A man sits on a toilet. A woman in a blue dress, who appears to be a sex worker, gyrates before him. He reaches for her, but she is beyond his grasp. This is the intriguing premise of a new music video created by SHELLBOOKNATIONAL, a team of three young British filmmakers, for David Lynch’s “I Know.” Recently, the famously odd director has forayed into making music, and a Genero.tv competition invited viewers to make videos for the track. While SHELLBOOKNATIONAL’s video didn’t make it to the finals, it was arguably the best video in the competition — with or without Lynch’s stamp of approval. I asked director Sam Pilling, 24, Chris Lee, 24, and Paul Storrie, 23, all 2009 graduates of London’s Central Saint Martins, about their influences (Jonathan Glazer, Stanley Kubrick, and the Coen brothers are among them), if they used real prostitutes for their video, and what lust has to do with it.
How did the video come about?
Well, I saw the competition on Genero.tv advertised, and knew my work schedule was pretty free in the run up to Christmas, so I suggested the idea to [co-filmmakers] National & Book [Lee and Storrie], and then we got right on it!
What was your reaction to the Lynch song?
We loved it. There was a world there with character and feeling. It was naturally very cinematic and crying out for a film to be made for it. The song’s sinister mood carried real mystery and intrigue and instantly appealed to us, evoking an array of imagery from the off.
Are you a Lynch fan?
Lynch repeatedly demonstrates fearless film-making, something we all aspire to, so the idea of doing a film for Lynch was enough to warrant all the work we put in. Legend.
How did you conceive of the idea for the video?
It was a subconscious method, we listened to the song over and over, talking through the visuals that came in to our heads, discussing the mood we felt the song created — purely inspired by the sound and feeling. We didn’t concern ourselves too much with what the judges might be looking for, or the idea becoming too “Lynchian.” Our main aim was to capture the dark and seedy mood of the song, taking advantage of its fragmented and repetitive nature. The narrative developed naturally from this process.
Tell me about your male lead, Daniel Vivian, and why you picked him. He has a pugilist’s face.
We wanted an actor with a dark, mysterious look — with real character and feeling about them. There’s something about Daniel’s look that was perfect for the character we wanted to bring to life. He has a very masculine look to compliment his character, but something a bit deeper and darker, that he really brought on with his acting, that created this suspense and untrustworthy nature to the character. In fact we almost went with another guy, but National was adamant that Daniel was the right man for the job — and it was definitely the right decision. Daniel was extremely enthusiastic and a pleasure to work with. Being a lofty 6-feet-and-7-inches, we were concerned that he wouldn’t fit in the car, but with a few minor adjustments everything was alright on the night. A big fella, that’s for sure.
What about the girls — are any of them real sex workers?
No, though this was an early consideration of ours, but logistically it was looking too expensive and uncontrollable.
You say the video is about lust, desire, and obsession. Can you say more about the “story” of the video, as you see it? Why is the guy sitting on the toilet?
As a simple narrative breakdown, we wanted to portray the demise of a man whose feelings of lust, desire and obsession controls and engulfs him. As a viewer, we are not sure whether all the women he sees are in fact real or part of some warped inner reality. The man is on the toilet as a metaphor for this lust: something he wants constantly regardless of where he is, and what he is doing. The toilet also suggests his vulnerability in this situation, the breaking of his control, and a turning point in the narrative where we discover that his desires are actually controlling him. The fact that he cannot leave the toilet to reach the woman represents his frustration.
For the woman in the blue dress, you could have cast a Barbie doll, model-type, but you chose an older woman who looks a bit rough. Why?
The reason we chose Ruth Davies to play the woman in the blue dress is that we wanted “the toilet scene” to illustrate the extent of the man’s obsession and clouded vision. The man’s feelings of desire have taken hold and looks simply don’t matter to him. He simply cannot get enough of her, his feelings are uncontrollable — yet she is the one girl who is just out of reach … unobtainable. This adds to his loss of control and his characterisation as a true womaniser, only interested in sex and women as objects.
How much did the video cost to make, and how long did it take?
The video cost just under £450 [around $700] to make and took two weeks and three days from the very start of the project (developing the idea) to uploading the video on Genero.tv.
Are you pissed you didn’t win the competition?
Yes! We all think it’s a shame, it would have been really great for David to have seen our film, as I think he only judged the finalists. We are disappointed, but these competitions are so unpredictable that it would have been silly to lose sleep over it.