THE SINGULAR ADVENTURES OF R.E.M. (Part 31) : THE COMPANION PIECE

A GUEST POSTING FROM TWO MORE COOL DUDES IN CALIFORNIA

Jonny the Friendly Lawyer writes: – It was fun talking with Vincent Landay about his work on REM’s ‘Crush With Eyeliner’ video with Spike Jonze. I knew Spike was involved with the video for ‘Electrolite’, too, so I thought we’d give it another go. But when I asked Vince about it he said, “I had nothing to do with that one and Spike was only second camera. Peter Care directed that video.” Vince, being Vince, knows everyone in the business and connected me with Peter straightaway.

Vince described Peter as “a friendly and charming Brit—you’ll love him.” Of course, Vince was spot on. Peter and I chatted for nearly an hour and the interview went like this:

JTFL: How’d you first meet REM?

Peter: I’d done a number of music videos earlier in my career but had gone on to make tv commercials. I hit a brick wall with that and wanted to get back to more interesting work. I knew Warner Bros.’ video commissioner so I called to ask her if there were any bands I might work with. She suggested REM and, after some excruciating phone tag with Michael Stipe, we ended up working together on ‘Radio Song.’ It was a fantastic experience that began a long and rewarding friendship with the band.

J: What do you like about working with them?

P: REM have a certain sophistication about film-making and culture. They also always had a lot of ideas, or kernels of ideas to run with.

J: For example?

P: Doing a crowd surfing video for “Drive,” and doing “What’s the Frequency, Kenneth?” as a straight performance, things like that.

J: Is that different from the other acts you’ve worked with?

P: Every band is different. Some are just concerned about how much screen time they’re going to get. Or, they might come up with ideas that are so over budget there’d be no way to do them. Other bands were just not as interested in the craft of making videos. Then there are artists who know how to work with a director to get what’s best for the music. Tina Turner, for example, was a joy to work with.

REM are unique in that they’re highly professional about filmmaking and understood and enjoyed the process. Something really clicked between me and the band. We developed a sort of shorthand way of communicating and there was a lot of trust between us. We were comfortable critiquing each other’s ideas.

 

J: What was the thinking behind ‘Electrolite’?

P: We’d done a number of different things by that point. Highly stylized black and white videos like ‘Man on the Moon’ and so on. This time they just wanted to do something stupid. “Stupid” is the actual word we used.

J: Is that why there are several seemingly incongruous scenes?

P: No. The reason for that is I was a little off guard when Michael called me up about doing a new video. It was very bad timing because I had just finished a commercial shoot and was exhausted. So I proposed splitting the video up into four or five different pieces, each of which would be done by a different director, with no continuity between them. I was working with a production company called Satellite then, and asked if any of the people there were interested. In the end Spike agreed, so we did it together.

J: Where was it shot?

P: The opening scene was shot in the lobby and coffee shop of the Ambassador Hotel.

[Jonny notes: check out The Ambassador. A legendary LA hotel opened in 1921. Home of the famous Cocoanut Grove nightclub where Hollywood icons (Chaplin, Monroe, Fonda, Sinatra, Hepburn etc.) hung out. The Oscars were held there once. It featured in lots of big budget films, too (Forrest Gump, Almost Famous, The Italian Job, etc.). It was also where Robert Kennedy was assassinated in 1968. Sadly, it was demolished in 2005.]

The other interiors were shot on a soundstage. The folks in chains were passersby we filmed in the street or wherever we found them. We shot the dune buggy scene out in the desert. Spike’s scene at the end, with all the special effects, was shot on a giant green screen and green floor in the parking lot of the Ambassador.

J: Spike’s scene?

P: Yes, that’s one of the most popular parts of the video and Spike did it. I’d asked him to get involved and I wanted to give him a lot of room to do what he wanted. So a lot of the budget was reserved for that part. That’s why it’s the one section that’s like its own little film. It has an independent structure within itself.

J: I thought Spike was “second camera” on the shoot.

P: No, he was the co-director and should be credited that way. It’s true that he and I did some of the ‘guerilla’ scenes of the people in chains, which were shot with 16mm cameras. But he directed the parking lot scene at the end.

J: Were any of the chained folks cast?

P: No. Our production assistant just asked whoever happened to be walking by if they’d like to be in an REM video, draped with chains. Completely random. Most people said yes, and that’s who’s in the video.

J: What else was “stupid” about the shoot?

P: Everything. Filming a scene upside down, rubber reindeer suspended from the ceiling. There’s a part where the band appear in silly outfits, as if they’re being interviewed. They weren’t—they were just gibbering on about nothing.

J: The costumes are excellent. Who did you work with?

