Likely the most novel way you’ve seen devised to stave off hunger in a post-apocalyptic world, Thomas Pike’s New Neighbourhood for Australian four piece Mount Defiance is a joyfully absurd take on the inventiveness required to survive at the end of the world. DN invited the Melbourne based director to share his wild bird wrangling tricks, the advantages of genre stories for music videos and why it was important to play this ridiculous concept as straight as possible.
It’s really hard to recall the train of thought that led me to this idea. I know I didn’t want to adhere to the songs lyrics too closely (really at all), and to instead treat the video as more of a companion piece, so other than that I think there were just a few things I knew I wanted. I knew it needed to star a couple but that the exact details of their relationship would have to stay somewhat vague. I also knew that I wanted to have a strong story (for a music video at least) and to put that story within a well defined genre. I’ve always thought that using a well defined genre in a music video is really advantageous, as by using a few basic tropes an audience can recall a lot from what they’ve seen before, allowing me to remain scant on details whilst instilling a lot of useful preconceptions onto the viewer. I guess it just makes the story feel denser than it is. Motive is clear and the stakes are clear.
I’ve always thought that using a well defined genre in a music video is really advantageous.
So from there I think it went – let’s try putting this in a post-apocalyptic setting, let’s base the story around their search for food and if that is their motive, what’s the most absurd way to hunt or find food. The rest tumbled out pretty quick. Frighteningly quickly.
For the video’s development, the first question was money, of which we had none. I reached out to Cinematographer Anthony Koreny, who as well as being brilliant at doing a lot with a lot, is great at doing a lot with very little. Knowing the crew would be us plus one other at best, we decided to use a cinema zoom (Angenieux 25-250 t3.9) so we could move quickly on the shoot days and still be expressive with our camera. With that in mind we combined elements of The Road, Ash Vs the Evil Dead, and 2018’s Suspiria to come up with the visual style.
Basically, this mix of tones was because we wanted it to be playful in areas but also to have sections shot very straight and serious, which I think makes the video funnier. This was also a decision I made in the performances, there are no funny faces or goofy movements, they are taking this ridiculous bird trap as seriously as they can.
I really liked playing around with the zoom in a post-apocalyptic setting.
I really love zooms and I love seeing them used in work other than comedies (like in Suspiria), this is obviously a pretty silly video, but I really liked playing around with the zoom in a post-apocalyptic setting and just really over cranking it and seeing where it lands. We did all the zooms by hand, as any sort of smooth/electronic movement would have felt really out of place.
The next big challenge was the bread suit, which I made myself, its construction probably testing my house mate’s patience more than my own. The smell of drying PVA and bread isn’t exactly pleasant. The other two big challenges in development were the first location and testing how many birds we could attract with some hot chips. The first location was a huge find, coming across a former explosives store really close to where I lived. As for the tests, they conclusively showed that a lot of birds would show up when there are hot chips.
Casting was very easy, I had someone in mind from the very beginning, Lucinda Ventimiglia and I was hoping her boyfriend Gareth Morgan (who is not an actor but is brilliant) would also be happy to be involved. He was.
The other thing I like to do is a mock edit before I shoot, this is only for music videos where I put down text descriptions of the shots over the song. I don’t stick to this, it always changes once you shoot, but it helps me know if I’ve developed the idea enough, if there are sequences that might drag and importantly if the story evolves with the progression of the song.
Shooting was over 3 half days (plus a few pickups for stuff like birds turning). One half day was for the first location where the bread suit is made, and the other two were for the beach. We split up the beach section because of the actors’ availabilities, and so we could use the sun to our advantage more, shooting one section in the morning (for everything in the hills) and the other in the afternoon (for everything facing the water).
As I mentioned the main direction for the actors was to take this all very seriously, it isn’t ridiculous to these characters, and so it’s important that that comes across. Other than that I told Gareth that he was basically a mule, carrying all the shit and facilitating the driving force of the video which was Lucinda’s character. Lucinda just needed to be the boss.
There are no funny faces or goofy movements, they are taking this ridiculous bird trap as seriously as they can.
The shoot days were fun and relaxed (I think…I hope), where the small crew meant we could experiment and play around within the style we had discussed. The only sections that were really difficult were when I knew we had to time it exactly to the music and anything to do with birds. They don’t play nice.
Post was actually really simple, there are a few sections where I was a little angry at my coverage, but they are the kind of thing only I’d notice. I did the edit and Anthony did the grade. So that plus one VFX shot (that was most generously provided by Robert Wojciechowski), meant that the video was done pretty quick and easy.
I had a blast making this, we got to experiment, make something wacky, just hang out and shoot shit. It was great.
New Neighbourhood is one of the many great projects shared with the Directors Notes Programmers through our submissions process. If you’d like to join them submit your film.