Video Chats: Michael Lawrence on "Rat" by Wise Blood
Posted by Doug Klinger on June 21, 2013 in Interviews
Director Michael Lawrence has shot a lot of videos in a variety of exotic locations. From Indonesia to upstate New York, Michael has the ability to capture a location and make it a character in its his videos. For his most recent video, "Rat" by Wise Blood, Michael traveled to Wise Bloods hometown of Pittsburgh to shoot the video. We talked to Michael about the video, shooting in Pittsburgh, and having the video get banned from the internet for a weekend.
Doug: Where did the concept for this video originate?
Michael: The delinquent youth idea came to mind immediately when I first heard the song. I ran the treatment by Chris (Wise Blood), and he was also on board, but wanted to add to the piece a bit. More specifically, he wanted it shot in Pittsburgh, his hometown. I'm always a fan of concepts that are driven a bit by atmosphere, by location, so I got on a train to Pittsburgh.
Doug: What kind of direction did you give Wise Blood for the performance? Did you give him any direction on his clothes or styling?
Michael: Chris and I hung out for a few days beforehand, running ideas by each other. So we were on the same page, from the get-go. He had that putrid yellow Camel shirt, and wanted to incorporate kind of this low-class, Gummo-esque vibe, kind of like this guy was just wandering around, in and out of trouble. In many ways, the character embodied in the piece is a version of Chris -- so he didn't need a ton of direction. I'd give specifics that were helpful for camera, or for the story, but beat-by-beat, that was all him.
Doug: One of my favorite parts about following your work is that I never know where the next video is going to be shot. You mentioned this video was shot in Wise Bloods hometown of Pittsburgh. Did Pittsburgh offer anything to you as a location that you felt added to the video?
Michael: Aw, thanks. I've always been really inspired by locations. It's hard to replicate the vibe of a place, an environment. Shooting on location just offers so much -- the design of the piece is already in place for you, if you're willing to mold the narrative around it. This was my first visit to Pittsburgh. My sister, who lives there, showed me around the first couple of days, giving me the local perspective. Chris was also super resourceful in finding places that were important to him, that were authentic to his world, perhaps influenced by growing up there. Pittsburgh didn't make the piece, but it allowed us to absorb the world that Chris lived in, and that alone was reason to shoot there.
Doug: Was this a pretty guerilla-style shoot? Was there a certain production style that you thought would help best tell this story?
Michael: It was totally bare-bones. The past six months I've been doing mostly commercial, or at least higher-budget work. It was totally refreshing to just get back out there with a camera, no production company, no label, and just make something. It was unfiltered. We stole some shots, pulled some white lies for others. Overall, everyone was really supportive. But it was totally renegade. In the mall, Kiel (our co-DP) sat in a wheelchair, and I pushed him while talking to Chris on headphones, giving him direction. For the biking shots, we sat on top of the car, or out the window. The club scene, we stole by walking in and having me pretending to photograph my sister and Chris dancing, saying that they were a couple. We couldn't have gotten that kind of access with a big crew. I'm a firm believer that you have to design your production around the needs of the script, and doing it this way just fit for what we wanted.
Doug: This video was actually pulled down offline and then reuploaded. What caused it to be pulled down and were any changed made to the new upload?
Michael: It's always a bummer to have something pulled down, but in the end it got sorted. I'll let your imagination do the rest.
michael lawrence, rat, video chats, wise blood
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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