Warren Fu is a man of many talents. The Los Angeles-based director is a visual effects artist, art director and, most notably, music video director of choice for The Strokes, Julian Casablancas and Mark Ronson. His hugely creative career is a marked shift from the economics degree Warren studied, and different still from his break into the industry as VFX art director at LucasFilm, where he worked on such films as AI: Artificial Intelligence and the Star Wars prequels (for which he created the character design for General Grievous) under the watchful gaze of The George Lucas.
We had the pleasure of speaking with Warren to celebrate the inclusion of his video for Mark Ronson & The Business INTL‘s Bang Bang Bang (featuring the vocal talents of MNDR and Q-Tip) in the Music Video Category of the 2010 Portable Film Festival.
Portable: LucasFilm seems like the place many creative types would aspire to be, but you used it more as a launching pad for other projects. Did you do or learn anything there that contributed to your filmmaking style?
Warren Fu: Working at Lucasfilm was my film school. Collaborating with the various departments I learned a bit about art direction, storyboarding, graphic design, shooting sets. Basically everything from pre-production to post-production. There’s also a great tradition of artists I’ve admired coming out of there: Joe Johnston, Ralph McQuarrie, Nilo-Rodis Jamero. So to be surrounded by their past work has definitely had a big influence in mine.
What/who inspired you as a music video director?
The Bang Bang Bang video incorporates so many different styles and eras so seamlessly; what inspired the direction behind it?
The song was the main inspiration for drawing from so many other inspirations: Knight Rider, Voltron, John McEnroe and French’s Mustard commercials. There’s also a new word my friend taught me after he saw it: Tokusatsu. I just threw the kitchen sink of everything I liked in my childhood in there… and I’m glad it somehow worked as one cohesive piece.
You worked with Mark Ronson and the Business INTL on the videos for both Bang Bang Bang and The Bike Song, so it’s no surprise that they feature similar visual elements. Were they intended to be a kind of music video series, or is this more an indication of your aesthetic and style?
I originally wanted Bike to have a Le Ballon Rouge vibe, but Mark was really happy with Bang, so he thought it would be fun to continue Bike where it left off. So I incorporated an intro scene where he leaves the studio that bridges the first video. A few days before the shoot I’m on the phone with Mark discussing wardrobe continuity and he says “OH SHIT. I’m dying my hair platinum blonde as we speak. Is that going to be a problem?” The next call my team made was to a wig specialist.
You had a great collaborative relationship with the Strokes and Julian Casablancas as a solo artist. Is it important to know the artist you’re working with to create a video that best represents them?
It definitely helps. The Strokes collaboration is a really unique one, because Julian and I have very similar tastes. But usually with any artist I work with, I try to absorb their vibe as much as possible in order to create something that fits, or takes them in a new direction.
Many music video directors, particularly those in the golden era of mid-late 1990s MTV, went on to successful feature film work. Is this something you see in your future?
Definitely. My natural instinct has been to put some sort of narrative in a lot of my videos, so it is definitely something I’m anxious to pursue.
View and vote for Bang Bang Bang in the 2010 Portable Film Festival here.