Prism Prize nominees take us behind the scenes of Canada’s best videos

March 27, 2015

In its three years of existence, the Prism Prize—the annual prize rewarding Canada’s top music video—has made an undeniable impact on the Canadian music scene. Yes, it recognized the mind-bending achievements of Noah Pink (who won the prize in 2013 for Rich Aucoin’s “Brian Wilson is A.L.I.V.E.”), and Emily Kai Bock (who, after creating one of the best Can-videos of all time in Grimes’ “Oblivion,” won the Prism last year for Arcade Fire’s “Afterlife”). But it also recognizes Canadian video-makers in a time when creativity is at an all-time high: In a post-MuchMusic landscape, locally produced videos exist on the internet, where it’s easier to spread good ideas, take creative risks, and, of course, experiment.

“More people are watching videos, and videos can make or break artists, like they couldn’t before,” says Prism Prize founder Louis Calabro. “I would also say creativity on the filmmaker’s side is at an all time high.  I also sense there is a willingness to fund and support the creation of music videos, esp. considering the wide reach and popularity of watching content online.”

Calabro, along with his admiration for Ken Parks’s “He Says I’m an Island” and Wrong Hole’s “HDTV,” loves the canonized Canadian music vids: Bruce LaBruce’s work on Rusty’s “Misogyny,” the Killjoys’ “Today I Hate Everyone,” Eric’s Trip’s “Stove” and the Gandharvas “First Day of Spring” are among his faves. Those videos, however, were largely played on MuchMusic programs like the Wedge. He acknowledges that for many current videos—the kind the Prism celebrates—the struggle is far different.

But the key to making a great video, says Calabro, is the same as ever: Make it damn good.

“The work will speak for itself. If it’s good, it will be seen,” he says when asked how to create a successful video. “That said, there are things to be done to help it along.  I would say talk to people in control, and make sure they know your video exists. Have a plan when it comes to rolling the video out, whether it’s a video premiere with a certain outlet, or through your own channels.”

So yes, the Prism Prize’s 2015 crop is damn good. So, we asked each of the nominated directors for the story behind each video.

Samir Rehem, director of Kevin Drew’s “You in Your Were”

On his relationship with Kevin Drew: “I’ve known Kevin for several years, and as fate would have it he moved into the same building as me. As a result of us reconnecting and being present while Kevin was writing and recording his new album it seemed to be a natural transition for us to collaborate on his new video.”

On Zach Galifianakis’ dancing abilities: “Zach suggested that he would choreograph a dance routine for Kevin’s video and I was thrilled. It wasn’t until four weeks [after he met with Galifianakis and Feist in L.A], while we were setting up to film the video at the Park Plaza Hotel in Los Angeles, that I realized that Zach was going to spontaneously improv the dance number on camera. I suppose that speaks directly to his comedy and genius, this project will always be a career highlight for me.”

His favourite Canadian music videos of all time: Rehem, in no particular order, chooses three stone-cold classics: Feist’s “1234, Grimes’ “Oblivion,” Tragically Hip’s “Ahead by a Century.”

Who should win the Prism, if not your video: Timber Timbre’s “Beat the Drum Slowly”

Kheaven Lewandowski, director of Fur Trade’s “Same Temptation”

On contrasting the video with the Fur Trade’s track: “Steve Bays and Parker Bossley were very hands-off and just wanted me to make something totally unexpected and out of left-field to contrast their song, ‘Same Temptation.’ I thought a black and white origin story of Bat Boy seemed like a good start, and it all snowballed from there.”

On how party photography brought him together with Fur Trade: “I met Steve many years ago when I was going to art school and doing party photography. He gave me my first real break. I directed a couple Hot Hot Heat music videos for them, and we’ve been pals ever since.”

On building chemistry for the video: “Myself and the boys went to PlayLand in the summer as a way to get better acquainted before the shoot and it was a blast. We all went on rides and ate junk food all day. It made their connection on screen that much more authentic, as they built a great rapport together before hand. We were also very lucky Cameron was such a trooper under all that makeup, as it was hot and uncomfortable yet he never complained.”

The best Canadian video of all time: Does Celine Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On” count? I love Titantic.” We’ll let it count, Kheaven.

Who should win the Prism, if not your video: Kevin Drew, because “how can you go against Zach Galifianakis?”

