New Jersey native and director Kevin Slack is on the rise. His portfolio includes: The Drought (short film), and music videos for bands like The Gaslight Anthem, Dave Hause and Banquets. The director takes some time to relax and chat with me about his latest work, developing and directing Cursive’s “This House Alive” official music video, which is embedded below for your enjoyment.
Frontier Psychiatrist: The completion of “This House Alive” marks your eighth music video. As a director, do you focus primarily on music videos? Would you say there was a defining moment in your career in which you decided to start leaning more towards music videos
Kevin Slack: Well, it’s a way to work more. It’s harder to make films all the time. It’s expensive I have to fund the money for the project. It’s a way to keep working and make a path into doing features. Guys like: Michel Gondry, Spike Jonez or David Fincher, that’s how they all started. The trajectory is usually music videos into commercials and then into features. I’m not sure anyone wants to just make music videos. I think every music video director wants to end up making movies.
FP: Ok so that’s your end goal then, feature films.
KS: Oh yeah, totally. Music videos are a ton of fun, you don’t make any money on them, but if you ptut it on YouTube…..It’s like this: if I were to put a short film on Youube and got 1,000 views, that would be amazing. But, I do these videos for these bands and they got thousands and thousands of views- one of my videos has over a million views that’s just insane.
FP: Which video, do you know?
KS: One of the earlier Gaslight ones [2006's "I'da Called You Woody, Joe"]. It’s been up for a while, but that’s crazy. It’s a great outlet.
FP: So do bands approach you for work or are you writing scripts and fitting them to songs? What’s your process?
KS: It’s been a bit of both. For Cursive it was completely me. They were totally up for whatever. I sent them a treatment I wrote and they loved it, but it wasn’t within budget so I did another one and they loved it as well. They didn’t really have notes about it they just wanted it “raw”.
FP: And that treatment, which you sent them, was that something you had already written or was it written for this song?
KS: I heard the track, which Rolling Stone posted “Sun & The Moon” and I wrote a treatment for that song, and I never write a treatment and just send it because I feel like it could get lost and I would never know. But that would be rare because it’s Cursive and I’ve always loved them so…
FP: So you heard the song, wrote a treatment, and then contacted them directly.
KS: Yes, but usually there’ll be a discussion. I find out if they’re accepting treatments or bands will just email describing what they’re looking for and then I base my treatment off that.
FP: When I saw the cut you showed me for this video I felt like I watched a short movie, it was a short story and it went along with the music…
KS: Which is rare for a band to just say “we don’t need to be in it.” So this was amazing.
FP: Did you watch any other Cursive videos before going into this to see what they had done?
KS: No, I mean, I’ve seen some of their videos, but I stay away from that for the most part. I don’t want to be influenced by older videos.
FP: You’re embarking on a new venture with them.
KS: Right and I think bands choose different directors because they want different looks and ideas.
FP: Gotcha. Going back to some of your music videos I noticed the boy featured in the Cursive video is also in a Gaslight video- do you use the same actors, is he close to you?
KS: ::laughs:: That’s my brother. I just liked his looked for this, though it made makeup’s job very hard because he had such boyish nice skin and he doesn’t have scars. I wanted him to be gross and beat up so for Tracy, the makeup artist, it was actually pretty hard to get that look.
FP: And the location was pretty remote as well?
KS: Yea, we shot in Upstate New York in Putnam Valley in the middle of the woods. Tt was like in the middle of nowhere and pretty cold..
FP: It looked pretty cold
KS: I think it hit 0 degrees at some point
FP: Was your brother bundled enough? For most of the video he’s wearing a pretty thin jacket.
KS: He was wearing layers and he was still very cold. A lot of people couldn’t get warm. It’s really hard to stay warm- it doesn’t matter how many layers you have on. So when we weren’t shooting he was just standing by the fire.
FP: You guys had the fire used in the video
KS: Yea, which we ended up using.
FP: I really like the one shot where he’s standing outside the house
KS: I’m happy you noticed that. When I first wrote this treatment I had that imagine in mind. It’s not supposed to be realistic, obviously. The spotlights are not there, they are only in his mind. So, to do that shot we had to have a smoke machine so you could see the beams. So you would shoot it when the wind picks up and just use that bit.
FP: Awesome. So, going back to YouTube and views etc., provided this release gains some recognition, how do you think it will affect your exposure was as a director?
KS: Well, just after doing the last Gaslight [Anthem] video (“Bring It On”) got me this one. That was the biggest video I had done, budget-wise and that airplay. I think Cursive are pretty respected in this scene, so that will help.
FP: Are there any particular labels or bands that you want to work with in the future? Or treatments that you have written for stuff that you’d want to submit?
KS: I don’t just write treatments for the hell of it, but I do have older ones, which I can use if they don’t get picked up by a band and then I’ll just tweak it. Obviously it’d be great to do a Lady GaGa or Beyonce video because a million people would see it. You know, I’d also love to do a video for Hot Water Music or bands I love listening to.
FP: How long did it take you to shoot this?
KS: It was 2 days.
FP: As far as shooting goes did you go into this with a list of shots you had to nab by certain times?
KS: For the most part. This was the first shoot I ever planned as meticulously. A lot of times you’ll do a shot list. But when you get there you just go in the moment. But for “The House Alive”, every shot is specifically planned for how it’s going to look. The Director of Photography John Paul Clark and I meticulously planned out these shots. We would follow that but we sometimes run out of time and light so it would be “OK just shoot what tells the story”.
FP: It’s a great story told in 3 minutes 37 seconds
KS: Yea, it’s an ambitious little story. It’s loosely based on the record [I Am Gemini].
FP: Which is a concept album.
KS: Yea it’s pretty much good twin vs bad twin. I read an interview with Tim and he was talking about it. He said he had all these screenplays written, so I think he really wanted to get into that kind of story telling.
FP: So he wrote the album as a script.
KS: From what I read, they did all the music first and then fit the script to the music. Which he said he had never done before.
FP: Wow! I imagine that’s pretty difficult. Now, this would be the first music video you’ve done without the band being in it?
KS: Yea, totally which was great because it’s a film at its core.
Nicole Pettigrew is a sound engineer and photographer in New York, and a regular contributor to Frontier Psychiatrist. Check out her reviews of Ceremony’s and of Mates of State’s performances at (Le) Poisson Rouge.