There’s something deeply intriguing about the rows of anonymous doors you find in hotels and motels. The very fact that you rarely have any idea about the dramas in play behind them imbues each room with the pregnant potential of possibility. In his 16mm music video Bullet Time, Sydney-based Director Daniel Swinton opens the door on the private antics of four strangers taking up temporary residence at a highway motel. Eavesdrop on the various goings-on and then learn how Swinton developed his concept of individuals submerged in a private purgatory between their current lives and the one they dream of for psychedelic rock four-piece Shy Panther.
What initially inspired the concept of this transient purgatory music video and how did the project evolve from there?
I have always had a certain curiosity with places designed for those passing through – their transient nature evoking a curious feeling of displacement. Places like a highway motel where strangers come and go, seeking privacy and escape. Who might some of these people be? What might they be running from? These questions formed the basis of the idea and I began searching for a piece of music to build the narrative around.
Whilst searching Triple J Unearthed (a digital radio station focused on discovering local talent) I came across Bullet Time by Shy Panther, a 5-piece band from Perth in Western Australia. The pensive and somewhat otherworldly feeling the song creates immediately drew me in. The varying tempo and dynamic melodies gave the story an emotional structure for the narrative to follow. So with the song on repeat, I began to write what I saw unfolding during these moments and the characters grew from there.
I have always had a certain curiosity with places designed for those passing through.
I knew I probably only had one good shot at pitching my idea to the band, which by now had a completed script and a rough treatment in place. As we lived on opposite sides of Australia the pitch had to be done online, so I created a website, reached out to the band with an email, and waited anxiously for a reply. It is worth noting that this project was now going to be completed as my university graduation project meaning there was now a due date. Luckily after roughly a week they got back to me and loved the idea. So it began!
The video’s overall concept reminds me of the Duplass Brothers’ Room 104 series. Why did you choose to portray these characters in particular and is there something deeper than location which you’d say units them as a larger whole?
I haven’t actually seen Room 104 but looking into it, I can totally see the parallels. It’s an interesting place to explore the similarities and differences between multiple characters and stories, and through the physical environment being the only constant, that becomes a sort of character in itself, which I love.
I think there are a few reasons why choosing these characters, diverse in age and gender, has a purpose. Ultimately, I think it speaks to the fact that struggle is indiscriminate and it takes many forms. It is something unique to the individual experiencing it, but universal at the same time. So I wanted to play with the idea that whilst struggle can manifest itself in different ways, and result from different things, it may ultimately lead to the same place. And that’s what see in these characters by the end of the film.
Struggle is indiscriminate and it takes many forms. It is something unique to the individual experiencing it, but universal at the same time.
This sort of ties into what unites the characters beyond the physical place. Throughout the production, we viewed the motel as a ‘purgatory’ between the life they dream of and the reality they must confront. So whilst in a physical sense they are united by place, on a deeper level, they are all at a defining moment in coming to terms with who they are or who they need to become. When I looked at it like this, I found it gave the motel a sort of otherworldly quality, not really here nor there, which tied in really nicely to the tones of the song.
What informed the stylistic look of Bullet Time, your choice of gear and subsequent production process?
I reached out to Cinematographer Sean Ryan who realised the visual potential of the story and was excited by the opportunity to shoot 16mm film. We began exchanging ideas and references. I cited the photography of Philip-Lorca diCorcia and Greg Girard as primary references, as well as the moods created in Gregory Crewdson’s work. We continued to build these references and eventually put together visual profiles for each of the characters. We received support from Kodak and Panavision Australia who allowed us access to film stock and gear (ARRIFLEX SRIII with Zeiss T1.3 set) at a discounted rate.
After paying a visit to the majority of motels in New South Wales we decided to shoot the interiors in one location and the exterior’s elsewhere, roughly a 5-hour drive apart. This was a balancing act in finding somewhere that was aesthetically interesting enough, as well as large enough to shoot some of the action sequences in.
Pre-production lasted roughly 8-weeks and then we began the 5-day shooting period. The montage sequence at the end of the film was all shot in the one house — a large heritage listed building that still retained a lot of its original character.
We shot 1600ft of film (roughly 43mins) which we had processed in Sydney at Neglab and 2K Scanned at Park Road Post in New Zealand. This left 4 weeks for post-production before the project was due for submission.
Could you tell us more about building momentum and ordering the various room scenarios during the edit?
The process of building momentum and pacing the scenes was mostly dictated by the song itself. The distinctions in the song are sometimes subtle and sometimes very obvious. This helped me determine what mood had to come from each scene and when this had to change. This natural rhythm is also what drew me to the track initially — I saw the progression of the music unfolding in a way that was very suited to the arc of a story.
In ordering the scenarios of the characters, they were done so in a way that created a contrast between the events unfolding. Two of the four scenarios are very action based, whilst the other two are more gentle, so staggering the order of these events felt like the most interesting way to reveal the story. The Clerk was then an important means of moving the audience between the spaces, giving his character a strange, passive quality as he witnesses the action unfold.
Music videos excite me as a tool to explore and, if done well, elevate both music and image.
Ultimately, do you feel that placing this pre-existing idea within the confines of a music video structure enriched or limited the original concept?
The idea was only pre-existing insofar as I knew I wanted to explore this transient place that is a highway motel, and some of the people that might be lost here. What stories take place behind closed doors? From this point, the idea was developed around the piece of music by Shy Panther. I do feel, however, that through the project being a music video, it allowed for a certain narrative freedom (as the form does) that enabled us to convey a feeling, a tone, and perhaps an idea in a much different way than if it were in the form of a short. That is why music videos excite me as a tool to explore and, if done well, elevate both music and image to something greater than if put together in another way.
Do you have any projects coming up which we should know about?
I’m not sure where my next project will come — I have a few scripts in early form, a short crime thriller and a couple of horror shorts that I am looking to finalise. But in the meantime I’m always searching for artists to collaborate with on another clip, so who knows. I’ll try not to panic.