The Wall-Nuts Interview with Natasha Pincus (STIUTK Director)

Natasha Pincus is the visionary director of many film-pieces and music videos including “Somebody” and Missy Higgins’ “Everyone’s Waiting” and “Unashamed Desire.”  Natasha (Tash) was the originator of the simple yet brilliant concept for STIUTK and toiled alongside Wally, Kimbra and the Stark Raving Productions team to create the now record-breaking video. We had a little chat with Tash about her experience producing STIUTK as well as her work with other artists.

Check out some cool behind-the-scenes images from the creation of an iconic clip! (check out our faves below)

Were there other concepts considered, and what was the deciding factor for the projected Making Mirrors artwork as the final cut?-Denise

 I initially had two different ideas for the video and initially explored both of them. The concepts were quite similar to each other, but used different visual techniques. The other idea turned out to be prohibitively difficult and expensive to execute…which ended up being a happy result!

 In terms of the artwork used in the video, we really wanted to use a piece that was going to feature in the album’s art. Initially we explored using the artwork from the album cover, but it is so intricate it would have been nearly impossible for Emma Hack (the body painter) to paint on Wally and Kimbra. It was important that the selected artwork be detailed enough to be able to achieve the camouflaging effect, but not so detailed that it would be impossible to paint.

The artwork that features in the inside cover of MAKING MIRRORS is an original piece by Frank de Backer, Wally’s father. Wally is a whiz on Photoshop and was able to manipulate Frank’s painting using that software, so we went through a process of selecting the best part of the original artwork that would amplify to full canvas size and fit our purposes. We tested a photo of Wally in various positions within various parts of the painting. The decision that was eventually made was primarily an aesthetic one – where the colors and design worked best across both bodies, and so also told a story of colors overall. There is a wonderful fractured aspect to the design, telling a metaphorical narrative of a relationship in pieces where each character embodies their own emotional color-scape. The final artwork chosen also felt very contemporary to me, connected to a universal appeal. So it was really a mix of art and science that informed the final choice.

Natasha and Wally on the red carpet at the MTV-VMAs in 2012

Natasha and Wally on the red carpet at the MTV-VMAs in 2012

Did you know Wally would be pretty willing to do this before you pitched the idea to him?-Christine

I had no idea. I had met Wally a few times previously, in social situations, and I was a big fan of his music. Knowing him to be an artistic leader who takes risks for his videos, I was hoping he would see what I could see in the potential of my idea. But still, I knew this concept would be very confronting for him. He would be ‘seen’ for the first time in one of his videos in a very raw and real way (and by that I mean emotionally) and that is a challenging thing for anyone to do, especially while also singing about very personal subject matter. While I knew Wally was bold, I also knew I was asking him for a lot of his trust. I was just so lucky that he gave it to me.

Do you let a musician’s personality guide some of the direction of the video, or are you pretty firm in seeing your idea through?

It is kind of a mixture of both. On the one hand, the musician has a lot of things riding on the video that you don’t and you have to remember to respect that. The song started with them – it is their story, their material, their art, their story that you have in your hands. You have to treat that delicately. As well as that, the artist’s image is on the line. An artist is always vulnerable when they are putting themselves out there, performing on screen or in any way bringing their song to a visual realization- they are going to have this video stuck to them for the rest of their careers and so you have to appreciate that makes the stakes high for them. Still, on the other hand, you have to be a firm leader of the ship. At the end of the day, they have come to you for your vision, and for you to lend your skill in executing that vision. It is important that while you are collaborative and listen to other opinions that you remain committed to achieving the final product that you know you all want.

Your degree is said to be in Law and Science..how did you make the jump to directing videos. What caused such a change in your career path?-Mary

I have been involved in the arts from a young age, and had always wanted to be a filmmaker. But I am also academically interested and when I finished school I felt like there was much for me to gain as a person by spending time at college and gaining knowledge and life experiences in that world. While at college, I still directed plays and wrote movie scripts. When I finished college, I did some work as a research scientist and spent a year as a young lawyer at a commercial firm, knowing all the while that by that stage I was kind of biding my time and just waiting to be ‘allowed’ to follow my dream into the arts….I guess I eventually realized that you never actually need permission. So when I felt ready, off I went!

