Valley of the Dolls
The scene is a familiar one for anyone with rowdy friends who buy beer on a tight budget. Cans of Schlitz and Budweiser litter the living room, someone passes a bong and everyone looks glam. This is not an average Friday night party, though. The cans are mere centimeters tall and each partygoer is a plastic Barbie doll complete with eerie unwavering looks of dull ecstasy.
This is the overall gist of the music video for “Picture Perfect” by the retro pop band Yacht Club, co-directed by band frontman Ben Cook and SFUAD film major Emmett Meade.
Burger Records, a taste-making boutique label based in California, premiered this and another video for the song “Cold Wind for Fools” on its YouTube channel to promote the band’s newly released EP. Burger Records’ roster has proven to be a springboard for several successful national acts such as Ty Segall and Thee Oh Sees and now Yacht Club, whose Ben Cook is best known for playing guitar in the indie punk revivalists Fucked Up.
In an interview with Meade, he said the collaboration with Cook began with a different film project altogether. Meade wanted to use a Yacht Club track for the end of a short film he is working on titled “Bookworm.” He decided to reach out to Cook and e-mail him a trailer for the short and Cook responded positively. Through this connection, Cook later reached out to Meade to work on the two videos as a co-director. Meade says he was excited to work with Cook because Yacht Club “was genuinely a favorite band of mine.” In February of 2014, Meade drove to Los Angeles to meet two of his friends who would help on the shoot, Reed Ratynski and Mike Courtney, as well as Cook and his bandmate Matt DeLong.
“Ben and Matt were super easy to work with,” Meade said, “they were so superlax… [Ben] knew what he wanted, it was a good back and forth.” Each video was shot in a day at separate times. “For ‘Cold Wind for Fools’ we just went to the beach and shot.” For “Picture Perfect,” however, Cook had a very specific idea in mind.
Cook took Meade and the rest of the crew to the studio of Rebecca Cherkoss, creator of Barbie-doll-starring online chat show “Real Talk Girlz.” Before arriving, Meade says, “we never knew the extent of what it was… it’s just this entire room devoted to dolls. They’re all Barbies.” There were almost 20 different sets, each packed with tiny details such as the aforementioned custom-made miniature beer cans, “all specifically created for this world.”
While Meade and Cook were able to play around with different set-ups, Meade said the collaboration with Cherkoss was enjoyable, if a bit off-kilter.
“We’d put the dolls somewhere and she would say, ‘I don’t think Bambi would sit there…’ You’d have to find a way to move her.”
In an e-mail interview, Cherkoss said the shoot was fun and that she thought it was “Neat to see what I [could] learn from them… It’s a challenge working with inanimate subjects and the Emmett and crew worked with that well.”
All around, the shoots went by easily and without hassle. Meade’s greatest challenge, and some of his biggest lessons, came after during his editing phase.
The video, and the music itself, was all a part of a distribution partnership between three labels, including Cook’s own Bad Actors label. Big Love, based in Japan, was slated to release the videos in a physical VHS format. While attempting to export files as they were edited, Meade says he would run into issues with the image coming out unclear. While Meade says that Cook and the other parties were “laid back” about the issues, he took it as a hard lesson in professionalism that he says is different from the lessons you learn in the classroom.
“I felt it was unacceptable… if you fuck up an assignment it’s like, whatever…when they need to post it on their website it’s like, ‘I’m sorry it looks fucking stupid. I’m fucking stupid.’” Luckily, Meade says, it ended up on a positive note and both videos are currently available for problem-free streaming on YouTube. “When you’re a big fan of someone’s work, you want to give them a product that’s up to par with what they’re doing.”