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Making a music video during the pandemic

It's been a year since we have filmed "Desert Flower Interlude". Whimsical imagery depicts the contentious relationship between Los Angeles and its Independent Artists, directed by the Los Angeles based female director Kristen Kiertzner to the song by NYC born LA-based singer songwriter / indie rock musician - Fleece Kawasaki.

Kiazi: I’m Kiazi, AKA “Fleece Kawasaki,” I’m an NYC born LA-based singer songwriter / indie rock musician.

Kristen: I’m Kristen. I'm a director/editor and an LA native.

I: What first got you into music?

Kiazi: My family first exposed me to music, from the contemporary hip hop, rap and pop stuff that was out at the time, to Lauryn Hill/The Fugees Hole, Fleetwood Mac, Billy Joel and Nirvana.

I: How did you meet? What made you interested in collaborating with one another?

Kiazi: I believe Kristen saw me performing on the LA metro? She reached out to me on Instagram with an idea for this music video, a whole actualized concept and I liked that, y’know someone talented bringing their vision

Kristen: Kiazi and I hadn't formally met until we were on set. But I was aware of him because he and his friends would play on the Metro from downtown to NoHo. I'd catch them on my way home from work and really enjoyed their performances. And while Covid was in a big upswing, I had more time to dedicate to passion projects and reached out to him to see if he was interested in collaborating on a music video.

I: What does the song mean to you?

Kiazi: It’s about an idealized version of LA, like I say in the song “and if we go it’ll never rain or snow on our parade, such a perfect place.” Well, obviously we know that it rains

here - but I meant it also as a bid for freedom, the song juxtaposes all the reasons why I wanted to leave home and all the reasons for chasing this idealized dream of perfect happiness and freedom.

I: What is the message of the music video?

Kristen: When I first heard the song, I understood it to be a message about what it's like to move to Los Angeles in pursuit of making a living as an artist. While the city has a reputation of being an oasis of the idealistic liberal lifestyle, living here really reveals how far from the truth that is, especially for those who aren't as fortunate as others. I wanted to contrast the song's sunny disposition with a statement about how out of touch Los Angeles seems to be with reality. The Hostess and her tea party are meant to symbolize the glitzy and dated reputation that Hollywood continues to cling to since its heyday in the 50's. The desert surrounding her represents the lack of opportunity that LA actually offers its citizens: high cost of living, issues with homelessness, poverty, gentrification, etc. The whole piece is meant to visually symbolize the disconnect between the city and its independent artists. LA cries to keep jobs and businesses local, but offers little to no incentive to do so. The city is struggling even more now in the time of Covid because a lot of its residents, a significant amount of them being transplants, have had to leave due to lack of work and continued high living costs. Kiazi represents the independent creatives that keep LA's gears turning. We are consumers just as much as we are creators, and the city's sustainment depends on our participation.

I: What is your creative process like? Talk about how the differences in the meaning of the song and the video complement or oppose one another.

Kiazi: Well, I don’t feel the song is romantic, but I did have the distinct vision of a guy and girl sitting on some stones in Joshua Tree when I pictured the choruses and especially the bridge. It’s the most platonic song I’ve written, so I feel the music video captures that nicely. It’s about comfort, it’s about finding solidarity.

Kristen: When I need to come up with a concept for a music video, I'll usually just sit down and listen to the song a few times over. I try to understand first how it makes me feel, and what kind of images it evokes on its own for me. I also want to take the musician's message into consideration and compare it to my own beliefs or thoughts. From there, the concept is usually roughly formed in a narrative and the next steps are to translate that for film with a directorial pitch.

Since Kiazi is an LA transplant, I imagine he wrote this song about the city from a more optimistic perspective than I view it as a native. I think the result we achieved a nice balance between our differing perspectives. There is a lot of bright, fun visual elements that have a classic SoCal feeling to them, but with a subliminal and critical message.

I: Tell me everything about the magic non-melting jello.

Kristen: The jello mold required a bit of engineering considering the heat, and I did a few test batches to get it right. It’s actually not jello - it’s made with agar agar which is a vegetarian alternative to the gelatin that is more traditionally used. We decided to go with it because agar agar has a higher melting point so it didn’t fall apart in the sun, although it seemed to sweat a lot. I loved the idea of introducing the tea party set up with a dish that’s really old fashioned but also interesting to look at. I would have loved to have made one of those grotesque, savory jello recipes that were popular in the early 60’s, but I don’t think I’m talented enough with agar agar to pull that off just yet. Maybe in the next music video.

I: Is it hard to shoot in the desert? What does that entail?

Kiazi: Thank goodness we managed to have a trailer! The fellow whose property we were shooting on let us use it. If not for that,I woulda died because my call time wasn’t until 1 PM and thanks to my lack of ability to drive I had to carpool and got there at 6 am. It was super hot, but honestly it’s such a breathtaking place that I always wanted to see when I lived back in Brooklyn, and even when I was writing the song, so I’m truly glad that we went. Also, my leather boots were ruined for a week.

Kristen: It first depends on what time of the year you're shooting. We shot in late October, which is essentially second summer in SoCal. Thankfully, it wasn't as hot as it could have been. It was closer to the high 80's rather than the grueling 100 something you'll get in earlier months. That isn't to say this shoot was a walk in the park, but thankfully our property manager who's a friend of mine had a production RV where we could seek some shade. There were quite a few elements to consider other than the heat, though. The wind was a bit of a challenge because it does get strong in the desert. It kept trying to make a sail out of our screen and continued to knock a few props over. And of course everything gets sandy and dirty, but I think that's the least of my worries in that environment. Oh, and don't forget the rattlesnakes.

