03 Sep Saman Kesh Music Video Director Interview & Retrospective (w/ Placebo, Vitalic, !!! and More)
His latest music video for Placebo‘s “Too Many Friends” is an interactive mystery story narrated by none other than Bret Easton Ellis. Though it is the first in a series of three videos for the band, it is a strong testament to Kesh’s remarkable eye and conceptual mind; “Too Many Friends” is so intriguing that it at times dominates a viewer’s focus and relegates the music to the background.
In this retrospective, Kesh offers commentary on a selection of hand-picked works — both award-winning and not — as well as on collaboration, general nerdery, and the future.
Placebo – “Too Many Friends” Music Video (2013)
As the themes in the “Too Many Friends” video (rich, drug-using youth, as far as I can tell) seem to work well with Bret’s general literary themes, I’m curious: at what point was he chosen in the storyboarding process? How directly did you work with him and what was that like?
We were always interested in using Bret’s voice for the narration, as he brought an academic quality to the table. He became involved when we were in the editing phase of production.
As far as recording, it was quite simple. I went to Bret’s house with my producer Ross Levine, and awesome sound recorder Michael Miramontes, who both worked on The Canyons w/ Bret. I sat on the floor next to him and directed him line by line. He is actually quite a natural, though [he] was a bit nervous that he didn’t have it in him. Overall… Bret’s a stud 🙂
Was the amount of interaction from viewers voting on what happened in the music video about what you had expected? Did you receive any interesting responses or find any amusing patterns?
I knew most people were never going to write their answers down, but surprisingly about a 1/3 of viewers seem to jot at least a letter down. Option C is for those geeky and analytical people that I would probably call friends if I met them.
Saman Kesh Music Video Director Interview
What kind of role did music videos play in your youth? Can you think of any particular works that really tickled your fancy?
Reason #1 for why I wasn’t a cool kid: I was never into mainstream music as a kid because of my brother’s electronic/dance influence on me, so watching videos were more or less a pastime between cartoons or Star Trek: The Next Generation (that’s the one with the bald captain). Peter Gabriel and Beastie Boys videos were probably the more influential videos for me because of the obvious departure from glamorous execution. Also, Chris Cunningham’s stuff was pretty influential and haunting for me.
What’s your process for developing concepts and treatments? How much collaboration is there, and how much is filmed in the moment versus pre-planned?
A) Filmmaking is a collaborative entity of course, so I am always interested in working with people that bring great ideas & enthusiasm to the table. If people want to be told what to do, then they should go work in an office. After hitting idea walls, I like to brainstorm and bring my department heads early into the game to bring insight and fresh opinions to the table. I try to do this for all steps: Pre-Pro/Pro/Post.
B) I try to stay organic and let things speak to me during the course of productions. It’s hard when you have other entities involved (i.e.: bands, labels etc)… because you gotta grab their hand and pull them along for the ride, as things happen. Some people aren’t into the ride you wanna take them on, so it becomes hard. I think the universe gives you shit that you couldn’t have planned, and it’s my job to recognize those.
Vitalic – “Stamina” Music Video
I always wonder about films where different characters are asked to play morbidly obese individuals, as it is obviously more than just an on-screen trick of the eye. How complicated was casting for this film, and were there ever complications of individuals feeling overly self-conscious?
It’s funny cause the actors are all down for the cause. They come in because they know they are overweight. Skinny people were the ones that were offended (if even at all). To be honest, I had people take off their shirts and show me parts of their body that had interesting rolls of fat. Overall, I was impressed and jealous of the confidence a lot of the people had. (Hats off)
This music video actually made me laugh out loud, particularly when hamburger-face jumped over a locker. Are there any specific moments that stuck out to you as particularly pat-myself-on-the-back hilarious?
John Ennis…the comedian that plays the work out show personality. He is amazing. A great face and very inventive. I’m proud to know the dude and have him in my video.
You won an award at SXSW for this music video.
Yes…something is wrong with the world.
What draws you to using phone technologies and electronic-looking overlays on your videos?
It’s the present and future. Life is looking more and more like a video game.
How do you come to collaborate with the artists you work with, and how important is budget in a musician hiring you for a video?
Usually the work comes in from my reps or through friends of friends that know the label/band. Good ideas are great, but coming under budget is even MORE great #keepworking 🙂
Do you have a team you regularly work with?
Yes… but this always evolves. The nature of the business is to move on… though some people will want to tell you otherwise. Loyal Crew + Patient People that complete the director = Great Filmmaking… Or maybe that’s what I need to not suck.
In my opinion, music videos are becoming more and more interesting, but the outlets for showing them have changed. Especially as a music video director who has won a number of awards, do you think the artform is getting the attention it deserves?
Yes and no. Yes, it has a lot of attention and in some ways is breaking molds, but videos are becoming more throw away at the moment generally. Even great ones come and disappear into the abyss of the web. There are obviously great things made by my peers that inspire my from day-to-day, but it isn’t like the broadcast days where they repeated shit, and you learned to appreciate stuff upon more viewings (even years later). Most of the web is junk food. You eat it, then shit it out with no nutritional value retained.
Saman Kesh Music Video Gallery
Ed Sheeran – “Drunk” (2012)
Porter Robinson – “Spitfire” (2012)
!!! – Jamie, My Intentions Are Bass (2010)
Russ Chimes EP Trilogy (2010)
Reflecting back on your first attempt shooting a music video, what do you have to say about its memory?
It sucked. It was hard. I wanted to cry… I did cry.
Do you have any plans for shooting longer shorts or feature films?
Yes and yes 🙂