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Exclusive Report: On The Set of John Carpenter’s “LOST THEMES” Video, ‘Night’

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It’s been amazing as a life long John Carpenter fan to witness the Renaissance for the man himself and for all of his work in these last few years. On the movie front, Scream Factory has been doing a pretty stellar job restoring and re-releasing some of his most notable genre titles on Blu-Ray. Meanwhile, the fine folks over at Death Waltz Recordings have been focusing on vinyl releases of his scores. And whereas sometimes it’s taken as long as a decade for cinema goers to truly appreciate his films, it seems his music has always been universally celebrated.

So, the news that John was releasing a full new album of music titled LOST THEMES (from Sacred Bones Records) was met with much enthusiasm. While Fangoria already focused extensively on his music career for Issue # 339, Sacred Bones has since made a music video for the track “Night” to further promote John’s latest creative endeavor (which you can see here). And this Fango writer got a sneak peek at the making of the video when it shot back in January at a Downtown Los Angeles sound stage under the direction of filmmaker and genre buff Gavin Hignight.

The ambitious concept behind the music video was to show John controlling a robot avatar that drives through the brightened streets of LA to do his bidding. And considering John’s well known love for video games, hypothetically the shoot shouldn’t be much of a chore for him. Sure enough, he arrives on set in great spirits and is ready to be directed. As the camera crew sets up for the first shot, this FANGO scribe is standing a few short feet away holding the visor prop that John will wear during the course of the shoot to simulate his avatar. I jokingly break the ice by asking, “this should be pretty quick and painless, no?” He immediately rebuts with, “That’s easy for you to say. You don’t have to do it!”

His classic sarcasm shines through everything he says and with the burden of directing not on his shoulders for this assignment, he lets loose and has a good time pretending to drive and do Tai Chi. It’s a fairly quick shoot only lasting several hours and the crew under Hignight’s direction gets everything they need in record time. John seems relieved that his work is done and he can no doubt return to playing video games at home, whereas for Gavin, the work to complete the video was just beginning.

Several days later, I’m treated to a rough cut of the “Night” music video and am completely blown away by the gorgeous cinematography of Los Angeles by night. The segments with John, his robot avatar, the city streets and the music itself feel like a snippet straight from one of his earlier films. FANGO decided to check in with director Gavin Hignight to get the full scoop on bringing John Carpenter’s song “Night” to life, visually.

FANGORIA: First and foremost, how’d you come upon the track “Night” as the video? Was it a given? Your choice, John’s, Sacred Bones?

GAVIN HIGNIGHT: I think the choice of that track was almost unanimous before anyone even spoke about it. I knew the first time I heard the album that the song would make a great video.  It painted such a vivid dark night-time landscape in my mind. Caleb Braaten (from the label) and Dean Hurley, a friend of the label who collaborated with Zola Jesus on the remix had very similar visuals in their head from the track so we all just went from there.

FANGORIA: You had a pretty elaborate proposal put together with exactly what your vision was for the music video. What was the process like in terms of pitching it? Did it require a lot of collaboration between yourself, the record label and John? Or did you have creative freedom? And how intimidating is it to present your pitch to a director of John’s caliber?

HIGNIGHT: The visuals the song evoked were so clear in my head it was easy to have an elaborate vision. Because it was the one and only John Carpenter, and I was nervous as hell pitching to him, we of course made sure the proposal was solid! It was a great collaboration between Caleb Braaten from Sacred Bones, Ben Verhulst (Cinemaphotographer) and myself.

I wanted to convey the world and characters as strongly as possible on paper so we brought in artist Sam Shearon (who I’d met recently because of his comic book work for Clive Barker) to do some concept art for the proposal. We’d get notes and approvals from John Carpenter and were thrilled he liked the concept and vibe.  So yes, I totally had creative freedom but I also had support and collaboration from the label and John. It was very exciting.

FANGORIA: Were you drawing from any particular influences in terms of the visuals for this video? Did hearing the song itself inspire anything in you visually? Or did it all come together organically?

HIGNIGHT: As mentioned the entire album, especially that song painted vivid visuals in my head. The city at night, dark urban spaces, lone travelers, so it was a choice to focus on one of those lonely travelers and his unusual journey… An avatar controlled by an unusual source.

