The new video for rock band Spoon's "Do I Have to Talk You Into It" consists of lead singer Britt Daniel being rapidly morphed, deformed, beautified, clone-stamped, liquified and peeled apart in Photoshop. At one point, Daniel is transformed into a coyote, the Photoshop interface drops away for a split second, and we just see some video of a snarling coyote in the woods. Why not?
The familiar Adobe interface gets as much pride of place as the rock star does, and like the YouTube "speed edits" that inspired it, the video is fundamentally about its own making. Director Brook Linder rebuffs the idea that the video is trying to say something about the pains of celebrity or fashion-world retouching. "You want to have a light touch so that people can bring their own interpretations to it," he told Gizmodo. If there's an element of reflection on celebrity seeping into the video, he said, it's more likely coming from the redefinition of celebrity that's facilitated by platforms such as YouTube. It's a place where you can be a minor celebrity just doing speed edits in Photoshop. "These weird micro-genres that come out of YouTube, Vine or Instagram - the celebrity aspect is all folded up in there."
He added, "Thirteen-year-olds are coming up with really insane stuff." One genre he loves is "slime videos" - the ASMR-style clips in which people pull, poke and prod gelatinous slime. He ended up adapting that style into a more polished and professional take for Beck's "Colors".
When it came time to make a video for Spoon, Linder says he was dealing with the same limitations that he's always had, and that the restraints on time and money aren't so much an obstacle as an inspiration. The 27-year-old director got his start making videos for local bands in his hometown of Springfield, Missouri. He began getting some work after making videos for his friends in the band Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin. "We would have $300 or something to make something interesting looking," he told Gizmodo. "And it was kind of a boot camp on efficiency and ideas."
He says that it was a straight line from Missouri to Los Angeles where he has started to make a name for himself. The videos that he makes are still pulled together on a shoestring budget, but the names of the artists have gotten significantly bigger. In the last year, Linder has directed clips for Beck, Nine Inch Nails, Wolf Parade and others. In his latest, for Spoon, he continues his approach of executing a single, concise idea, with tools that are available to pretty much anyone. In fact, the tools are front and centre.
When it became clear that his time with Spoon's singer would be limited, Linder had to figure out an approach that was better than just shooting a band against a coloured background: "We're going to have him in a studio, what can you do there, conceptually, that hasn't been done?" Linder has always relied on the "YouTube University" to teach himself how to use the programs he needs to make his work and he found himself getting mesmerised by speed edits - videos that quickly run through the laborious process of making complicated Photoshops.
One example of a speed edit from YouTube.
"The way speed-edits look is really crazy," he said. "People drop EDM tracks on them and it's just totally hypnotic the way these things move." He realised that making his own next-level speed edit video would be a nice solution to the limited resources he had for the Spoon video. He sat down with Britt Daniel and did a standard photo shoot with a Red 8K camera to give himself plenty of resolution to zoom in. Then he sent out all of the photos to be Photoshopped by his acquaintances Jack Wagner, Adam Padilla and Anthony Isaac. He'd give out minimal direction such as, "Indiana Jones melt-the-face off," and, "he drank from the wrong cup, and melt the face off."
His three collaborators sent him back hours of screen-recorded footage to edit down to a little over four minutes. He loaded the clips into Adobe Premiere and proceeded to speed-up, slow-down and trim away the segments frame-by-frame until he had the stop motion look he was going for.
A lot of Linder's work utilises computer interfaces and a more familiar, overtly "dark" take on technology. When I ask how he feels about the current state of tech, he admits that there's a bit of an apocalyptic vibe going on at the moment. "People are a little bit paranoid, a little bit dark, things are feeling a little creepy," but "it's sort of funny at the same time." For "Do I Have to Talk You Into It" he wanted something that's kind of light, but sinister - kind of like YouTube. He's looking to avoid the on-the-nose dystopian approach right now. "I think it's more interesting to go the other direction and have this kind of strange feeling that there's something creepy happening behind the screen."