Raindance Film Festival 2021
The familiar confines of the back of a taxi feature a rotating cast, including some familiar faces, as the setting changes from day to night, with arguments, silent romance, anxiety and cute puppies filling the car.
Hey Jason, it's great to talk with you, how have you been keeping during these strange times?
Hello! I’ve been well, as much as can be. I’ve kept busy with a lot of different videos and tried (when I can find the space for it) to watch and read as much as possible with a newly re-discovered sense of internal time (post-lockdown).
Has this time offering you the chance to find some new inspiration or opportunities?
Yes, fortunately last year was busy on the production front once Covid protocols were in place, and also the extra time at home allowed me to focus on some writing and development, in addition to the aforementioned viewing/reading. I think as elements of the wider world have started to feel increasingly bleak, I’ve recognized the importance of having meaningful artistic experiences to turn to more than ever.
Congratulations on having From The Back of a Cab at Raindance 2021, what does it mean to you to be at the festival?
Thank you! It’s so rare for music videos to have a proper screening in a theatrical venue, so it’s amazing at Raindance 2021 “From The Back of a Cab” will have that opportunity. It’s a video about communal experience, and I’m glad it will be shown this way, even if I won’t be able to attend.
Can you tell me a little bit about From The Back of a Cab, what inspired your screenplay?
The lyrics of the song, like much of Rostam’s writing, have a beautiful specificity to them, and they’re also simple and emotionally direct. I love the line in the chorus: “And in the back of a cab we sit closer, and I rest my head down on your shoulder.” It captures a fleeting impression of a bleary romantic mood I think most of us have experienced. So I suppose the treatment for the video began there: Let’s find as many very specific moments as we can to depict, across all the different kinds of emotional states you might encounter in the back of a shared vehicle. Through these specific micro images we arrive at an extrapolation of universal experience.
With over 100 music videos under your belt how much has your approach to your music videos changed since your debut video?
Over time I’ve worked towards more simplicity in my videos. When I was younger and just starting out, there was this feeling that I needed to throw everything at the wall in every video to try to create an impression. Over time I realized that, for most music videos, you’re going to arrive at something more emotionally direct and impactful by finding a few images and ideas that communicate and complicate (and these aren’t mutually exclusive) some kind of theme or themes within the song, and then refining those. This was definitely the approach on “Cab”.
What would you say was the biggest challenge you faced making From The Back of a Cab?
The shooting of the cab itself, though it seems simple, was anything but. We had the vehicle, which was a barely functional period relic, on the back of a process trailer being towed through downtown Los Angeles, along with the accompaniment of four police vehicles. Everywhere we went caused a traffic jam. Other cars were stopping to gawk and take photos. The police kept driving into the shots. We were also shooting 16mm so had limited stock, and a ton of actors to move in and out of the trailer over the course of the day. It was a lot!
How important is the collaboration between a music video director and the artist?
It’s amazing how often you’ll encounter artists who haven’t read the treatment for a video until the day they step on set. I always dreamt of working closely with artists to bring their songs to life in a video, and when you find those people, it makes the projects so much more rewarding. I’ve been lucky in the last year or two to work with many artists who have been closely involved with every step of the process, and Rostam was definitely one of them.
Where did your passion for directing music videos come from?
I remember as a child hanging out on the carpet as my Mom ran on the treadmill with MTV and TRL playing as she worked out, and loving watching hours of music videos. It was in many ways my first exposure to feeling like a fan of music. As I grew up and got deeper into different types of music, I always paid a lot of attention to the videos. There were nights in high school my friends and I would get on the phone together and spend the whole night starting music videos at the same time to watch and comment on them together.
In 2018 you released your debut feature High Resolution, what was the experience like making this film and are there plans to return to making feature or short films?
It was a very special experience to adapt the novel ‘Taipei’ by Tao Lin into High Resolution. I was only twenty-four when I directed that, and there was a sort of youthful hubris that let us charge ahead into the unknown with a feeling of total freedom. I can’t wait to be back on a feature. It’s an entirely different beast from making a music video, with a sense of total holistic immersion in process. I’m actually currently developing my second film, which is being planned for the first half of 2022, so hopefully it’ll be sooner rather than later.
"...it’s worth understanding no matter what form of the medium you work in."
Do you have any advice or tips you would you offer fellow directors?
Watch as many films as possible; not just new films, but especially older work outside the US and Euro-centric canons. There’s such an incredible world of cinema out there, and it’s worth understanding no matter what form of the medium you work in. My references for my music videos largely come from film rather than other music videos.
And finally, what do you hope people will take away From The Back of a Cab?
I hope people just enjoy our few minutes of tribute to something that’s disappearing. Beyond that, even though many of the people appear in the cab alone, we wanted the video to feel communal in its portrait of a broader community and world, and uplifting and positive in spirit. I think we all need a little bit of that right now.