Behind the Work: MGMT "Congratulations" Video

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Tom Kuntz, MGMT and the sad alien buzzard on the desert set of
Tom Kuntz, MGMT and the sad alien buzzard on the desert set of "Congratulations"

MJZ director Tom Kuntz, fresh off his Emmy win for Old Spice's "The Man Your Man Could Smell Like," recently took a melancholy turn on his first video in two years, for MGMT's "Congratulations." The clip, which debuted this week, follows the bandmembers and a sickly, alienesque vulture creature on a trek across an arid desert. Along the way, the sad beast literally falls apart.

"I was listening to the song and had some ideas brewing and then I was watching cartoons with my kids," Kuntz explains. "That sad old buzzard character from Bugs Bunny was on the screen and I thought it would be cool to try to bring something like that character to life, in a realistic fashion. That was the first moment of this idea being born, but I hadn't yet even married it to the song or this project. Within a day or so, I thought the two could actually come together nicely because the song has this poetic, yet sad pace to it. I thought the idea of making a sort of sad, slow video would in many ways be the most exciting, subversive thing to do."

Certainly so for a band whose previous clips for tracks like "Kids" and "Electric Feel" have tended toward the frenetic—although it wasn't Kuntz's intention to go against that grain. "I felt the song dictated the pace, look and feel," he says. "It wasn't some highly conscious effort on my part. MGMT also has been very clear about making the elements that go along with this new record distinctly different from what accompanied the first one."

To create the buzzard character, Kuntz decided to go completely in-camera. "That was a no-brainer for me, and the band as well," he says. "We are both in love with the look and feel of films from the '70s. We both agreed that we're rather err on [the side of] crude than be slick, cold or emotionless."

The director teamed with Sonny Gerasimonwicz, the man behind Spike Jonze's Wild Things, to design the creature, while Legacy FX brought it to life. An actor manned the beast while a puppeteer controlled its eyes with a remote control. As for perfecting the "performance," that happened "mostly in the design phase," Kuntz says. It was about "pushing the facial qualities and posture to emote a concern and sadness before it was even moving. From there it was about rehearsing the puppeteers and learning which gestures felt the most genuine."

Video-watchers may draw strange beast comparisons between this video and Andreas Nilsson's recently released clip for Yeasayer's "Madder Red," but Kuntz says that's "completely coincidence. I hope history will not reflect negatively on either video simply because of the funny timing."

In the end, one of the biggest challenges turned out to be the desert. "Shooting in sand is a bitch," the director says of the location, a dunes area near Death Valley. "That was very challenging but very, very fun. Because we were in such a remote place, we actually set up a sort of Bedouin camp and lived there for four days. After shooting we would retire to our large carpets in the sand and eat amazing Morrocan-inspired food made by my good friend John Benson who came out just to cook. Andrew from MGMT would sing improvised songs on the acoustic guitar and we would take the occasional moonlit dune hike. Extremely fun!"

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