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Interview with Justin Coloma about SuperChrist, with hints at G.L.O.W. video
From thepumpkins.net, interviewed by Vaughn.
ThePumpkins.net - Re:Superchrist Video - Justin Coloma Interview - ThePumpkins.net - Forum
"Justin Coloma is the director of the Superchrist and G.L.O.W. videos. I recently spoke to him about Superchrist.
V Ė The first question that came to mind when I saw the Superchrist video is whether you had fun making it?
JC Ė Ha ha ha! No! It was a pretty stressful shoot! I had about an hour to shoot everything that went into that video, which is a very small amount of time; a typical shoot day for a music video runs about twelve hours. I think Billy really wanted to create a sense of spontaneity and kind of a sense that this was not a big production. We tried to give the video the feel of someone stumbling into this bizarre rehearsal stage and catching this really strange sort of band playing, and the nurses and everything else. We really wanted to avoid trying to have it look like a typical music video.
I thought that was cool, but at the same time, as a filmmaker, I really want to have things under a certain degree of control; I want to make a product that looks interesting. Itís really easy to make something that looks amateur, but something thatís amateur and interesting looking, it takes a little bit more than just turning on a camera. So the night before the shoot, because I knew that I would only have an hour to shoot Billy and Jimmy playing with these other people, I went with my cinematographer to the studio to pre-light it. They finished at like seven at night so we came in at eight with all the gear and just put it up and did light tests to see what it would all look like. We were there pretty late until we were happy with how it looked.
V Ė Did you feel worried when you found out youíd only have one hour to create a music video for a band whose music video history was so groundbreaking?
JC Ė Well, one thing I knew in advance was that Superchrist wasnít going to be judged on the standard of the other videos, because we obviously werenít going for that. We werenít trying to make a high concept, high budget video; we were trying to do something creative and small and interesting. Whatís more, Superchrist is like a seven-minute metal jam and it was destined to become kind of a cult song. And so, I think the right approach for a cult song is to do like a cult video. So, I liked having the limitations, but at the same time, it was really stressful and I was pretty nervous. Iíd known Billy for maybe a year before that and we got along really well, but it was kind of daunting. I think Billy really took a chance on me. I donít know if he had seen too much of my work, but he just trusted me on a personal level and just from talking to me, I think he knew that I would understand his kind of ideas, and his visions. I think the decision to keep the production so small was also maybe Billy kind of testing what Iím capable of, do you know what I mean? It was like he was saying, letís give him this and see what he can do with it, and if he does well, then maybe we give him another shot.
The other thing is Billy is very particular about his work. He really puts his heart into everything he does and he wants it done properly. This isnít to say heís a perfectionist; he does like it when things arenít necessarily always perfect, and thatís one of the great things about his music and his work: he likes to play with imperfections and he likes limitations and he likes to throw in things that will maybe throw everyone off, but then create something new that no one could have thought of. And itís amazing how aware he is of whatís going on around him at all times. Even mid-performance, while heís completely in character and playing all the chords along with the song, he still knew exactly where I was and where the other camera guy was at all times. And like, we would finish a take and he would give us notes. It was great, because it was more of a collaboration in a sense and it made it a lot easier knowing we were on the same page about shooting something that was obviously a departure from the big budget music videos theyíd made in the past.
V Ė At some points it looks like youíve tried to make it look more low budget with a look like the film has come to an end and folded back on itself.
JC Ė Thatís one of my special tricks. When Billy first talked to me about doing the video, and about the concept, I immediately knew I wanted to do something that looked low budget and gritty, but still interesting. I decided pretty early on that I wanted to shoot Super 8 film. Itís the smallest type of film you can shoot and it has a very vintage look to it and not quite as harsh as video. We did shoot video for back up though and we used some video footage in the final cut. Basically though, Super 8 was our main format. When I use it, during the transfer process, when it gets scanned from film onto video, I really like to play with some tricks, some physical effects, like where it looks like the filmís running out at the end and stuff like that. In fact I used it again in the GLOW music video a little bit too.
