Interview: LA Video Directors Radical Friend on Yeasayer's 'O.N.E.' and Shape-Shifting Aliens
The band-playing-in-a-club remains a classic music video form. More than half the videos that aired on MTV's first day, August 18, 1981, were performance videos. So when local futuristic director duo Radical Friend and pop apocalypse band Yeasayer decided to make a performance video, they placed their neon, mutating body tricks among the legacy of the Buggles.
"We wanted to do a performance video because indie bands don't do performance videos," says Radical Friend's Kirby McClure. "They do weird arty videos. Look at most of the videos happening today, Grizzly Bear, Animal Collective, it's always weird."
"We can do performance and weird," McClure explains. "With Yeasayer our visual sensibilities fit together--tribal, futuristic, '80s films, stuff we're accessing from hanging out at movies with our parents as kids."
General response to the "O.N.E." video has included the words "wow," "bizarre," and "what's going on?" but it's a pretty simple plot. Guy enters the club, band plays on stage, dancers bust moves, he wanders around the crowd, people stare, and he's kicked out after revealing he's a shape-shifter. --A totally classic sequence from an '80s sci-fi film that never was.
"O.N.E." is the second video Radical Friend's McClure and Julia Grigorian have done with Yeasayer. Two months ago they sent naked people running across a black desert in search of self-esteem for "Ambling Alp." Both videos feature liquidy, stretchy face technology.
Yeasayer "Ambling Alp"
"Hearing their music makes you malfunction," Grigorian says. "It sounds like a shape-shifting alien. We can't help but imagine some manipulation of the face. That 'what is this?' is the same reaction people are having to the video. People have preconceptions about everything all the time. When you see something you don't expect, you just malfunction, you're this robot."
Besides 3-D face morphing and glowing embers rising from Chrs Keating's keyboard and Anand Wilder's head, many of the video's lighting effects involved simple hands-on D.I.Y. techniques during filming. One guy's job on set was to smack a red plastic sheet with a broom beside a bright light. Another twirled a piece of cardboard. Due to the whole Harding Effect giving seizures obstacle, they fashioned a strobe effect by rigging a cut up garbage lid to a power drill.
"Using practical things, trash lids and hitting gels with brooms, you get subtleties you can't create with preprogrammed lighting," says McClure. "Lasers are obvious. Thinking of it, cutting light and creating weird things, you get cooler, less predictable, organic, effects." Later in post-production, the directors added digital accents and color augmentations, imbuing hollow, fake plastic props with neon glowing life. They treated each frame as a freestyle paint by numbers.
To experience these details first-hand, I snuck in as an extra on the Los Angeles shoot. Most the extras were pros, quietly shivering in shadows for six hours until they were called. How could they sit still when the process was so intriguing? The crew operated as a coordinated machine, somehow communicating telepathically while building and rebuilding camera pathways and foggy light theatrics. Extras emerged from stylists Diana Contrera and Mindy LeBrock's dressing room as post-apocalyptic clubbers, taking on strange personalities revealed by Will Lemon's make-up. My tie-dyed jumpsuit and mesh turban connected by chains to my ankle brought out futuristic pirate dance moves. (1:57, that's my arm.) We were all cogs in this massive complicated machine tucked beneath "O.N.E." perfect, shiny android skin.
Radical Friend returns to the desert for their next video but they wanted to keep the band it's with a secret. Ever since the duo's Black Moth Super Rainbow interactive video for "Dark Bubbles" hit the internet last summer, it's become clear these two are onto something--something Kanye West likes to blog about and even got Daft Productions to produce a project for them ("Ambling Alp"). They're also doing "a large scale top secret interactive project that's going to travel around the world," McClure disclosed. "It's a technological epic piece built for hundreds of people to interact with at once." Maybe we'll all get our faces stretched? In the meantime, visit Radical Friend's website to get hit by rocks.