Chandler Levack and Jeremy Schaulin-Rioux, directors of PUP’s “Guilt Trip”

On how Levack and Schaulin-Rioux avoid paint-by-numbers videos: “Usually Jeremy and I try to listen to the song a bunch of times, take a long walk with it and start talking about the images that come to mind. Sometimes, it’s easy and sometimes it’s really hard not to think to direct call up on images from the lyrics and narrative that already exists. We try to think outside the box as best we can and try to stay away from ‘band playing in a room with a smoke machine’ concepts.”

On how the Canadian music-vid world is changing: “Gone are the days of sitting through hours of MuchMusic airplay so you could have the chance to see the new Matthew Good video on The Wedge,” says Levack, adding that videos now largely live online. “Since MuchMusic/MTV airplay isn’t as much a factor and there is so much content you’re competing with online, I think music videos are evolving into a new kind of narrative art form where they can take even more risks than ever before. Also the Canadian music industry has never been better—there are so many great bands constantly breaking through who may want new, exciting videos made by Canadian filmmakers…. We are finding our voice!”

On using Vancouver garage-punk band’s Needles // Pins’ van in the video: “The van the kids steal (that doubled as our production vehicle) was Vancouver punk band Needles and Pins’ tour van, graciously lent to us by Vancouver local legend Macey Budgell. It was awesome but also pretty dangerous, seatbelts would suddenly fall off and the doors would occasionally just swing open. The worst was when the driver’s side door swung open on a terrifying switchback on the Sea to Sky highway—nearly sucking Jeremy, who was driving, right out into traffic.”

On Grant Lawrence’s inclusion in the vid: “He was 100 per cent down to get blasted into freezing mud again and again.”

Their favourite Canadian music videos of all time: Levack picks Fucked Up’s “Queen of Hearts,” Grimes’ “Oblivion,” Matthew Good Band’s “Load Me Up,” Sum 41’s “Fat Lip,” Avril Lavigne’s “I’m With You,” Sonreal’s “Everywhere We Go,” PS I Love You’re “Get Over,” and Sloan’s “The Good in Everyone.” (Whew.) 

Schaulin-Rioux, for his part, chooses Matthew Good Band’s “Apparitions” (“90 per cent for the fake gun-to-head moment”), Thrush Hermit’s “The Day We Hit the Coast,” the Odds’ “Eat My Brain,” Grimes’ “Oblivion,” and Fucked Up’s “Queen of Hearts.”

Martin C. Pariseau, director of Ryan Hemsworth’s “Snow in Newark”

On the state of the Canadian music-vid world: “We work with a fraction of the budget our forebears used to work with, so we have to do it for the love, and love is a good thing.”

On nearly dying by elephant: “I almost messed up a Red Dragon and died during the elephant sequence because my elephant got mad when Ryan’s elephant was getting too far from him. I think they were lovers.”

On what it takes to get a music video seen: “A good song mostly.”

On his favourite Canadian music videos: “Emily Kai Bock is god.”

Who should win the Prism, if not your video: “Any video featuring Drake.”

Natalie Rae Robison, director of Kandle’s “Not Up to Me”

On how to balance music, illustration, and imagery: “For me, there’s always one or two main images that come to mind when I listen to a song. They might be clear characters or more abstract textures. Next, I’ll create a story around those base images with the strongest emotion from the song. The balance with music video illustration is the story, mixed with visuals that enhance the rhythms, vocals of the song. You need your pacing and images to look like the sounds the so the story and the sound feel inter-dependent.”

On the respect music videos are receiving as an art form: “Budgets may be less than they once were, but there seems to be a resurgence in attention and respect towards music videos.”

On the difficulties of holding your breath and dancing: “It was especially hard for both Kandle and Haley to learn how to perform both above and below water. But through practise and determination they were able to get across emotion in both spaces. Holding your breath is one thing, but dancing and acting is totally another!”

Her favourite Canadian music videos of all time: Robison picks a handful of videos from different eras: Arcade Fire’s “Sprawl II,” Alanis Morissette’s “Ironic,” Grimes’ “Oblivion,” and Belle and Sebastian’s “The Party Line,” which was shot at Toronto’s Great Hall.

