduction thing in the classroom and made sure that they had a good strut down the corridor, that was very important.

Doug: The subject of the video deals with some heavy stuff at points. How are you able to make a video like this feel a lot more heartfelt than pornographic?

David: It's interesting, because sometimes I get quite a lot of response about my work - maybe taking advantage of women and whether people would feel differently if the shoe was on the other foot and that kind of thing. With Metronomy, a few people responded to that as if I was taking advantage of women. With this, a few people have commented that "how would this video go down if it was a male teacher coming onto a female?" That's very different. The way that human beings work, it's a very different thing when it's a male coming onto female. What I find is that I like to be able to tell stories that actually have a reflection on my life, on my experiences. I feel I can explore feelings and sensibilities without judgment, then people respond to that. I want there to be an honesty in my narrative films.. As a viewer, you can tell that the filmmaker's trying to say something instead from the heart instead of just following a formula from someone else; they're finding their own way in life, and I admire that, so I want to bring that to my work. What's nice for me is that essentially telling a story like this is putting something through a distorted prism because I'm attracted to men. When I'm able to do a story that's male and female, and especially concentrating on the female, it's though a prism I can't associate with when I'm doing those shots. It's not awkward or difficult for me to do them because I don't find what I am shooting sexually attractive. I know that the heterosexual male audience does, so I can distort and put my experiences on that story, but without it becoming pornographic as you're saying because, I guess, I don't get carried away and it seems to work. My intention with Tame Impala, was that in amongst all the sexy graphical elements the piece can have heart; and shooting a straight storyline means I can keep a focus on that, along with having fun with the cheeky, naughty bits.

David Wilson

Doug: You mentioned that you have gotten a little bit of feedback from some people like "what if the shoe was on the other foot." That's interesting.

David: There's been a big shakeup in the UK with pedophilia. One of the leading TV presenters, really popular children's TV presenter, who died about five years ago, it's just been discovered that he had took advantage of his position and was basically the biggest serial pedophile this country's ever had. This story came out the same time as we are trying to find a school in order to do this video. It was so difficult to find our location because as soon as we said, "It's about a teacher having an affair with a pupil" every door was closed on us.

Doug: Then what about Urban Outfitters, who is a brand and a company who may need to be concerned with an image. They're the producers of this video and they obviously helped create it from that perspective. I'm curious, were they ever concerned about the subject matter? Did you ever have to reassure them that it wouldn't be done in a graphic sense?

David: I think Modular - the record label - did a really good job of handling that. I literally had no contact with Urban Outfitters. Modular were absolutely fantastic, and the band were fantastic on this job. I was very clear with my script about exactly what this video was going to have in it. I was very clear about his balance between the heartfelt and the pornographic. The fact that in the animation you are going to have nudity, you're going to have bare breasts, you're going to have penises. You're going to see these things, but it's more about being an exploration rather than something really graphic and overtly explicit. It was all there in black and white for them to see. It's not as if Urban Outfitters were on board when I was initially approached for the job. I was initially approach with a lower budget and I wrote this script, and the band and the label loved the script, but we couldn't afford to get it made. Modular said, "Look, the band really likes it. Instead of turning it away because of monetary issues, we're going to find a way to make this work. Let's put this on hold for a month, put the video out a month later, and see if we can find someone to work with to get this off the ground." They found Urban Outfitters, and Urban Outfitters were really into it. It probably wouldn't have happened this way if it was an Urban Outfitters/Modular collaboration from the word go, but it was more trying to find a collaboration to make this thing happen. They were approached with the song and the script at the same time.

David Wilson

Doug: When getting to the production side of things, particularly the moments in the car that gets really intimate because despite the characters not actually being teacher and student, there is a significant age difference in the two performers. What was the atmosphere while shooting those scenes? Were both of the actors very professional in that sense? Were they ready to perform or was there any coaching involved there?

