Australian director Natasha Pincus couldn’t have asked for a better music video to direct that would spin her career into the global spotlight. The Melbourne-based filmmaker is behind the phenomenally successful video for Gotye’s single, Somebody That I Used to Know, which has clocked up more than 160 million hits, and counting, on YouTube. She was invited to show her video at the South by Southwest (SXSW) Film and Music Festival in Austin, Texas in March, where I caught up with her.
Miss N: It being your first time at SXSW – you must be excited to be here with your video?
Natasha Pincus: Yes, very much so. Being here as a punter would be great fun, being here as a filmmaker would be excellent, but I feel particularly privileged to be here with this video because as it’s just taking off in the States. It’s a little overwhelming. Usually as a director you’re anonymous. But as soon as I go into a venue and mention that I’m the one behind this video…I had a girl literally squeal at me, and ask for my autograph! I don’t know if I like the experience, but I’ve got to say it’s really memorable to be here with something that people are really enjoying right now.
Miss N: But the video came out last year?
NP: It’s an amazingly long process. It was in May last year that I finished the film, and then it came out in June/July in Australia. But incrementally it’s been paying back rewards. It’s gone through European success, took a while to hit the UK, and now the US. Rveryone knew it was a great song, but no-one could have imagined all the views – it’s about a million a day. Every day I’m waking up and thinking ‘okay, while I was asleep for those 7 hours 500 000 people just watched my work.’ It’s quite weird and disarming about that intensity.
Miss N: So how did the concept come about for the painting of the bodies?
NP: Like most concepts that I tend to work on – in a bolt of lighting. I was really in touch with the thematic of the song pretty much straight away. It’s a song that expresses something we all really understand and I just really wanted to try figure out the best visual platform to try express that. Like a metaphor that could really talk to us unconsciously, about what it feels like to lose someone that was so connected to you and then, after the illusion of the relationship, I suppose, is gone, to then look back at them and go, ‘oh my, now you’re just like everyone else’, like such a stranger in the crowd. I thought the only way to really do that was to create a common tapestry that these two characters were inhabiting, and then watch as that dissolves, and renders one character separate to another. That seemed to be the right idea, and then working it out so it gave the emotional punch at the right point.
Miss N: It works so well, but I imagine painstaking to create?
NP: It’s one of those where the best concepts often look the easiest. I’ve seen a few people on YouTube say ‘oh, it looks like a low-budget shoot’. I mean yes, it was low-budget, but it took hours and hours to do. But every moment, every breathe, every look – look up here, look down there – was pre-planned. To the credit of the singers, every time it was loaded with emotion but it was extremely complicated because the painting – the stop-motion element had to behave almost as another character in the piece, so they had to be directed. So every single time you saw a splash of painting emerge on the screen, I wanted it to behave like the music was behaving. So to test that out a hundred times and to test the split screen was 2 months in pre-production, which for a 3-minute film is quite excessive. One of the shoot days was 26 hours straight, and I did hallucinate for 3 days as well! But that is art. You know that you get to keep it for the rest of your life, and that 100 million people might like it after-wards, so it’s part of the process.
Miss N: You’re want to make features though – how has this helped?
NP: It seems to have helped a lot. I’ve got a couple of films in development already – a few to be made this year. People ask me what do you want to do, and I say everything! I don’t want to stop doing music videos – they’re a really exciting place to practice your craft – but I really want to experiment with longer-form projects too.
Miss N: Will we see you work with Gotye (real name: Wouter “Wally” De Backer) again perhaps?
NP: Yeah, Wally and I are good mates now – I’ve been through the night with him when he’s naked! The video he released recently was done before we did ours. And he likes to ruminate for a few years before he does new work, so maybe the next album. Hey, maybe it’ll be film – he’s a brilliant actor. I mean he was a director’s dream – a piece of putty – and I’d love to bring him into a feature film.
Miss N: I’m sure you’ve seen all the spoofs of the video…?
NP: Yeah, and the spoof of the spoofs! I can’t believe the work load people have put into it. I saw one video where they filmed the behind-the-scenes of their parody shoot and they had more gear and equipment than we had! It’s fascinating to watch and it’s a real complement to see it embed itself into popular culture.