When I cut the video camera footage, I wanted it to look like really old school, so I added some filters and de-saturated it, just to make it stand apart from the Super 8, because Super 8 tends to be really colourful. With the video camera footage, I basically took the colour way down and added scan lines and tried to give it like a vintage feel, like if someone took a camera from the 70s. Actually, I originally wanted to find a video camera from the 70s and use it, but itís really hard to find one that works well, and even if you do, itís hard to find tapes for them, and then itís hard to bring it into like a digital format to edit them later. It became really problematic, so we worked around it.
V Ė With the lighting, there are some points in the video where you had like a vertical bar of light coming down; was that deliberate or just a happy accident?
JC Ė That was the lighting scheme I designed. The place that we were shooting at is this really strange rehearsal studio; itís actually the studio the Pumpkins were rehearsing in at the time before they were launched off on their next tour. Itís owned by like a couple of hippies and itís looks really strange and cool, but the lights there are just your basic fluorescent lights; they didnít really have much of a vibe or character. I kind of wanted to bring in a weird, almost like a surreal David Lynch type of feel and atmosphere, so we set some new lights up, basically to throw a little spotlight on the people. I was pleased with how it looked and itís an inexpensive way to add atmosphere.
V Ė What were the themes behind the video?
JC Ė To be honest, Billy and I, we didnít really discuss the deeper thematic significance of a lot of things we shot. It didnít need to go to that level because we both kind of think in abstract visual terms a lot. The main idea Billy approached me with was wanting Gary Stern from The Seeds playing the bass in the band. I mean, Garyís obviously not a member of the Smashing Pumpkins, but in this video, itís like he is. And of course, Sky Saxon was in there too. So Billy kind of said: Hey Justin, I want this like, you know, older hippy guy playing bass with the Smashing Pumpkins. I sort of thought: Thatís funny and itíll look cool! But thematically, that was enough for me and as a film maker, I just found a way to make it work.
Overall, I think we just wanted to have something that was unexpected, something that would kind of reset the publicís expectations for what a Smashing Pumpkins video was and I think that it was maybe part of the goal going into it. I think people had become used to expecting like, million dollar productions when they think of Smashing Pumpkins videos; I mean, back in the 90s, thatís what videos were like and thatís changed now and there are very few bands that make huge videos any more, but I guess with a band like the Pumpkins, thereís still a little bit of that expectation. And I think Billy just wanted to put it into peopleís heads that the Pumpkins can still do a crazy video thatís fun and weird and cool and that they donít have to break the bank and put on this huge production to do it.
V Ė I think I read somewhere that your budget was like $5000.
JC Ė It was probably something like that much. I donít know if that figure is supposed to be public, but it was literally probably about that much. As a creative decision it forced us to do something as interesting as possible with very little at all. In fact, it was probably actually less than $5000. Either way, I was thrilled to make a Pumpkins video, and, you know, I didnít care. Most of the people you see are friends of mine, or my fiancťe, or the band.
V Ė One thing I should probably ask you is how you came to have Sasha Grey in the video?
JC Ė Sheís a friend of Billyís. Billy suggested having her in there and of course I thought it was a great idea because I think she has a really cool, interesting look. I havenít seen her films and I had only met her briefly once and my fiancťe wasnít terribly thrilled about that, maybe because of her being you know, a famous adult film star. But Sasha was great. Sheís super nice and calm. And we were thinking of how to fit her in it and we kind of came up with a special character for her to set her apart from the other girls, because sheís kind of a star unto herself. Actually, my fiancťe helped to design the look for her; she was meant to be like this metal angel, and I thought it was a good idea, so we ran with that and gave her some black wings. And Iíll tell you, on the shoot, she was very professional and patient, and it was great working with her.
V Ė And Ginger, Lisa and Jeff donít appear in the video?
JC Ė You know, I was a little bummed that I didnít get to shoot them, Iíd barely met them at that point, and it would have been great to get to work with them, which I eventually did on GLOW. Again, I think it goes back to Billy wanting to play with audience expectations. I think that to a lot of casual fans, the idea of the Pumpkins getting back together, and who exactly was part of the Pumpkins was still a big question. Billy and Jimmy are the only original members, and at that time, I think he was still interested in playing with that expectation. Throwing this completely unexpected character into the performances might confuse people and might be considered sort of a funny joke on who the Smashing Pumpkins actually were. And theyíve more than proven themselves as worthy Pumpkins members, and we definitely feature them in GLOW and they look great.
