These Days pt. 1

Sometime around the last week of February I received an email that simply read, “Congratulations, you’re one of the finalists in the ‘This Video Sucks’ promotion.” Bells weren’t being triggered. I did remember submitting a link to something at the end of last year but after I’d done it, I hadn’t given it another thought. Googling my way to the submission page and actually reading the rules of what I’d entered didn’t provide much illumination. The wording, somewhat vague and open to interpretation, merely promised round-trip airfare to NYC, a night in a midtown hotel, and the opportunity to direct a Foo Fighters video. Nonplussed, I waited for additional information.

While waiting, I paid a visit to the idea bank: the stockpile of outlines, treatments, half-completed scripts and storyboards that most indie filmmakers usually cultivate. Years ago, I had sketched out an outline for a short film which would depict a day in the life of an urban office worker. At some point, the concept of the narrative taking on a kind of fairytale quality began to creep in and doing it all in an animated, German Expressionist woodcut aesthetic seemed appropriate. It just did, don’t ask why. I commenced rotoscoping experiments of shooting low-key footage, importing the footage into Photoshop, converting it to black and white, and refining each frame one at a time until the grays were eliminated and the edges took on a sharp, chiseled angularity. It was a tedious process, but if tedium wasn’t my thing, I probably should have stayed away from animation completely.

While the results from the first test were encouraging, the correspondence I was receiving from the label was intermittent and strangely devoid of details. No deadline had been set, I still had no idea what track I was to be assigned, and I assumed (correctly) that none of the other finalists had been provided this information either. Realizing that they were set to tour at the end of May, I immediately dispelled any notions that I’d have access to the band at all, and started the process of firing off frantic emails in search of a cast and crew. Yes, I was committing to a concept for a music video before ever having heard the song. I’d be lying if I said this is the dumbest thing I’ve ever done. But it was very close.

Michael Lovecraft, a friend of my wife’s who’d recently returned to the Austin area from Alaska, volunteered to take on any tasks that I wanted to throw his way so I slapped a proverbial Producer nametag on his proverbial lapel and started throwing. With the guidance of Kat Candler, it was shockingly easy to get together a crew of David Blue Garcia, Chad Leathers, Lucas Amann, Evelyn Leal and Ashlyn Fielder. Finding a lead actress was less easy. I had stumbled upon the blog of Jennymarie Jemison while doing some pre-casting/internet rummaging for a screenplay that’s still in development and immediately made a mental bookmark. She was funny, talented and had the ideal look for a character who eventually became named Helga (because I was tired of typing “our heroine”). Unfortunately, once I contacted her, I discovered that she was also totally immersed in SXSW, something that I’d long abandoned all hope of. We agreed to meet after things had died down and I scrambled to come up with plans B through D.

In the meantime, I finally received the song: track 6, “These Days”. It was almost uncomfortably serendipitous how well the song fit the video. That’s right, you read that correctly… the song fit the video. It jacked up all the little, mundane, day-to-day frustrations to existential levels and a character who was initially just a darkly lecherous supervisor became a full-on, malevolent, Nosferatu-esque villain—a manifestation of not merely a bad day but evil incarnate. So Mike located our villain, John Cowher, and I, with the immense help of illustrator John Bergdahl, started assembling weird, angular background plates full of subtle nods to the Brothers Grimm.

While the steps in the formula had been refined, the song and the concept had a nice cohesion, and Jennymarie was on board and, refreshingly, up for anything (and provided a superb hair-and-makeup recommendation, Jenny Lin), doubts still existed. I was told the idea was too high-concept, the conceit of casting a beautiful actress and shooting hi-def only to put the works through a process to make it look like this was counter-intuitive, the timeframe was far too tight for a finished animated product, et cetera. Problem was, the person who was telling me these things was the voice in my head, and we’ve always had a contentious relationship. I would never have even attempted half of what I’ve accomplished if I listened to that asshole. So fuck that guy. Concerns about pretentious art history references, shooting pretty things only to ugly them up in post, and a deadline of barely two and half weeks were crammed back into a spare brainhole, and we got to work.

I’ll finish the story once I know when/where all these music videos are going to appear online.

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