If you’d never seen a DANIELS video before and had one described to you by a friend, you would probably experience a couple of WTF brain explosions before concluding that these guys are a just a little bit crazy. Well, they are, and the sheer quality of their work, the way in which they bring their outlandish ideas to life ensures that even the most conservative viewer will “get it.” Case in point: Did you see that video that DANIELS did for Battles’ “My Machines” that takes place on an escalator and a guy is falling down the up escalator for the entire duration of the video while the band goes by on the down escalator playing their instruments? You think, “That’s insane.” Then you see it and you think, “That’s brilliant.”
That means that before they established their clout, some of DANIELS’ ideas sounded too crazy for TV to the folks they pitched, and whether those folks are kicking themselves for passing on such brilliant treatments, or thanking their lucky stars they never signed on for the insanity, DANIELS’ killed ideas are incredible pieces of work on their own. Once you’re familiar with their style, you can somewhat piece together how these would have turned out, and marveling at your own stunted imagination is one of the great pleasures in life. That’s why what we’ve got for you here is a gift.
Below is the dismantled treatment that DANIELS submitted for a video for Beyoncé’s “Countdown,” a 2011 hit that ended up with a visual component that’s part 60s sheen, part iPod ad, and didn’t stand out too much from the average pop video. DANIELS had something a little different in mind. Two words: time travel.
A few words from DANIELS before we dive into the treatment…
We got an opportunity to write on this track thanks to a huge leap of faith by the commissioner. Why on earth have us pitch on a Beyoncé track!?!?! We figured if the impossible happens and we get to make a Beyoncé video, lets make sure it’s balls to the wall. Which was our way of committing music video suicide. There is no freaking way we could have budgeted and photographed this video! You’re lucky if you get half a shoot day with a pop star. This video would have taken a week. And to handle the scope of this project we’d have needed 10 times the budget they were suggesting from the outset. But we got carried away when we came up with the concept. We couldn’t live with ourselves not at least putting the idea out there for fun.
To illustrate their action/adventure vision, DANIELS included images of Beyoncé herself, fashion models, and of course Linda Hamilton in Terminator II. Here’s how it would have played out…
For Beyoncé's track "Countdown," we want to challenge ourselves to go the extra mile and test the boundaries of the music video medium. Let's create an unbelievable, thrilling short film that is simultaneously a sleek pop video. In this video, we have a motivation behind our exciting visual effects and camera techniques. By telling a high concept story about time travel, we can motivate stylized effects, surprise and entertain the audience, and weave a heartfelt story of love into it all.
"Countdown" the film is the empowering story of a woman rescuing her husband from thugs who invade their home to steal a time travel device. But it's not campy or silly. Time travel is simply our archetypal framing device. Like a Christopher Nolan film. We want to entertain audiences, make them feel smart, and make them watch again and again. We'll shoot all in one location, in a modern mansion, which serves as a maze for our heroine's adventures.
Beyoncé will play two characters. Both the heroine of the story and the Pop Diva narrator who performs her heart out in the main atrium of the building. This performance element of the video will be intercut with the story. In addition, behind her, multiple versions of the main character run in and out of the doorways leaping through time. As Beyoncé sings and dances in the center atrium, her dance moves and the characters around her flow in and out of slow/fast motion, sometimes freezing altogether. As she dances smoothly, her surroundings jump-cut through time. This will create a production that plays to Beyoncé's strengths as a performer, and is not only captivating to watch, but also thematically and visually tied in with the narrative.
We want to celebrate Beyoncé as a multitalented artist. As a performer and musician, but also as an actress, and a storyteller. We're taking this layered spectacular song as the inspiration for the most stunning music video we can possibly muster. Let's set our sights high and reward fans with this one-of-a-kind film.
Too often, music videos have half a story, or become a pastiche of stories we've seen a million times. But "Countdown" will be a unique film with a thrilling conclusion that can stand all on its own.
