The sensuality of landscapes – particularly the sea – is always an emotive backdrop in your work. What is your relationship with these locations?
The sea is always peripheral in LA, whether you’re a beach bum or not. It’s this literal abyss that laps at the edge of the city and it’s hard not to be drawn to it. As a kid I used to be obsessed with the 1954 Godzilla movie. The scene where Gozilla’s head displaces millions of tons of water as he surfaces from the ocean might be one of the most primally horrifying images. You can tell it’s a swimming pool, but the thought has always stuck with me.
Both the ocean and the forest posses a deep, libidinal darkness home to all kinds of unconscious behavior and emotion, monstrous or otherwise. I also find that specificity and a sense of place is important for any story – I used to work hard to disguise the fact that I’m shooting in Los Angeles. It was LA for Europe, or LA for another planet, but now I’m inspired to shoot it for what it is. I’ve been rereading some Joan Didion, so that has something to do with it.
The lighting also adds another layer of visual language – do you work together with a regular cinematographer and is the lighting and camerawork detailed in storyboards before the shoot – or is it more spontaneous with simply a shot list?
This was my first time working with Chayse Irvin. Before the shoot, we built the look for each scene by compiling references of atmospheric elements and camera moves that felt organic for the narrative. I’m a neurotic storyboarder; if there’s enough time in pre-production I end up boarding every shot. This was like that, but I enjoy spontaneity, especially when the DP and I speak the same language. Chayse has great taste, and his brilliant technique made the lighting concepts work.
Did you work closely with Bonobo developing a storyline or did the narrative evolve from your reaction to the lyrics and music?
The image of the car caught in the tide had been in my head for a while. It has a lot of post-apocalyptic connotations for me, especially coming from a city defined by car culture. There’s a strong, if somewhat hyperbolic, parallel between the end of a great love and the end of the world – or at least a large piece of it. From that starting point, the tone in the vocals and the sweeping melancholy in the music helped shape the story. The string section felt like it was meant for something heavier than a couple teenagers fumbling in the backseat and feeling confused about it for a week or month afterward. There’s some serious, high stakes soul destroying going on. But the song is full of ambiguity – traces of the beginning remain at the end, cycles of synchronicity make it hard to tell if it’s purely tragic or a bittersweet mix.
The casting is spot on. Where did you find them, who are they?
Thanks. I was really lucky with this one. Both of the leads are friends of friends, which is sometimes the best way to cast. People with beautiful, interesting faces tend to know other people with beautiful, interesting faces. Caitriona Balfe is an actress and model and Salomon Anaya is a kombucha maker and commercial actor. I owe the video to them both, truly.