Whitney Woerz — The Idea of Her
"You like the idea of her
Just a thought of beauty in your mind
Rip away the skin
See a heart that’s just pumping black blood
I don’t know her, you don’t know her"
Most of us have had this experience more than once in our lives: the person we become fascinated with from afar turns out to be someone other than what we expected entirely, and often NOT what we wanted them to be. In some cases, perhaps the reality that we discover beneath the skin is something that could even be called dangerous...
This song makes us feel that danger, as well as the excitement, fascination, mystery and intrigue that precedes it. Its as though Whitney is trying to warn or get through to someone who is busy objectifying a person he doesn’t really know. “Objectification” (in a somewhat broad sense) being the technical term for this tendency, particularly when it comes to the way in which some men immediately view some women as sexual objects instead of REAL HUMANS with all the myriad, indescribable virtues and vices, hopes and history that make us who we are.
There is a popular metaphor for this kind of experience that we have encountered many times in the world of science-fiction in films like Terminator, Alien, I,Robot, Metropolis, and most recently Ex Machina and WestWorld. In all of these examples, a person or persons who appear to be human turn out to be mechanical creatures with intentions much darker than our own.
We’ve seen this so much that the essential plot-twist in many of these examples [note especially: season one of WestWorld] has become something of a cliche: “So&so who we thought was human for the first 75 minutes of the movie turns out to be an evil-cyborg! AHHHHH!!!!”
What we are going to do is something that only a music-video can do, something that we haven’t really ever seen before, something that actually captures the idea of objectification that "The Idea of Her" is about in a more perfect way: we are going to make a video in which So&so who we thought was a robot turns out to be a real live human being.
In a nutshell, we see it thus:
We are at a house-party in full-swing: teenagers talking, flirting, dancing, hanging-out, etc. The extroverted kids are having a blast and one or two introverts are hanging back by the corners. One such wallflower is a young boy who looks up just as the front-door opens introducing a trio of popular-girls decked out to dance. They are laughing and greeting their friends just as one might expect minus one tiny detail: one of the girls just happens to be a robot.
We’ll talk much more about the possible visual-style of this robot, but for now try picturing something like a SVEDKA-BOT with clothes on:
Of course we as the audience notice this robot, and the shy-kid in the corner is immediately captivated by her—but everyone else at the party seems completely oblivious: she is just another kid at their school. No big deal.
At this point our focus shifts from the young-boy with his mouth agape and robo-lust in his eyes to another, quieter character on the opposite side of the room... It is Whitney and she is singing to him with a mixture of detached amusement, pity, and a measure of disgust.
Over the course of the video we will watch this little triangle move through the party: robo-girl getting her party-on, shy-guy quietly following her and trying to muster the courage to talk to her, and Whitney knowingly gazing down on both of them as she sings.
At this point I should pause to say something about the style of the video...
The music of The Idea of Her is punctuated by lots of really cool volume & rhythm changes. It starts kind of staccato and quiet, then the beat kicks in, then it goes away, then it kicks in again, etc. We’re going to mirror those time changes by congruently changing the speed of the action in the video, from regular motion, to slow-motion, all the way to completely frozen, tableau-like, motionless scenes. The visually-interesting quality of this effect (and the relative simplicity by which it can be achieved) is typified by the recent viral video craze known as “The Mannequin Challenge”.
The effect has also been employed by more than one cool-looking music video (which also happen to be set at house-parties) and which show us some of the more creative, gravity-defying possibilities that might be part of this:
In our video, a large part of the story will be told in these kind of “frozen-frames” in which we have our actors holding their positions in perfectly-still, mannequin-esque, dare I say robot-like poses. We’ll also have the ability to embellish these frames with digital elements in post as well as further clean-up and “super-freeze” our actors as needed.
In many of these frames, and much like the two music videos examples above, Whitney will be the only character who can still move among the statues in real-time as she sings.
NOW BACK TO THE STORY
As the song progresses we witness the boy make a failed attempt at meeting robo-girl. He does something embarrassing like accidentally spilling a drink on her shirt or maybe just knocking over a large pile of empty pizza boxes by leaning on them. In any case his efforts go unrewarded and he’s left alone on the couch feeling dejected until he notices robo-girl heading upstairs, offering him one mysterious, expressionless glance as she goes... he follows!
We are now at the first bridge of the song over the lyrics “I don’t know her, you don’t know her” as the boy follows robo-girl into a quiet bedroom and the lights mysteriously dim... she seems to be inviting him towards her and he obeys, meeting her on the edge of the bed.
Its here that we watch the boy compelled to touch the smooth surface of her hard-resin like robotic armor and suddenly make a discovery... the plates on her arm and shoulder seem to dislodge at the touch and peel away to reveal bare human skin underneath.
By this point in the video, Whitney has made her way outside of the house and appears to be watching the scene unfold through the bedroom window from her position on the front lawn.
Back inside, the robot’s exterior shell has been completely removed and only the expressionless mask remains over her face which the boy removes to reveal a very real young woman who, in totality, does not express the kind of stereotypical-abstract-sexuality evoked by the robot version of herself in any way: she’s way more honest and real than that.
