Stripping away the wholesome facade of the picture-perfect family to reveal the dysfunction which lies within, Julia Kupiec’s Truth for singer-songwriter Jake Tavill saw the Brooklyn based director head to the singer’s familial home to shoot a delightfully satirical music video of a household in emotional freefall. DN asked Julia to share how along with her talented crew she brought this playful depiction of not so happy families to life.
A professor of mine in the film department at NYU sent out a massive list of music students who’d like content made for their work. I had recently forced myself to recognize that I better become more pro-active in seeking out directorial work as I approach the end of my college career (as awkward as self-promotion may feel at times) so I can actually, maybe, one day make money. I decided to sift through the links to various Spotify pages to see if there was anything that sparked interest.
I found Jake’s song Truth probably an hour or so into my search. The concept of a seemingly perfect, but in reality incredibly dysfunctional, suburban family immediately came to mind. The song is from the perspective of one of the sons in this family. The image of an awkward teenage boy and his rag-tag group of high school band members performing this song, which totally rags on the entire family, in their parent’s basement seemed hilarious to me. I reached out to Jake with a very general concept for the video to see if he was interested. He was, so we set to work.
Our pre-pro process lasted about two and a half months. The concept continued to develop – my friend Spencer (a fabulous writer) suggested the idea of a ‘family portrait’ as one of the scenes in the video. I thought that was perfect. The portrait would be the image this family presents to outsiders, while chaos would ensue inside the home.
I wanted to play with cliche suburban stereotypes (mom’s sleeping with the hot gardener, dad loves golf more than his children, cheerleader sister has a coke problem, hyper-masculine football star brother is actually gay). I knew I needed to make the brother’s character more interesting than simply “plays football and is gay.” It’s not funny for him to just be gay (and it could come off as borderline offensive if the joke is solely that he’s gay). Definitely didn’t want that. This is where the idea of the brother ALSO sleeping with the hot gardener (and this leading to a blow up between he and the mom) came to fruition. This decision basically solidified the tone for the video: total satire, the more stupid-funny, the better. I watched a LOT of old music videos from the 90s for inspiration. Gotta love em.
The portrait would be the image this family presents to outsiders, while chaos would ensue inside the home.
When it came to casting, I was already visualizing actors I had previously worked with for the parts. Of course, Jake Tavill (the artist) would play himself. He had no prior acting experience, but I had no doubt he could pull it off. The father is played by Richard Biermann (one of the leads from my last short). He’s wonderful and was the first person I contacted when I locked this project. The sister is played by a dear friend of mine and fellow NYU student, Alani Waters. She’s hilarious – on and off the screen. The brother is played by George Copeland. He had been cast in a project I directed about a year before and I’d been waiting to write a part that would work for him so we could collaborate again.
The gardener is played by none other than my roommate and best friend, Matt Foundoulis (fun fact: he was also our gaffer). This man can do everything and has the best attitude of anyone I know. He had never acted before and he just said, “Sure, sounds like fun.” I want to be Matt when I grow up. The mother is played by Helene Kvale. This is the only part that I held auditions for and Helene was so clearly the perfect match. She totally vibed with the concept and was clearly a grade-A human. Crazy intelligent. I was desperate to work with her. Finally, the band members were played by the actual band – they’re the sweetest boys ever.
The crew was comprised of my best friends at NYU. Ace Buckley is the most talented cinematographer I have ever met (he’s also my boyfriend but I promise I’d still say that even if he wasn’t). Alex Kary was our 1st AC (she’s superhuman and can do pretty much everything better than anyone else). I’ve already told you my undying love for Matt, our gaffer/sexy gardener. Claire Stacy and Madeleine Wall were our producers (and also basically my therapists). They’re killer. This project happened because of them. I’m super disorganized – they fill in where I lack.
This music video was super low budget – about $2,500. We shot it at Jake’s parents home because we couldn’t afford a location. It was dumb luck that his house looked totally perfect for the video. Jake’s family was super accommodating. They’re awesome. Also, the dog in the intro sequence is Jake’s actual dog, Chai. I think she’s a star in the making.
We got all of our equipment from friends for super low rates. We shot on an Alexa Plus with a set of Ultra Prime lenses. Calvin Falk was our Steadicam operator. My DP and I thought it was really important to fly the camera with a Steadicam on this project. That was how we got all of our super long tracking shots through the hallways and allowed me to really play with the choreography of the piece. Lighting was minimal. We had a few D12s and a litemat.
Shooting took place over the course of 3 days. Everyone made fun of me because I wanted so many shots. In their defense – it was a totally ridiculous amount of shots for a 4 minute music video. BUT GUESS WHAT GUYS? Every single shot is in the cut. EVERY SINGLE SHOT. I’m going to write that on my gravestone.
The edit came together super easily. I always edit my own work (because I’m young and poor and can’t afford an editor) and I was so worried about this cut before the shoot. I knew it was going to be really difficult to tell a story with so many characters and so many scenes in such a short amount of time. But it worked! Thank god. I think I’d die if it didn’t. Jake made a great song and I wanted to make a video that did some kind of justice to that.