P: A brilliant costumer called Debra LeClair. I worked with Debra on I can’t remember how many projects, but definitely some high profile ones. Videos for Tom Petty and Bruce Springsteen and several others.

J: Who else worked with you on the video?

P: The editor was Angus Wall, who was also brilliant. He totally understood what we were after. We deliberately set up ‘bad’ edits that were the complete opposite of what you’d do in a typical music video. So, for example, we keep recutting incongruously back to the same shot of Bill over and over at the beginning. It doesn’t fit the song at all.

J: Why have I heard of Angus Wall?

P: Because he went on to become a highly sought-after film editor. He worked a lot with David Fincher and won Oscars for his editing in The Social Network and The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo.

J: Oh, that Angus Wall.

P: Yes, that one.

J: I’ve read that the song is sort of an homage to Los Angeles, or to Michael Stipe’s experience of it. He mentions famous actors and Mulholland Drive in the lyrics. Did that have any influence on the video?

P: Not at all.

J: How long did it take to make it?

P: Oh, a couple of days talking with the band, 5-6 days to prep, 3 days of shooting with conventional cameras (and some more time for the handheld camera scenes), 4-5 days to edit. So, about three weeks?

J: What was most fun for you?

P: When I was a young filmmaker I had a fantasy of working with Roger Corman. I never got to do that but I did see some production stills from one of the last films he worked on. The images were of armored knights jousting on dune buggies in the desert. It was such a crazy idea, and that’s how we ended up with the dune buggy scene.

J: Who was in the suit of armor? It’s not one of the band.

P: The guy in the suit of armor was Bono.

J: Are you kidding? That was never Bono!

P: REM shoots always had major celebs visiting.

J: Wow. I wonder how he got the visor down over his shades!

P: *polite silence*

J: Er, 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 agr—

P: That is one of the stupidest things I’ve ever heard.

JC adds.…..This really is beyond any call of duty.  Jonny had no idea how much the song means to me, nor the fact I’ve always loved the video, so when he floated the idea of getting in touch with Peter, I was excited and hopeful in equal measures, but deep down I thought it was a long shot.  I’m still in shock and awe a few days after the email dropped into my inbox.

Peter Care is actually a legend when it comes to making music videos – as far back as 2005, he received a Lifetime Achievement Award for his work in the field from the Music Video Production Association. He got noticed primarily through his early pioneering work with Cabaret Voltaire and between 1983 and 2004, he worked with almost 30 different singers/bands, many of whom are no strangers to the pages of this little corner of t’internet. If you like these songs, then go and visit YouTube or the likes and have a look at Peter’s outstanding work

mp3: Cabaret Voltaire – Sensoria
mp3: It’s Immaterial – Ed’s Funky Diner
mp3: PiL – Rise
mp3: Bananarama – Venus
mp3: New Order – Regret
mp3: James – Say Something

As far as R.E.M. goes, Peter has directed seven music videos along with the excellent Road Movie, the 90-minute documentary/concert film recorded in Atlanta, Georgia in 1995 at the end of the band’s world-wide tour to promote Monster.

As I said, he’s a legend, so a huge thanks to Vince for helping out with the initial contact, and of course to Peter for being so generous with his time when Jonny connected with him.

JC

8 thoughts on “THE SINGULAR ADVENTURES OF R.E.M. (Part 31) : THE COMPANION PIECE

  1. Wow, what a brilliant follow up to yesterday’s post. Many thanks to Jonny and Vince for making it happen and of course to Peter Care for the fascinating ‘making of’ story. It was Cabaret Voltaire’s ‘Johnny Yesno’ that first grabbed my attention but he also directed videos for Scritti Politti’s ‘Hypnotise’ and a few for Depeche Mode (watch ‘Shake The Disease’ and you’ll see an earlier inspiration for the parking lot scene in ‘Electrolite’). Really interesting to read of Spike Jonze’s greater involvment – watching the video again, it all makes sense, but what a fantastic video, full stop.

  2. Well, that was fun and informative.
    I only knew 2 of the videos above: Sensoria and Rise.

    I’ve never seen the Electrolite video before – the end section is very much my thing – as is the opening.

    A bright, cold sunny morning now kind of feels cosy and warm.

  3. Great read – and another fine scoop, courtesy of JTFL, for this blog.
    Anyone who’s worked with R.E.M. and Bananarama gets my vote.
    Appreciation to all involved in this post.

  4. That was an amazing read! Gold Star moment for JTFL. Peter Care has been a real innovator in Music Video.
    Best question and response in an interview in ages… J : Wow. I wonder how he got the visor down over his shades! P: *polite silence*

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