We love film. We love music. We live in the live music capital of the world. So we’re going to write about it.
This is the first in our series of stories behind the filming and production of our favorite music videos.
We talk with Keith Musil, the director of Twin Shadow’s, “Five Seconds,” which was released by 4AD in 2012. The video is based on the novel, “Night of the Silver Sun,” written by George Lewis, Jr. (aka Twin Shadow) and Eric Green.
Musil, who currently resides in Lake Arrowhead, Calif., also has directed music videos for artists like Rainbow Arabia, Kid Moxie, High Places and others.
3&L: Are you frequently asked about the “Five Seconds” video?
Musil: It happened a long time ago, and it’s not until now that I’m thinking about it again and how it was made and even boiling down to the cinematographer who shot it and then the relationship that I had with George and making the video. All those things sort of went away, and I don’t know if that’s my fault or if it’s just a product of going on to the next thing.
That’s unfortunate – a lot of blood, sweat and tears go into these things, and they kind of leave you, in a way. But, yeah, I’m really proud of that video. And it has opened up a lot of doors, to be honest.
3&L: What do you recall most about shooting the video?
Musil: I definitely look back on that video and appreciate it just because of how lucky we got with it. The video looks that way because we were getting hit so hard by clouds. We were like 6,700 feet above sea level, and that peak of the mountain was just getting crushed by cloud coverage. So that sort of thing is not fog.
It just creates a totally different atmosphere when you run HMI lights through that sort of cloud coverage. It just gives you a look that you can’t replicate anywhere else. So part of that video was luck, man. That’s what’s really interesting is that would have been a completely different video if we hadn’t had weather. It was in the Angeles National Forest near the observatory. Mt. Wilson is what that area is called.
“And the only reason it was $25k is because we got an extra $5k because Jessica Alba had committed to being in the project.”
3&L: What was the budget?
Musil: $25k. And the only reason it was $25k is because we got an extra $5k because Jessica Alba had committed to being in the project. So the label threw another $5k at it for things that she was going to need like a trailer or whatever, and she pulled out because she was producing some sort of like childcare soap for toddlers, diapers – I forget what the (product) line was called. She ended up pulling out. We still were able to hold onto the money.
The budget was originally for two videos. There’s another video (Patient) that follows up “Five Seconds” that I was not happy with, but did, too. So the first video, which was the “Five Seconds” video, is the one that really spoke to me, and I knew we could crush it. But in addition to that, I had to direct and produce more of a performance video that was kind of the second installment of that narrative.
3&L: How did you divide the budget between the videos?
Musil: I’m not quite sure how the producer split the money between the videos, knowing that I wanted to put most of the money into “Five Seconds” and not “Patient.” I would imagine that “Five Seconds” video was like maybe $12k-$13k. And honestly, even with that – Larkin Seiple who is the DP on that, he did it for free. We were shooting a commercial for something else and we took that gear on to that Twin Shadow video. But yeah, it was still $12k, even though so much of that, we did for free. I mean, I did it for free.
3&L: Did you take a loss leader approach in the hopes that the video would lead to more projects?
Musil: Honestly, part of it was I wanted Larkin to shoot a few of my commercials that I had coming up, and Larkin was a big fan of the band. Him and I were shooting a commercial while I was being considered for the Twin Shadow video. And he was like, “Yeah man, if the content is cool, I’ll shoot that for free.”
Bottom line, I knew I was going to need a strong cinematographer to execute that, and I wanted (Larkin) on a few other (commercial) projects because he was a big selling point for me, to be honest. But on top of that, if you’re in the music video game, at least at the time, like nobody was looking at it as a way to make money ever. It was always about potentially being able to execute an idea that you’ve had in the back of your mind that you were trying to get a music label to pay for.
But that (music video) in particular wasn’t (my concept). George already had this short story that was based in the future and whatnot. A post-apocalyptic time. We just kind of took bits and pieces of that and made a narrative from that.
3&L: Does anything bother you about the video?
Musil: There’s a lot about that video that got passed up. As a filmmaker, you plant these little Easter eggs and they don’t get brought up and you’re like, “Well, dammit, why didn’t you catch that?”
There’s a scene in the beginning where he’s looking down at what looks like a mist. It was sort of just a way for us to say that it was post-apocalyptic and that the survivors were living above that mist blind, and that was the only way that they could survive.
What’s in that mist? Whether it’s chemical or something more Stephen King-ish – were there monsters in there? That was not my concern as much as it was to suggest that we’re living in a post-apocalyptic or apocalyptic world and the only survivors were actually living above 2,000 feet.
3&L: How are music videos different now compared to 10-15 years ago?
Musil: I saw music video budgets drop by like 300-400 percent just in like 3-4 years. It probably started in 2009 and just kept dropping.
Spike Jonze, Michel Gondry, and Jonathan Glazer – those guys were all part of a music video movement that really made music videos interesting for the first time. And I think myself and then a lot of other sort of narrative music video directors were influenced by that sort of thing.
Maybe every once in a while, you get that sort of narrative-based music video, but it’s not the same. And I don’t know if it’s because of the volume or that there just isn’t budget to produce narrative music videos the way that it was happening between like 2008 and 2015-ish.