Brooklyn native Justin Lange declares he is something of a cultural immigrant. Although he is a filmmaker now, Lange didn’t grow up watching movies or television like his peers. In fact, a lock was placed on the family TV set that only came off for the Olympics. He explains, “My dad literally wrote a song which includes the line, ‘Why go down to the video store, bring all those monsters and werewolves through your door?’” Since he was not exposed to Hollywood culture as a child and spent “half of [his] waking life daydreaming in the woods,” Lange never had the desire to emulate the content the silver screen produced. As an adult, Lange realized that the technology of filmmaking was a way to project the dreams he saw in his head into the world. Lange’s latest dreamscape was set to the music of Lawrence & Leigh, in which the budding filmmaker created an adaptation of the Cretan Labyrinth for the band’s “Chelsea Nights” video, featured most recently in MAGNET Magazine’s Film at 11.
We were able to pull Justin Lange away from his camera long enough to tell us what it’s like to be on The Other Side:
Green Light Go: What are some of the prerequisites to becoming a music video director and what initially sparked your interest in this field?
Justin Lange: The medium of music videos is simultaneously home to some of the most inventive, as well the most derivative film work right now. There are assembly lines of stock music videos and totally inventive, wildly creative new work. The most important thing an aspiring music video director can do is find inspiration outside of the music video landscape. If inspiration is the product of ideas having sex, then watching music videos and trying to create something new is just going to result in creative inbreeding. I’m really inspired by interactive art and participatory arts culture, like Burning Man, FIGMENT, and all of the underground stuff that is happening in Brooklyn right now. Music videos offer a container to explore a lot of the different technologies and ideas that I’m interested in. If I weren't making music videos, I would probably give up on film and simply create installation art.
GLG: You recently shot a music video for Lawrence & Leigh. What was the inspiration for such an eerily beautiful video?
JL: My friend Jeff Stark does incredibly innovative site-specific theatre. He staged a post-apocalyptic play called the The Sweet Cheat, based on The Albertine Notes by Rick Moody, which was set in the warehouse that is featured in the Lawrence & Leigh video. The play begins on the Metro North train going up the Hudson River to the space and by the time you arrive, it’s imagined that New York has been destroyed in a Nuclear Holocaust, so the only New York that exists in the present is the one we, the theatre-goers, remember. I was really inspired by how much the location spoke about nostalgia and memory.
The action of the video pulls pretty squarely from the myth of the Cretan Labyrinth (where Theseus marks his passage into the labyrinth with string). I think that journey works well as a template for the way we all move through the complexities of intimacy while holding on to the hope that we can exit, heart intact, if things go sour.
GLG: When you set out to film a music video, how do you determine a location and how to set up the shoot?
JL: The song fertilizes that process. I might want to shoot in greenscreen against a world we created with miniatures, or a frozen swamp in the middle of winter, but I won’t know until I understand the story the song wants to tell. I’m really interested in the ways that spaces tell stories.
For example, I’m interested in a Christmas tree farm that was abandoned in the 1960s, where there are all of these wild, overgrown pines that are all planted in rows. It’s really cool. I’m waiting on the song that needs that kind of adventure...and a sacred lama, all decked out glowing jewels. [The scene will become] some kind of magical journey.
GLG: What bands are you working with now, or who would you like to work with in the future?
JL: I’m doing a lot of documentary work right now, but I’m particularly hungry for a music video project with a song that has some electronic elements; something ethereal. I’m open to intense songs of any genre.
GLG: What are some of your favorite music videos?
JL: I love Michael Gondry and I thought the feature film Dancer in the Dark was incredible.
GLG: What is the best piece of advice you could give a band that wants to hire a director to shoot a music video?
JL: Know what your song is about and be prepared to explain every mystery and metaphor without getting attached to any particular visual aesthetic.
GLG: What are the most rewarding and challenging things about being a music video director?
JL: Getting to live in a different world for a day or two. Making music videos is like interdimensional space travel, with a return ticket. It works best if everyone is willing to take risks and play in the world we’re creating.
GLG: What does the future hold in terms of your own filmmaking aspirations?
JL: I’m really interested in playing with different technologies. I have a pretty sophisticated understanding of projection mapping, generative graphics, LEDs, DMX and midi control…and I am [thankful] to have friends who know more than I do. The nexus of art and technology is exciting to me. I want to project on to stone and onto time lapses of growing things. High ISO photography can make moonlight dance. Projected lyrics can sing in time with artists on moving shapes and spaces. Anybody can copy existing processes. What I’m interested in is how I can really play with technology.
The Other Side highlights the talented folks behind the scenes of the music we listen to. The Other Side features producers, engineers, booking agents, photographers, radio DJs, management teams, and label representatives.
This week’s The Other Side is brought to you by: Lauren Roberts