The story behind Grimes’s ‘Oblivion’ video

Director Emily Kai Bock shares the making of that awesome video.

Emily Kai Bock is a Montreal based video director, film student and friend of Claire Boucher, aka Grimes. Along with mutual friend and cinematographer Evan Profofsky, they made the video to Grimes’s song Oblivion on a shoe-string budget last summer. It hit the internet on Friday and has already topped 200,000 views. What makes it so good, so very repeat-watchable, is the way it both embraces and rejects the traditional pop video narrative. With her headphones on, Boucher is in her own world, performing for herself as much as the onlooker. While that may be for practical reasons (see below), the effect is the same. And, yes, there are cheerleaders and body builders too. It’s fun, it’s powerful and it’s yet more evidence for Grimes’s dead-cert star status. I dropped Emily a few questions last week to find out about the making of the video, how she got into film making and why she’s drawn to working in the music video medium.

Hey Emily, how are you?

I’m great. Thank you.

Congratulations on the Oblivion video! I love the way it plays with the classic pop video trope but with a very Grimes spin on it. What was the idea behind it?

I guess I had been thinking about the gladiator archetype and how it would be interesting to re-contextualize it as well as play around with the roles of the spectacle and the spectator. I liked the idea of framing Claire against a typically male crowd, having her attention fixed to the camera as the crowd’s attention was diverted to the field, allowing her to become the most dominate thing in the frame while at the same time surrounded by men twice her size.

The shoot looks like it was a lot of fun. Could you tell me a bit about the making of it?

We shot it in one weekend, which I guess, was pretty insane. The two sporting events were back to back, which worked out well for renting the 35mm cameras. The energy of the crowd was incredible. Claire had to wear headphones out of necessity to hear the music and I had to tap Evan (the cinematographer) on the shoulder to start and end takes. The mosh pit scene was a lot fun – we used her brother’s friends who were all very sweet. I wanted them to look really exhausted throughout it, so I asked them to do push-ups when the camera wasn’t rolling, which was sort of cruel looking back. We oiled them up in vegetable oil and Claire bought them about 12 frozen pizzas.

What is Grimes like to work with?

She is a good friend of mine and we innately trust each other which made it really easy. I think I started making films around the same time she started to record music, so there was this sense of accomplishment working on a music video together. Her work and who she is has always inspired me and we have a lot of fun together, so over all, it was a pretty euphoric experience.

How did you get into film making/video directing?

It was an evolution of documenting my installation/performance work, and then beginning to make work specially for the camera, starting with documentary up to now, mixing documentary into fiction – I think both elements are in her video.

What is it about music videos that particularly appeal to you personally?

I think music and film are essentially of the same spirit. Most of my friends are musicians. I like the way music videos are a free territory for film experimentation and still accessible to the general public. You can learn a lot from music videos as a filmmaker. I also like that they are short films and when you work with a talented musician the images evoke themselves and the music directs the story, kind of like a ghost-writer.

What’s your all-time favourite music video and why?

Tough question. I’d have to say, Spike Jonze, ‘Da Funk’ for Daft Punk has always stuck with me. Of course the work of Jonathan Glazer and Romain Gavras, both incredibly ambitious directors who have really set the bar on what is cinematically possible within a 3 min music video.

Who would you most like to work with and why?

Alex Prager, Bill Viola, and Jesper Just are my favourite artists working within the realm of video art. They are able to convey an intense emotional reaction within the viewer using very few images and sounds. I would love to watch how they do it.

What are you working on at the moment?

I still have another year of film school left. I’m working on the pre-production for second video for Grimes and a first one for Blue Hawaii (another close friend/Montreal band). Both, I would like to shoot this summer.

And finally, dreams for 2012?

More music videos. I started a documentary on Tonstartssbandht back in 2008 that I would like to finally edit into a feature doc. I have an idea for a fiction film I’d like to develop more. I went down to New Orleans for the first time last summer and it would be nice to return to edit everything down there. It’s a really beautiful city, similar to Montreal in the way it kind of operates under its own rule within a country, but decked out in glittery beads hanging from banana trees.

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