Over the past year or so, DN has been fortunate enough to have a behind the scenes seat for the music video collaborations which have resulted from the partnership between Director Alex Amoling and progressive rap cinema artist Chae Hawk. From Amoling’s music video debut Remember This Night to the broken back premiss of Chin Ups, the pair have always been keen to bring something unexpected to the music video landscape. Now they’re back with new promo Dinner Plates which also unfortunately marks the end of their fruitful Dance Party for the Heavy Hearted collaboration. We asked Amoling to spend some time reflecting on the progression of his music video trilogy and to explain why he really made Chae Hawk crawl through mud.
So, 18 months on from your music video debut Remember This Night, we’ve now arrived at the third film in your DPFTHH trilogy. Congratulations! How do you feel your filmmaking, and the creative partnership with Chae Hawk has developed across the films?
Thanks! I think there’s an apparent growth between not only our relationship, but also the style of storytelling. About a month before Dinner Plates premiered online, Chae held a screening in a Brooklyn for the album visuals. It had been a while since I’d seen everything back to back so it was exciting to see how we’ve progressed. Remember this Night was my first solo adventure into the world of music videos, trying to combine a story with the abstract. With the limitations we had, everything ended up being improvised, so I got to play with a lot of different ideas and really pack that video. It was a grand experiment of sorts for me. From there, I had a few months to write and revise how those different elements interconnected with Chin Ups and consciously, we tried incorporating more of a performance element. Dinner Plates was shot a year after Chin Ups and between them, I directed varying types of projects, so I went into this one with more of a voice and refined sense of story. Over the course of all these videos, Chae and I have been able to bond and learn more about each other, which can be seen in how with each video we get more intimate with Chae.
The love/hate dichotomy of Dinner Plates is something I can definitely relate to, how did the concept develop?
Well there’s two stories behind this. One is my own relationship with this song and the other is the background of its creation. The first is a little more humorous. When Chae first approached me with Dinner Plates, one of my very first remarks to him was, “Sorry to say it, but that’s my least favorite song on the album.” He laughed, told me the story behind it, and then gave me however much time I needed to write it. I decided to take it on, but with no guarantees, and just let it brew in the back of my mind while I worked on other things. There was a constant struggle in my thought process between wanting to create the story and my feelings towards the track.
In a destructive relationship there can be a lot of passion that supersedes pain.
As for the background, Chae came to me with a few parameters based on the background of the song. The location where we filmed actually served as part of the inspiration for the song so it had to be location specific. Also, throughout the album we had been talking about his relationships and for this song specifically, it was based on a very intense relationship that ended badly. It was definitely a love and hate moment in his life and from the way he spoke about it, it felt like a very suffocating and unhealthy experience. Another note from him was that this woman was an artist so I had to try and work that in. Those few elements became the basis for anything I wrote from there. From my perspective, ‘couples in turmoil’ have been covered time and time again, so the writing was a journey to convey that sort of story in a unique way. The line “love homicides that don’t stop,” always stuck out to me as a starting point for the final concept and in a destructive relationship there can be a lot of passion that supersedes pain. A situation like that can create these sort of schizophrenic emotions, which is why we went all in on the bizarre “living dead” quality of it. I think from my past experiences and my love/hate relationship with the track, I was well equipped to bring it home.
You have Chae buried and dragged through the mud. Was that an essential part of the original treatment or mainly something you concocted to pay him back for the chocking and back pain you suffered on Chin Ups?
Hahaha, well we both physically suffered quite a bit on Chin Ups. I was definitely very excited to do that scene. The only thing I overlooked in my excitement was that myself and the crew had to dig out the muddy grave so the payback had a drawback.
It’s a visual that just naturally developed with the story. It’s very much a mentally abusive relationship that we show physically. Him crawling out of the grave and along the mud was my way of expressing that idea that sometimes you can be so blinded by passion and fear change that you fall back into the worst thing for you. Also, when I was writing, I looked at a lot of artwork for Dante’s Inferno. Focusing on hell, death, and rebirth naturally developed scenes like that one in my writing.
Unlike the previous videos Dinner Plates employs a black and white aesthetic. What was behind that stylistic decision?
The main point was that it had characteristics of something that felt timeless, but also dream-like. As we developed the look, from wardrobe to setting, it held a modern prohibition aesthetic quality. It was both ambiguous in time and nature and digital black and white photography holds that sort of lie within itself. The style of it created more of a dreamscape for the project that also lessened the brutality of the scenario within the video.
What was your camera/gear set up for the shoot?
All in, it was a small package for most sets, but too big for the SUV. Let’s just say the car ride with four guys and gear was a bit tight. Going in with Jeff Melanson, the Director of Photography, we decided to film with the Arri Alexa, which I hadn’t shot on yet so I was excited. Compared to my other videos with Chae, we had a bit more backing this time in order to build out a nice package and crew. We filmed a lot on a Dana dolly with speedrails and sticks. Each scene used a lot of natural light so mostly there was a lot of accenting with a set of Joker lights. The performance scene was the biggest lighting setup, which we just filmed outside on the lawn at night.
Another thing I’ve come to expect is the creative use of VFX in your videos, but this time round the focus is very much on the performances as opposed to the effects we do get. Were you consciously making a shift?
For each project, I simply approach VFX from a creative standpoint. With this story, in comparison to the two previous, it just wasn’t necessary to do a lot. Even with the way the story was constructed to its execution, the main point was “less is more.” Continuing with the Inferno inspiration, I only wanted to create a few moments that evoked a similar mix of beauty and dread and Sarah Myers’ painting of the characters became the jumping off point for any VFX shots that I integrated. Besides the final VFX reveal during the performance, this time we really wanted to isolate him as if he’s giving a final intimate statement.
Is Dinner Plates the final chapter of your fruitful collaboration with Chae Hawk or will we be seeing the DPFTHH trilogy become part of an ever growing collection of films you do together?
I’m just excited to hear what he makes next and there will definitely be more collaborations between Chae and myself down the line. For the DPFTHH album specifically, I’ve been fortunate enough to say everything I wanted to and create a tight narrative around it. I feel that any more additions from myself, for this album, would dilute the arc we built. However, Chae should continue to build on it and add other directing voices into the fold that can bring their own perspectives to compliment the other layers of the album.
Is there anything else on the horizon we can get excited about seeing from you?
I am currently pitching a few treatments that I’m excited about. If they get picked up there will be more in the coming months. Outside of music videos, I’m working on a few short film scripts and letting a feature idea brew.