I: Talk a bit about the actress. How did the casting go? What were the challenges?

Kristen: Casting via Zoom calls felt a little strange, I have to say. It's kind of a hindrance to get to know a person and how they're going to represent your character if you can't do it face to face. Despite this, I think it went well because Nadine did a great job. As a director, what I found particularly difficult is figuring out how express the character of the Hostess and all she represents to the audience without using dialogue. My past directing experience is with more narrative pieces, so there were times when I felt a little out of sorts on how to get the emotional arc across. I wanted to make sure the actress wasn't going to be just an attractive woman in a music video that ends up with the musician in the sort of cliche romance that seems to happen a lot in pop music videos. I wanted them to be actual characters and to have a bigger statement than what's just seen on screen. Nadine and I discussed this, and she got where I was coming from right away. I was so happy to see the amount of detail she put into the role, and she really added quite a bit of dimension both visually and emotionally.

I: Who did the woman represent?

Kristen: As mentioned before, the Hostess represents LA's (and more specifically, Hollywood’s) outdated self image. It markets itself as "The Land of the Stars" to the world through movies and tourism, but in reality it’s far from that. The contrast of this overly polished woman and her tea party are meant to starkly contrast the vastness of the desert around her, which again, represents the lack of opportunity the city offers its people because of its festering issues. It's even meant to more practically represent how out of place Los Angeles is as this manmade oasis in what is really a desert. It's this forcefully created paradise, and I think that sort of sums up the essence of the city.

I: How did COVID impact the production for this music video? What were the challenges of that? How did you overcome them?

Kiazi: Well we all Covid tested, and only Nadine and I went unmasked so that kinda was an experience, like production in the Pandemic Age

Kristen: This project was conceptualized with Covid in mind. We knew that the production requirements needed to be minimal, so starting with that mindset simplified the process. Also, the fact that we were outdoors for the majority of the shoot sort of minimized the risk we might have had if it had been in an enclosed space. It's a minor inconvenience to have to ask everyone to get tested and quarantine prior to the shoot, but safety was our top priority, so we were all very willing to take the necessary measures to ensure everyone was and remains healthy. Because there weren't a lot of crew, I can't say that there was a huge difference felt by the impact other than a lot of sanitization options, and food had to be individually packaged rather than having the classic crafty table spread. But to be honest, when you're working in the heat for that long, you don't have much of an appetite as it is.

I: Talk about your crew. How many people worked on set? What are you grateful for? List some names.

Kiazi: I’m thankful for David and Nastya, our carpool was a journey and a half! The shots that we got couldn’t have been done without you guys! I’m thankful for Nikita the producer and Kristen our director, without her vision this would never have come about, and finally Nadine our actress for bringing so much life to the visual element of the video, everybody involved was so nice and so cool!

Kristen: Our crew was stellar! Everyone was so willing to help and give all of their talent to make this happen, and I couldn't be more grateful for that. I'm so thankful that Kiazi let me direct his music video with my own vision, and that Nadine brought so much detail to her character. Our cinematographer, David, and his wife, Anastasia, were an amazing camera team. They really caught some beautiful footage and this project turned out much closer to my initial vision than I ever expected. Nikita, our producer and also my husband, did an amazing job of wrangling my chaos into a functional set. He's also the one who really pushed me to make this happen, and I'm so happy he did and am thankful for his support. Our location manager, Steve, was so cool to work with and such a lifesaver because he let us use his production RV. We really couldn't have been more lucky. Rob, our associate producer, was super flexible and willing to help out in any facet we needed. He's also a personal friend of mine, and I'm really grateful that he put his time and efforts into my passion project. Also Nadine's parents played key roles in this production! Her mom volunteered as hair and makeup, and her dad accompanied as their chauffeur. Their participation seriously raised the bar on the quality of the production. Overall, I'm extremely humbled by everyone's talent and efforts. They made this set really spectacular, and despite it being not the poshest of shoots, everything went very smoothly. I'm truly blessed to have such an amazing opportunity.

I: Is there anything you would like to add that you haven’t gotten to mention in this interview?

Kristen: Anytime I direct and/or produce my own films, I'm always reminded of something my directing instructor told our class in film school. He very correctly said, "God hates movies," which is really a statement that productions are most often subject to Murphy's Law: anything that can go wrong will go wrong. After witnessing my own sets as well as those of others, that often feels like the truth. Putting all the pieces together, keeping them together, and gathering more pieces that you didn't know you needed until the the actual shoot is a real and regular struggle in productions. Most of the time there are details that fall apart, or a few major setbacks that really take a lot to adapt or improvise around. However, I would have to say this set went uncharacteristically smoothly. I'm not necessarily religious, but maybe God didn't hate this movie.

I: What’s next for you?

Kiazi: I’m working on the full up to The Desert Flower EP, it’s a full length album called Fake Frowns from Happy People.

Kristen: I would love to direct another music video! I've got a concept I've been sitting on for a while that I’d really like to explore, but haven’t found all the right pieces to make it quite yet. I also know that some people who participated in this music video have their own passion projects that they're working on, so I'd love to help them make those as well.


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