Behind-the-scenes at Julia Holter’s latest video shoot

Interview with visual artist Jose Wolff, the director of Goddess Eyes I.

The video for LA singer Julia Holter’s latest single Goddess Eyes I was down, in part, to vision of director Jose Wolff. Both are based in Los Angeles and Wolff had worked on videos with Holter previously, such as Sea Called Me Home. He has also directed work for other great artists like Nite Jewel. Here we have an interview with the man behind the camera, including exclusive images from the set showing Holter in a beautiful light.

Hi Jose. Can you explain the shots we can see below?

For this video I shot with the Canon 7D. Then the stuff we shot at The Wulf, we shot with two 7Ds, and we made this setup like a studio, at this loft that serves as home to The Wulf. So for that part of the shoot it was Julia, my photographer friend Robson Muzel, and I.

The material shot there is the one I feel closest conveys the “behind the scenes” feel.

Normally I don’t do behind the scenes coverage during my shoots, often it’s a very small crew, or just me, and if a friend happens to be helping and they shoot some photos then those are the behind the scenes.

The first image shows Julia wearing a coat before doing the first shot. Then the other images are all from the shoot at The Wulf. In 1 & 2 you can see Robson setting up the backdrop in the background. I also helped, just that I was the one who took those pictures and Robson didn’t take any of me, ha. Then #3 is photo I took, either trying to find a shot or to visualize the light. #4 shows an export from a clip that was meant to be a shot of Julia wearing the white dress and looking out the window, but it didn’t make the cut.

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How did you become involved in shooting Julia Holter’s video?

Julia and I had worked together in the past (What We See, Sea Called Me Home). I approached Julia about an idea I had for a video, but when I was sent a list of songs available for Ekstasis (I had already heard the album), I gave them all a quick listen and I Goddess Eyes I was the one that triggered something right away, a different idea from the one I had originally approached Julia with.

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This isn’t the first time you’ve shot Julia Holter – how would you describe the overall aesthetic of the videos/live footage, and how these relate to your own aesthetic and hers?

I only work with musicians who’s work I respond to, which probably results in a more likely overlap in aesthetic visions.

I like demos, experimentation and improvisation. I enjoy live performances, especially small, intimate ones. I like the process. When shooting live performances one has to improvise, and there’s a looseness that I enjoy.
Music videos allow for preparation, planning and post-production, but not only do I still improvise during music video shoots, during post-production I try to remember that when I stumble upon tests and “in-progress” previews from old projects, I often find some of them more appealing than the “finished” piece.

That doesn’t mean I only gravitate towards that end, I can enjoy from the entire range. I can see that in Julia’s work, that she has songs that are performed and recorded very simply, and some that sound more polished, and complex in composition and production. I really like songs from both ends and in-between.
I remember that when I did the video for Sea Called Me Home and some friends remarked on the “lo-fi” quality of the song, that really hadn’t crossed my mind at that point. Once I was told that of course I could see it, but it wasn’t something that I had given thought to before.
Before and during working on a video I’m not analyzing those aspects of a song, I’m just responding to the music. Visuals can come up when listening, or visuals can come up on their own and sometimes you can find matching sounds for them.

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How did the shoot go?

That day we were in a hurry. We could only shoot till about mid-afternoon. Julia and I met at about 7am and we drove to shoot some exterior shots (of her walking) at this parking lot that I found nearby.
Then we met with my friend Robson, a photographer, and we shot in a loft. We had a simple setup where we shot Julia against grey, black and white backdrops.
On a different day I drove up to a forrest about an hour from where I live and shot the lanscapes and natural backdrops.

You spoke about the ideas of deterioration in the abstract – would you like to describe this further?

I was listening to the song and I visualized an image of julia singing to camera and as we zoomed-in closer the image would deteriorate and becomes very fuzzy, and it seemed to work with the music. Seeing something deteriorate or vanish can be transfixing.

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There’s a lovely play between surrealism, minimalism and abstraction in the video that fits the music perfectly. What are your influences, new and old?

To me the song gives off the feeling of a constant forward movement, and a sense of inevitability. I saw the character traveling-somewhere during a long part of the song, until the song shifts. And that shift would signal her arrival.
I visualized the traveling character taking a very small area in the screen — a very open shot — it’s a typical very-open-shot you’ll see in many films and japanese anime. And given the ancient greece subject matter associated with the song, De Chirico did come to mind. I also though about some of the far-away wide shots in Antonioni’s “L’Avventura”. And Herzog’s “Nosferatu”, not only the part of the journey to the castle, but the part where Isabelle Adjani is cutting herself through the maddened town.
I also thought that the digital aspect of the song allowed me to deliberately portray very digital looking structures. I have a background doing 3D design and I appreciate the process of creating in 3D computer graphics as well. There are various stages from the primitive “wireframe” to the glossy, realistic renders, but I also find appeal in the stages in-between.

And what have you got coming up?

There’s a couple of projects that I’m working on but they’re in such early stages that I rather not comment yet, in case they dont go through.

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The song Goddess Eyes I is taken from Julia Holter’s second LP ‘Ekstasis’, which was released on the 12th March via RVNGIntl. and absolutely must be heard.

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