Danny, Dakota – Interview with the director
Following the premiere of the new video for Danny, Dakota & the Wishing Well, we caught up with director Bouha Kazmi to talk about making the video, guns, horses, bikers and fireworks…
Hi Bouha! You’ve been friends with the band for a long time. Was working together on a video something that’s always been talked about?
We were introduced around six years ago by a mutual friend, when the band was keen to make a music video for The Lamplight. We became good friends after that, sharing the same interests and references, and always discussed making more music videos together, as well as collaborating on more film based projects. With DDATWW the approach differed dramatically from the The Lamplight, I’ve gotten to know them over the years so it’s much more of an organic process and we mutually treated the video as a passion project. It’s been an evolution, like a continual journey.
You’ve just finished directing the video for Danny, Dakota & the Wishing Well. How did you end up involved in the project in the first place?
It all started with an exemplary bowl of Penne Bolognese. Being a fellow foodie, whenever Spencer is in London he often finds himself sitting in my kitchen-cum-pop-up restaurant and we tend to pig out over a few rounds of Snooker. On this occasion, Spencer arrived with the newly mastered album in hand, flashing and waving it around like those excited newspaper sellers you see in movies in the Sixties. We were listening to what was officially the finished product. Making our way through the entire album track by track, casually discussing the music, the influence of the lyrics and how they came to produce each of the songs. I would tell him what was visually running through my mind and we’d shoot off on all types of tangents. At this point, there was never strictly any mention of a video as such, not for Danny, Dakota & the Wishing Well.
Did you meet with the band much before the shoot to work out what everyone wanted to achieve?
To be honest, it’s hard to pin the guys down, they’re always on tour, it’s hard to keep up with them! They may just have to steal the title from James Brown. I got together with Spencer, then the band came to me with a song and the idea of making a performance video – something simple and low-key. We were making moves in that direction until the US pluggers switched the order of their single releases. I didn’t feel the new choice of track lent itself to being a straightforward performance video. It would have been a shame to simply go down that route, so I discussed coupling a performance with a narrative or a character portrayal. I knew what type of scenes and emotional range I was after and was quick to write an idea and share it with the band, their management and US counterparts. We then caught up on Skype and everyone loved it with the exception of one detail – my initial idea was based around a male protagonist but they all felt it would resonate better with a female, so we made the switch and before we knew it we were out in Arizona.
Why was the decision made to shoot it mainly in Arizona?
Arizona is a scenic wonder in itself. There are very few places out there that offer the same abundance of variation in landscape. Desolate wastelands, dramatic mountain ranges, rolling hills of Saguaro cacti, eerie rock formations, inert river basins… Since the band had spent time recording this album in a small town called Cave Creek just outside of Phoenix, it made sense to set the film there. I wanted the atmosphere of real dirt and grit, bleak and abstract, a merciless type of landscape that’s endless and unobstructed. There’s a sense of over-soul in Arizona, nature as a symbol of spirit, this fit perfectly with the type of character that Dakota represented. Exhausted, desolate, treading on hollow ground yet one with her surroundings. There was a really special feel about the place and it worked beautifully onscreen. It’s hard not to see the appeal of shooting there.
Was it a challenge to make a video based so much around the lyrics of a ‘story song’?
When writing an idea for a music video it’s important for me to disconnect myself to some extent from the lyrics. The song portrays quite a specific story but I was more interested in giving the song a visual voice that’s tailored to a string of emotions, without being dictated by the literal meaning of the lyrics. The idea that you can experience the song with the affinity of being inside it, immersed by it. To me both Danny and Dakota embodied the fundamentals of fractured souls, I had a gut feeling of where I wanted to go with it and how I would portray this female character. It’s just a different way of triggering a cycle of emotions. The attraction for me was the coupling between the melody and the sentiment in the lyrics. I love the dynamic of that marriage.
Being more used to larger video budgets, what are some of the considerations and challenges you encounter when shooting film in a more independent, guerrilla style like this?
There was a real sense of die-hard willfulness attached to this project. I was very fortunate to share the experience with a set of individuals that were as passionate about the video as I was. The core crew consisted of four people. Roles were doubled and tripled up; a mammoth undertaking on everyone’s part, including that of the band’s and co. Art Direction and Location Scouting fell under my wing. The Producer, Sarah Tognazzi, took on the roles of Stylist and Hair & Makeup. The Director of Photography, Sam Brown, along with his Camera Assistant covered Camera, Grips and Lighting departments. The Director of Photography was also our designated driver throughout our stay. We rode up to eleven hours a day across the length and breadth of a colossal State, just to reccee one location. From climbing up perpetual mountains, to getting lost trying to find suspension bridge, turning off Interstate highways into desolate badlands and chancing upon beautiful unknowns. Sooner or later and largely due to absurd distances, State laws and impossible improbabilities, we had to make some compromises. Despite all the research that we put in while still in London, we needed time to actually find these places and scout them, in some cases negotiate permits, source props, wardrobe and filming equipment. Hours were spent in thrift warehouses and DIY emporiums. Luckily the band’s management were invaluable with their local knowledge and surprisingly, their construction skills. Stumbling upon locations whilst shooting others was common, and we largely adopted a discipline of improvisation. We were doing really early mornings and wrapping very late at night. Locking things down then watching them slip away at the very last minute, so I was up at the crack of dawn scrapping and re-writing regardless of what had happened the night before. As challenging as it all sounds, the experience filled us with a transcendent sense of oneness with one another. It was probably one of the most intense and exhilarating projects that I’ve ever had the pleasure of working on. Other than that, Super Glue, beef jerky and serendipity saved our days.
