If you took the Luna Brothers’ Girls, mashed it together with the bunny boiler aspects of Basic Instinct and then took a match to your life, that would go some way to explaining the less interactive, more hostile takeover experience of watching/living French electro-pop musician ALB’s project for new track Whispers. Here’s a taste of what you can expect over on albwhispers.com:
Over the past few weeks there’s been a spate of boundary pushing music video projects; whether it’s Queens of the Stone Age’s interactive The Vampyre of Time and Memory, Pharrell Williams’ day long 24 Hours of Happy or Bob Dylan’s multi-channel Like a Rolling Stone. Be that as it may, none of the former managed to smash the fourth wall and blur the lines between fiction and fact as successfully as Whispers. A variety of moving parts had to come together to successfully pull the project off and so we spoke to director Casper Balslev about creating his multiple mistress music video followed by a discussion about the digital aspects of Whispers with CLMBBDO creatives Kevin Salembier and Julien Boissinot. If you haven’t experienced Whispers yet I suggest you jump over there right now before reading our spoiler riddled interviews; it’s ok we’ll be waiting for you once you’ve stopped freaking out!
How did the project kick off, did it start out as a standard pitch to ALB for the promo aspect?
For me, this was far from a typical promo pitch. This is a cocktail of elements of promo, short film, commercial and interactive. The overall concept and digital part was developed by creatives Kevin Salembier and Julien Boissinot at CLMBBDO in Paris. ACNE developed the entire digital content. They also developed ALB´s previous Golden Chains campaign, which earlier earned a lot of attention. This however was very different and focused on turning a narrative with a twist, into a haunting interactive experience. FRENZY, the production company I’m signed with in France, sent me this concept idea from the agency. It was titled ‘The Trojan Horse Music Video’. I was brought in to direct the idea of the film and was immediately drawn in by the overall concept itself and its theme. It flooded my imagination. I felt there was a lot of emotion, depth, characters and storytelling for me as a director to explore. It was dark, yet beautiful. It was complex, yet very very simple. It was like receiving a great script for a movie, much more than a typical promo or commercial. I thought the entire digital concept and idea of infiltrating people’s computers was amazing, I’d never seen it before like this. The film could have been a nice single piece, but the interactive part takes the entire story to another level. I myself tend not to be a huge fan of interactive music videos in general. Personally I’m more into passive forms of entertainment, presenting the viewer with a vision. That’s partly the case here.
I thought the entire digital concept and idea of infiltrating people’s computers was amazing.
Were ALB and the label instantly onboard with the dark tone of the video?
Yes they have been very supportive all the way. Clément (ALB) was on the shoot as well, to support and say hi to all the people doing his video.
The video put me in mind of the Luna Brothers’ Girls comic crossed with Fatal Attraction. Were there any particular influences which inspired the promo and surrounding material?
I’m a big fan of thrillers, the look, atmosphere and feeling, in particular of those from the 90s, so there might be a bit of that. Some of David Fincher’s films were a reference for practical lights and atmosphere.
Could you tell us about the technical process of shooting the multiple mistresses video?
Yes, on paper it sounded a bit complicated with all the multiple mistresses. To me this was an emotional piece, a romantic song, so it was crucial to have the film and story look as realistic and naturalistic as possible. It was solved with doubles, split screens and clever camera angles, old school way if you will. The story line includes the multiple girls on a rampage through the house, that’s how we also shot it. It was a bit hectic. I wanted to be able to work rather quickly, a bit spontaneous and mess around with the girls. Not spend too much precious time on complicated FX shots, but instead focus on characters and the acting. The film was shot in two days. It was an extremely compressed and ambitious shot list and schedule. We shot in an estate outside Paris. I think the owners of the house were a bit surprised and overwhelmed by the amount girls with swords, crew and art direction we turned up with. We wrapped with loud gunshots at 7 o´clock in the morning, under their bedroom. Hope they forgive us.
What’s next for you?
I’m working on some promos, commercials. I wanna do more narrative work, I’m developing a short film at the moment.
Kevin Salembier & Julien Boissinot
You previously worked with ALB for the Golden Chains interactive pop ups promo, did Whispers come directly out of that campaign?
Yes, it’s maybe due of the success that Golden Chains received last year from both the public and the festivals. But it’s mainly due to the complicity between the people who worked on it. Not only with the artist ALB, who exchanged a lot with us about the song, but truly all the people who worked on Golden Chains were also really involved and motivated…even without a budget. It was really easy, fluent and nice to all work together. That’s why when ALB and his label asked us to work on Whispers, it was obvious for us to do it with the same team: Willy Morencé, producer at Frenzy Paris and ACNE production for the digital part. It has been a lot of work for these two music videos and everybody did a fantastic job.
Was the dark tone of the project an easy sell to ALB and the label?
Yes, because it was linked to the track and they instantly liked and believed in the idea. The cool thing with Clément is that he pays attention to the idea matching with the song in terms of meaning and tone, that’s what he liked with Golden Chains too. It’s very nice and easy to work with him, he likes ideas and places his trust in us to develop them.
We’ve seen an impressive crop of interactive promos recently, how did the femme fatale hostile computer takeover concept develop?
Once again it came from the song, that led us to the trojan horse idea. We just pushed that idea as far as we could. As today everybody watches music videos on their computer, it became obvious to extend it digitally. When we started working on the song the idea wasn’t to do something necessarily interactive. It came from the song, the lyrics and the way we interpreted them. Maybe the next one will be a “classic” music video or something totally different.