C. bleachonline.com

C. bleachonline.com

I started, as most filmmakers do, making short films. One of these featured music pretty heavily, and it was around the same time I was becoming aware of some exciting movements in music video land. Visionary filmmakers such as Spike Jonze, Michel Gondry, Chris Cunningham and many others were reimagining music video. As a music loving filmmaker, I realized that music video was the space where I wanted to develop my filmmaking craft skills. I have never been interested in directing ads or corporate videos, yet I also knew I wasn’t yet skilled enough to embark on feature filmmaking. Music videos allow you to learn the ropes while taking creative risks and developing your ‘voice’. You can work hard and in an ongoing way. Videos are so difficult because of all the stressors involved, the low budgets and high pressure from many directions, but they also bring wonderful opportunities – you get to work with talented people like Wally and having the honor of being a kind of mediator that allows them to bring their music to cinematic life.

 Was it easy to convince Wally and Kimbra to be partially nude on camera?-Vero

Both Wally and Kimbra are very focused artists and wonderfully grounded, humble people. They knew the nudity was not in any gratuitous but ingrained in the concept, necessary for the whole concept to work. They were both committed to doing whatever it took to make the video a success!

Did you consider how strenuous it would be for Wally and Kimbra?-Cyndi

Of course! Emma was careful to prepare all of us for the physical and mental pain that would come with the process, but despite this we were all still surprised by how exhausting it was. Emma had never done the body painting as a stop motion photography shoot before, which his far more arduous than a stills photography shoot. So even with our best preparations, the shoot was far longer than we could have expected. I did ask Wally and Kimbra to get their muscles into limber shape before the shoot at much as they could – lots of rest, yoga, swimming, whatever was possible in the previous few weeks to make the process as painless as possible. Despite this, both Wally and Kimbra were extremely uncomfortable for most of the shoot and I felt terribly for them. The crew was exhausted too. And at one point, I started to hallucinate from exhaustion, seeing triangles absolutely everywhere. That didn’t wear off until about 10 hours after we finished the shoot…!

C. Stark Raving Productions

C. Stark Raving Productions

Could you tell us at least one inside joke or funny thing that happened during the process as a whole?April

Well there were many. One especially memorable moment to me, even though I wasn’t actually there for it, was that Wally left the set wearing his body paint at 9:30am on the last morning after a 26 hour day. Apparently he drove through a drive-thru McDonalds on his way home to get some breakfast – and the staff member didn’t even bat an eyelid when she saw him in his painted outfit! Now that is pretty hilarious!

What was the budget for STIUTK-did it end up being more of a time/money investment than planned or less? If you could do something differently what might it be?-Juliette

 I’d prefer not to say what the budget was for the video, except to say that it was low. That is the nature of the music video industry nowadays – there have been so many cuts on account of the fact that the music industry as a whole is really bleeding. In terms of time, it was a long project – it took me about 3 months from the start to the end. Having more time is the only way, I believe, to still be able to create quality work in this financial climate. Wally totally understands that. He is also a perfectionist in his work so he was incredibly patient and tolerant of my process and happy to wait it out and get the best result possible. I spent 2-3 weeks in the edit, which is an extremely long time for a music video. It was so important to me to be able to craft the right dramatic arcs for Wally and Kimbra’s characters – in a story with no ‘dialogue’ to speak of, your only tools to achieve that are within the minute detail of performance. You end up trying every take in every spot and test so many different outcomes on the whole so you can be satisfied you have struck the ideal balance overall. The pre-production period leading up to the shoot was also very intense. Every shot had been tested and pre-planned down to the frame. We had to make the artwork literally ‘dance’, moving in a way sympathetic to the particular musical flourish it was cued to appear against. It was an incredibly demanding, scientifically precise exercise at every stage.

