Mental action on all levels – live action and post-production.
To me, it is impossible to tell a simple story. No story is simple. You can tell complex stories in a simple way, but no story is simple. Every person has a motive and there are distinct psychological reasons behind all motives and your duty is do the human heart justice and not just say what but why. Because of this, one can never look at life’s circumstances from one standpoint. By default, most work end up rather packed with information.
If you take the character of Jen Bardeen, she is first portrayed as a human doormat. You feel for her and then actually root for her when she loses it. But why did she lose it? And why did she allow herself to be treated like this until she couldn’t take it anymore. By halfway through the story, it alludes she is the survivor of sexual abuse, which can cause several different types of Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome Symptoms.
In some, it turns them into predators or viscous sociopaths. Yet in others, it turns them into overly empathetic creatures. Almost Jesus like, they turn the other cheek and waste no time with hostility. Their mind is too busy doing back flips to make sense of the darkness that was bestowed on them. Because of their refusal to become dark, they tend to attract those who are weaker and more desperate for control. Those who know they will turn the other cheek and take advantage of it. These weak desperate types prey on empathetic creatures the way the central character is viscously attacked by her family on social media and conspired against by co-workers who seemingly hate her for being sexually attractive (thus the woman mouthing “whore” at the beginning).
What initially looks like a simple story of a woman lashing out against the people who have treated her with cruelty quickly reveals itself as a young woman letting the dark hearts of this world spin her into someone she is not. Her inability to find love is coupled with a need for sex that puts her in the driver’s seat of her emotional road but once the dust settles, it opens the door to the dark memories. While allowing herself to be distracted by the negatives of her past, she is hit by life again. This time, a car.
The story plays out like a psychological essay on post-trauma but ultimately, she refuses to be held down. Metaphorically and physically, she escapes her captors and finds her heaven.
When I first wrote the story I laughed my ass off at the concept of a girl kicking the crap out of stuffy office types. It was that simple for me. By the time I was in post, I found myself tearing up at the machine for this girl. I felt blessed to be able to make this one.
Please tell: How the video evolved – did you write the script based on the beat? What was the original brief? And what were the other ideas that were being sloshed around before you decided to go with girl-on-the-rampage line?
The video was a treatment that existed for about six months before I found the right song. First and foremost, I’ve always been a kid with pen and pad, scribbling down short stories. I stock pile them and listen to new songs every day while writing and wait patiently for perfect matches. When the producer of the song sent me the track, I knew this was the perfect track to carry the story. And he agreed. We bonded over its wild antics and the songs emotionally powerful thrusts instantly. We were so on the same page. However, there was a slight problem. The song originally ended with its cinematic section of the score and not the pounding dubstep drop that you see in the video now at the end. Great way to end the tune. But not the right ending for the video.
The story had a very specific upbeat ending. It had to scream that anyone can push past the darkness of their lives and find their heaven. Sure, she was chasing heaven in all the wrong ways. But I wanted her to find it, all the same. I wanted her to win! Yet the song ended on sadness. I called the producer and asked if BiPolar Junction would be open to me copying the dubstep drop from the middle and paste it into the ending so we could have the story end on a high note and honestly, on a genuine note. People overcome the darkness of their childhoods all the time. To me, the most honest ending was not a defeated one.
The producer and BPJ both agreed and they didn’t just copy the drop, they immediately ran back into the studio in the middle of the night and wrote a new drop for the ending! God bless those guys. The collaboration throughout is what made this story come to life. I will admit, that almost every frame looks exactly the way I imagined when I put pen to paper several months prior and this was because of how collaborative and supportive the label and artist was. God bless those guys, seriously.
The one thing we did skew for the treatment, was that I named the characters after the inventors of the BiPolar Junction Transistor, from where the artist drew the projects name. Jen Bardeen is named after John Bardeen, a brilliant scientist who worked for Silicone Valley founder William Shockley, who was known to steal the ideas of others and use politics to oust those that he took from. I put her in her own office (instead of the other cubicles) to show that she was in fact an inventor at the tech start up, not just a support team on the floor. This made it easier for everyone to hate her and gave Aaron Perilo’s character a reason to take her down. Basically, we upped the references to the origins of the tech sector as a nod to the artist’s name which many people thought was a reference to mental illness, not to an electrical component. In this case it worked perfectly, as it was as if circuit breaking in the mind of a character. We used the BPJ logo as the company’s logo which shows the electrical component as a blueprint.
The casting particular of the lead actress is great. What was the process of finding her?
