Video Chats: Ben Fee on "They Told Me" by Sallie Ford & The Sound Outside
Posted by Doug Klinger on July 12, 2013 in Interviews
When trying to come up with an idea for a music video, if there is an image that you can’t get out of your head, it’s best to go with it. Director Ben Fee couldn’t get the idea of flesh out of his head when coming up with the concept for "They Told Me" by Sallie Ford & The Sound Outside, so he went for it. Ben didn’t just picture any flesh, though, but a disorienting combination of close-ups of the barely dressed Michael Q. Schmidt and Norah Hoover, two people with very distantly different physical appearances. We talked to Ben about the video, working with Michael and Norah, and face licking. (Photos by Meagan Judkins)
Doug: Where did the original for this concept come from?
Ben: The first step of making a video for me, is getting an initial feeling of the song. Whether it's a color, emotion, image... and then going from there. Initial instincts are really important. Oh, and yeah, After 15 times of hearing the song, I couldn't get the image of flesh out of my head. And flesh that you weren't sure whether you should grope yourself while watching, or turn away from. The idea of physical/sexual tension and sensuality, and something prodding at your idea of what IS sensual and what DOES turn your knobs, and what SHOULD pump your blood... and stuff. ha. I love to use the lens as a way of making people see things in a new light. Like a beautiful girls curves, turning into a large mans leg by way of similarity/distortion.
Doug: What was the casting process like? What were you looking for in those roles and how were you able to find them?
Ben: The casting process was a giant ball of serendipitous magic. My friend Norah (who stars in the video) is a great photographer. She came down from San Francisco to be my photo assistant on a separate shoot earlier that afternoon. I knowingly double-hired her to both assist, and star in this video. She is one of the most calming and fun souls to be around. And unassumingly charged when it comes to these moves that she pulled off. She's just a very comfortable person, which is something that was mucho needed for this role. And Michael. What a send from the land of goodness he was. My wonderful producer Meagan Judkins had sent out a net for casting, and he was narrowed down at the end. It was between he and another fellow, and Meagan and I had a sneaking suspicion that Michael could bring something special. And special he was/is. He is a regular with Tim & Eric, and is equally as comfortable with his body as Norah is. Two wizards they were.
Doug: What were you goals for the wardrobe in this video? What style and feeling were you trying to establish with the costuming?
Ben: I wanted something that was both grungy and sexy. Something that both a plumber and a sexbot would trot around in, in their homes, or on the street. I wanted something that would bring them both to an equal level too. Either way, they had to be able to beat the crap out of someone, and look cool doing it.
Doug: You meantion that the close ups meant to be disorienting. You've got these two people who don't look very much alike, but when close up at times it's hard to tell who you're looking at. So that was your goal?
Ben: Absolutely. A huge part of the video for me was to show that we are all just flesh when it comes down to it. We should hold our confidence within ourselves and not let others convince us how to feel. And that was one of the most interesting ways I thought I could convey that. That may sound very cliche, especially when written - you know "YOU ARE BEAUTIFUL, SO LOVE YOURSELF". Snooooooze. That's why I didn't write an essay on image. But It's another thing completely when people are watching something, and they all yearn for it, then they realize maybe they shouldn't due to society's ideals. That feeling, to me, is more of a lesson than reading some candy coated essay on how to hold your self esteem. It can be totally realigning to want something, to feel your blood pumping for it, then realize you shouldn't because of how you were told to feel up to that point by books or magazines. Like seeing a total fox, and realizing she has a weiner, or a studly guy with a six pack, and realizing he's got a nice vagina. It's better for people to feel something themselves, then to read how other people feel, or how other people think they should feel. It's THOSE jarring feelings that make people actually alter their perspective. And honestly, it's meant to be more fun than heavy-handed, but most lessons should be fun, right?
Doug: What was the process of directing the giant leap scene and wrestling stuff? How closely did you have to work with them to get that right?
Ben: I had lost my voice from a two day shoot that bled into this one. We set up the scene with the mattresses, and I had to loud-whisper to each of them about timing and how to tackle/fall. They nailed it on the third try, but we did 2 more for close-ups. They were meant for this stuff. The rest of it was so easy. I can't take much credit there, for I could barely talk. They knew it had to be a mix between sexual and violent. Yearning. Loathing. Struggling. Pining. Visceral. Confused. Confusing.
Doug: And about Norah licking up the side of Michael's face, I know he was ready for it, but did it take some psyching up on her part to get that shot?
Ben: It took more psyching up for me to ask Norah, then it did for Norah to actually do it. She just said, "If you want me to do that, I'll do it." I bit my knuckles and nodded anxiously, as her brave tung mopped up most of the sweat from Michael's face, haha. That was one of the last shots - around 3:30 am, so they had each worked up some moisture. Hahaha. What troopers.
ben fee, michael q. schmidt, sallie ford & the sound outside, they told me, 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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