In the music video for Sarh's "U and I," a man and woman chase each other in a impressionistic dance, representing the birth of the universe. Directed by Paul Trillo, the cinematic clip implements a mix of choreography, double exposure photography, and other film techniques to make the dancers look like mythical, larger-than-life beings.
Trillo told The Creators Project he wanted to explore "cosmic imagery with real materials—representing something impossibly large on an incredibly small scale." Thus, the concept bloomed into a gorgeous abstraction of the Big Bang, and the director recognized "there were some interesting parallels between the beginning of the universe and an Adam and Eve-type story."
Enraptured by the project, we spoke with Trillo about his work and the making of "U and I." The up-and-coming filmmaker told us about being inspired by the strobe photography in 1940s issues of Life Magazine, his collaboration with the Dance Cartel, and he even shared storyboards and behind-the-scenes photos of the music video shoot.
The Creators Project: Hi Paul, can you us about yourself and your work?
Paul Trillo: I'm a filmmaker based out of Brooklyn, NY, as are a lot of filmmakers. I'm actually part of a collective aptly titled Brooklyn Filmmakers Collective. I have sort of mutual interests in science and comedy, art and technology, experimental and narrative. I think all those things feed into my work. I studied experimental filmmaking at California College of the Arts and spent a few years doing motion graphics before focusing on directing. My basic understanding of both has cropped up in a lot of the commercial and music video work I do. Music videos are a perfect reason to experiment and try something new.
Can you tell us more about how you work and your process?
Each idea starts with an image. I have an image in my mind, usually they come to me when I'm staring through the window while laying in bed. However, when I come up with an image, I usually try to ground it in a concept. I believe if you have a strong conceptual foundation to what you're doing the work becomes less penetrable. The concept has a list of rules or internal logic, that if you stay true to, people will recognize and appreciate. After I develop a concept and series of images, I extrapolate what a narrative or emotional response to this might be. That's how you give a visual concept or technique your own voice, by using it to convey a feeling or story. When something is entirely visual, with no real script, it is important that I draw out the storyboards myself. This is my way of writing the story, I have a hard time letting someone else do this step.
Recently, I have collaborated a lot with producer Brian Streem from Afog Production. We share an interest in expressing humanity through science, technology, and visual techniques.
On this project you have worked with a choreographer and two dancers, how was it ?
The choreographer was Ani Taj from the Dance Cartel. We've worked together on a project for the Dance (RED) campaign. She's got great ideas and lent something to this project that has a very unique flavor. It was a delicate balance between showcasing the dance and the technique. I had mapped out the basic emotional beats, and we developed certain movements that would work best for the effect.
Ani translated that in surprising ways, far better than I could have ever imagined. That's one of the greatest parts of filmmaking, is when someone brings something amazing to the table that you had no idea was coming. The choreography had some flexibility to it so that the dancers—Uthman Ebrahim and Danika Manso Brown—both brought something unexpected as well. The dance has a lot of emotion to it.
I really like the DIY experiments style you seem to use to create visual effects. Is the lo-tech research an important part of your work?
Visual effects are a common thread between much of my work, but I wouldn't say it's the key aspects. They are, like you say, more experiments. Sometimes the experiment is a post effect, sometimes it's an in-camera effect. For this project, we experimented with both post and practical effects. What's important for me is really trying something new and doing it in a way I haven't seen done before. That's what's challenging and what's exciting.
What is the story behind this video? What were your inspirations?
When I first heard the song, I was really struck. It felt big. There was a unsettling energy about it. I wanted to capture the feeling of the song. The title "U and I" has a certain symmetry to it that I wanted to convey in the lose narrative. It starts with a man who appears to be a bit fragile. A strong woman sort of haunts him. She reappears and entrances him further. There is a resistance, a struggle before they eventually become one. Finally the women is left alone.
As I started defining the visuals more, the concept then evolved into this big bang, creation of the universe thing. I thought there were some interesting parallels between the beginning of the universe and an Adam and Eve type story.
Originally this came from my interest in creating cosmic imagery with real materials. Representing something impossibly large on an incredibly small scale. I loved the visuals in the opening of Tree of Life created primarily by Douglass Trumbull. Using the cloud tank technique which essentially creates cloud formations in a fish tank.
But that's not an idea, that's just a need to create something pretty to look at. From there I started adding ideas of a man traveling through the universe and that became a sort of chase between a man and a woman. This side scrolling movement worked as a way of marking time and that's when I started looking at strobe photography. In a very futurist way, it captures motion across time within a single image. I looked at a lot of the strobe photography Life Magazine did throughout the 40s. There was something so mesmerizing about seeing time and motion in a new way.
What's next for you?
I'm working on a short film. It's a comedy about people who try to be someone they're not. I think that's all I can say for now.
Images courtesy of Paul Trillo.