Casting was a challenge. And it was the only part of the video I was nervous about. I needed the perfect actress. I needed someone who could carry the comedy, perform the drama and wasn’t inhibited provided the project was from the heart. The videos producer and one of my best friends, Dave Miller, went through hundreds of head shots and reels of everywhere from backstage west to craigslist while we both called all of the agents we knew. There were some high profile people working on the hunt for us, no doubt. Before we did the first round of casting Miller spotted Jessica’s picture and noted both a sweetness and intensity to her and we called her in. She had acted in very respected theater groups and there was just this weird gut instinct that came over me when I saw her pic. She came and was dressed like a hillbilly with dorky glasses and acted like a tomboy, which made Dave and I think she was totally awesome to hang out with. Yet there was nothing about her personality that seemed like Jen Bardeen. However the intelligence she had was obvious. I knew within seconds the girl could play anything just by the way she carried herself. She cared about nothing but doing the character justice and asked all the right questions about Bardeen’s mental makeup.
But still, there were specific requirements. She had to be believable as someone who gets smashed by her office and lashes back in such an extreme way. And, of equal importance, we were determined that many of the shots look like “female model” magazines as an extra nod to her lash out. Her lash outs had feel like an attempt to be that perfect girl from the mags and I wanted the violence shots to look like a testosterone filled Clairol ad. Thus, she had to be able to not just throw a punch, but to fling her hair really high while throwing that punch and land in a model pose. It was an absolute necessity if the metaphors were going to play. I asked Miller to stand across from her and said “Okay, I’ll be buying Dave a beer after this. Hit him hard and see how high that hair can fling!”
She took a swing and the hair flew. And she landed in the perfect pose. And what we noticed, is the moment I said action, she morphed exactly into Jen Bardeen. She went from clumsy, cool ass tomboy best friend to the sexy, confident ass kicking character that we needed.
A week and half later we show up to set and I knew I had found the one of the best actresses I had ever met. Dozens of high profile agents submitting and Miller finds her on Backstage West. Hilarious. Now, one is never surprised when they find out they’ve accidentally casted someone who relates to their character. It happens because it’s meant to. But this circumstance, was %^&$ing ridiculous. We show up to the office, which was a tech start up incubator on Silicon Beach in Santa Monica. The block there is a hub for invention and I wanted the feeling of startups in the air while shooting.
But never would I have imagined, that Jessica would turn to me and say “David! I used to work in this office and my boss was a total douche who fired me! He played people against each other. It was my first job when I moved to LA and it was so humiliating” I couldn’t believe it. We literally ended up shooting her banging her fictional bosses brains out and punching him in the face on the very conference table where she was once expelled from. I’m pretty sure the location made it easy for her to play this role, to put it mildly. All I can say is – I really hope he sees the video!
You seem comfortable working with special effects – have you worked in VFX?
I have always loved FX and camera tricks. Imagination. It’s what starts you off as a creative. When I first started making films, I was 11 and we would use two VCRs and stereo cables to do the edit and mirrors and such to do super man type flying shots. I would use piles of flour on boards and kick them for explosions, that sort of thing.
The stories I tell are usually bigger, so I’ve had to train myself to make sure I am not limited by my own technical abilities. In the past (on my feature film The Weathered Underground) I had directed a room full of eight motion graphics dudes in order to hit deadline.
The deadline on this one was looser so I just did the fx myself. More stuff is done live and in camera than one would suspect. I still use things like mirrors and dust bombs and all the practical props to trick the eye, bounce light, etc. For the car wreck it was a combination of camera moves, fake rubber glass and water as well as after effects on top of it. I tried to keep the fx very organic. Even though the runtime of the fx was literally close to a third of the video (insane when on a modest budget), I wanted it to not distract from the story. Thus why we focused more on how light and flares communicate the story just as much as the fancy graphics and heaven shots.
What was the most challenging aspect of the production and how did you resolve it?
Believe it or not, there wasn’t much that was challenging about this one. That’s not always the case. And we thought it would be harder than it was as the budget was modest and the video required a large cast and a ton of locations. Yet, it flowed so smooth when making it. Sure, I was shooting with cop cars and guns and stunts but I’m used to that stuff and honestly, it was like God was on our side, saying, I’m gonna make this one happen so easy. Also, we’ve been doing so much stuff in a row we’ve become a rather well oiled machine in many regards. You can sorta just nod at each other and it all comes together.
The only scary point actually, was Jessica had to jump towards a plate glass window while kicking a guy in the face. The way the location was laid out there was no way around it. It was the last shot of the fight sequence and I wanted it to be pretty freaking awesome. I think she did the jump around eight times in a row and the actor she was kicking was so sweet, such a nice guy and great trooper. We took our time on that scene. We made sure everyone felt safe. But still, if someone would have been moving sloppy someone could have gotten hurt and as a director, that is truly your worst nightmare, set accidents.
DOPING is one my favorite tracks of the year. And I am so stoked to see both the music and story resonating with others. God, I love the process of creation and all the wonderful peeps it brings into your life along the way.