How much input did you guys have into the content of Casper Balslev’s video element of the campaign? Were there mechanisms in place to ensure the video & digital elements gelled?
Since we started working on this project, it was really important to think about the video and the digital parts at the same time, to be sure everything would match at the end. We exchanged a lot with Casper on the script. Particularly about the psychology of the girl character, which was decisive for the digital “story”.
At the beginning we wanted to use a real virus without people having to accept the terms and conditions. Just deployed through a simple play of the video.
You compromise email, calendar, wallpaper, screensaver, iTunes & webcam with the digital package, was there ever a concern about how much was too much? Were there other things you wanted to do that you had to pull back from?
We didn’t want to annoy people for weeks with notifications each day. That’s why we decided to involved them in a relationship over the previous two weeks. We just left two surprises that will happen later, but don’t worry it’s a nice bonus!
At the beginning we wanted to use a real virus without people having to accept the terms and conditions. Just deployed through a simple play of the video. That meant finding a kind of underground hardcore hacker, which meant working in an illegal way. We were excited about this idea but we quickly dropped it because you know, you can’t really control a thing like that. Maybe we should have asked for some tips from Julian Assange and Edward Snowden.
Was there any pushback from the label/legal about employing the promo’s payload on people’s computers? Were they concerned about potential complaints of overreaching? Did you have to get involved with the (spoilery) Terms & Conditions?
Not at all. ALB, his label, and everybody involved in the project were aware that the intrusive side of the music video is a true part of the idea. Once we agreed on the idea, we didn’t have to persuade them about the way to do it. To tell the truth, were all very excited to push it as far as we could, to see how people would react to this experience.
We just kept in mind not to be too annoying. But honestly, this little intrusion on computers is for pure artistic purposes. It’s a nice virus. You get the track for free, you can find other bonuses hidden in the experience. This is entertainment without any information taken so we don’t think people will be mad at us. Everyday we register with websites and phone apps which sell our information to other companies without warning us. That’s way more intrusive.
The Term & Conditions is a legal thing. Unfortunately it reveals a lot of what to expect but we had to add it. Let’s just hope people keep on not reading them, as always… Even if it seems you did.
Could you describe the technology used to deliver and employ the digital elements of the campaign?
That was the big question. When we had that trojan horse idea, we didn’t really know how to make the digital part alive. But we had the chance to work once again with amazing people at ACNE Production, who found great solutions. It was really a challenge for all of us, knowing there are a lot of actions happening on the computer and, of course, every computer reacts in its own way depending on the system version, if it’s a Mac or a Pc…etc. So it demanded a lot of research and development, and the true involvement of ACNE’s best developers and hackers.
The interactive mistress narrative is crafted in such a way that even absent of the participant’s input it builds a convincing relationship between the two, grounded in a diverse data trail. How hard was it to nail that ‘ambiguous enough but not too ambiguous’ balance?
Thanks a lot. We’re happy if it works and people can place themselves into that relationship. That was also a tricky point. We didn’t want to speak for the viewer, so the best thing to do was to be careful so that people could feel involved in the content left on their computers. For the two week relationship through email for example, we wrote it as if it was a real talk between two people who’ve just met. We tried to imagine some “viewer words” and reactions, and made them feel a bit through the girl’s answers. It had to be ambiguous enough so you could find yourself a place in the story, but not too much so it still actually tells a story. Same for the pictures which are supposed to relate to moments you’ve spent with her. They were mainly shot in POV with a smartphone, to keep that real life/amateur kind of mood. So sometimes it’s not as aesthetic as what you could have in mind for a music video, but it serves the idea and helps to find that balance you were talking about. Unfortunately, we doubt it works the same if you’re a girl living the experience. Sorry.
How do the real locations and Uber elements expand the narrative and also tie back to ALB/Whispers? Does leaving Helen a voicemail trigger any additional elements?
In the same way we were excited to immerse people into that relationship digitally, we thought it could be a good thing that the idea also had a life in some physical places. Leaving clues of this relationship in those places is another change of territory. We were interested the music video’s story taking place in those three different territories: video, digital space, and real life locations.
Plus, if you make it to these locations you’ll be given some ALB bonuses. It works like a kind of treasure hunt. You find the item, the evidence of the relationship, and it leads you to a gift page. That is one of the ways the artist content appears in the music video. There are some others in the emails and photos, but not in the girl’s phone number. But you can still leave a message to show her some love.
People really seem to like the trojan horse concept. Some are quite scared too.
Have you been able to gage the early responses to the project?
They’re pretty good, we have to say. People really seem to like the trojan horse concept. Some are quite scared too. It’s fun. Let’s just say it’s part of the game. And yes, surprisingly a lot of them take the time to go through all the content left on their computers. It’s a true surprise as we all know how little attention we pay to what we see on the Internet everyday.
Can we expect more interactive partnerships between CLMBBDO & ALB (or any other artists) in the near future?
We don’t know if it will be interactive. If the idea deserves it ok, but otherwise it’ll be a different way to do it. We just like music videos. It’s definitely a place for ideas and it’s also a great occasion to work with different kinds of artists and personalities. People who are very concerned with creative expression. I guess that’s what we all like in this exercise. So yes, sure! Most definitely.