As well as their being absent, Billy wanted to focus on this mysterious third member of the band instead of on him or Jimmy. It was part of the same idea that if you just accidentally stumbled upon the video and started watching it, youíd have no idea that it was the Smashing Pumpkins. And then, you know, about a minute or so later, youíd see Billy or Jimmy for a second or two, and then, then youíd start to wonder, who are these guys? Was that really Billy Corgan?
In that way, Superchrist became something of an anti-video. And not just because we didnít show Billy or Jimmy for so long, but because we did all the things youíre not supposed to do. In a video, youíre supposed to show more things in seven minutes than what we did, and youíre supposed to cut a lot more too. My normal tendency is to cut a lot faster than I did on Superchrist, but because I understood we were subverting the expectations of what a mainstream video is, I held shots for a lot longer than I normally would. The thing thatís tough about music videos is that whenever you try to subvert the music video genre or expectations, you realise everythingís already been done, so if you can just think of one little thing thatís a little bit different, then youíre already a step ahead. And thatís one of the reasons I love the genre and I like working in music videos, even though itís a difficult field to work in. Thereís not a lot of money in it, MTV doesnít show videos any more and the audience is a lot smaller now, but as far as being an artist, itís still one of the most experimental forms of film making and you see a lot of really new interesting techniques coming out of music video that then find their way into feature cinema, or commercials, or other types of cinema.
V Ė Without MTV playing videos, how did you envision the video being seen?
JC Ė For the most part, music video has become like an internet type of thing. Thatís why we do the Pumpkins releases exclusively on MySpace now; I canít think of a bigger audience than that.
I think the interesting thing thatís happened is that the technology to make quality images has increased so much, it seems that everybody is excited about making videos and thereís an abundance of amateur music videos. Thereís more than ever. Because of MySpace, thereís a platform to show them, which we didnít have before, and thereís so much more out there to see now, that you really have to stand out to make your video be noticed.
In the end, Iím doing the same thing as the other film makers on MySpace. Iím trying to create an interesting image that will hopefully stick in peopleís heads, and that they can maybe be inspired by. Itís a struggle to make people remember and think about your video and to create something that will generate discussion. If anything, I push myself harder to get the best product I can because I know it takes a lot to get peopleís interest these days and to make your video something that stays in their minds.
V Ė When Superchrist first appeared, there was a lot of conjecture about the meaning of the syringe. What was the impetus behind it?
JC Ė That was actually very spontaneous. There are things that happen on music video sets that are completely spontaneous, and I like leaving room for that kind of stuff. The syringe was part of the costumes we picked out for the nurses. When we were shooting, one of the girls, I think it was Audrey or Hanna, just decided to do that, and you know, Billy and I just started cracking up and thought it was a great idea, so we had her do it a couple more times, and we left it in the final cut.
When I found out about the different interpretations, I thought it was great. I think youíve done something right when you elicit that kind of reaction and people want to figure out what youíre doing. Itís why Iím a huge fan of David Lynch. He creates these, really iconic, really ambiguous and strange images, and he never tells you what they mean. And really what matters is what you think it means, as an audience. In a way it tells you something about yourself, and one of the great things I love is that cinema, in some ways, it works as a mirror for society and for yourself. If cinema is intelligent enough and beautiful enough, you can learn something about yourself from it, so I was really flattered that people were trying to read into different little elements of Superchrist. Itís not something I was expecting; I just thought people were going to think it was a funny video, a fun, weird music video. So the fact that people were going out of their way to assign a sort of deeper meaning to it was really cool. As far as there being an actual meaning, or an intended meaningÖ What can I say? Maybe sub-consciously I was thinking of something, maybe we all were, but there wasnít any deliberate thing. Itís what the audience sees that makes it something, because without them, thereís nothing there."