What’s better than watching a beautifully creative music video from one of your favourite directors? Well, discovering a few months later that the world which first captured your imagination has been fleshed out into a fully formed short that whilst being full of visual flair, simultaneously sports a narrative which addresses discrimination and segregation, oh and also features some kick ass dance moves from a zebra. I am of course speaking of DN alumnus Carlos Lopez Estrada’s collaboration with electro/pop duo Capital Cities, which in its first iteration yielded the superb music video Kangaroo Court:
I asked Carlos to tell us the truth, the whole truth and nothing but about the development and production of the dual film project:
So Carlos, we’re back once again talking about your music video animal obsession. How did the concept for Kangaroo Court develop? At what point did you become involved with the project?
I’ve finally come to terms with people thinking of me as “the animal guy”. I think I am okay with that. I know that the only reason why Danielle (rep) sent me this brief was because because of the animals. I think I only get those kind of treatments now. But seriously, the band wrote this 3-page narrative with their director friend, Cutter Hodierne, who was also supposed to direct the project. Cutter had a short in Sundance that got picked up to be developed into a feature and, as the shoot dates overlapped, the band had to reach out to the music video world for potential directors. I would have never thought that I could come onto a project as a “director for hire” but this felt like an idea that could be my own, so I decided to do it.
What changes to the initial treatment did you feel were necessary to make the piece your own/more attuned to your style of filmmaking?
Their original script was huge and would have probably made a 3-hour feature film. It had probably twice as many characters and twice as many scenes- so the first challenge was to trim all the unnecessary material and concentrate on the important elements of the story. Then, we had to take a more realistic look at the script to make sure that everything was producible…and we quickly realized that it wasn’t. So then we had to scale back and figure out realistic ways to execute all these things. We worked together mostly during the developing stages of the concept and then the band made it clear that they wanted me to take over during the production process. They are both extremely creative individuals.
The character design is phenomenal and really does a lot to sell the reality of the world. How did you work with Sota FX and Natasha Kutrovacz to develop the look?
It was quite a challenge. We had a budget but definitely not the necessary one to afford everything the video needed. I had worked with both (Sota and Natasha) in the past and knew that we’d be able to figure out some way to make this work. The main characters have custom prosthetic pieces that were designed and constructed at Sota. They were made of a material called latex foam, which was cheap and allowed them to move their mouths and make gestures that wouldn’t get lost behind the make up. Since the main characters were being played by the band and some actor friends made cameos, we wanted to make sure that their faces were visible and people could easily recognize them.
So five months after the promo you’ve released the extended narrative Kangaroo Short. Was there a plan for a longer film always waiting in the wings?
I don’t think there ever was, but it did become obvious when we were cutting the promo that some of the scenes had a longer life, so that is probably how it all started.
When it came to the re-editing of the material, did the promo act as a template or did you approach the film version as a brand new project? Did it require any additional shooting?
We had shot for 2 days with 2 units so we ended up with a ton of footage that we simply couldn’t fit into the song. Everything in this longer version was from the original shoot but we did extend almost every single shot. To me, it feels much more harmonious this way.
John W. Snyder’s playful, ensemble score is a perfect fit for the new film yet very dissimilar to the original promo track. What were the musical cues you shared to arrive at the new soundtrack?
John is the main reason why we decided to move forward with this idea. He is an extremely talented composer and I knew that having him on board would allow us to transform the original version into a much more cinematic experience. We listened to a lot of speakeasy jazz and immediately loved the way it made the footage feel. He had a few tricky things to consider like the actual instruments that the band in the club is playing and the trumpet player in the courtroom, but I really think he did a wonderful job making a cohesive and emotional soundtrack.
How do you see the relationship between the original music video and the longer short? Does one feel more definitive than the other?
I am not sure. I’d say that the promo definitely accomplishes the commercial objective of the project but, to me, as a narrative, the long version is much more dramatically satisfying. I am glad both versions exist tho. You can dance to one and watch the other on a rainy day.
About a year ago your feature project stalled at the 11th hour, is that something you plan to resurrect? What can we look forward to from you in the future?
This is true. I actually have no idea how you know this but it is pretty incredible that you do. I had been working on this movie for almost a year and ended up parting ways with the production only a few months before the shoot. A fun fact about this is that I wanted both Darren Criss and Shannon Woodward for the main roles and ended up working with both of them on this video only a few months later, which was serendipitous. I am definitely hoping to sneak into the narrative world again tho… hopefully soon.