It’s rare amongst the constant churn of online content to stumble across work that demands stillness in order to appreciate it. LA-based director David Altobelli’s promos require just that – moments of quiet reflection that overtake the senses. Across videos for the likes of Cults and Sia, Altobelli has developed a series of calming and deeply affecting portraits of human emotion.
With his latest project garnering praise and pulling in views online, OnePointFour spoke with the director about his ongoing collaboration with the band Hammock and his new promo, Cold Front.
This is your fourth film for Hammock and your second in what feels like the start of a new series – you’ve featured the same lead female in both this promo and Tape Recorder. Are you starting to tell a story with her? In the purest sense the first film feels like an evocation of love and loss and Cold Front feels like an attempt by that character to capture something that’s lost forever. Or are we reading into things too much?
I’m glad you’re reading into it!
These videos are indeed about loss and longing – either through self-reflective moments or manifested within nature.
The piece that began the series (“One Another”) is a single shot of the same character holding her hand up to the sun while a series of natural phenomena happen around her. The shot was improvised, and yet what transpired was so complex it seemed rigidly choreographed. A big part of this series is about embracing the magic of everyday life and giving those moments a chance to be appreciated.
Part of me considers the prospect of continuing this series forever, allowing it to evolve alongside my other work. There are at least two more to come.
A lot of your films, and certainly your Hammock promos, draw on subtle nuances of physicality – hand movements and gestures for instance. What is it about this form of observation that intrigues you?
It is a sensual awareness. There is much to be explored in the details of a person’s behavior that is often not shown, and rarely given time to breathe.
Where do you start when concepting ideas for your collaborations with Hammock – as lyric-less pieces of music do you feel more or less free to interpret their meanings?
Hammock possesses a meditative, trance-like quality. When coupled with an image, it can lend a tremendous weight. Knowing that, I find myself playing by different rules with these videos. I allow for changes based on impulse. I also take great care in choosing my locations. So far we are have had three separate shoots in different locations.
And how did the collaboration first come about – were you friends with Marc and Andrew before you started visualising their world?
Marc and Andrew gave me my first shot as a music video director. I saw them play a show in Brooklyn that featured them in the center of a room, surrounded by couches and projection screens. As the music began, the whole room just sank in their seats. I realized then their music could actually take hold of me.
I approached them after the show with an earnest request to make them a video, and they said yes. It’s incredible to have a collaboration with a band whose sound resonates so strongly with me. I can only hope to pass some form of that feeling along to the viewer of my videos.
Generalising your work it tends to focus on individuals on their own rather than in group settings, people at their most unfiltered or with as little fear of self-consciousness as possible. Why is that?
I’ve gone on three extended backpacking trips, visiting friends in various places but also spending much time travelling alone. There is a self-reflection that only comes with solitude and unfamiliar places. To me that is when I am unfiltered and most honest with myself. Perhaps that’s why I’m inclined to put my characters in a similar mindset.
How does the creative process work between yourself and your long-time DP Larkin Seiple? Is he involved with storyboarding the film or is his influence primarily felt on the shoot? Are there certain creative conversations you tend to have at the start of each project?
Larkin and I have worked on many projects together, but no two projects have been that similar in approach. Larkin is very adaptable, and I find that to be his best quality. This shoot required him to embrace a freeform approach — he did so and was able to give me precisely what I wanted. He also knows how much I appreciate any of the natural occurrences that occur within a scene, so he’s learned to keep an eye out for them and seamlessly integrate. It requires an extra level of awareness but I believe it makes the shots feel more honest.
Is there anything else you’re working on at the moment that we should be keeping an eye out for?
I am releasing another video soon for a different band. I can’t really write about it until it’s released. Let’s just say it’s an entirely different universe than Hammock.
I’ve also written a screenplay that I’m trying to get made. It’s called Grow Up Fast.
Hammock, Cold Front
Director: David Altobelli
Producer: Sarah Park, Ryan Kohler, Ross Girard
DP: Larkin Seiple
Prod. Design: Ethan Feldbau
Exec. Producer: Sue Yeon Ahn
Prod Co.: Burbank Gamma Ray
Hammock, Tape Recorder
Director: David Altobelli
Producer: Sarah Park, Ryan Kohler
DP: Larkin Seiple
VFX: Paul Santagada