Earlier this year while exploring new music on YouTube, I discovered the official video for “Iris,” a song by the Canadian electronic group TR/ST.
Aside from the haunting vocals by lead singer Robert Alfons, the aesthetic is stunning. Trippy lighting sequences, subtle choreography, and blurry visual effects create a dream-like video.
I saw Muted Widows listed as the director, so I sent a message to share my feedback. Soon after, director Michael Zumaya replied and told me he was moving to Austin. More on that here.
We caught up with Zumaya recently to learn about the “Iris” video, which was filmed in a parking garage in downtown L.A. It was a one-day shoot with a cast and crew of 12 people. Below is a lightly edited version of our conversation.
All photos courtesy of Muted Widows.
3&L: How did you connect with TR/ST on this project?
Zumaya: (Muted Widows creative director) Nedda (Afsari) has shot Robert multiple times. Robert had seen some stuff that we’ve been doing together. Maybe Nedda texted him. I don’t remember. But he reached out to us and then he said, “Hey, I’d love to do a video together for this song on this record. It’s called ‘Iris’.”
3&L: What was your reaction?
Zumaya: I was tripping, because when I discovered TR/ST, it was like a year or so prior. It was probably 2017, and it was their self-titled album. It was the only record I listened to for so long. Like that record is nuts, and then I discovered Joyland.
And then seeing what (Robert) looked like and what he does on stage, how he sounds and how he carries himself. Like the coolest dude on the planet. So sick, sounds insane. The band that he played with is amazing. So I was super flattered. Regardless of the budget size, I thought this has to happen.
3&L: Speaking of the budget, what did you have to work with?
Zumaya: I don’t know if I should say. The budget was small.
3&L: Who funded it?
Zumaya: It was the label. I didn’t fight (the budget) at all. I was like, I gotta do this. So we got the budget. We were like, “Cool, what can we do with this? I don’t care if I make a penny off this.”
3&L: Describe the creative process.
Zumaya: So we just started storyboarding. It was so cool. I said, “What do you want the vibe to be?” We got on the phone with (Robert), and it’s all three of us (from Muted Widows) plus him on this call. We had two calls and the first one was just before we built the deck. And he says, “I don’t really have any ideas. What are you guys thinking?”
And I’m like, “I don’t know what we’re thinking. Let’s just kind of go to work on it.” I knew that we had some talent that we’d worked with and some new people. He had just a couple of friends that he wanted to be on it – specifically Saturn and Knox, who were two of the three actors that you see on there. And another one is Sara Cummings, who’s worked with us a bunch.
And then we sent him over to the deck. He said, “Oh, this is great.” And a lot of the deck was super atmospheric. I didn’t know what it was gonna look like. I told him that we’re going to try to make it this thing. But we’ll see when we get there.
3&L: What were you trying to convey in the video?
Zumaya: It’s a video that was much more about the atmosphere versus the references, which were all over the board.
We knew it needed to feel like this odd sense of intimacy and romance, and some pretty visuals of (Robert). Like a little bit fever-dreamy. We start very soft and disorienting with all these flashing lights. Then we end with him leaving.
It’s just an odd (video) – like what just happened? It was a lot more about an experience versus a storyline.
3&L: What camera did you use to film?
Zumaya: It was shot on a Blackmagic URSA Mini PRO, but we had Master Prime lenses on it. We had lenses that were worth 10 times the camera.
We’ve been shooting a lot on the RED HELIUM 8K lately. That’s been cool.
3&L: What was it like working with Robert Alfons?
Zumaya: That was kind of cool about this TR/ST video specifically. He was so easy to work with. He showed up early for his call. He went around personally to every single person that was already there on set and had a small conversation with all of them. And it was just like – genuinely, who are you and hi. I’ve never had somebody do that ever. That was nuts.
And he’s just a star, and he sounds amazing. The song rules. His whole thing was, I’m here for whatever you guys want to do.
3&L: How long did the entire project take to complete?
Zumaya: From shoot date to deliverable was less than a month. And the conversation started 10 days prior to that. So from beginning conversations to it was done was less than a month. The edit was a pretty fast turnaround time. I just cranked it out.
3&L: The video has 700,000 views on YouTube. Do you care about that?
Zumaya: That makes me sad, because it should have a million or a billion views because (Robert) is just the best. But not for my sake, for his sake.
YouTube is full of haters, right? And the (YouTube) comments section is like the absolute nastiest corner on the Internet.
And a lot of how I feel is, I connect a lot with the song. So I kind of look for what people are saying. Most of the time, what I look for and what is an indicator is, am I creating a compelling enough visual for the song? Did I do a good enough job is really what I’m looking for.
I don’t need people to say, “Michael’s a great director.” None of that. It’s more like, are people referencing the video in these comments because I made something that was visually stunning versus just like, the song is good. Of course, the song is good.
I’ve got huge ambitions with all this stuff. I was looking at some of the old Boy Harsher videos, which is the first Muted Widows video that we did together. And somebody said, which is one of the biggest compliments I’ve ever gotten: “This is like Duran Duran’s ‘The Chauffeur’ if it went down the k-hole.”
I love that type of stuff!
Learn more about Zumaya and his move to Austin here.