Leon Else - "Black Car" | Directed by Jordan Bahat

Note from Jordan: "Below is the brief I got from the label which had links to some initial ideas that Leon put together including imagery and a mood film that was made of clips from films like Thelma and Louise and others. It was a traditional bid from a label and I’m not sure how many other directors were involved. I didn’t know Leon at the time but I had worked previously with Michel An, who was commissioning the video at Interscope.

The emphasis was on this Bonnie and Clyde, wild and reckless romance between a couple on the run in a classic muscle car leading to a big police chase. And though there was a respectable video budget at $40,000, it was kind of clear to me that the scope of the brief wasn’t realistic. I also wasn’t too sure if it was my thing because it felt really self-serious. But then I listened to the song and realized the track is really funky and weird… Suddenly the whole idea became really funny to me. There’s this really theatrical falsetto and then a spooky chorus, it just felt cartoonish. Which is how the transition in the end section came to mind with a nod to the Galaxy Song animation. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=buqtdpuZxvk)

And then on top of that the lyrics call out “the blackest car you’ve ever seen”. I couldn’t help but think that the video needed to veer into more darkly comedic territory - especially as it’s all about this ridiculous phallic symbol in the American muscle car. What happens if the car stops being a symbol and it just becomes the phallus, totally capable of having its own sexual encounter. And from there it seemed clear that if the car was going to literally transform into a sex monster, then it wouldn’t make sense for Leon to be a part of the romance anymore - so he became this spooky sort of chauffeur for the monster. The other thing that really excited me was the idea of playing with Suki’s power dynamics in the car; by setting her up to be a damsel in distress, only to reveal that she’s complicit if not in control of the situation. It was important to empower her character within the narrative.

When I sent the treatment I was fairly positive it would be rejected as being way off base tonally - if not outright offensive to the serious video they wanted to make. But, thankfully, Leon totally got it and loved the weirder, comedy/horror concept. We worked on it together a little bit more and agreed that he shouldn’t be able to touch or really even look at Suki at all; that his character was all about restraint (hands on the wheel at all times, with wardrobe that would feel restrictive like his formal high collar, coat, and gloves). He also fully supported the idea of using practical monster FX and puppetry to pull off the gag - as we’re both fans of campy monster flicks - and he became my biggest ally in making this. Credit due, the label took his lead and jumped in with a lot of trust.

Sourcing the car and designing the monster on the timeline was challenging - and even though we had some sketches made, I only ever was able to see the completed creature on the night of our shoot. Mark Villalobos at Monster FX designed it all and controlled the eyes via remote control from the cab in the process trailer while two full-grown adult puppeteers lay on top of one another in the back of the GTO, operating the monster’s arm, fingers, and tongue. The tongue was the only real surprise on the day… Because they only had time to make one version and it came out EXTREMELY gross and knobby whereas I was imagining something a little more friendly. For a brief moment I was panicked before realizing the disgusting tongue was absolutely going to be the most fun part of the video.

For the budget, we knew we’d only get one big night to shoot with everyone involved, so we boarded everything and cut together an animatic for the timing. The night before our big shoot with all the cast and crew, Michelle Wang (producer), Mike Gioulakis (DP), and myself snuck a night shoot in with the GTO. Michelle drove the picture car while Mike drove the camera car (his truck with the camera bolted to the back of the pick-up), and I operated the smoke machine and walkie’d from the pickup. It was, of course, not terribly legal or efficient - but it got the job done. And then we put together a small insert shoot in a closed parking lot on a third day to do hand inserts poor man’s style with Mike’s wife, Alex, matching hands with Suki.

Jack Price was the editor and Ben Bjelejac was the animation lead, working from a crude animatic I made from frames drawn by Mike Jasorka and an animation sequence I put together in FrameForge. Sean Coleman at CO3 generously agreed to do the grade for us and did a really nice job giving it the right sort of vintage horror look.

In the edit, the biggest note the label had at any point was how grotesque the monster’s tongue was. It actually became a significant issue and there was a Tongue Summit of fifteen or so people from label and management to discuss how many tongue shots could make the cut. It became a little bit ridiculous - and I did my best to fight here, but I have to admit that we lost or had to trim a lot of them. So it goes sometimes.

Still, I’m pretty happy with it and I’m grateful so many talented people donated their time and efforts to making this weird passion project come to life."

The original brief:

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Watch the final video here:

Daniel Kwan