Saman Kesh talks Hot Chip and aural stalking
We talk to the director and his promo protagonist Martin Starr about torturing a couple with the band's omnipresent music.
Background music is one of those filmic peculiarities we just accept. We, the audience, innately know that they, the protagonists, can't hear the soaring score of banging track that's following their every move. But what if that weren't the case...
In his hilarious new promo, directed by Saman Kesh through London Alley, for indie electro dance act Hot Chip, our hapless stars - Silicon Valley's Martin Starr and This Is Us' Milana Vayntrub - find their not-so-idylic life substantially disrupted by the endless playback of the band's new Hungry Child single. In a desperate quest to find the cause of the aural interruption, we see the pair aggravate neighbours, Uber drivers and even placid therapists.
We were ticked by the film and it's smart concept, so chatted to Kesh about the shoot and its intricacies.
Unlock full credits and more with a Source + shots membership.
Saman Kesh, Director, London Alley
Hungry Child isn't exactly the most conventional music video - did Hot Chip need a lot of convincing to allow their track to be torture for the protagonists?
Haha. When I came up with the idea and presented it to my co-writer on the project, Ellis Bahl, we both were VERY worried the band would be offended by the notion of talking over their track. We actually had a backup idea that we created just in case they hated us for it. However, when I pitched it to Joe over a FaceTime, it was a long silence…very long. I was nervous. Then finally he said. "I think that might just be the right idea for this. I think I can get everyone on board." Then he chuckles a little (ie: the validation I was looking for).
Where did the concept come from? Have you had it in mind for a while, or was it inspired by the track?
When i first heard the song, I knew there was something a little ominous about it, even though it was still that quirky/playful Hot Chip vibe. Originally, I submitted an idea that was clever, dark, but funny. However, I didn't hear back for a couple of weeks. I thought I lost the job. I was really sad and disappointed in myself. It felt like I went on a first date that I thought went well, but then nothing.
Finally, John Moule (the commissioner) hit me back saying "Bad news, the band didn't like any of the ideas." I was really bummed. But then he said "Good news: the band is a fan of your work and want to chat." Cut to a few days later when Joe Goddard and I got on a shaky line, I think he was like in the wilderness or something. Lol. Anyhoo, he said: "We wonder if there is a relationship angle." We talked about our favorite videos, what love meant to both of us, and then I was off to write a new idea.
JUMP CUT TO: I am in an editing session and POP, i get an idea that was almost a little too simple. I kind ‘stress-tested’ the idea of ‘a mysterious song somehow plays through a couple’s bad relationship,’ by running possible scenarios. I related to the idea a lot in my own relationships, yet I also laughed very hard at the very idea…That was a good sign to me. So I rolled with it.
It's impressive that the 'gag' of the piece actually ends up being an interesting comment on relationships. Was that there from the start or something you developed along the way?
As mentioned above, I have had a lot of very interesting (and loud) relationships in my 20s. I often find that many people seem to get stuck in these totally unhealthy relationships where both parties ‘kind of know’ that they shouldn't be in it. Usually, the couple needs some kind of external force like ‘cheating’ or ‘a big fight’ to almost ‘give them permission’ to break up. So, I thought it would be fun if Hot Chip was almost like this ‘break up’ counsellor for a couple. LOL.
The casting of Martin Starr and Milana Vayntrub is inspired. What made you reach out to them?
Martin was a natural choice for me because I imagined somebody who keeps their emotions inside very tightly and perhaps may not even know what they feel inside. We were working on a couple projects together at the time, and he really responded to the idea.
When Martin officially jumped on, I knew I needed somebody with a more extroverted behaviour who’s character would need more ‘emotional intellect.’ I first looked at a lot of people I knew because we had little time, but when I saw Milana’s work, I knew she was the obvious choice. My friend and social media manager connected us on a call and we went from there.
Looking back at the performances, they are both very real. I feel like Milana’s character starts softer than Martin, but then becomes stronger by the end leaving Martin a little more confused by the break up. It just felt relatable to me, and I’m glad it seems to be the case for others too.