Who should win the Prism, if not your video: PUP’s “Guilt Trip,” because “it reminds me of rainy home in Vancouver.”

Joel Mackenzie, director of Rich Aucoin’s “Yelling in Sleep”

On being old Maritime pals with Rich Aucoin: “[We’ve] been Halifax buddies for a while now. He actually scored one of my first short films, called Superscience, and that is where I was introduced to his unique sound. We are both big fans of animation, so when I asked if I could use one of his songs for an animated music video, he was into it. ”

On how a video as mind-bending as “Yelling in Sleep” gets made: “The animation team I was working with were superstars! Initially we had no funding for the video, but Tony, Murray, Grahaeme, Morgane, Shep, and James all stepped up and said, ‘Let’s do this video anyway.'” After the video received a MuchFACT grant, “I tried to submit it to as many film festivals as possible.

“In many cases, film fests have curated music video categories, which helped us to get the video into a few great festivals like the Ottawa Animation festival and the Animation Block Party in Brooklyn, where the film won Best Music Video. Aside from festivals, the video made it into Vimeo’s staff picks, which resulted in almost 350, 000 views.”

His favourite Canadian music videos of all time: Mackenzie chooses one created by Halifax’s creative scene—Rich Aucoin’s “It”—and Special K’s “Knockin’ ’em Down.”

Who should win the Prism, if not your video: Chad VanGaalen for both of his videos, because “I love them. I’m always pushing the animated agenda.”

Scott Cudmore and Michael LeBlanc, directors of the New Pornographers’ “Dancehall Domine”

On the importance of an institution like the Prism Prize: “There seems to have a been a bit of a renaissance of the medium with the internet taking over for broadcasters,” says Cudmore. “It’s really awesome that the Prism Prize exists and is helping to elevate the medium as legitimate filmmaking. I think more and more people now think about music videos as being art in their own right and not just commercial work. Prism Prize definitely does a lot to help that.”

On adding a visual element to song: “I just listen to the song and see what comes into my mind and try not to be restrictive about it. I let the song guide the images and inspire the images. It has to come from the song.”

His favourite Canadian videos of all time: “Emily Kai Bock’s video for Grimes´Oblivion is still one of my favourites ever.”

Who should win the Prism, if not your video: PUP’s “Guilt Trip” or Chad VanGaalen’s vids.

Chad VanGaalen, director of Chad VanGaalen’s “Monster” and Timber Timbre’s “Beat the Drum Slowly”

On his favourite video-makers in Canada: “I think Canadian videos are really strange. Most of the videos I like to watch are animated: ‘Asphalt Watches’ by Shayne Ehman and Seth Scriver, Jesi the Elders vids are amazing, Seth [Smith] and Nancy [Urich] of Dog Day are classically fantastic. Brandon Blommaert blows my mind. Stu Hughes makes incredible animation as well as mini paper pavillions. Malcolm Sutherland is a bad ass.”

On how his creative process works: “I bring a song to life by smelling its colour and turning it into drawings. If it has a snare drum in it I like to hook up explosions to the snare drum.”

His favourite Canadian productions: Ehman and Scriver’s Asphalt Watches, Smith and Urich’s Lowlife, Bloemmaert’s Batmilk, Malcolm Sutherland’s Umbra, Jesi the Elder’s Blossom 1, 2, and 3, and Hughes’ Crystal Beard.

Who should win the Prism, aside from his own videos: “Everyone should win. And they should make a version where the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man destroys New York.”

Lee Stringle, director of Odonis Odonis’ “Order in the Court”

On bringing “Order in the Court” to life visually: “When I heard this Odonis Odonis song, I immediately thought of the work of Bosch. The chaotic nature of his compositions and subject matter, and yet, the obvious orderliness of it too, made it feel right so I rolled with it, very intuitive-like. The actual making of the video was an intensive process. Luckily, I get a kick out of editing and animating.”

On being buddies with Odonis Odonis: “Dean Tzenos and I have been good friends for over 15 years. We’ve been in a couple of bands together. It’s always been a blast collaborating with him and hopefully there will be more projects to come.”

Favourite Canadian video of all time: Men Without Hats’ “Safety Dance.”

Who should win the Prism, if not your video: Timber Timbre’s “Beat the Drum Slowly” or Fur Trade’s “Same Temptation.”

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