Oh Yeah Wow: Anarchy, Chaos and Giant Blue Monsters
Seen that film clip with the giant blue monster that knows sign language? Or the one with Aloe Blacc and the crochet flying squid? Or Gotye's plasticine blood? They're a few of Oh Yeah Wow's clips - a remarkable group of creatives, responsible for making a bunch of films you will not forget in a hurry. Headjam's copywriter Benjamin Matthews got a chance to chat with Darcy Prendergast, their Director, Animator and Sultan in Training about what makes them tic.
Seen that film clip with the giant blue monster that knows sign language? Or the one with Aloe Blacc and the crochet flying squid? Or Gotye's plasticine blood? They're a few of Oh Yeah Wow's clips - a remarkable group of creatives, responsible for making a bunch of films you will not forget in a hurry. Headjam's copywriter Benjamin Matthews got a chance to chat with Darcy Prendergast, their Director, Animator and Sultan in Training. We'll let him do the talking.
"Oh Yeah Wow is a beautiful little weirdo"
Benjamin: Would you mind telling us a bit about your crew, your set up and what makes you tic?
Darcy: Oh Yeah Wow is a beautiful little weirdo, living outside the confines of social norms and well outside good business practice. We're a small collective of about 13 people who simply love to make things, whilst learning and growing as creators. I started Oh Yeah Wow about 5 years ago, born out of discontent with the "nine-to-five" lifestyle. Whilst my jobs at the time were still creative, I found the environments a little stifling; Artists can be a delicate bunch, and I've never found creativity to be like a tap that can be turned off and on at set times - putting a gun to their head and yelling "make me some art" is never going to nurture the right culture. Oh Yeah Wow grew from that - there is no rulebook, no management, no one docking your pay if you're 15 minutes late - because hell, there is no dedicated start time. We're not trying to be freakin' Google here - but there are fundamental differences that set an arts space apart from a law firm. What is anarchy and chaos to some is the necessary freedom for a creative; it's about the personality types you manage really.
"... make safe, boring stuff, you end up with a client base who want a safe, derivative product"
Benjamin: How did you guys get started? Did you get a big break?
Darcy: Oh Yeah Wow has had it's fair share of financial crises (largely when I was balancing the books myself) but the philosophy that has underpinned our work has recently (and finally) seen this business become incredibly self sufficient. We've always aimed to make a 5k budget look like a 50, and a 20 look like a 300 - we're dedicated to taking no short cuts and having no regrets when our work is screened in public. This is unavoidable of course... Artists always hate their own work but ultimately we want to make content we're proud of, for bands we like or respect. We spent 9 months making the Gotye "Easy Way Out" clip - the set was built in the middle of the studio and remained there for the entire time. Did the budget allow for this kind of investment? Hell no, but we wanted to make art we were proud of and Gotye was about to become the hottest musical property in the world. So, in true Oh Yeah Wow spirit, we poured everything we had into that clip to show the world what we could do.
After that clip launched, we were no longer contacted just for animated jobs. We had all sorts of musicians wanting clips in crazy turnarounds like 3 weeks! Are these people on crack? What brand of witchcraft do they expect to draw upon here? Of course it meant we'd have to venture into the dark, spooky woods of real film equipment and pretend we know how to make live action films. What subsequently happened, was the Australian Music Industry effectively funded our live action education and experimentation - which is the real beauty of music videos, and I still feel that same wonder and buzz being on set today. So while it's near impossible to make money from music videos, at least we didn't accumulate more HECS debt, and we still get that "Oh, that's what a gaffer is", and "shit, cranes are cool huh", and "wow, look at this steadi-cam thing, can I touch it?" feeling.
Despite venturing into new territories, our objective remained the same - always searching for the best result for the budget. I've always figured that making mediocre work is a waste of time - time being the most precious commodity you have, which is why we strive and create (especially now we're a breathing a little easier financially) content that excites us. Whether there is an emotional hook, a technique we've been dying to play with or a cool opportunity to blow some things up, it has to grab us and compel us to create. You make safe, boring stuff, you end up with a client base who want a safe, derivative product which is precisely the work you should be knocking back in the first place; always do the work you want to be doing in the future. Find a way - and if you do one for cash that you know is shit, sweep it under the rug. When you fly a creative flag like we try to, the people you want approaching you, generally do. Wild cards for hire.
Nowadays, we don't know which country we're going to be in two months time - we don't know which musician is going to come through the studio doors for a chat the next week - we don't know what pants we're going to wear the next day. It's an exciting time in the humble Oh Yeah Wow timeline.
"People pay good money for our particular breed of insanity, which is the best part"
Benjamin: Looking at your social media it seems you have fun while you're going about what you do, we try to do the same because it helps keep our creative team close knit - what's the most important part of your collaborative approach?
