This is crazy good, totally captivating, and even better because it’s in Russian. Please tell us how the video Nothing for Tesla Boy came about – did it grow out of your earlier excellent piece, Fantasy, for the same band? What were the initial discussions focussed on between you and the band?
Thank you! “Fantasy” came to me as kind of a half baked concept. They had the girl in the room and they had Anton, Tesla Boy’s singer, on the train. But that wasn’t enough for a video. So basically, I worked to make it feel like a complete concept, adding scenes and directing over Skype. And the result was something pretty fun, I think! I still get comments from Russia and the Ukraine about that video, especially when I shoot over there.
“Nothing” came about when I emailed Anton and said, “Hey, it’s been a while. Have any new tracks that need a video?” I just wanted to do something narrative and fun. Luckily, they were just about to release “Nothing” and sent that over. I wrote a brief with three really different concepts. Two of them felt really developed and one was just a rough idea. I think it was “a girl goes and visits a shrink and uses objects around the room to illustrate her troubled relationship.” Of course, that’s the one – even though it was the roughest – the band loved. So I had to get thinking on how to actually flesh that story out.
How did that initial idea evolve into the narrative you’ve created?
Well, I quickly realized that making a whole narrative about a relationship using objects in an office was just really hard to do. So I remembered back to the film Singin’ in the Rain where Donald O’Connor’s character dances with a stunt dummy in the song “Make ‘Em Laugh” (link here). And I knew – that’s it. We need to do a modern version of that, but make it a lot less “Broadway” feeling.
Oh my, the dancer / actress! Where did you find her, and what were you looking for in the casting?
My original thought process was, we need a really good dancer who can pull this off. So I hit up all the dance agencies in LA with the type of dancer I was looking for. But during callbacks, everyone we saw who danced with our dummy just felt as though they were doing it too precisely. They were amazing dancers but the movements were feeling too rehearsed, even when we told them to just have fun with the dummy. So we started looking for actors. Jade-Lorna Sullivan, who we ended up casting, is an actor and model first, but she also has some dance experience in her past. And it ended up being the perfect mix. She understood choreography but also brought this emotional weight to the character.
And the doll! A lot of art/craft has gone into this film, please tell us about that.
Adele Satori was the puppet designer and fabricator on for the dummy. She created it from scratch and it’s both incredibly made and incredibly creepy. I wanted it to be thin with limbs that were slightly longer than normal. This way, you would know that it wasn’t just a human in a suit, especially when it comes alive at the very end.
Did you work closely with a choreographer before storyboarding the film? What was the creative process of making it.
Tamara Levinson was the choreographer and she was incredibly dedicated to the project. More so than she should have been! As I mentioned, we didn’t want the choreography to feel too “Broadway” like the Singing in the Rain number, and Tamara loves choreography that – not sure how to say this – doesn’t feel choreographed at all. We had two rehearsals with Jade beforehand. One in a studio and one at the location. In terms of camera, my thought was to always let the choreography guide the camera, not the other way around. Meaning, we didn’t really do any special camera moves that sync up with the choreo. We just capture it how it happens.
The biggest key for me in unlocking the tone of the piece was to tell Jade to direct all her attention to the psychiatrists when she was dancing. To make them feel uncomfortable and awkward by playing all the weirdness to them. She barely even looks at the dummy, especially in the opening dance scene.
What was the most challenging part of the production?
The most challenging part was that I also produced the video. So my time was a bit divided. Looking back, I should have probably brought someone else on to help with production. I did on the shoot day, but not before that.
Time also wasn’t on our side. I didn’t plan to shoot any of it at night, but (thankfully) I shot chronologically. So when we lost time and night fell, we (luckily) had some tungsten lights on the truck and were able to adapt. Needless to say, I was a little freaked out and the thought crossed my mind that everything was falling apart. But when I let that feeling pass, I re-wrote those final scenes on the fly and everything worked itself out.
What kinds of VFX were involved in the production?
Aside from the drug trip sequence, we shot the video with Tamara, the choreographer, puppeteering the dummy from behind in an all black suit. Kind of like how C3PO was done in Star Wars: Episode I (link here). Unlike Star Wars, we originally didn’t plan to erase Tamara from the shots. But the costume didn’t work as we thought it would. So, we needed a VFX wizard to erase her without any background plates. Luckily, Jordan Allen at Side of Fries was able to erase her entirely by creating background elements from other takes. It wasn’t easy, especially because of the distortion from our old anamorphic lenses.
We like your female characters in your videos – did you have good role models in your life?
My parents divorced when I was eight and ended up living with my mom (though I saw my dad – who lived four hours away – somewhat regularly). But ultimately, I think it was a decision I made when I shot my first video for Cut Copy. When writing that video, I originally thought it was going to be a little boy. But one day, I remember thinking – how much cooler would this be with a girl in the role? It’s not a narrative point of view you see as much.
So even with this video, I knew it was going to be a girl in the role but I didn’t want it to come across as this oddly sexualized thing where this character is just booty dancing with a puppet. I hate – as I’m sure a lot of people do – the concept of “video girls.” It can be sexist but it’s also just tired and boring. When you work with artists and clients, it sometimes hard to get around that – but my goal has always been to push for characters and narratives that feel new and exciting.
Anything else you’d like to share?
The response to Tesla Boy has been great (thank you!) and I already have a new concept in place for the next video. Hopefully you’ll be seeing that this summer!
Telsa Boy, Nothing
Director / Producer: Ryan Patrick (twitter.com/ryanpatrickus)
Cinematographer: Travis LaBella
Choreographer: Tamara Levinson
1st AC: Taylor Harris
2nd AC: Stephen Ling
Steadicam: Chris Loh
Drone Operator: Levi Rugg
Gaffer: Declan Fox
Key Grip: Jon Gomez
Best Boy: Kevin Kim
Driver/Grip: David Hoffman
Line Producer: Kevin Chang
1st AD: Chris DeBenedetto
Location Manager: Cindy Duck
Set PAs: David Cho, Shelly Guzman, Adam Tanguay
Production Designers: Kimberly Stuckwisch, Rose Leiker
Set Decorator: Christophe Fournet
Puppet Designer: Adele Satori
Make-Up: Jenny Hou
Editor: Chris Amos
Drug Trip Animator: Dawid Krepski
Visual Effects: Jordan Allen @ SideofFries.tv
Special Thanks: Jamie Miller, Joby Barnhart, Jen Moreno, Joanne Rodriguez, Erica Hart, Emma Huang, Jack Gogreve, Philip Solomon, Jennie LaCovey & Capo
The Girl: Jade-Lorna Sullivan
The Psychiatrists: Sal G. Pa & Miriam Malabel
The Psychiatrist’s Voice: Dmitry Polonsky