Mainly because it’s so hard to pull off, the performance video is something of a lost art. Think about it, you’re either impossibly attractive (school girl era Britney Spears) or scantily dressed (anything Christina Aguilera ever did, or most of Blink 182’s videos for that matter) or playing at an absurd location (Slash thrashing an extremely phallic guitar solo outside of a church in a middle-of-nowhere desert). So, when Andrew Droz Palermo came out with White Rabbits’ “Percussion Gun” video it was kind of disconcerting (especially because the entire video’s budget wouldn’t have covered Slash’s hair and make up crew). “Percussion Gun” was one of those rare singles that would never pass along as background music; it demanded to be listened to and through some pretty fantastic camerawork, and a very clever editing style (not to mention one bad-ass light-carousel), Droz Palermo managed to convert into video the song’s manic intensity.
This sort of transposition of medium is hard enough to achieve once, but with “Temporary” (off White Rabbits’ new album Milk Famous), Andrew and the band are going for it again. Because White Rabbits is such a fantastic live act it makes sense to give the performance video another go but the filmmaker brings out an entirely different bag of tricks that makes it very clear that they aren’t looking to repeat themselves. We recently spoke with Droz Palermo about his work, both as a photographer and filmmaker, and how he managed to churn out a video like “Temporary” without recurring to special effects or repeating the success of “Percussion Gun”.
“Working within the parameters of a performance video, which the label requested, I started thinking about how I’d like to stage the band. Emulating “Percussion Gun” wasn’t a goal of mine, but I knew I was in similar territory. We talked about what we liked about that video to this day, and what wasn’t aging well for us. Since the song is so much different we knew we wanted it to be a lot less aggressive so I took a vastly different approach in shooting style and palette. With “Percussion Gun”, the viewer is observing the performance, but I wanted to directly address them this time — so I thought of it more as a live show.”
Regarding working with White Rabbits, Andrew claims that, “I’ve had few relationships with other artists that are as honest, challenging, and fulfilling as with White Rabbits. They respect what I do and give me the space to do it, but at the same time are very particular and push me towards making the absolute best work I can. I’m a really dedicated worker, even to a fault, but I’m continually amazed by their work ethic.”
“Temporary” is a great example of cinematographic craft and old school ingenuity not seen since the likes of MacGyver. Andrew told us that, “With the exception of about 48 frames (the stereoscopic looking shots), the whole video is in camera effects. There are a lot of sounds in the song which reminded me of really sharp geometry — so I started thinking about prisms. I knew I wanted the effects to be “in camera” so ultimately I dangled various prisms and jewels in front of the lens, which reacted to the LED backlighting. They each had different qualities, and really helped to get great natural cut points. My favorite stuff is from a lens filter which streaks the highlights in the LEDs in long lines, I was able to rotate it while shooting and was very surprised at the effect. I programmed the LEDs via a DMX controller to the song, so that they were in sync with each other.”
The DIY ethos behind the making of the video takes on an entirely different meaning once Andrew revealed that the entire crew was compromised of three people.
“It was a really, really small crew. Myself, the band, and my friends Kyle and Mike. I’d run camera, operate the dolly, control tilt and pan with my leg, and move the jewels in front of the lens — it was a hilarious sight from the band’s perspective — I looked like a one-man band with a camera that had beautiful crystal earrings.”
It is difficult to reconcile Andrew’s work in music videos with his photography and short films because the aesthetics are so vastly dissimilar. There is a slightly ominous, naturalistic feel to his photography and films that couldn’t be further apart from his work in music videos.
Andrew explains that, “With my narrative work, I’m generally almost always concerned with what feels “real”. Filmmaking is such an invasive large group endeavor that things can feel really false fast. I think that the best movies are the ones you can really forget you are watching something, you are just completely absorbed. It’s a rare but amazing feeling. With music videos I find you can get away with a handful of visual techniques and that is enough to support the video, as long as it isn’t narrative based. I try to throw as many images, tricks and shot ideas into a video as I possibly can and see what sticks. That isn’t the case for narrative films: the visual treatment is hugely important, although not near as important to the story. I’m getting much better at focusing on the screenplay or the whole, without thinking much about the surface.”
The Missouri native is currently co-directing a documentary about a small town called Rich Hill back in his home state along with his cousin Tracy Droz Tragos (who directed the Emmy award-winning documentary “Be Good, Smile Pretty”). Andrew is also raising funds for his feature film debut, “One & Two” about “two children growing up in complete isolation from contemporary society, the bond they share, and how that love manifests in otherworldly powers”. The film, which was co-written by Andrew and Neima Shahdadi, was work shopped at the prestigious Sundance Institute Creative Producing Lab last summer.