Video Chats: Ellis Bahl on "Gold" by Sir Sly
Posted by Doug Klinger on November 8, 2013 in Interviews
"Gold" by Sir Sly is one of those stories that can only really be told in music video format. It features a man who wakes up outside an abandoned house and goes looking for a mysterious person inside, culminating in an ending that, according to director Ellis Bahl, should make you feel smart if you predicted it. We definitely felt smart after watching it, but we had some more questions, so we talked to Ellis about the inspiration behind the video, the house it was shot in, and revealing the ending to both the audience and the band.
Doug: I know the concept for your Alt-J video came from you first looking up what a breeze block is. Was this video inspired by the meaning of the word gold? Or did you land on the idea in a different way this time?
Ellis: This video was not inspired by the word gold, but we did try to work some gold into it. The watch, and the other watch, haha. This video was actually inspired by the video for "Angle" by Massive Attack. I thought, "Oh wow! A simple children's game (tag) adapted into a dark music video!" Then I thought, "What's another children's game that I could adapt into a dark music video?" Hide and Seek was the first thing that came to mind. And then of course I needed to make it CRAZY, so I asked myself, "Who is the craziest person you could play hide and seek with?" And I said (to myself) "YOURSELF!!" As a side note, when I was a kid, we used to play a more active version of hide and seek with flashlights at night.
Doug: When you pitch a video like this, does the treatment have the reveal at the end as well, or do you talk about the whole idea first and then get into the visual side of things?
Ellis: The treatment had a lot of lines like "I swear this all makes sense in my head!" and "GET IT???" I generally start out simple with a quick paragraph that sums up the whole video and then slowly work it out throughout the treatment. So yes, I blew the reveal right away, but to me, the video is less about the reveal and more about the experience of getting to it. I think most viewers will be at least 80% sure that it's him before he finally finds out it definitely is, but half the fun is finding out you're right. It makes you feel smart, right? And we all want to feel smart.
Doug: The video centers around a house, did you have the location in mind when you pitched the video? What was it about the location that drew you to it?
Ellis: Originally I wanted the house to be an east cost colonial style suburban home that was NOT rundown but all the furniture was covered in sheets as if someone just died. Then as preproduction got going and I started thinking more about the character and I wanted the house to be a bit more ornate, like a mafia don's house. So we started looking for places with a bit more of a mansion feel. And then we came across the house we ended up using and of course it was totally run down, but it was too awesome to pass on. We decided to run with it and heighten that run down / post-apocalyptic look and it turned out to really inspire us and the story.
Doug: Did you have complete creative freedom on this project or was Sir Sly involved conceptually?
Ellis: Yes! This was one of those rare projects where the band is totally on board with me doing whatever I want. They were huge fans of the Alt-J "Breezeblocks" video and wanted to see what I could do with their track. They had suggestions and ideas and we all brainstormed a bit in the beginning and it was great to get everybody on the same page right from the get go. It was their idea to incorporate the watches and connect to the song's title/themes visually.
Doug: There are small elements in this video that seem to have purpose, but it's hard to figure out their meaning. Like when you focus on the main character's watch, and when he picks up and reads the scrap of paper. Do those elements have a deeper meaning to them, or are they devices used to further confuse the audience?
Ellis: We planned out the whole video more than anything I've ever worked on. We bought a whiteboard and drew up a floor plan of the whole house and used magnets to show all of the possible locations every version of the man could be at. It would take a few people, but we could move all the magnets around the board at the same speed and the "man" would never actually see or bump into himself. It was a perfect closed loop! That's something I'm really proud of even though I'm not sure how much it comes across in the video.
But, like all projects, I didn't know what would work in the edit. So a lot of the things that don't have meaning come from story elements that got cut down because they didn't work. I always knew that as a backup everything would work without context, because it would create a shroud of mystery and suspense. By the way, the scrap of paper actually says something that affects the story/loop BUT I WILL NEVER TELL ANYONE WHAT IT IS!!! HAHAHAHA
ellis bahl, gold, sir sly, 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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