David: No, both actors had never met each other until the day. It was the first sequence that we shot because we needed natural light and it being the UK at winter, we had only eight hours of daylight so we had to get straight into it. Bill Milner, who plays the boy, he's actually been in quite a few Hollywood movies. He was in X-Men and he was in Son of Rambow which is quite well known British film that was directly by Garth Jennings of Hammer & Tongs fame. He's been a professional actor since the age of ten. It's that thing that if you don't ever say anything about it being awkward, it never becomes awkward. You just do the job. The whole day had so much time pressure that everyone just got on with it. I've shot an intimate scene before which was for a video for Skream and that turned out wrong, but I learned a lot of stuff on that. I did almost everything wrong on that job. It pays off when you're able to tackle that subject matter again, learn from that experience and hopefully do it right the next time. The main thing that I found is really important was that you run the whole scene. Essentially, we ran it every time from all the different angles with the boy getting into the car until they were down to ripping off their shirts, and then we cut. We did that whole scene, six, seven, eight times because then they can get into it, there's no cutting of that momentum. Whatever problems that arises from consistency, you've got five angles to cut around that. We could cover basis and that worked. It means that by the time they are intimate, they've worked up the momentum to be there.

Doug: Are you directing throughout the process, or are you letting them do this performance how it comes naturally to them?

David: When I’m directing music videos, I like to have as much as I can precisely timed. Unlike with a short film, or a feature film, or TV, where the pacing can come a lot more in the edit, the music implies that certain things have to happen at certain points, and when you’re holding on long shots, that’s vital. When they got in the car, I needed to make sure they were doing certain things at certain points. I would shout when she should turn to him and blow smoke in his face, for example, and when he should blow out with the cigarette. Once they started to rip at each other's clothes, I'd say, "Rip at each other's clothes," and then they would just go through that whole process until I shouted, "cut!" I would give them certain cues, but once they were past the smoking section, it was their free styling; they worked out their own routine; her cardigan, his jumper, her buttons, his tie etc, so they were able to repeat.

David Wilson

Doug: When it came to the animation portion of the video and you determined that part of the video would be animated, did you immediately turn to Thomas Ormonde as a collaborator?

David: Yes, I wanted to work with Thomas on this IKEA commercial earlier in the year, but due to mistimings and other commitments, that wasn't able to happen. I immediately turned to Thomas for this one. It was interesting because Thomas isn't known for much else; this was especially tricky when running this past my producers when they were responding saying "we don't know Tom. We don't know what he's done. His showreel is impossible to find online." But I know him, personally, and he's amazing. I approached him directly and it was very difficult to get it off the ground to begin with because it was difficult to find the right title for him. Initially, he came on as a compositor, but I felt I wanted to give him more than that. But I was directing because I had the storyboard, but I wanted him to add his visual flair to it as well and run with the project side-by-side while I was doing the live action so this whole thing could get done within a few weeks. We realized it's just co-direction because Tom was doing so much. When I wrote the script I mentioned it to Tom, but it was so difficult to guarantee his involvement because when a job gets approved, you need to hit the ground running, and only concentrate on that one thing for 6 weeks. That's fine when it’s you directing and your producer, but when it's a bigger team than that and other people of other jobs and other commitments going on, it's very difficult to pull all the strings to make it happen, but it did and I'm really happy that it did. Along with Tom - who co-directed and was lead compositor - the contribution of the lead animator, Jonathan Harris, was the special sauce that made this project leap into being really special. I’d worked with Jonathan before as a 3D animator, but he’d put his foot down about 4 months ago saying that he was only pushing forward with hand drawn; and thank God he did! I was blown away by his attention to detail and craftsmanship in this project. He would add little quirks to the sequences, bring personality, and avoid shortcuts if it was going to enhance the piece. I was very lucky with all my team on this, especially as, despite the contribution from Urban Outfitters, this was still a low budget video, thanks to them it doesn’t look like it!

david wilson, mind mischief, tame impala, 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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