Was there ever a point where you thought that some of the scenes you wanted to get just wouldn’t be possible to shoot?
Of course. It’s one of those afflicted situations that most directors will go through at one point or another on a project. I always have a long wish-list, the bonus shot lists. In an ideal world, you would have unlimited funds and an open deadline but then where’s the fun and challenge in trying to master an altering game-plan? You just have to be resourceful with what comes to you, adapt it, re-adapt it, and exploit any given opportunity without pissing too many people off.
Dakota is brilliantly played by Victoria Klemme. What was the process of finding her and what was your criteria for how the part should be played?
The casting process for the video was arduous. I had initially found a couple of hopefuls in Los Angeles and New York, though despite nagging my producer for days, I knew that we ultimately couldn’t afford them and wouldn’t have the budget to fly anyone in. We looked into Phoenix-based modeling agencies, contacted acting and theatre departments at local universities and posted calls on online audition websites. Try sifting through 4,000 headshots and reels without falling short of a hemorrhage. Exhausting every possible option, bearing in mind that we weren’t playing on home turf. Street-casting was instantly dismissed for obvious reasons. Ultimately it was about finding a balance between a number of key variables: the natural delivery of the individual, the look, the personality, gauging how strong a character they would be and how that would translate onto screen. It was important for me to find someone who was able to identify with and be very close to the character that I had written. The list whittled down to nine people. My producer showed me some of her photos of Victoria Klemme, and I instantly disregarded her. It must have been Sarah’s sixth sense, she convinced me to add her to the list. Victoria was the first to arrive at the casting and the only one who wasn’t chaperoned by her mother. Where she lacked in acting experience, she made up for in so many other ways. All her idiosyncrasies surfaced within a ten minute conversation. She was witty and charming, tough like an elephant tusk but somehow able to reveal the most personal and sensitive sides to her personality. Considering the nuances of her character’s subtext in the video, once the camera was on, everyone was left mesmerized each and every time. She is Dakota, her life story is that of Dakota’s. Our flame-haired nomadic dark horse. This is what it all boiled down to and I’m glad we discovered her.
There seems to be a lot of guns, fire, bikers, animals & fireworks happening throughout the video! Is this exciting aesthetic something you deliberately went for?
I felt these symbols juxtaposed with Dakota’s character added a resonance around them that built the emotional structure to a cumulative effect. They add an aesthetic punch but they’re only interesting because they relate back to the character’s turmoil and deliberation, making them feel entwined. Raging bulls, dream-like horse sequences, exploding seas of sparks, and so on – all a slew of symbolic iconography that in my mind translates the song’s bittersweet nostalgia, the volatile states tinged with sadness, the ecstasy of youth and highlighting opportunities missed. They’re all essentially part of the story, the music and part of what evokes the progression of her emotions, the suspense, and the peaks and troughs of her journey.
What ended up being your favourite shots in the video?
I’m not one for singling out favourites. The video is peppered with poignant moments, each one retaining a very distinct feel to it and each one appreciated in its own right. Every shot brings about a chained reverberation to what comes before and after it.
Were there certain people that made you want to get into this initially and now your tastes and vision are different to what they were to begin with? Who would you say you have taken inspiration from as you’ve learned and developed as a director?
I remember during my childhood when my dreams were pulverized – I’d written a feature film script and sketched out stick-men storyboards for what would have been Gremlins 2. I’d sent my draft to Steven Spielberg’s attention at Amblin Entertainment and couldn’t stop thinking about it. Months passed and I finally received a response from Steven, I was like a child on ecstasy, bouncing off the walls like a Tasmanian devil. The long and short of it: Steven thanked me for my script, mentioned how inspiring it was for someone so young to be so enthusiastic and then dropped the bomb that he couldn’t receive unsolicited scripts. I was distraught. The letter was accompanied by an autographed photo of Steven, it never made it onto my wall of posters, though I did deface it. It all made sense years down the line. I suppose my influences change all the time because I’m always searching for new inspiration. I don’t like the idea of being tied down to one way of working, it’s all relative and dictated by what the subject matter or topic is. I’m a firm believer in change whether by methodology, inspiration, mood, etc. Over the years I’ve worked with a whole array of directors, from music video and commercials gurus to feature film heavy-weights, all of whom have a wide and inspiring range of understanding of their craft. I got to know some great people who are now friends and colleagues. My style is still evolving, there’s always a degree of influence and guidance that rubs off on your development when you’re so immersed in that world.
There’s been some talk of an unseen edition of what you shot whilst out in Arizona. Can you tell us a bit more about this?
I’m currently working on it as we speak so I’m reluctant to go into too much detail, you’ll have to keep your eyes peeled and tune in when it’s released. We get to delve further into Dakota’s world at a slower and more revealing pace. If you listen to the album instrumentals it strikes me the band has a knack for composing music that’s akin to film scores. We’d discussed the idea of them working on the film, whether by taking stems and abstracted segments from the album or actually composing an original score, a process that I’m sure will be fun for them. Single notes, rich tonal suspension and thoughtful silences that all come across in a beautifully haunting and soothing way.
That’s great, thanks for talking to us Bouha!
Director: Bouha Kazmi
Producer: Sarah Tognazzi
Director of Photography: Sam Brown
Camera Assistant: Leo Reyes
2nd Unit Director of Photography: Joe Taylor
Editor: Thomas Grove-Carter @ Family London
Colourist: James Tillet @ MPC London
Set Build: Lee Evans
Production Assistant: Raleigh Evans