Described as a “cinematic retro-futuristic spin on the classic Pinocchio story” which delves into the limitations of technology as a cure-all for loneliness, Belgian directing twosome Norman Bates’ new video for Milow’s We Must Be Crazy packs an emotional punch that’s made all the more potent by the presence of the all too believable animatronic beacon of hope at its centre. DN caught up with the pair to find out more.
We’ve admired your work from afar since your Lowlands music video in 2012, but we’re curious as to the background of Norman Bates and how your partnership formed?
We both met during a film writing workshop and discovered we had a similar taste. So we decided to hook up and create Norman Bates. We’re very happy about our choice, because we gave up our day jobs and decided to develop Norman Bates. So far we’ve done music videos and commercials and we are developing some feature projects, which is obviously very exciting to us.
It’s quite a courageous move taking on the sensitive issue of a couple coping with the loss of a child within the confines of a music video. What drew you to the idea?
For us it was important to tell this story in a very respectful way. The trick was not to dig too deep into the details of the story, and leave some room for interpretation. In our mind this was the most respectful way to approach this theme. What we liked about this idea, is the question: “What drives someone so far as to actually create their own robotic baby?” We thought it was an interesting thought and also a great premise for a film. In short the story is about the limitations of technology to battle loneliness. The moment we pitched the project in that one sentence, we immediately got people’s attention and that’s a good sign.
You collaborated with Chris Clarke and Millenium FX to created the robot baby. How did you work together to create a realistic robot?
Very early in the process we were wondering if our idea about the robotic baby would be possible within the budget limitations we had. We realised there are only a handful of people within the film community with the know how to create these animatronics. We realised that Chris Clarke was one of the specialists in this field. There wasn’t a huge budget, so we tried to charm Chris and it worked. He is a genius, we have to say. Chris is quite famous in the industry and worked with Steven Spielberg on Warhorse, so we knew that we were in good hands. Chris made the robot move realistically by giving it some features that we know from newborn babies: an unstable head, arm movements, etc. The moment the animatronic baby appeared on set, everybody was so quiet as you would be when a real baby is on set. The detail in the expressions of this metal creature, was just amazing. It was pure magic to see it move.
Whilst touching, there’s an unsettling aspect to the film. Were the uncanny valley aesthetics of the animatronic baby an area of concern?
We believe the reason why it’s unsettling is because it feels too real. It’s almost something you could do at home, the only problem is, there is no self made ‘robot-baby-kit’ available. As a viewer, you see it come to life, and you can see the organic approach and the fact that there is no CGI used to create this robotic baby. People respond to these realistic things, and that’s the real achievement of Chris, the animatronic artist. Probably that is why the emotional response to the video has been beyond our expectations. People react to it from their own experience as parents or just as human beings, so people commenting on the video are not merely film geeks. And that is something we really love about film in general, being able to tell stories that are entertaining and thought provoking at the same time.
Your actors Laura Verlinden and Joren Seldeslachts do a great job of projecting their emotional attachment to the baby. What was the casting process for the film?
We knew Laura and Joren from their previous work and we were hoping they would like our script. They did and in terms of casting, we did not do any screen-test or rehearsals prior to the shoot, because we were convinced that they were the right choices for the parts. Rehearsals could have killed the spontaneity of their performance, but we did prepare them for their roles by talking to them in advance and creating a backstory for their characters, more or less the same approach you would do when making a feature film.
You shot We Must Be Crazy over three days, how much flexibility did that amount of footage give you in the edit?
We always shoot a lot, because we shoot in an organic way and although we have a tight script, we try to improvise with our actors and search for the best way to tell a scene. We were lucky to work with these great actors and they we’re really into it, so that made our job easier.
What’s next for you guys?
Who knows? There is always the question what next? For now, we have some commercials planned, and in general we keep dividing our energy between commercial work and fiction. But to be honest, we’d be very willing to make a new music video.