Video Chats: Joe Stakun on 'Bathroom Laughter' by Pissed Jeans

Posted by Doug Klinger on March 11, 2013 in Interviews

Staff Post

Joe Stakun

With the way budgets and production schedules are set up, there are sometimes shots in music videos that the director can only get once. Shots where everything has to go perfectly, and if it doesn’t you have to keep going anyway. In that situation, the last place you’d expect to find the director would be falling off a ladder into boxes. But in the video for “Bathroom Laughter” by Pissed Jeans, that’s exactly where Joe Stakun was – as Joe not only directed the video, but features in as the dude falling off the ladder into boxes. We talked to Joe about the concept behind the video, the recognizable cast, and the how their epic, single-take climax of the video was achieved. (Photos by Kate Ward)

Doug: Where did the idea for this vide originate?

Joe: I think the first description Matt from the band sent me was about spending your life partying and trying to do what’s cool and before you know it, you wake up and you’re 35 years old and you haven’t accomplished anything and you’re mad at this life. At least that's how I sort of perceived the idea. You’re doing all these things but at the end of the day, you’re crying alone, or you’re screaming, and you’re unhappy. With the infomercial idea, meaning-wise, it was about the host caring way too much about what people think. She’s going out of her way to please people for a product that is so dumb. It's a product that makes no sense, it should not exist and she’s literally killing herself to make a connection with anyone and to sell it. That’s where the meaning played into the video. I really loved watching infomercials - everyone loves those videos where something goes wrong. The funniest part about infomercials is when they cut away and you can’t see anything, because it’s live and it’s this huge mistake and it’s really funny. I thought it would be cool if really gnarly stuff happened in an infomercial setting, and the camera guys just cut away and moved the cameras away, but stuff kept happening where they just couldn’t move the cameras anywhere just because so much shit was going wrong.

Doug: How did the story evolve from that point, did you work with the band on it still?

Joe: They were really awesome to work with. I started emailing Matt almost a year ago saying, “I would love to do a video with you guys,” and they haven’t recorded yet. I wrote treatments before I even had a song and I was like, “Listen, I have no idea if this treatment is even going to make sense because I haven’t heard the song yet.” When I heard the song, I brought up the infomercial idea and they all really liked it. We went back and forth and built on it together. I had a framework and Matt wanted it to be destructive, like maybe she destroyed things, and I thought it might be great if things destroyed her. It was the environment that should be toxic to her.

Joe Stakun

Doug: When the video breaks down and channel looses signal, Mark Proksch changes channels and there’s little quick cuts of different shows on television. Did you have complete control over those?

Joe: Yes, I did have complete control and it was awesome. I think that was because I was working with Sub Pop and because it was Pissed Jeans. I imagine 99% of the artists and labels are like, “Wait, you’re interrupting our song, you shouldn't do that.” But I think it works with Pissed Jeans. I feel their whole attitude is about disrupting what you perceive to be normal or what you accept as a status quo. That sounds way too fancy for basically what I’m trying to say here - it’s just fucking cool to interrupt the song, too. The way the Internet works, too, the video is probably being posted on a music blog where there’s a link right next to it to listen to the whole song, so if you want to listen to the song, you can listen to the song - so, let’s make something awesome with the song that’s just like a different experience that heightens the meaning of the song in a way.

Doug: Yeah, because there’s dialogue and stuff over top of it, even outside of that part where the song literally just stops, the characters are speaking and stuff over top of the music and stuff - that's obviously that stuff you're talking about.

Joe: Yeah, and before we had a sound mix for the video, I sent it to the guys, and I don’t mix sound - we still had to go to a mixer - so when they heard it there were all these cutting noises, I’m like, “Guys, all that stuff won’t be that loud.” I want people to hear them too, it was just crashing and cutting noises but I think the mix came out really good. I think it adds to the video. It’s definitely weird and different, but I liked it.

Joe Stakun

Doug: Towards the casting side of the video, you got Liz Lee, and Mark Proksch, and they’re both recognizable faces and names. Was it written in the treatment to have them included in there? What was that process like of casting them?

Joe: Originally the infomercial was just an infomercial in the treatment, and then I realized there really wasn’t enough of a straight man and we need someone to sew it together, so we would need someone watching the TV. I met Mark when I moved to LA, I was already a huge fan of his K-Strass videos. They’re brilliant. It’s everything that I like about comedy, where you do something so weird just for the sake of doing it, and it’s like a gift to the public and it’s anonymous. Mark does these amazing awkward characters, so I instantly thought he would be great for the part. There wasn’t a big budget so it was just rad that he was just like, “Yes, I want to get involved because it’s a good project.” I think he’s psyched how it turned out. The same with Liz, I met her through some friends. I thought she would be great for a weird little cameo in the middle. She was all about it. She's awesome.

