We can’t even begin to unpick where you must have dreamt up these scenarios for Input / Output, were they based around techniques that you wanted to try out?
There isn’t really one specific technique in the film other than all the effects are primarily created in-camera. We tend to gravitate towards doing as much in camera as possible, as opposed to post production, in all our work.
Please tell us where the initial idea came from and how it evolved into the film?
We are always coming up with visual ideas for music videos or commercial projects and sometimes we start to see common themes. Input Output was one where we kept being drawn to the idea of everyday actions (turning on a light switch, changing the station on a TV, squeezing toothpaste, etc) having unexpected results.
Was it a straightforward production process creating Input Output – any major challenges?
Probably the biggest challenge was getting all of the in-camera effects to actually work. Each scene required quite a bit of testing and problem solving. Making a curved TV tank that could hold a lot of blue liquid turns out to require a lot of engineering because water weighs a lot! Who knew it was so hard to make a volleyball pop? We first tried to hook the Volleyball up to an air compressor and let it run until it popped. Bad idea. After a few agonizing minutes of the compressor straining more and more and the ball not popping it was as if a bomb went off in our studio. The metal nozzle of the compressor sheared off, exploding along with volleyball leather across the room. Luckily no one was hurt. Here’s the video – Volleyball.
Also getting fire to shoot out of a toothpaste tube, definitely not very safe. Here’s more proof… Toothpaste
What is your creative process working together? Are you both on the same page or do you work independently with different skill sets?
We’ve been directing together since 2002 so we’ve had a lot of practice. We both handle all the responsibilities of a director but depending on the job we will sometime divide and conquer as one person might focus on the actors while the other may work more with the art department or DOP. At this point we are both completely comfortable with either one of us taking the lead in any particular department.
How do you develop your ideas into film – do you sketch or write, collect references, take photos? Do you keep an ideas notebook?
We both keep note books and are both always looking for inspiration whether it comes from the web, books, radio, New Yorker articles. Normally one of us will come up with the initial idea for a project and take the lead while the other will fully support it.
How do you agree on an idea or for that matter a job script – does it simply resonate and you both know it’s right – or do you sometimes disagree and how do you resolve those differences of opinion?
If we don’t agree on whether or not to do an idea or job then we won’t end up doing it. If one of us if feels really strongly about something on set we normally try it both ways (if we have that luxury) and usually figure out something that we both like as we work through those versions. If all else fails, then we fall back on Rock Paper Scissors.
What informs your ease with including vfx in narratives? Do you collaborate closely with effects artists or do you yourself have a background in post?
Early on in making music videos and back when even simple compositing wasn’t so widespread we got sick of people telling us that we could not afford to do something simple like paint out some wires in the frame or combine takes or whatever. So both of us started teaching our selves After Effects. We did all of the effects in Input Output ourselves. That said it probably took longer than it should have done. There are a lot of Visual FX houses we really love working with, one in particular is the NY company Art Jail, who’s a frequent collaborator.
Having said that a lot of your work is shot in-camera – in fact it’s the quivering movements of the family while the dog is crashing around that makes Unskippable so funny. Did you manage to get that take quite easily or was it rather complicated?
For Geico we tried to find people who could hold still in casting but we also knew that part of the charm would be having the audience realize the people are just holding still. The actors we chose in casting were those whose expressions felt like they started to seem stranger and stranger as the scene unfolded. The actors and the animal trainer did a wonderful job. Here is a clip that our pal, Mauricio the ACD on shoot shot of us looking less than professional during the take.
It was a little surprising to go rummaging through your showreel to find some rather dark material, almost sinister, especially earlier work like the compelling music video for St Vincent’s track Cruel. Has there been a conscious decision to move more into humour?
Funny you mention that St. Vincent video. The young actor who first enters the apartment in Input Output played one of our favorite roles in the Cruel video. That video definitely has a certain dark sense of humor that we are both drawn to. We’re big fans of the Coen Brothers work and they definitely mix humor into darker storylines. For us an ideal project has a sense of humor but also a visual component that gets us excited.
Love the straight-forward short documentary about the benevolent art forger. How did this come about and is this live-action genre something you’d like to pursue?
Both of us love good stories so in some ways the genre doesn’t totally matter to us. We are just finishing up another short doc project about person who makes photorealistic replicas of infants and sells them online. It’s pretty interesting stuff.
Do you both contribute to the photography section – a scrapbook made up of quirky signage and urban and rural landscapes that speak volumes in their stillness as well as interesting production stills?
A lot of those photos are little details we have come across on scouts and during pre- production. Some of the photos were taken by people we work with. The photos need to be updated a bit. Most of these were taken during the first Obama administration.
Five inspirations that have connected with you recently…
Film = Cop Car*
Books = Moonwalking with Einstein, Jim Shepard’s short stories
Music = Mac Demarco
Radio = Radio lab
Can you describe your normal working space please?
We both work from our respective homes, while walking ever so slowly on ‘Treadesks’. We have been extolling the benefits of workplace locomotion since 2009.
*Cop Car is the latest feature from Park Pictures starring Kevin Bacon, directed by Jon Watts.
See more work: Park Pictures