So Strange is such a powerful narrative and yet if you hadn’t handled it in such a sensitive way it may not have worked. What were your main concerns in developing the narrative and did you collaborate closely with the band over how you interpreted their lyrics?
The concept went through quite a few changes prior to filming. We originally imagined a married couple in their 50s, with the story revolving around the wife exploring a same-sex encounter, facilitated by her husband. When the characters skewed younger, the concept evolved; but we remained centered around the theme of a sacrifice made for love seen through the lens of sexual exploration.
I can never discard the lyrics when interpreting a song. I usually imagine the chorus as the lead character’s mantra within the narrative. The lyrics for So Strange are purposely abstract and vague, but we made sure the start of each verse matched with relevant actions on screen to help drive the story forward. We were trying to squeeze a big story into four minutes, so every detail became crucial.
The band signed on to the idea straight away and trusted that we would execute the subject matter respectfully. They had a lot of notes when we showed them the first cut, however. We had strayed a bit from the original concept and the band encouraged us to reel it back in.
The performances are spot on – where and how did you find the cast?
The lead actress (Jessica Nicole Collins) and I had worked together previously on a video series for Hammock. She is nearly unrecognizable here, which says a lot for her ability as an actress. We didn’t conceive the video with her in mind, but everything seemed to click once we did assign her in the role. I continue to be inspired by her immense presence on screen.
The lead male is played by Brendan Sexton III, who I first saw in Todd Solondz’s Welcome To The Dollhouse when I was 11, which left a huge impression on me. We pitched the idea to Brendan over the phone and he agreed straight away. He was a true professional on set and I hope to work with him again.
Please tell us about the creative process of making the film. What were the major challenges – it must have been particularly difficult getting the bedroom scene right.
This project was challenging from start to finish. We called in every favor we possibly could. A beach house in Malibu was a pipe dream we never thought we’d actually secure.
We struggled with the role of the wife, and didn’t cast Taylor Conzelman until the morning of the shoot. We actually broke the camera during the first setup of the day (hit a wave in the ocean), setting us back a couple hours. Despite these setbacks, our spirits remained high and we soldiered through. We all believed strongly in the story we were telling.
The shooting of the bedroom scene went surprisingly smoothly, which I attribute to the intimate vibe on set. However, that scene was the most challenging during the edit. We found that there was a fine balance between revealing information and showcasing emotion. We didn’t want the sexuality to feel gratuitous, but we also couldn’t disregard the sensations one might feel if such an act was transpiring.
Is there anything different you would have changed with hindsight?
I don’t think I would change everything. Every low-budget production comes along with drawbacks, but it also brings out your perseverance.
The colour grade and lighting identify each sequence beautifully – did this evolve in the edit or were these elements carefully planned in pre-production?
This was my first collaboration with Eli Born as DP, but I’ve been watching his work for many years. Taylor and I decided early on that we wanted to give him a lot of input on the look and feel of the video. I was used to a certain style of shooting with my previous DP, and it took a moment to get into a rhythm with someone else.
This is the first shoot I’ve been on where we didn’t have a separate monitor, and I was only able to look at the onboard monitor when setting up the shot. It places a lot of trust in the DP, but also focuses your attention on the action.
How did the collaboration work with Taylor Cohen?
Taylor had recently completed another video for Superhumanoids (Bad Weather) and played So Strange one afternoon and mentioned they needed a video. The song felt oddly familiar, even upon first listen. I felt strongly compelled to make a video for it.
The last time I co-directed a video was with Jeff Desom, and that went really well. Both Jeff and Taylor were subletting a room in my apartment at the time, which in turn meant we had the time to talk through every detail of the concept. It’s always a bit of a relief to split the emotional load of preproduction with a collaborator, especially on a low budget. In the past, this person has been the DP; however, their busy schedules often make it near impossible.
Taylor and I knew going in that we had different styles of directing, but we welcomed that. I was excited to strike a balance somewhere between. We had a few passionate debates on certain shots/edits, but ultimately always landed on the same page.
Directed by David Altobelli & Taylor Cohen
Producer: Jason Baum
DP: Eli Born
Color: Derek Hansen
Sound Design: Eric Hoehn