Darcy: I have to pinch myself sometimes. To think we've managed to sculpt a career doing what we do, is madness. People pay good money for our particular breed of insanity, which is the best part. Another of the great things about Oh Yeah Wow is that's it's very much built on friendship. I used to teach animation to Josh Thomas, (who won us the J award for the Clubfeet clip that was recently ripped off by One Direction) when he was 14- in my Uncle's shed in my home town of Bacchus Marsh. Donna Yeatman (who made the Empra clip for Strange Condition) and James Bailey - also friends from my home town, Seamus Spilsbury (who I co-direct most of our stuff with) I met in high school- they all work here. We've all been friends for years and we all came together because of a shared passion and interest. In the early days, we'd build little sets, shoot tests, and push each other to be better each time. Individually, we're probably not the most talented sculptors, compositors, editors around - but together, with sheer tenacity and grit, we all pulled together to make sure this ramshackle ex automotive shed in Brunswick, is producing world class work. The best it can be.
I feel, that whilst some of our early work is a bit rough around the edges, one thing you can't deny is the soul - which I think directly spawns from that wild freedom and fun we had. We love doing what we do- and we love doing it together, and that, I'd like to hope, translates directly on screen.
Benjamin: Your film clips are built up around highly original concepts - often executed through low-tech and analog solutions like costumes and cool set design - tell us a bit about how you come up with them? What does your process look like?
Darcy: I personally will listen to a track on loop, for days. Hundreds of times if necessary. We often have group conceptual sessions though, to help bash out the best possible idea. No one is protective of ideas, no one is precious about being shot down - it's about building on what's been said. Sometimes stupid ideas will spawn genius trains of thought - and without this initial spark, we don't pitch. Concept is king to us.
"I subsequently burnt all their records"
Benjamin: You guys have worked with a bunch of big name musical acts to create some amazing clips, tell us about a few highlights (and lowlights)?
Darcy: No one reads this kind of things to hear how wonderful Wally De Backer is or how awesome the British India lads are; we've had good times but people want dirt. So! We once worked with Ben Folds Five on a 5 minute epic music vid that took us 3 months and about 30 animators to create. We're talking like 30 character designs, 40 shots - this thing nearly killed us. Now we took them through every step of the way and upon delivery, we received an email saying the band isn't thrilled with the general animation/storyline (the storyline being something that band member Robert Sledge had come up with mind you) and that they are going to shelve the project. I was literally sleeping on my dog's bed under my desk for the last week of production, sleeping on average, an hour a night. So naturally my email response wasn't terribly controlled...
"After 3 months of work, god knows how many all nighters and constant changes at my expense - we arrive here. I only wish I could have been told, at the very least, a month prior out of courtesy- as opposed to now. It really is - and there is no other way to say this - a right royal fuck around."
I subsequently burnt all their records.
"... not every day you meet the residents of Springvale as a giant blue monster"
Benjamin: What parts of your portfolio are you most proud of?
Darcy: I'm incredibly proud of many, but the two that jump immediately to mind are:
Aloe Blacc/ Wax Tailor - "Time To Go".
Just an incredible amount of work to make a large-scale stop motion octopus fly through desolate Brunswick environments. I remember we had one established stop motion animator reach out, wanting to work with us. She came along for day one of the shoot, then we never saw her again. She said it was impossible, which it was - but somehow we made it work. We're literally the only people in the world crazy enough to try such a thing - it took 6 animators in 2 teams 3 months of work... Basically the Oh Yeah Wow original crew, with a generator, a set of speakers, cameras pointing in opposite directions and two crotchet quadropus'.
Hudson and Troop- "Frameless".
Myself and Andrew Goldsmith, another of Oh Yeah Wow's directors teamed up for this one, and we conjured this idea of a chain smoking blue monster, using Auslan to spell out the lyrics of the song, whilst working a dead end job in a Vietnamese restaurant. Now we've done our fair share of prosthetic work before and know how tolling it can be on actors, so for this one - we decided it best that I go into the suit, because we knew no matter how long this shoot took, that'd I'd stick it out. So I spent 3 months learning the Auslan hand gestures and lyrics - spent 3 hours in the make up chair, before a gruelling 26-hour shoot on a 42-degree Melbourne summer day. I of course, was in a full body fur suit and to make matters worse, I fractured my hand whilst punching holes in the back of a bookcase that I throw over in the final scene of the piece. After punching through plywood with ease, I struck a shelf... which resulted in a very swollen and painful hand for the remainder of the shoot. Most of the behind the scene photos (by amazing Melbourne photographer Oli Sansom - who on a side note - shot my Paper Kites music video) show me clutching my hand in pain. All this aside though - hugely proud of the outcome, navigating the day on pure instinct and adrenalin - not every day you meet the residents of Springvale as a giant blue monster...
Benjamin: Any cool jobs in the pipeline?
Darcy: We've been developing a series with Nickelodeon for quite some time - an action packed, irreverent animated comedy. Hugely excited about that but more on that once we finish animation. Also super pumped for a short film we're making at the moment, called Pongo. It's a short clay animated film, set within the framework of a kids TV show like Bob The Builder, about the devastating effect palm oil consumption is having on the natural jungle habitat of the Orang Utan. Our cute little fellow Pongo, sets out to educate ignorant westerners about these harmful ramifications in the only way he knows how...
You can follow Pongo on Facebook here.
Cheers to Darcy from Oh Yeah Wow for this great interview. We recommend you...
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Behind the scenes photos by photographer Oli Sansom