By Brian Ives
“They’re flying through the air for about a second, or a second and a half, each,” OK Go’s frontman and video director Damian Kulash tells Radio.com. “Gravity is pretty slow, compared to ballistics!”
That’s not a typical quote from an interview with a rock band. But then, there’s never been anything typical about OK Go’s mind-bending music videos, which aren’t just videos: they’re more like fantastic performance art pieces set to music. There was, of course, the synchronized treadmill dancing of “Here It Goes Again,” the zero gravity dancing of “Upside Down and Inside Out” and the Rube Goldberg machine of “This Too Shall Pass.” And for their latest clip, “One Moment,” they once again produce a short film that will take your breath away.
Related: OK Go’s 5 Greatest Music Videos
Before you read any further: be sure to watch the video. Not because there’s going to be spoilers here (although there are), but because if you haven’t seen it, none of this will make sense.
Most of the video was shot over 4.2 seconds and slowed down; that slowed-down segment is followed by a 16 second real-time segment, and the video ends with a short slow motion scene. It’s an exciting video, with hints of violence: there’s lots of little things exploding.
“What we wanted it to be was a contrast between the harshness of the outside world and the beauty of that one moment,” Kulash says. “The verses are about how the most beautiful thing, but the most tragic thing, is how fleeting and how temporary everything is. So take this moment and do something with it! So, what we wanted this video to do was to pull apart a moment of absolute chaos, which even verges on violence. And then to unpack that moment to reveal that it’s beautiful inside.”
The video was sponsored by Morton Salt, and their product makes an appearance in the clip. “Salt is fun to work with,” Kulash tells Radio.com. “It was brave of Morton to let go and say, ‘This is what we want to do,’ and then let us take it from there. We don’t work in circumstances where we have to do product placement. So, what do you do with a bunch of salt? We thought if we could suspend it in mid-air, the way we often use paint in our videos, that would work. That first shot is Tim [Nordwind, bass player] in front of a wall of salt canisters. and they’ve been dyed, so when they explode they make these beautiful clouds in the air.”
Kulash directs or co-directs the band’s videos, and while sometimes he creates the concepts in collaboration with the band, “One Moment” was a bit different. “This one was basically all math, because when you’re working at those tiny time intervals, it’s too fast to see. I had a spreadsheet that was about 400 rows and 26 columns wide, translating moments from one frame rate to another, from that frame rate to real time, and calculating how long it would take things to happen. It was all math.”
Nordwind did have an important suggestion though: “I was like, ‘It’d be cool if we could fly!'”
Kulash says, “I had a slightly different ending in mind, and I was explaining it to the band, and Tim was like, ‘Can’t we just fly?’ His question was actually, ‘Could I be in one of those human cannons?'”
“We try to keep the balance between ‘This is what’s possible’ and ‘This is what’s awesome,’ you need to be tugged in both directions at once.”
The video begins by showing the 4.2 second segment in real time, but that doesn’t cover the entire video, as Kulash explains: “The 4.2 seconds only gets us to where the guitars blow up. That disclaimer at the beginning was carefully worded to say, ‘What you just saw took place over 4.2 seconds.’ Because that’s the part that goes in 4.2 seconds. After that segment, I walk in ‘real time’ for 16 seconds. And the other guys are sprinting behind me to go get into place to get into the human cannons. They’re flying through the air for about a second, or a second and a half, each. Gravity is pretty slow, compared to ballistics! That whole last scene is between 3 and 5 seconds, I can’t remember exactly. Most of the other chunks are less than a quarter of a second. So the last part was a very long chunk of the song.”
Kulash’s job in conceiving the video’s treatment was mind-boggling; but once pre-production started, Nordwind had the toughest job. “Tim had the hardest part. When I’m lip-synching at the end, I’m lip-syncing in real time. When Tim lip-synchs, he had to do it three times faster than normal, twice, at two different points, and in between, he has to run the flip-book in sync. Tim had to practice a lot. The rest of us had relatively easy parts.”
Of course, their videos could be much easier, if they used multiple takes. But that would take away from the magic: “We want to do everything in one shot. It’s not because it’s a ‘rule’; we just don’t want people to feel like they’ve crossed into the world of filmmaking. To have that sense of wonder, you have to know that everything’s real. To do it in one shot is the cheapest way to do that.”
Watch the video below. And catch them on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert tonight (November 23).