Mulit DN alum Matt Genesis (last seen on Directors Notes here) returns to our pages to discuss his new music video/short film Tanjiro. Created for artist Xavier Goodman, Tanjiro is a classic run-and-gun action fantasy. It tracks Goodman, a man who fuels himself with Sunny D, as he ventures into a criminal hideout to rescue his captive partner. Genesis’ now signature stylised vision is on full display in Tanjiro with the action presented through slick camera movement and eerie neon lighting filling every corner of the dingy criminal hideout. He also weaves some animation into the fray, elevating some of the hyper-violent sequences into full-on anime homage. It’s an awesome promo hybrid and it’s set to be the first in a trilogy of shorts. DN sat down with Genesis to ask him about his collaboration with Goodman, his dedication to planning a shoot heavily through animatics, and the challenge of blending live-action stunts with visceral animation.
How did you initially become introduced to Xavier Goodman and the prospect of making a music video with him?
I met Xavier in a Zoom casting session for a commercial project. It was immediately apparent that he had some serious talent as an actor and I insisted we cast him as our lead on the spot. The client unfortunately ended up going a different route, despite my insisting that he was the best choice for the role. I decided then and there that we had to work together in some capacity. So, I tracked down his contact information and asked if he’d be interested in narrative projects.
He told me that his goal was to act in Marvel movies and that sounded like an excellent place to set your sights to me. He was passionate about his art and down to make anything, anytime, and anywhere. I then noticed that he made music. Unsurprisingly, his talents didn’t just stop at acting. There was one track that I really liked the tone of called Tanjiro. I had been working on developing a sci-fi action adventure film and thought it might be cool to do a music video as a way to have some fun, work together, and play around with the characters I was developing.
Tanjiro is set to be part of a trilogy of shorts, was that also part of your initial pitch to Xavier?
I brought up the idea of doing a short film as a music video. He said he was down immediately. I thought it would be cool to do an instalment of three, inspired in format by the m83 trilogy, directed by Fleur & Manu. The first film would be an action packed character introduction. I took the characters from the film script, gave it a simplified storyline, and tied in key moments from the song to match. The next step was creating an animatic to make sure the story flowed in a way that made sense with the music and helped give shape to how long our scenes should be, especially the action sequences. I can’t recommend previs or animatics enough. It has become a critical part of my process and now it even comes in during the writing phase. It really helps you get specific about your ideas, especially when it comes to timing.
I then sent the script over to my friend Patrick Shelton, the EP over at Current Resident. He thought it would be a fun one to make. We both like Sunny D, superpowers, and a bit of stylized violence. Thankfully, he and CR were down to help fund the project with me. I then compiled everything into a treatment and we began assembling the team we thought could pull off such an ambitious project.
Who did you reach out to first? Were you specifically looking for collaborators who you knew could execute the action sequences to a high standard?
We started by reaching out to our good friend and DP Marcus Taplin. Then we spoke with Ben Robertson over at OSTA Actionwerks. They both liked the idea enough to help fund and produce it as well. After that, we were off to the races.
I can’t recommend previs or animatics enough. It really helps you get specific about your ideas, especially when it comes to timing.
I felt like the action sequences would be a lot of fun with the Bolt Cinebot and provide us with the ability to choreograph the camera in a more rhythmic snappy way than otherwise possible. Marcus knew just the team over at Cinemechanics to help us out. Carsten Johnson and Josh Becker invited Marcus and I to the shop so we could map some of the sequences and make sure what we wanted to do would be safe for the stunt actors. The BTS compared to the live action is fun to watch. It was also just fun to wrestle around a bit with your DP and play stuntman for an afternoon.
I’m really curious to learn more about the animated sequences, which feel very anime inspired, what was the concept behind them and how did you find executing them?
I knew I wanted to have animation sequences because of the anime reference in the name of the track. I thought a bit of hyper-violence mixed in that style of animation could be very cool and allow for some very dynamic shot design in the action sequences. The next step was bringing in an illustrator and animator to help do character development and eventual animation. Alexis Vasquez had a very emotive style in his concept art and even though he hadn’t spent much time working in animation, I thought he would be a great fit for the project. If you can draw one frame that well, why not 24? I started by sending character descriptions and my extremely shit drawings of the sequences and he proceeded to come up with something very rad.
How did you link the animation with those stunt sequences smoothly?