Above: Behind the scenes shots from the shoot
How was the shoot? Any unforeseen situations?
The shoot was INSANE. 12 pages in 1 day. That’s not something anybody really wants to mess with. However, we really tried to simplify and go with the ‘film gods’ on this one. Our steadicam operator Colin was a life saver and really helped achieve the camera movements I wanted but under crazy time restraints. And our DoP Nicholas, was able to pre-light the whole house so that we could have flexibility and let the actors organically let the scenes play out.
Unforeseen Situation: The heart attack scene caused all of us to go a little nuts and start screaming at each other. I thought it wasn’t going to work and was really going to kill the video. Haha. But it was clearly the tired brains of a 14 hour day being worried because once in the edit, it was the part I laughed at the most.
In the end, I am glad we pulled it off and it was a reminder that even as I am aging I can still move like a mother fucker, but I don’t think I would ever shoot something as complicated and narrative in such a short amount of time. It’s very hard on crew, the actors. It’s a magical one off for me and I am proud we survived.
We imagine having live playback during the shoot would have been problematic for the mix, so how did you solve that issue? Were Martin and Milana shouting over silence?
We tried to build a volume level from the get-go. However, the shoot was moving so fast and we couldn’t play the music because we were recording their dialogue. So sometimes in all the hecticness of our day, we forgot to have them screaming the lines. Haha. So in post we had to do some ADR and adjustments in those bits in order to sell them shouting a bit more. We were worried about it a little, but in the end, it worked.
What's your favourite moment in the vid?
It’s interesting. I liked a lot of the scenes where people got to interact with each other. I plan to release some bloopers or extended scenes on my social media that show some o the scenes play out. My favourite scene is with the therapist. All three of them were so lovely, so funny, and it was probably the one scene where I felt like my video/joke was working the best as it talks about their relationship as well as makes you laugh. I think most people like the heart attack scene because it’s the pay off, but I really love the therapist. That’s my fave.
Geeky question - were the oversized glasses on the skeleton a nod to Alexis Taylor's trademark specs?
Haha. That was not very subtle, but for some reason nobody caught that. We even tried to brighten them up in the color grade, but still… nobody caught that. I guess you are the first person (at least that has told me) to catch it. So thanks :D
What's up next for you?
I’m trying to do more videos and commercials before I disappear into my features and tv narratives. But the most immediate stuff people will see is a few more music videos in the coming months. I’m having fun with those again at the moment.
Martin Starr, Actor
How did you feel when the concept was pitched to you? What made you sign on for the job?
Loved the concept from the start! And I felt confident that Saman could pull it off perfectly. Which he did.
Have you been in many music videos before? How does the experience differ from the longer-form work you\'re famous for?
Done a few. It’s all fun! I love storytelling from all sides, and especially comedy. Obviously the story in this video was more exaggerated than I’m used to but that’s part of what was so exciting about it! Getting to explore with a group of talented people is what I love most about what I get to do. And I was especially excited that Hot Chip loved the idea because it doesn’t focus on the band as much as most videos. It’s obvious that they have a great sense of humor.
How was working with Saman?
Solid step forward for us. This was the first time for us collaborating in this way and we have a few other things in the works that we’re excited about, including an anthology TV series and a movie that have similar tones to this video. This was a great experience getting to know how we work in the heat of a short production schedule.
The chemistry between you and Milana is great! Had you worked together before?
We’ve known each other for a while and had the fortune of working together on Silicon Valley. I was so happy she came on board to help bring this to life and she absolutely blew it out of the water. W
What was your favourite moment of the shoot?
Laughing. We laughed a lot. The whole crew was incredibly talented and professional so that eliminates a lot of the stress during shooting. We got to just enjoy the experience.
What was the most challenging aspect?
Time. You don’t have a whole lot of time from concept to completion. I don’t remember the timeline exactly but I wanna say it was less than three weeks from when Saman pitched me the idea to when it was released online. And on top of that a quick one day shoot to get all that footage. It’s a lot to do in a small amount of time.