Doug: When it comes down to directing the video, I'm curious how you approached to main portion of the infomercial when everything just goes to Hell. The light falls in the host's head and she is just smashing against the walls and falling on craft service tables. At that point, are you really involved, giving her stage direction? Are there multiple takes of that stuff, or is it just pretty similar to the mayhem that it appears to be on screen?

Joe: The way that scene worked out is I was the guy that fell off the ladder into the boxes - and we didn’t have more boxes. We only had enough boxes to build one crash pad. Everything on the shelves was real glass, we didn’t have the budget to get fake glass. We only had four cups of coffee to fly on the PA Once she gets hit by the light, once she was all made up with the fake blood, we had one take to do it. It’s so unbelievable how good that shot came out because of all the factors involved, because of how we could only do one take at every aspect. When it came to directing that shot I just had a super specific talk with the whole cast and crew and I stood where Leigh [the host] stood and I showed her exactly where her steps would be. I told her where I wanted her eye line to be so it didn’t look like she was ever looking at the ladder. I led her through it like she was blind because I never wanted her to see what she was hitting or it wouldn’t be believable. She nailed it. She did a great job. Her name is Leigh Myles, she’s the main character and she’s also the producer of the video. She’s super-talented and great to put up with my direction of, “Everybody and Leigh especially, this is real glass, so if you cut your hands really bad, you have to keep going.” I've ridden BMX most of my life and just done risky stuff so I just don’t think that other people worry about ever getting hurt, but luckily, nobody got hurt. If you watch the video frame by frame, her hands, with all her weight, fall only where the glass isn’t. We were so lucky. Basically, everything that needed to go right, went right, plus more. The ladder hit went well, I fell, the coffee could not have went on my best friend Mike any better than it did, and Leigh didn't cut her hands up. Every aspect of it went perfect, and then even the other two PAs, Clay Tatum and Jon Katz, they started picking up glass which was hilarious and totally unplanned. I think that was one of my favorite parts of the video, basically while this woman is dying and losing her mind, they're just picking up glass and ignoring it.

Joe Stakun

Doug: You mentioned not having enough budget to do more than one take, and something I read in the YouTube comments of the video is that your art director, Dean, mentioned that the walls in the set were from All My Children and that you got them for a dollar, is that actually accurate?

Joe: Yes, I’m surprised I haven’t mentioned Dean yet. The entire time in planning and pre-production, I kept saying, “Something’s going to go wrong because everything’s going way too well right now.” We didn’t have a lot of budget and the last thing we needed to find was an art director and a location. My good friend Rosie was the art director for Tim & Eric and all that stuff and someone was like, “Let’s email Rosie.” In the back of my head, I was like, “Rosie does such big jobs, I don’t know if she’ll have anyone. I’m sure she only associates with people that just do big awesome stuff.” Rosie knows Dean who's amazing and it just so happens that Pissed Jeans is his favorite band. It also happened that his workspace - where he has his art studio, (he’s an amazing fine artist) - is attached to a warehouse, and that warehouse used to hold all the flats, the windows, and the doors for two defunct soap operas, including All My Children. I guess the previous owners were going to throw it all out, and so when they moved in, he was like, “Just leave it here and we’ll buy it off you for a dollar.” It was amazing. We went from not having an art director or location to finding an art director whose favorite band was Pissed Jeans, in a space that we can shoot in, and we can walk around and pretty much have our pick of sets. I could say, "I want this kind of window for the kitchen and this wall." All we had to do is really pick paint, and Dean painted the walls. It was rad, if you look at the country kitchen shelf in the background, there is a picture that Dean took from a live show that he went to of Pissed Jeans.

Doug: And about the fact that I found that comment on YouTube, it looks like you, the band, Dean, and the label were all engaging people there on YouTube, how did that all work out?

Joe: Yeah, that was Sub Pop’s idea. At first, I was like, “This is interesting,” but it was rad. It was just a way to get every band member on YouTube in the first waking hours of the video being posted. It was cool because fans of the video could basically ask anything, even though a lot of it was just me asking joke questions and people from Sub Pop asking joke questions, but it was just fun. By the end of it, we had 150 comments that included some fun facts in there, like Dean with the stuff about the set. At first, I didn’t understand it, but now I’m psyched on it because the video has a ton of comments and they’re all. They're positive and they’re not mean-spirited or rooted in nerdiness the way most most comment threads are. It's great.

bathroom laughter, joe stakun, pissed jeans, 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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