While we were developing the animation, we began having stunt sessions where we would work through the choreography. Tom Ringberg, the stunt coordinator did a great job of helping to fit the movements to Xavier’s character. I wanted it to be as if he was a recovering alcoholic and in order to save the person he loves most he would have to take a drink. There would be a comfort in the midst of the chaos. A disgust, not with the violence but with himself. We agreed on a sort of blunt force look.
Xavier had martial arts experience but no formal pistol training. So we set up a session with Jake Stone, a firearms instructor and one of our stunt performers to help Xavier get proficient with pistols. I personally can’t stand it when you see a military or cop character in a film that clearly doesn’t know how to hold a firearm. This would not happen in our movie! Xavier did a fantastic job getting up to speed. He told me he would practice at home while watching films like John Wick to see if he could get his movement to match.
How challenging was the production itself? Did you come across any on-set challenges when it came to performing these sequences for real?
Our plan was to make this over three days, shooting for two. Day one, the warehouse interiors. Day two, the abandoned salt mine exteriors. We prepped the warehouse with art, pre-lit, and loaded in the Bolt the day before. We preprogrammed our first camera move so we would be ready to rock. Our exploding sofa gag was even pre-rigged and tested. There was a lot of plastic hung on the walls that day. I was really thrilled with how the lighting came out on this project. Marcus and I had a lot of conversations leading up about how we wanted this thing to look and more importantly feel like there was a lot of depth in contrast. I think he did a great job lighting the overall space so the characters could move in and out of light, accenting important moments in our action sequences.
Once we got on set, everything went to plan for the most part. We had prepared and conceptualized this for so long that it was mostly just fun while shooting. Our main priority was keeping all of our talent safe. If you’ve seen a Bolt in action, you know they can move at incredible speeds and they don’t stop if you move in its way. So we would rehearse without the camera until everyone felt comfortable. Then, we would let the camera move at 10% speed so all the actors could block their positions and see what it was going to do. Then, gradually we would increase the speed to get to 100%. The only thing that was beyond stressful that day was that we only had one of these amazing vintage t-shirts sourced by our Costume Designer Olivia Spitz. Lareta, played by Gabby Thomas gets covered in blood after taking out one of her captors. If we didn’t get it in one take, we would have had to rethink the shot. I decided I would be the bearer of that burden and applied the effect myself! Thankfully, that one take turned out and day one was in the books!
Day two’s location seemed to have an awe inspiring effect on everyone involved. It’s a really unique looking spot with these giant yellow domes and connected conveyor belts. The day started with a bizarre torrential downpour that lasted for 30 minutes and then it was beautiful and sunny from there on out. This day had its own element of danger as we had drones and cars moving through tight spaces but it felt a bit more relaxed as the difficult stunts the day before had been completed safely. We of course went over schedule and way into the early morning. But, at the end of it, I think we all had a really good time. And I think how you and your collaborators feel when you make something comes through in the final product. The rough assembly of the project was complete the following day.
Given how extensively you planned every aspect of the film in pre-production, was post-production a reasonably smooth process?
I have a process of editing as we shoot so we know where we can pivot or just feel confident that everything will time out correctly. Premiere Rush on the phone is a good tool for that if you’d like to be a bit more mobile. Then onto finishing. Tom Coben, our VFX lead, and I spent some time before the shoot considering how we’d like the superpowers to feel. We were inspired by heat signatures produced by jet engines for the teleportation scene. Everything pretty much came together as planned thankfully. I think the final effect is subtle and realistic. Well, as ‘real’ as a character branding another with their hand and bending time and space can be. Then, Marina Starke finished with the grade. I am still so in love with where she took everything. It’s great to have someone as detailed, or more, as you looking at the work with a critical eye. I think her taste really added a level of polish that feels fun to watch while keeping the viewer’s eye in the right place on screen.
I thought a bit of hyper-violence mixed in that style of animation could be very cool and allow for some very dynamic shot design in the action sequences.
How do you feel about the finished film? You’ve mentioned to us before about working towards your debut feature. Do you think you’ll be taking some of what you learned here into making that?
Overall, this project was a lot of fun to create. It’s stylistically in line with where I’d like to be when making features. And it feels like the genre of film I am working towards writing for my eventual debut film. I jokingly describe that genre as an action adventure sci-fi dark comedy thriller coming of age film when people ask what I am writing. Thanks so much for taking the time to view my film. It was made by a lot of really talented people and I am super grateful!