A GUEST POSTING FROM TWO COOL DUDES IN SANTA MONICA
Jonny the Friendly Lawyer writes: – As part of the popular REM singles series I asked JC if it would be okay for TVV-supporter and Hollywood good guy Vincent Landay to offer some thoughts about the video for ‘Crush With Eyeliner’, which Vincent worked on with his friend Spike Jonze.
JC responded, “You have asked a very daft question.” I took that to mean yes, so here’s what Vincent had to say about it over a beer in my backyard (garden).
JTFL: What was the general idea for the video?
Vincent: Spike had the idea that there’d be a teenage band performing a song. It’s supposed to be set in Asia and it’s supposed to be their song. They were to perform the song as if it was their own, not REM’s.
J: Where was it shot?
V: The interiors were mostly shot in the Japanese restaurant Yamato in the Century City Plaza Hotel in Los Angeles. Then other scenes were shot in downtown LA, little Tokyo, and the subway, which was pretty new at the time and didn’t have many passengers yet. We had no permits so the cop who shows up in the video was actually on the job; he came up to say we’re not allowed to film in the subway. There are also several scenes of the kids driving at night in the Second Street tunnel, which just feels like a modern Asian city.
J: Where did those kids come from?
V: They were individually cast. They weren’t an actual band. I don’t know if any of them knew each other before the shoot. They’re local LA kids, and almost all were about 17 at the time.
J: How long was the shoot?
V: One full day in the restaurant and another night with the kids running around town.
J: How involved were REM?
V: They were super supportive of the idea. They loved it and the fact that they only had cameo appearances. They liked playing the roles of people at a club watching another band. It’s probably one of the most understated appearances by a band in their own video—other than the Oasis video we shot in London but never quite finished. (Ed.: It is featured on the Spike Jonze Director’s Label DVD compilation as “The Oasis Video That Never Happened”).
J: What did the band have to say about the video after it was finished?
V: They loved it or they wouldn’t have let it out. They bought into the idea, and that’s what makes them so cool. Other bands need to be front and center all over the place, and instead they were cool with the idea of totally unknown teenagers starring in a video of their song, as if it was the kids’ song. They looked at their brief appearances like Alfred Hitchcock showing up in his own films. This was back in 1994 – the cameos were like “Easter Eggs” before there was such a thing.
Afterwards Michael Stipe got really interested in filmmaking and formed a production company. His producing partner, Sandy Stern, would frequently send scripts to Spike but none that Spike was especially into. After he had turned down a number of scripts, Sandy told Spike that Michael really wanted to do a film with him; was there anything he was actually interested in? In fact, Spike liked a Charlie Kaufman script for “Being John Malkovich.” It was a spec script, meaning that it was simply intended to show that Kaufman could write a screenplay as he had only written for television up to that point. Charlie didn’t think anyone would ever make it. But Michael and Sandy found out that it hadn’t been optioned yet and obtained the rights. The rest is history, as the saying goes.
J: Anything crazy or surprising about the shoot?
V: It was low budget and guerilla, like it was the kids themselves making the movie. It was shot on super 8, which is a risky format to use because we were shipping Kodachrome film to somewhere in Dallas to be processed. That’s not what you do when you make a video for a major artist. We had no idea how the footage would look until it was developed. And that’s the feel we were going for, that it was coming from the kids.
J: Super 8 handheld cameras?
V: They were actually like my parents’ cameras, the ones they used to make home movies. I remember sitting in our living room at home watching our family movies projected on the wall. I wondered, is that what we’re going to get back?
J: Who else was on the shoot?
V: Lance Acord was the cinematographer and he put together a great lighting team. Lance went on to become a director and his team are now all really successful cinematographers, working on major American shows: Jim Frohna on Transparent, Kris Kachikis on The Unicorn and Shane Hurlbut on big features like Terminator Salvation.
J: Terminator Salvation? Is Shane Hurlbut that guy who Christian Bale infamously threw a tantrum at on set?
V: Same guy. Nothing like that happened on our shoot.
J: Lastly, one of the esteemed contributors to this venerable blog wrote about REM that “Mills is an okay bassist and a crap singer. Berry is at best a passable drummer.” Would you agree?
V: No. Whoever wrote that is an idiot.
JC adds.…..It was so good of Jonny to come up with the idea of asking Vincent if he wanted to come on board, and I’m really thrilled that he did so. It offers a great and unique insight into R.E.M. when they were at the height of their fame.
I do recall that here in the UK, the video wasn’t aired on Top of the Pops in February 1995. Instead, we were treated to the band, ‘live’ from Tokyo (the latest location on the world tour) in which everyone paid homage to the video and the image that adorned the sleeve of Monster:-
The folk inside the dancing bears costumes were none other than the members of Grant Lee Buffalo, the support act for the initial part of the world tour. And, as I always like to have a least one song per day on the blog, here’s a very fine track from the album Mighty Joe Moon, released in 1994:-
mp3: Grant Lee Buffalo – Mockingbirds