What’s It Like To Direct Music Videos?

  by Mark Tichy.

This is Required Listening an ongoing crush-a-thon wherein we laud praise and adoration upon the things that have been relentlessly streaming into our earholes, dilating our pupils and causing surges of fanboy/girl love bliss.

Music video directors should really be treated more like the rock stars they work with. That is, they deserve more attention than they currently get for turning visions into reality for all of our favorite songs. To shine a light on these somewhat neglected souls for a moment and get the inside story on what happens behind the scenes as videos get made we called on artist and director Sophia Peer who graciously agreed to give us some back story on three videos that she shot and we love.

Sophia spent her undergrad at SUNY-Purchase and studied Photo, Video and related Media for her MFA at School of Visual Arts in NYC. She has since parlayed her diverse portfolio of performance, video and installation art into a career directing music videos and working for the likes of MTV and Pitchfork all while continuing to pursue the art projects that you can see documented on her website. From shooting the new video for Interpol’s Paul Banks to dancing in the Kate Bush Dance Troupe (you have to see it to believe it) she definitely does not let things get too ordinary.

Below Sophia gives us the background story on videos she directed for Yeasayer, Woods and Ponytail. Recruiting cast members on Craigslist. Involuntarily huffing gasoline fumes. Run-ins with the fuzz and mercury poisoning. It’s all in there.

Yeasayer ‘I Remember’

Sophia: I was riding the elevator at MTV when I saw this older man with a ponytail and mustache, wearing a Harley Davidson leather fringe vest and a belt with a lot of pouches attached. I thought about what his life might be like. Was he married/divorced? Did he ever get to ride his Harley? What was his past like? I was sure based on his style that he liked the desert. And there it was. The song really dictated the rest for me. BUT this idea I had of the motorcycle man in the desert wasn’t really going to work in NY in the Winter, so I decided to shoot the video in Tucson. The budget was really small so I did things like sleep in a museum instead of a hotel, hire a local crew that I had never met to save money on flights, and get some interns on board through the U of A film school. This was scary for so many reasons but I had already found my star, David W. Staley, via a Tucson craigslist post. David is a real deal Harley rider who had previously done mainly Civil War re-enactments. He regaled the crew with tales from his past anytime there was a production lull. He also had a bit of a psychedelic experience while his head was covered in plaster as he was being fitted for the mold for the bust that he destroys in the video. Oh and bonus- we mainly shot in an area that apparently the Minute Men use for target practice.

Brooklyn band Yeasayer is out with their new album Fragrant and recently took part in the floating musicical Love Boat the SS Coachella. The band also has no shortage of dope music videos. 

Woods ‘Death Rattles’

Sophia: More adventurous than the alpaca farm, ticks, or even the insane cast, was when I accidentally got really, really high on gas. We just finished a long day of shooting and I was driving through the sunset when the generator tipped over emptying a pool of gasoline into the back of the car. I was rushing to get all six of us back to the house in Warwick that we were staying at BUT the weight of the very full car kept slamming down with the bumpy country road, killing the car’s shocks and making this scary scraping sound. I suddenly feared that a spark from the shocks would ignite the whole gas drenched car on fire. We decided to drop off the DP- Ryan Dickie- on the side of the road by some lake, with some of the equipment, just to shed some weight. As I drove off, I saw him standing there in the darkness and started laughing uncontrollably. I’m not exactly sure how long it took to go to the house, empty the car, clean out the gas and have someone more sober go pick up Ryan, but it was the most relaxed I’ve ever been.

Woods is currently touring in support of their 7th LP Bend Beyond which we’ve written about before because it’s fantastic. You can take a look at their two most recent videos to get an idea of their kaleidoscopic appeal: “Cali In A Cup” and “Size Meets The Sound.”

Ponytail ‘Celebrate the Body Electric (It Came From an Angel)’

Sophia: Every shoot was a big adventure. Getting the Double Dutch team into the green screen cyc studio was the biggest and most fruitful hurdle, but smashing the mercury filled florescent light-bulbs on my dear friend, Chris Keyes, was possibly the most risky. Prop stylist Annie Sicherman and I, drove way out on Long Island, to go to an “abandoned” greenhouse that Chris had seen while visiting his family. We had three cars with brights on facing into the greenhouse, and set up 2 cameras at many different angles, to film Chris’ cousin smashing light-bulbs on Chris’ back, over and over. We soon learned that the greenhouse was most definitely not abandoned. In fact the owners lived not so far away and they were so freaked out watching all the cars and lights and hearing all the smashing that they called the cops. We almost got arrested but somehow just had to clean up after ourselves, get mild mercury poisoning, and never ever come back.

Ponytail has broken up since this video. Moment of silence. But Ponytail guitarist Dustin Wong released a new album last year titled Dreams Say, View, Create, Shadow Leads and is currently signed to Thrill Jockey and has his one man act on the road with indie faves Beach House as we speak.