Still from STIUTK

Still from STIUTK

Was Wally really singing during the shoot or dubbed?-Lisa

 He was definitely singing! And what a voice Wally has. Poor guy, I had him do dozens and dozens of takes of every little bit of the song, so as to get a massive range of different performance options / emotions to give me the maximum freedom in the edit. Wally ended up singing some parts over 40 times! He was always so unbelievably tolerant, and gave his all on every take. And amazingly, his voice never failed. I could hardly believe that a voice could have that stamina and ongoing power. He was so loud in the studio that overnight a neighbor threw stones at the studio roof to try and shut us up! It didn’t work.

Not including STIUTK, what accomplishment/project are you most proud of?

 In music video land, I made a music video for Missy Higgins’ stunning song EVERYONE’S WAITING. I am so proud of that work, for Missy’s beautiful performance and the way our visual metaphor integrated with the song to honestly express Missy’s story.

Outside music video, I am most appreciative of the littler things, of the everyday wins that you can sometimes have. I once helped a greyhound overcome his fear of going down the stairs, and I would trade that joyful moment for a room full of ARIA awards.

C. Messandnoise.com

C. Messandnoise.com

You have worked with a number of well-known Aussie artists so far. Anyone else you’d really like to work with?-Verena

 Oh, we all have our dream artists. At an international level, Radiohead has been among my favorite bands for so long. There is an Irish band called The Frames I would dearly love to work with, and Glen Hansard who does solo work outside of that band. In general, you just hope (and wait!) for evocative, emotional music that takes risks lyrically and/or sonically. Beyond that, for me the artist also has to be a decent person – someone you want to hang out with, go on a journey with. You are agreeing to go through hell for them, so they have to be someone who deserves your best effort!

How do you feel about all the parodies and remakes that were done of the video? Any that you like or dislike especially?-Verena

The parodies are the greatest thing. They are the biggest compliment I could imagine. It just feels so unbelievable to realize that a thought bubble you had one day down in Melbourne, Australia, has been picked up and amplified around the world in people’s homes and workplaces. The professional parodies have been amazing to watch – Saturday Night Live was an especially strange feeling for me! But then the smaller projects done by kids at school, or college students, the star wars jokes and the political commentaries – they are all so great in their own unique way. Some of the productions have gone to so much effort I can barely believe it –I once saw one parody that had its own behind-the-scene ‘making of’ video!

Do you believe you’ll ever work with “Gotye” again?-Paige

Definitely. Whether that will be in music video or film or theatre or something that has nothing to do with cinema at all, is anyone’s guess. But we live in the same city, are creatively aligned and get along great – I can’t wait to see what we do next!

(from left) Natasha, Wally, Kimbra and Emma on the set of STIUTK c/o Stark Raving Prod.

(from left) Natasha, Wally, Kimbra and Emma on the set of STIUTK c/o Stark Raving Prod.

You originally had 2 concepts for the video, the other one being the one you tried to pursue first. Do you think the first idea would have been as successful?

It is so hard to imagine the what-ifs of music video. That is one of the things I love most about it – there is never just one idea that will work, there is no such thing at the ‘right’ concept for any song. There is no way that any of us could have predicted the outcome of the STIUTK video’s popularity. It was unimaginable, and still feels very surreal to me. I think it was the result of a perfect storm of circumstance – such a brilliant song that the world really wanted to get to know, coupled with the perfect ‘cast’ members to perform it onscreen, and the concept telling that story in a visceral and raw and memorable way. Lightning in a bottle, caught once in a lifetime (if you are incredibly lucky!). 

Describe Wally DeBacker using only three words-April

C. UCLA.edu

C. UCLA.edu

Brilliant. Generous. Human.

Thanks Natasha! What a great story!

7 thoughts on “The Wall-Nuts Interview with Natasha Pincus (STIUTK Director)

  1. Pingback: March Madness Continues | The Wall -- Nuts

  2. Fascinating and enlightening. I loved this! Natasha comes across as such an intelligent, articulate, focused and kind person. Thank you!

  3. Very interesting look into the workings of an incredibly gifted brain. Thank you, Natasha! Thank you, Paige! And, of course, Thank you, Wally!

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