Video Chats: Lance Drake on 'Aunt Betty' by Middle Class Rut
Posted by Doug Klinger on June 4, 2013 in Interviews
Sometimes a video is so weird, that it begins to make perfect sense. That is what happens with “Aunt Betty” by Middle Class Rut, directed by Lance Drake – a video that is so out there from start to finish that when it’s over you just think, “That is exactly what was supposed to happen.” Starring drummer Sean Stockham as Aunt Betty, the video is horrifying, hilarious, and beautiful all at the same time. We talked to Lance the experience of making the video, being inspired by Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Harmony Korine, and kicking over a fireworks-covered wheelchair. (Photos and BTS video by Jeremiah Mayhew)
Doug: Where did the concept for this video come from?
Lance: I've had a long-standing romance with the guys in Middle Class Rut and their label Bright Antenna. This is our third video in a row together. All the videos we’ve done are in one way or another about being in a band. "Aunt Betty" is about the band getting a little bit older while keeping it together under the influence of this crazy outside world. A working musician’s lifestyle is strange like the world in "Aunt Betty." "Aunt Betty" as a concept came from having a limited budget but a completely trusting record label in Bright Antenna. We had free reign and the band and I wanted to go up to Sacramento where they are based and do a Texas Chainsaw Massacre-inspired video. The idea was completely abstract when I first wrote the treatment. It was very loose because I knew with the limited amount of money we had, I had to go up there with a completely different way of thinking. I'm usually very particular about the way I shoot. I storyboard everything and sometimes even do animatics. I go way overboard with a lot of my thought process, especially my more narrative-oriented videos. For "Aunt Betty" we had a few basic ideas of what would happen. We knew we wanted Zach to lose his head, because the band’s album cover is an image of them headless. That was really it. Our greatest secret weapon was a friend’s farm in Rio Linda, California, which is heavily featured and a big influence on the direction of the video. It was a treasure trove of props and diverse set pieces. Without it we wouldn’t of had a video. I went up there a week before and just pulled all of these ideas together rather naturally from driving around Rio Linda. There was never a 100% locked concept up until we were shooting. It was amazing. It felt the closest to when I was making home movies as a kid – just a bunch of people getting together to do this crazy thing, very loose and spontaneous. So many happy accidents happened and luckily no real accidents happened.
Doug: So would you guys just show up to places with Aunt Betty and say, "Let's try this"? Where did the narrative come from?
Lance: I knew Zach needed to lose his head, and I wanted to do a biker gang thing riffing off the art of Miguel Calderone, but I didn't know if we could actually get bikers. In Los Angeles, anything that's on camera costs money. I didn't anticipate that when we got there we’d have access to so many amazing things for free and so many generous people willing to help. It was the perfect storm. For the actual narrative itself, we knew we wanted to tell the story of Aunt Betty and we knew we wanted it to be like Texas Chainsaw Massacre. I thought it would be an interesting spin to take a Leatherface type character and make him the victim. Make the freaks the ones being stalked and tortured. That's the jump-off point for the whole video. We had this trailer, we had the drummer as Aunt Betty, and we had the singer as this weird neighbor caretaker who is pushing Aunt Betty around. They're scavenging this dead land for doll parts and roadkill. It was all from a place of love, creativity, and just random weird inspirations. The guys in the band and I have very similar taste and we've always just been in lockstep with all of our ideas. We just went with it, we just kept going and going.
Doug: What about the subtleties in the performance of the Aunt Betty character, is that all Sean?
Lance: Sean literally is an Oscar-level actor who can also drum like a motherfucker. In all the videos I've done with them, Sean can instantly turn on. Initially the idea was for Sean to wear an old man mask the entire video - but the moment he put the robe on he transformed. His face and his posture changed, he was born to be Aunt Betty. It was just a beautiful thing.
Doug: You talked about getting favorites from people and of getting things to work out. What are some of the other ways that you were able to stretch the budget on this project?
Lance: We stretched it in every way we could, like we probably ate that roadkill for lunch! There wasn't a big budget, so in a way anything was possible. The low budget freed up the creative in a strange way because we were all working from a place of pride. The experience was overwhelming with the amount of support. Jeremiah Mayhew, a close friend of the band, helped me for a week go to Salvation Armys, find wardrobe, cast the kids, and get everything together. He was my AD and coordinator for a week straight. He was so inspired by the shoot that he just recently moved to LA and is working in music videos. Then my fantastic producer and DP, Jason Baum and Andrew J. Whittaker, came up and we shot for 2 days.
Doug: You mentioned that production was pretty crazy, was there an individual thing, or series of things that happened that made it so crazy?
