If like me, you’re a fan of the cinema of the strange, you’ll be aware that menacing gas huffers and severed ears may well lurk just beneath the surface of what appears to the untrained eye to be simple suburban mundanity. This off-kilter tone is put to good use in Jonny Look’s All Smiles Over Here 🙂 which sees ‘Vada Vada’ duo The Garden experience the strangeness of small town living amid a cascade of noodles. DN invited Look to reveal how he coupled suburban nostalgia with practical effects for a film which seeps sweet and sour unease.
I drove out to the suburbs of Orange County, CA to meet with Wyatt and Fletcher of The Garden a month before we made the video to try and figure out a fitting concept for All Smiles Over Here 🙂. The town they live in reminded me of my hometown in Ohio, or any other suburb for that matter – there’s a comfort in the sameness of it all. While we drove around Orange in their mini van, they pointed out their choice food spots. We even visited their Grandpa’s workplace. It was nostalgic for me, and must have seeped into my thoughts on the song. I knew the suburbs should be the backdrop to the video, which is probably the most unthreatening backdrop you could have. Creating an eerie and somewhat aggressive perspective in the suburban landscape became the main objective for the video. The guys don’t really take themselves that seriously, even though their music and aesthetic might seem like they do. I wanted to create something that was silly at its core, but packaged in a dramatic way, creating a more sarcastic and tongue in cheek film.
When scouting for locations and settings to shoot in, our Producer Russell Sanzgiri and I were searching for completely unthreatening places. We shot in a poppy-toned Chinese family restaurant, casted Wyatt and Fletcher’s actual Grandfather to drive them around in a baby blue El Camino, then presented those scenes like some real serious shit. With help from slimey props and threatening cinematography (thanks to Chris Westlund) I think we were able to achieve that feeling of unease in the comfortable suburbs. The idea and concept basically assembled to create performances during a night-out in Orange, CA. We wanted to build scenarios in the suburban setting, while increasing some sort of overbearing force to evoke an almost reasonless tension, bringing out mystery to the mundane. That was the thought at least…
I also wanted the entire video to feel like you were driving by; catching a moment of their night. So we used the idea of driving by trees and the neighborhood, and continued the camera technique of ‘driving by’ objects in the Chinese restaurant and their limbs on the pavement to continue that thought; linking each scenario with the camera movements. I’m a huge fan of practical FX in general with a bit of DIY aesthetics. I really wanted to have textures that would be both a little disturbing and fun: greasy noodles, slimy sweet and sour sauce, broken glass, and fog. Since we also had a very quick turnaround (basically 5 days to complete all shooting and post) before its release on the Fader, that restricted us to mainly practical FX to keep post-time to a minimum. There was one mixed practical and VFX shot, but besides that, we mostly used camera tricks and tubes of sweet and sour sauce to pump out of props and through the Garden’s heads. Simple stuff.
Outside of just this idea, I’m a big fan of garbage, slime and making a mess. I think a lot of music has a slimy movement to it and it’s something that always comes up in my treatments and videos. Even though it’s always annoying and a bit of a hassle to film that sort of stuff, I knowingly forget that from project to project – I think it helps to create a visual texture to the track’s soundscape. No one likes to have the smell of lo-mein on their hands for a week, but ultimately I think it creates a community on set. We’re all going to stink, and we’re in that together.