Sam Pilling On Punching Politicians For 'Nobody Speak'
The Pulse Films director on how he got involved in the ambitious and audacious DJ Shadow & Run The Jewels music video.
It’s hard not to notice that, politically speaking, things have got a little heated in the Western world of late. We’re all used to the standard lines politicians throw at each other, but how much better would it be if they threw-out the speechmakers and spin-doctors and engaged in a OTT, witty rap battle? Like the sound of that? Then you’re going to LOVE ‘Nobody Speak’.
Directed by Pulse Films’ Sam Pilling, the awesome promo sees DJ Shadow & Run The Jewels creative language put into the mouths of two infuriated politicians, at first trading jibes, then blows, then all-out brawlage! Shot like a Hollywood thriller, the video’s po-faced assembly and perfect casting makes for a real treat, which already has the internet ablaze.
We were thrilled by the film, so grabbed Sam to chat lip-sync, stunts and directing a pig amongst politicians.
How did you get involved in making the vid?
When the guys at Pulse sent me the track I was actually in Canada scouting, right in the middle of another project. I had no time to think properly but immediately loved the track. I listened to it on repeat whilst we drove to a location in the wilds of the Yukon, and jotted down my initial ideas. One of which was this.
I quickly put it into a one-page treatment and we sent it over to the guys at Mass Appeal.
If I’m honest, despite Run The Jewel’s outwardly political standpoint, I thought they probably wouldn’t go for it but we quickly heard was that Shadow and RTJ’s camps both loved the idea. Next was the tricky bit in working out how we were actually going to make it happen and do justice to the banging track.
Where did the concept come from? What about the song screamed ‘angry diplomats’ to you?
When I listened to the track I couldn’t help but think how awesomely ridiculous Mike and El’s lyrics were and how the track almost subverted the typical ‘rap battle’ as each rapper tried to verbally out do the other with more and more disgusting and preposterous insults.
I got thinking about real-life scenarios where people battle verbally and probably due to the “Trump fucks his youngest” line, I thought “wouldn’t it be hilarious to have two political leaders facing off in a heated debate using these awesome lyrics?!”
The concept grew and built from there. However, despite the ridiculousness of the situation, I was adamant that the performances should be played completely straight, the humour coming from the set-up, rather than a hammy, over the top approach and style.
What influenced the aesthetics of the film? Were there any movies/images that you gave to the art dept. as a direct reference?
From an aesthetic point of view I wanted the video to look like a film: mature, cinematic and with a level of opulence that fitted the political situation we were showing. In terms of dressing and art department, all the references I provided were photos from real-life government / political debates or meetings at the United Nations.
I had a few visual, lighting and colour palette references that ranged from House of Cards, the film work of Roy Andersson, a short film by Denis Villeneuve, Renaissance paintings and the film 300 that the DP and I talked through.
Where was the location? It looks incredible, and we know that music video budgets have to be stretched tight!
We filmed in Kiev at the “Ukrainian Dom”, which is now an exhibition space, but used to be the Lenin Museum back in the day. Radioaktive went above and beyond to meet my outrageously over the top location and lighting needs. We actually brought in all the furniture from another potential location, and then Sergey Vinnichuk and his team smashed the art department and dressing! It was apparently reported that we had all of the available blackout in Kiev – and I can well believe it!
How was it working with the actors? The lyrics they lip-sync are kinda ‘against type’ for their look – did they have any issues?
For the main part working with the actors and stunt actors was an absolute pleasure. Both our leads; Igor and Ian really understood the tone of the video and the downplayed performances and humour that were required for the individual roles. They also got the subtle differences in each of the two politician’s characters and how their relationship shifts as the video plays out.
However, the lip-sync was DEFINITELY an issue. We had a rehearsal day where I worked closely with Ian and Igor. The hardest part was trying to get the lyrics to come naturally to the actors, so they could focus on the actual performance and acting required.
The rehearsals went well but on the actual shoot day, with a lot of timing pressure it was incredibly difficult for Igor to get the lip-sync right. From the casting sessions in NYC I found that it was extremely difficult (even for an English speaking person) to recite Run The Jewel’s complex lyrics, let alone for someone from the Ukraine, with English as a third language!
There’s a lot of stunt work / action in the vid (plus a pig!). How much does this complicate a shoot? Were there any aspects you were particularly worried about?
Hahahaha! Yeah it complicates a shoot A LOT! What’s that old adage about working with animals….?
But in terms of the stunts, everything went fairly smoothly. We had a rehearsal day where I worked closely with our stunt coordinator Illia Lurchyshyn, explaining what specific actions and blocking we needed. Him and his stunt team really smashed it out of the park and made that part of the process much easier than it could have been!
I was concerned that we wouldn’t get all the close-ups of the specific stunts, which would mean there wouldn’t be enough visual development in the fighting sequence to keep it engaging throughout. In fact this was my main concern and something Illia and I worked very hard on. Ensuring that each little moment had enough of an arc in it’s own right, rather than just one impact moment.
How was it putting it all together? Any changes needed?
The edit was a pretty smooth process to be honest. Ellie and I worked closely on it for the best part of a week. Of course there are always comments that we batted back and forth but everyone loved the video and essentially the first cut got signed off.
The film premiered on Funny Or Die, rather than the more conventional YouTube launch. Were you involved in making that decision? Were you nervous about that dreaded Funny/Die meter down the bottom?!
No, the guys at Mass Appeal sorted out the FOD premiere – and yes, I was definitely worried which way that meter would go, thankfully viewers saw yellow instead of red ;)
We actually had no idea of each other’s ideas or concepts – great minds think alike I guess ☺ hahaha! Ninian described it as “a very weird hive mind phenomenon” Which is the short answer. In reality I think everything that has been happening politically over the last few months, both in the UK and the US is not only fairly hard to ignore, but also completely ridiculous, and these videos are obviously our way of responding to this recent political madness.
What is it about Pulse that results in these endlessly awesome vids? What’s your favourite thing about being signed there?
It’s hard to give a real answer to that question, as I have no point of reference of what it’s like to be with another production company.
Personally I think there are some really hungry, young directors at Pulse who are trying to push the boundaries and make interesting, compelling work. But I also think the environment at Pulse is one which champions good ideas and creative thinking. There is also a real feeling of being part of a family and the team at Pulse have constantly supported me, helping to develop my work.
Without the continued support of Marisa, James, Sarah & Sarah and Arlene this video could not and would not have actually happened! I am eternally grateful to them for sticking with it and believing in the project.
What’s up next for you?
More video and commercial projects, plus I’d like to make a short film. I have a few ideas bubbling around but would love to collaborate with a scriptwriter on something.