Behind Sour's Webcam Wonder

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The music video for Japanese indie band Sour's song "Hibi no Neiro" could almost be mistaken for another random invention of a YouTube amateur. Almost. The video, using webcams and what appears to be a group of friends engaged in some carefully coordinated clowning around online, is actually a professional job done by four directors -- Magico Nakamura, Masayoshi Nakamura and BBH, New York creatives Masa Kawamura and Hal Kirkland. Since its release, the video has been a hit across the Interweb, garnering quite the collection of global high fives from the blogosphere.

We spoke to Kawamura and Kirkland about the webcam concept, the challenges of working with a cast spread around the world and more.

How did you guys get involved in this project?
Kawamura: I'm friends with the lead singer and guitarist from the old days, so they joined forces in about 2002 and I was already into design and started working on their album covers. I made their first video and Hal and I did the second one when we started working together in Amsterdam. So this was the third time I've worked on one of their videos.

Kirkland: Yeah, the second video is pretty much responsible for Masa and I teaming up because we had worked on maybe one or two briefs at 180 before that but when we got together on the music video we discovered we had the same work ethic and disregard for sleep and free time.

How long did it take to make, start to finish?
Kawamura: The whole thing took about three months.

Kirkland: Yeah it was one of the most hectic periods of our careers. Just when we thought we'd finished something (at the agency) and would have time to work on the video, we'd get put on another pitch or something.

Kawamura: The first month was really about the planning phase, the second month was about preparing for the shoot – prototypes, working with the animatics -- and the third month was all about going out and getting it shot.

Most viewers recognized this as a professional effort, but it certainly made use of the amateur aesthetic and idea of collaboration. Where did the concept come from?
Kawamura: There were a couple reasons we landed on this concept of shooting everything on a webcam. The first two were more due to constrictions such as having literally no budget at all and the fact we were in New York and the band was in Japan. So that made it impossible to do anything involving shooting the band live. At first that seemed like a disadvantage, but we began to think about how to work within those constrictions. Once we looked a bit deeper into the lyrics and what the song's message was, we found it was all about individuality and asking what your melody is and finding what's really valuable to you. So we came upon the idea of using a webcam, something most everyone has, and crafting something using various individuals' ideas of expression and how it can come together to create a bigger piece.

Kirkland: We did have a few other ideas, but after we did some tests the webcam idea just seemed to fit perfectly. It solved a lot of our problems, whether cost, lack of travel, the fact we might not be able to get a hi-def camera right away. It just seemed to make sense.

The people in the video are fans of the band. What was the recruitment process like?
Kirkland: It kicked off just by posting a little call on the band's website.

Kawamura: That and a Japanese social network called Mixi, which is like Facebook there. That and just generally getting word out through the band.

This had a lot of details and co-ordination involved. What were some of the biggest challenges you faced and how were they solved?
Kawamura: I think the biggest challenge, and there were a lot, but the biggest had to be just the process of planning it out. We didn't really want to rely too heavily on the edit because we still wanted it to have an organic feel. We didn't want to lose that and make it look really artificial. So to maintain that kind of quality we had to plan down the even the smallest detail of choreography. We started out by sketching out all the possibilities there were to work with by creating grids out of webcam shots. From there we took some of our best mock-ups and turned it into a simple animatic using Flash. Then we just had to prove to ourselves that people would be able to do it. So we shot ourselves and actually crafted the whole video as a prototype using ourselves. We actually sent that out to the cast so they could practice from it and use as a guide. So we technically made the video twice, I guess.

Kirkland: I think also some of the scenes were pretty challenging. For example, the taking pictures scene. It was good we were shooting this way, because we could experiment with different looks to see what worked. We were just constantly trying out new stuff and with the camera scene we found you could show an image in a different way. It took us forever to figure out how to get them taking a picture of each other on the different screens, I don't know, we could've just been really tired. The cool part of the whole process was that someone would always roll in with a new idea and then the rest of us would sit there and have a nosebleed about whether or not it was possible. So it was a good collaboration between everyone.

What surprised you most about the process?
Kawamura: No surprises. We saw everything coming (laughs).

Kirkland: Well, maybe how long it took to film the first few people. The first few shoots were taking two to three hours because we were just getting used to the filming style. We ironed it out as the process went on but in the beginning we were freaking out a bit because we knew we couldn't take three hours per person or else it wouldn't be done till after Christmas. But it all worked out in the end.
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