Thursday, October 8, 2009

Punit Dhesi Interview, Pt. 2 | Behind the Lens

Continued from earlier in the week, here's part two of my conversation with music video director Punit Dhesi.

AM: How did you come up with the idea for Gangrene [Alchemist and Oh No]’s “Under Siege”?

PD: I had been talking to Alchemist a lot, we had been going back and forth. He really wanted to do something for the Gangrene [project], we talked about doing the “Therapy” video, just trying to make something happen. I went down there and stayed with him for two days. We were just sitting there and we came up with it together. We just started watching riot footage and it just came to us. I said, “Can we just put you guys in the riot footage?” I got this documentary done by ABC on the L.A. riots from the library on VHS and just ripped all the footage. Some of it is from YouTube too. I just studied it, trying to match the shots. We shot it all on green screen one day in downtown L.A.

Actually we had printed out some promo copies on VHS, with a cover and everything, and sent out 100 copies to press. My buddy Josh Harding does all the digital motion graphics and effects, I don’t deal with a lot of that. After we edited the whole video, we outputted it from the computer to a VHS tape and made four copies back and forth, so it was a fourth-generation copy. Then we sent it back into the computer. Some people commented, “Those are cool VHS filters you use” and this and that. We just made a bunch of copies of it on VHS, that was how we did it.

AM: Did Alc and Oh No bring their own wigs?

PD: No, I got them at some Korean wig shop. I went in there without much of a budget, I said we needed some wigs. This lady was telling me 200 dollars for a wig. I said no way, and I’m thinking, I don’t know if we’re going to get any wigs. So I thanked her and I bounced. I was in my car and I was leaving, she ran outside and she said, “Okay, okay, you want a wig?” And she pulled out this box full of wigs and she gave it to me for 10 dollars. Oh No has one that was a beard, but he was wearing it as a wig. [Laughs] Weird shit.

AM: Where did the idea for the “Life As A Shorty” video come from?

PD: The song itself set the tone. It was basically written for you. It felt like bright colors, school playgrounds. I wanted to do it that way because I loved the way that [Fashawn] made that song really lighthearted but the content is real. The videos I’ve done that I really like, they’ll play me a record and I just know I want to do the video. I can already see it. For “F.A.S.H.A.W.N.”, they just played me the record and I said, “Let’s do a video”. Same thing for “Our Way”, when I heard it. And it was the same way for “Life As A Shorty”. The first thing I saw in my head was the ice cream and the balloon. The first scene sets the tone for the rest of the video. It’s supposed to be a constant theme throughout it, with the bully. As soon as little Fashawn gets something in his life that he cares about, it gets taken away from him. From the ice cream to the balloon. The toy that his real father gives him, that’s a metaphor for his father coming into his life. He’s playing with the toy and it suddenly gets snatched away from him. He’s sad about the toy but really he’s sad about his father coming in and out of his life. When he tries to go up to the little girl on the playground and give her a little key chain and a bully steps in and ruins that for him. The girl he’s hanging out with, and another guy steps in the picture. There’s a constant theme that every time he gets something, it gets taken away, until finally, at the end of the video, the young Fashawn meets the old Fashawn. He’s sitting on the curb and [the old Fashawn] gives him the notebook. After all this, take this notebook because what you write, nobody can take that away from you.

AM: How do you make creative music videos on a budget without resorting to making the stereotypical “hood” video?

PD: Budgets are nice! I’d love to have one someday. [laughs] Sometimes I think that helps in a way, the minimal tools you have. A camera, two people helping me out, maybe some reflectors and a makeshift dolly. That’s kinda all we have. The only thing I can depend on to make the shots look good are the actual aesthetics. I don’t have all the fancy lights or effects so I have to focus on taking the bare minimum and making something dope with it. Just shooting the street, I’m not happy with that. And I won’t do it, if that’s all there is. I just shot another video for Strong Arm Steady. That’s another one that’s coming out real guerrilla, no permits.

AM: What’s the video about?

PD: The concept of the song is they’re talking about their guns but in the form of women. It’s a real L.A. type video. '64 Impalas, and [a model] is the metaphor for the gun, she’s dressed in black leather and wearing brass knuckles.

AM: Which directors inspire you?

PD: The big budget stuff doesn’t really concern me. I’m looking at people like Jason Goldwatch. He did the “Back Again” video for Dilated [Peoples], the “Mr. Slow Flow” video [for Evidence]. I remember when Rik Cordero’s videos started popping up. They’re doing the guerrilla low budget thing but they make it look dope. I’m inspired by them but I’m also competing with them in my head.

To see more of Punit's videos, check him out at Vimeo!