Tuesday, May 3, 2011

A Chat with Mike Luciano, director of the recent The Pains of Being Pure At Heart music video

Mike Luciano is a young up-and-coming director who recently graduated from Northeastern University and moved to Brooklyn. He first did a video for the band Twin Sister and and then successfully moved on to The Pains of Being Pure At Heart's video for "Heart In Your Heartbreak." You can find all of Luciano's work, including the new Pains music video, at his website City on Film. 

The Pains of Being Pure At Heart are an indie pop band that has exploded over their first two albums. They've been honored by prestigious music blog Pitchfork with the tag "Best New Music" on both of their albums. Their first album, which is self-titled, came out in February 2009 to excellent critical reception, drawing comparisons to My Bloody Valentine, Joy Division and The Smiths. Their new release, Belong, came out on March 29, 2011, to equally favorable reviews.

You can find out more about the band at their official website

Who are your influences as a director?

For music videos, I still swear by my Palm Pictures DVD box set of Spike Jonze, Michel Gondry and Chris Cunningham videos, which are sort of a crash course in some of the best music videos ever made.

For film, I mostly love directors with specific visions whose films are marked with a distinct voice that is unmistakably theirs. Following the careers of those kinds of directors is most exciting and inspiring to me, especially those who find the difficult balance between being ‘funny’ without necessarily being ‘comedies’, like Todd Solondz and Wes Anderson. Others are ‘favorites’ that I can’t ever imagine making a movie similar to – nutso, European geniuses like Michael Haneke or Gaspar Noe, who’s films I can’t get enough of.  I love Richard Linklater, Eric Rohmer as well, among many others.  
In your interview with Pitchfork, you mentioned Empire Records as an inspiration. Please elaborate on the role this film played in developing the story for “Heart in your Heartbreak?”

Peggy Wang of The Pains had a loose treatment for the video written when I came on. She had written the band as employees of a music store, each dressed as a different type of music nerd. Since we wanted the video to feel cinematic, Empire Records became the go-to reference for how we all could approach thinking of the band as these different characters, each with individual little stories going on.  I guess there’s something kind of funny and 90’s about that premise, so the reference seemed to help make it click in everyone’s heads.

Why did you choose this story for the video? Were there any other ideas you played around with?

Working off Peggy’s treatment was an interesting exercise. With the help of my good friends and collaborators on the video, Tom Berlangero and Dan Devine, we took the basic elements Peggy had laid out and weaved together a story that fit. We added the stick-in-the-mud store manager character (played by Tom) as a way to give the employees and teen band something to bond over hating. Once we had the arc of the story in place, the rest was sort of like reverse-scoring, if that makes sense; matching up action and story beats to certain parts of the song that felt right.

You do a great job with more complicated stylistic choices using color and a variety of different multiple frame techniques in your last video for Twin Sister’s “All Around And Away We Go.” How did your experience there inform your approach to “Heart in your Heartbreak?”

“All Around and Away We Go” was the complete opposite experience. The members of Twin Sister are friends who I’ve known and worked with forever. We had months to experiment and slowly form an aesthetic that worked. The Pains video sprung up less than two weeks before we flew down to Texas to shoot it, so it was very different, but a good lesson in figuring out how to make it work while in a little over your head.

You’ve said that you originally met with Pains keyboardist Peggy Wang. How did you two meet? What did you talk about?

I met with Peggy and her boyfriend Conner soon after their band’s manager got in touch. We instantly connected on what videos we felt matched the vibe of what we were going for – handheld, run and gun style videos that were funny and had a clear story. They also brought up that they had seen and liked my comedy/film work, so it kind of gave the ‘ok’ to follow my comedic instincts and make the video my own.

What pieces of yours did she see, and what’d she say about them?

They had watched a bunch of stuff on the City On Film website. They really liked Pretty Cool Professor, made at Northeastern U! Boston Represent!

How was working with the members of Pains? What did they bring to the table during the shoot?

Before the shoot, I had only met with Peggy, so I wasn’t sure how the rest of the members were going to approach the concept. It wasn’t until the night before when the band tried on their costumes that I could see how it was going to look, and more importantly, how everyone was responding to the idea. Luckily, everyone was very quickly on the same page, and for the duration of the shoot stayed committed to the idea 110%, which made filming hilarious and really fun.  We have so much unused footage of Kurt (The Pains’ drummer) playing cowbell that is absolutely ridiculous.

How did the shoot in Texas go? Were there any instances where you had to improvise due to limited resources (budget restraints, legal restrictions, etc.)?

Yes, many. We had the store and crew for one day, so all of the outdoor footage like the chase sequence and the guitar smashing was shot the next day before we had to go to the airport with just Tom, Dan and I. Alejandro, the kid who steals the guitar, was nice enough to come back and help us get what we missed; he’s the man.

How fun was shooting that ending scene?

That last scene was shot in the final 15 minutes of us having the store to shoot in. We had 3 cameras rolling while everyone performed to the chorus about 4 times. I barely had a voice at the end cause I was screaming, “rock out!” every 5 seconds over the song playback. There was a whole lot of dry ice smoke in the store when we were done, and poor Tom had to bare with it while bound to a chair with tape over his mouth… He suffers for his art.

What does the future hold for you? Do you plan on continuing to do music videos? Do you have any films lined up (or that you’re working on to hopefully be shot)?

I’d like to! Marrying images to sound is something I’ll be forever interested in, and music videos are obviously a concentrated expression of that. However, I’m also excited to devote some time and energy toward a few projects that are a little more writing & performance focused. I’m currently working for a TV producer who does a lot of comedy, so I’m learning the ropes in a variety of rope-related avenues I’d like to continue down. I also host a live show with Tom once a month called ‘Church’ where we and all of our friends perform or screen whatever we’ve made that month. It’s a good kick in the butt to produce whatever you can in a limited amount of time. It’s also a lot a fun!

You can find Mike at his official website or Twitter @mluciano8. 

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