Our lead character discovers her husband held hostage in the drawing room. The villains spot her and we cue the music as she runs away in slow motion. She barricades herself in the study where she discovers an ornate time travel device that looks like a glove. As the music counts down from 10, different versions of herself appear around her, all wearing the time machine glove. As the thugs burst in, she activates the glove and travels three minutes back in time. She has to rescue her husband and discover what is going on.
We've used movements within the song as the inspiration for each moment of the video. The song is our canvas. As she runs from room to room, the different time lines of the story weave into each other. The narrative is a puzzle that we as the audience get to piece together as we watch. And every moment times out with the music and lyrics.
-For the second countdown from 10 [1:57], the device gets wet and begins to malfunction. Time jitters, freezes, and moves backwards and forwards.
-As the lyrics croon, "Damn I think I love that boy, do anything for that boy," she is captured and carried past photographs of her and her husband. They take her into the study. Overcome with love, she has to find a way to save him.
-"Grind up on it girl, show em how you ride it," at gunpoint Beyoncé must dance for the thugs. But it is empowering for her because she realizes how to save herself and her man.
-"Houston Rocket!" [2:54] She grabs a thug's gun and destroys the time travel device. When it explodes, time freezes except for Beyoncé (just like the malfunction before). She grabs her man and escapes through the house, running through all the moments that had happened before which are now frozen, hanging in the air.
This video will be classy, full of light, and super cinematic. Photographed like a high fashion photo shoot, we'll let the colors and textures of the clothing and location pull the viewer's eyes towards Beyoncé. We'll shoot in one location. A large, modern mansion with plenty of windows and doors. In post production, any door or window can be a window into a different part of the story. We can watch Beyoncé belt in the foreground as a mosaic of other Beyoncés are seen in the background.
To make the shoot more efficient, we'll have body doubles for Beyoncé running through various shots so she won't have to repeat the same scene over and over again or change costumes too often. The clothes will tell the story as well. Beyoncé begins as a wealthy housewife in a lovely dress, but over the course of the video, we watch her shed these frills so she can fight for love.
We'll preproduce this like a film and less like your usual music video. First, we'll develop a detailed story outline. Next, we'll work on creating storyboards timed out with the music to demonstrate exactly how the video will unfold. To confidently and efficiently achieve this video, we'll basically have to edit our video before we even show up to shoot.
Lastly, we'll work closely with a small group of trusted postproduction artists to develop the various visual effects techniques. We like to combine practical effects with post production flare in our videos and will be working with a motion graphics artist on the most beautiful time travel, frozen time treatment possible.
We're aiming to create something really special for this track because we're honestly in love with the song. Beyoncé mentioned when talking about this album that hipsters just love the song "Countdown!" She's right. We love it. And we're ready to go all out and make something special for you. Thanks so much for the opportunity.
Daniel Kwan & Daniel Scheinert
After this treatment was rejected, here’s what the video ended up looking like.
Whether or not it’s as cool as the time travel pitch, DANIELS are just happy they got to put their narrative forth.
In the end we aren’t bitter AT ALL about not getting it. That’s a ridiculous attitude to have in the music video industry. If we don’t get a video. We’re generally thankful. It means it wasn’t meant to be. The worst thing is when you DO get to make the video and nobody wants it… after you do all the work. Anyway, Beyonce is a sexy goddess and it was a load of fun imagining what we’d do with an infinite amount of time and money and an awesome freaking song like “Countdown.”
We know how silly we sound and we want everyone to know we truly don’t think we should have gotten this video. And putting this treatment out there is not in any way an attempt to make the folks who rejected it feel bad. Quite the opposite. We’re putting it out there ‘cause we are grateful they gave us the opportunity. And we love the song “Countdown” by Beyonce. It’s awesome! And we hope that this kind of transparency can instill enthusiasm in the future DANIELS of the world. All the scared film school babies with crazy ideas who aren’t sure what to expect in the industry. Its just play. You play aorund and enter video contests.
And for your viewing pleasure, DANIELS highly recommend this version of the “Countdown” video.