As the penultimate chorus approaches and the music builds to a climax, the real girl sits up and reaches out towards the boy’s face, seeming to move in for a kiss. The shy-guy’s eyes widen and it looks like his wildest dreams are about to come true (albeit in a somewhat different form than he fantasized about) until she touches his cheek...
Instantly, he freezes in place like one of the “frozen-frames” we have seen throughout the video, only this time the robo-girl (now real-girl) remains unfrozen. She begins to dance...
She dances out of the bedroom and into the hallway where a few other party-goers stand like motionless statues. She dances right on by them and down the stairs, perhaps flipping over the drink cup of a guy we saw trying to talk to her earlier. She dances down into the living room full of frozen party people, stealing a hat or a coat from one of the friends she walked in with and moving towards the door...
She dances all the way outside, passing Whitney singing the final bridge/chorus fervently, the two exchanging a conspiratorial look. She dances all the way out onto the street— the kind of dancing that you might only do alone in your room in a moment of profound, personal victory; a dancing that seems to say “You don’t know me, none of you know me, the way you look at me comes nowhere close to the truth of me which is way bigger and way more defiant and dangerous than you could ever have imagined”.
Finally, over the last quiet lines of the chorus, the boy upstairs “un-freezes” to find robo-girl has disappeared. He looks out the window and sees her on the street...
She stops dancing and looks back at him for a brief moment...
Then she turns and walks away into the darkness.
As complicated as this all might sound (and as awesome as its going to look) the video for The Idea of Her is designed to be produced at a modest budget, in a modest amount of time.
First of all, everything takes place in ONE LOCATION: a two-story suburban house somewhere in America. The entire video can be filmed here over the course of one but preferably two nights. That’s it.
Its a party so we will need some background actors to fill out the space along with our principles, but with a few different basic camera tricks and costume-changes we can make a cast of fifteen or so extras look like a party of a hundred, a technique that’s been regularly employed by many a movie:
That leaves only Our principle cast which consists of the Shy-Boy, the Girl who emerges from the robot, and Whitney (who we already have!!! ; ), so we can focus much of our attention on casting great people for the two other primary roles. Special attention must be paid to casting the Girl. after-all, this is a song about objectification and we should be sure that the point is being made and not contradicted, so while the robot we see during the first part of the video will be sexy and evocative in kind of the same way that store-front mannequins are designed to be of alien-like, Barbie-doll proportions... the Girl should not be of the same absurd measure. More importantly, since the Robot will have a kind of feature-less mask-face, the essential thing we should be looking for is a face that reads as real, honest, unique, and specific; the more-so, the better.
Now on to the big kahuna…
Keeping the location, shooting days and casting to a minimum frees us up to focus more energy on creating our Robot in the perfect way. As mentioned at the outset, we see humanoid-robots and androids all over the place these days on TV, Film, and commercials—and the vast majority of the effects that we are seeing in these examples are computer-generated.
While all this stuff looks amazing, it can be quite costly to produce at a high-quality and in a large quantity. Doing so adds considerable time and budget on the back-end for post. I don’t think we should exclude CGI from our tool-kit and there are a few places where I think we should use some small computer-generated elements to embellish different shots (I’m thinking of elements like a drink spilling out of a cup in one of our frozen-frame tableaus...) but I’d like to suggest that we specifically avoid using CGI as the primary tool for our Robot-creation. Instead, we are going to go old-school and get this done as a PRACTICAL EFFECT, both as a prop and partial costume.
The reason this method makes the most sense is also built-into the concept for the video: since a large part of the story is told in the frozen-frames that I have described, playing on the technique derived from the mannequin-challenge videos... we might actually decide to use a real mannequin as the foundation for the construction of a full-scale, pose-able robot puppet.
The limited-physical-movement that we actually need to achieve in the shots in which we see the Robot make creating her in a believable way much easier. We will also need to create at least a partial costume-version of this Robot which can be “ripped away” from the skin of our actress during the climax of the video, and perhaps some shots earlier in the video will utilize elements of this costume to create shots with more robo-movement than we could easily achieve with the prop-version.
ONE MORE IMPORTANT THING ABOUT THE ROBOT!!!
It should be said that by choosing to create our robot primarily as a practical effect we will not be going for the kind of big-budget Hollywood realism that we have come to expect from the latest superhero movie or sci-fi explosion-fest. Our brand of realism is going to be a bit more akin to films like Beasts of the Southern Wild and Spike Jonze’s Where the Wild Things Are:
In these and other examples, the use of real props/costumes has a certain old-school movie-magic that fits well with the story being told. As typified by the video for Zara Larsson’s I will Never Forget You — even a big, clunky, monster costume can be quite endearing and somehow fits perfectly within a fairly serious music video about life & death!
There is a certain, special quality to these example that is impossible to replicate with a computer and this won’t be the first time that a robot has been created in this way:
*This award winning short was created by my good friend Colin who will be consulting with me on the robot-design/build
*and here’s a breakdown of some of the VFX from Unit Bryan which shows some of the tricks we would also use