Lance: There were a lot of surreal moments. For me, it hit me when we were shooting these bikers, the guys who generously showed up. They put Halloween masks on, they're not wearing helmets, and they're going 50mph down uncharted, grassy, crazy terrain doing pop a wheelies. We're bombing it in a gator next to them shooting car to car. I remember thinking, "If you did this in LA, stunts and permits and all this could never happen. Never in a million years. This would be a $300,000 video." The other thing I really love about the video is that the band was just really willing to go there. They never questioned it, they didn't mind looking crazy or weird. Just seeing Sean as Aunt Betty walking around in character while fans of the band are looking at him like he's an alien, thinking, "I thought I knew you, you're my hero drummer and you're dressed as a woman.” The craziest element was the fireworks. We saved that whole fireworks scene until the end because fireworks are only legal to be sold during 4th of July. We scoured craigslist and found some guy who lived beyond the middle of nowhere. I knocked on his door feeling very shady about the whole thing. He invited me into his house and I thought, “This is a bad idea. This is like a Silence of the Lambs moment.” I went into his house, gave him the 50 bucks and he gave a box of fireworks that were the size of a table. They were completely illegal, insane fireworks. When we shot them, we knew we only had one shot at really getting it, so we just loaded up that wheelchair with a blow-up doll and duct-taped fireworks. This feels so juvenile, something kids would do. We said, “We've got one shot at this. This better be great.” We lit them off and pushed the wheelchair and the thing gloriously explodes. I'm freaking out because we threw it over a ditch and I was expecting the wheelchair to fall over, because for continuity in the scenes afterward, Aunt Betty has fallen over. I start yelling, "This thing needs to fall over!" In the heat of the moment, not thinking, I ran up to the 4th of July inferno and kicked it over. When I kicked it a mini nuclear explosion went off and singed my hair. Producer Baum was pretty concerned, but we got the footage of it falling over. We have a photo of this atomic bomb going off as I'm kicking it over. It's a pretty cool photo.
Doug: With all this craziness, were there any moments of having to convince the band to get on board with the ideas? I assume not, as it seems like a lot of it came to them anyway.
Lance: I think there were moments where they thought, “What are we doing?” But, I think they were so in the moment that they never ever really questioned it, and we have such a relationship that like they always have my back, that they were just lost in it. I don't even think they realized what the video was until I delivered the first cut.
Doug: Stylistically with the video, it seems like you guys are mixing some video sources. What were each of the sources and what was behind that decision?
Lance: We initially wanted to shoot the whole thing on VHS and just make it as lo-fi as possible, but the VHS camera that I had broke right before I left. We used a lot of our budget to get this C300 Canon camera, which is a step up from a 5D. Andrew J. Whittaker, my DP, had complete control of camera. We needed something that he could flexibly use like a Handicam, and that camera is one of the best right now to use without an AC. He brought that camera up and we shot it all on that, but I still wanted to do this authentic VHS look, so after we locked the cut I dubbed it to VHS. When transferring it back to the computer, I used a butter knife and stuck it in the VHS player and was literally manually making distortions to the video. Then I overlaid the VHS footage over the HD cut, giving it all the qualities of VHS but maintaining HD resolution.
Doug: You talked about Texas Chainsaw Massacre, were there any other influences to this video?
Lance: All of Harmony Korine's work - obviously Gummo and Trash Humpers. We really wanted the energy of Trash Humpers because Trash Humpers is just… it's almost like Jackass in a way. It seemed like Harmony and his friends were just screwing around and making this really beautiful abstract piece that's completely wild. That was a really big inspiration. Also, River's Edge with Crispin Glover and Dennis Hopper. That movie is just so out there - it's about the underbelly of this weird suburb. It's like Blue Velvet, but with metal kids. Tonally, it's very parallel to "Aunt Betty."
Doug: Most times, a music video is made to promote a band and record and album. Does this video, despite being so abstract, still serve that purpose?
Lance: Yeah. It definitely waves the flag of who the band is because all the videos we've done have been weird and left of center. They're all really unique. I think more than anything, that's what they wanted to continue to do. I think for them, they ride a fine line between the mainstream - because their music plays on K-Rock and they're a popular rock band - but they're also non-conformists. They love art, they love being weird, and they’re extremely self-deprecating. Yeah, I think this video, out of any of our videos, really speaks to their humor and who they are because when we set out to make this, the real joke was that this video is actually a premonition of where they're going to be in five years. This is actually what is going to happen to them. At any moment, their tour bus could make a wrong turn; they could end up drinking some crazy moonshine and in this downward spiral become these people. It's also great because they don't mind surprising their fans, or doing something that's unusual, and pushing boundaries. They always do things their own way. They record all their own albums, so I think this is the perfect video for them.
aunt betty, doomsday entertainment, lance drake, middle class rut, 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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