As for visual influences? We aimed to create a world that (hopefully) fit somewhere in a Carpenter-like universe. The most evident place that choice was made was in the pace of the video. A modern video cuts ever 1.5, 2, or 3 seconds at most. We wanted this story to have a classic 80s video or film vibe so the majority of our cuts are 5 seconds. Which was terrifying and liberating both.

FANGORIA: Once the basic concept and plot of the video was locked, how much prep time did you have to pull off what seemed like a very ambitious music video?

HIGNIGHT: The prep time was short as we got the idea and wanted to act on it as quickly as possible, so we did.  But the enthusiasm from everyone involved for the song, the concept and John Carpenter’s work brought everything together quickly. It never felt like work.

Night_Avatar_aged

FANGORIA: Judging from what I saw on set, you had a small 3 man camera crew, but they were spot on with everything you needed. Can you talk a bit about pulling the team together and what their strongest assets were on set?

HIGNIGHT: I had met my D.P., Ben Verhulst, at Hollyshorts Film Festival earlier in the year. Both of us had films playing and we just kind of hit it off creatively. The label liked his reel and so he was brought in. Very quickly it evolved from Ben being a D.P. who was hired to him being a fully integrated collaborator of the project. It was a great team up. The guy is dangerous!  He can shoot and do killer post-production! So we worked as a unit moving forward. Him and I storyboarded the video to the second, brought in crew we trusted for the day we shot John and just focused on the end goal.

FANGORIA: How receptive was John to your direction? Did it take some time to build trust in your abilities or was he game to play right away? He seemed to enjoy the task of acting as opposed to focusing on the directing side of things.

HIGNIGHT: When you’re directing a director who is a master of his trade… well, you can’t have any slip-ups on the set you’re running because he’ll find you out damn quick. We just aimed to be as buttoned up and professional as possible. John was fantastic… and he busted our chops at every opportunity.

You can tell he loves the craft. He was easy to direct because he understood everything we were asking him to do, sometimes with actors you’re asking them to create all these puzzle pieces which you will put together later yourself and they just have to trust you, with him, he understood where the puzzle pieces were going to go while we were creating them.

FANGORIA: What was the most memorable aspect of the shoot? John was in good spirits and it even seemed like you guys wrapped early!

HIGNIGHT: Most memorable? I got to work with freaking John Carpenter, man!

FANGORIA: Can you talk about the difficulties (or maybe ease) of some of the other aspects of the shoot? Getting shots of LA at night? Building the avatar cyborg, etc?

HIGNIGHT: Every project is a challenge. That being said… this one was more fun than difficult.  Having it story-boarded tightly was a great help. We had a roadmap for production and editing that way. It made post go quickly. Also the fact that Ben could color-correct his own footage was a huge time saver.  The crew were great at their special tasks so it gave me the time to create instead of problem solving.

Our Make-up Artist, Kimber Parrish, who I’d worked with previously at FEARnet, had our talent looking great. We brought in martial artist Stuart Morales to play the Avatar, as we knew he could take physical direction well, which he did. George Malanche (another FEARnet alum) did the graphics for the video, he completely understood the ‘80s retro-future vibe we wanted. I worked closely with Caleb (him on the East Coast, myself on the West) for the art direction, props, costume-creation. So yes, glad to say, it was more fun building this one than dealing with difficulties.

The one difficult night was the parking garage scene; it was HOT, and we had little time to get in and out with our shots. This is the first time I used GoPro (for some of the car exteriors) and that was a fun challenge… and yes, I have hilarious footage from one of the cameras falling off during a take on the road.

FANGORIA: As a fan of John’s work, what are your feelings on his music, the record and just this new Renascence in his career with his music?

HIGNIGHT: I am thrilled about the album! I don’t think you can be a fan of his film work without also being a fan of the music because his music is such an important part of sculpting the mood in the films. I listen to music constantly when I write or create. And to have an entire album of Carpenter themes made exactly for that kind of enjoyment is a treat. Without pretension his work has influenced an entire generation of creators as well as fans. The huge response to this album is just further proof of that.

John Carpenter’s LOST THEMES is available from Sacred Bones Records here.

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About the author
Rob Galluzzo
Rob Galluzzo is the co-host of the KILLER POV podcast, former web coordinator at FEARnet, Co-creator of ICONS OF FRIGHT and producer of the DEXTER WRAP UP podcast. He also wrote & directed The Psycho Legacy documentary.
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