Exclusive: Behind the Music Video Making Process with Josh Forbes

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With a sweet, handcrafted aesthetic and penchant for the fantastical, filmmaker Josh Forbes keeps churning out visual delights for LA-based indie bands like Cold War Kids, Irving, Division Day and Great Northern, along with bigger label acts such as The Fray, Sarah Bareilles and Metro Station. Warmed by his quirky-cool music videos, Flavorwire nabbed the puppet master behind Winch and Pulley for a quick chat.

It was ant-frying weather on Sunset and Cahuenga — up the street, sandal-clad throngs strolled Hollywood’s farmer’s market. After getting a market pupusa in his belly, Forbes ducked out of the heat and into Groundworks coffee shop to talk carnival Zippers, Ghost Town, and his upcoming video for cheery pop-rock duo, The Submarines.

Flavorwire: You’re currently working on a video for The Submarines. The last video you did for them for the song “Peace and Hate” took place in a submarine. Will you be undersea again?

Josh Forbes: No, it’s on dry ground. It’s in a house with crazy rooms and crazy effects. Sort of Alice in Wonderland-y.

FW: Are there certain music venues you tend to check out in LA? Places you feel like promising bands are going to be?

JF: There are always good things going on at the Echo and the Echo Plex. I’m trying to think. I’ve been kind of a homebody for a while.

FW: Your one-man enterprise is called Winch and Pulley. How did you come up with that name?

JF: Originally I had a partner that I went to school with, and we were writing together. We sort of started co-directing. He was actually doing what a producer does, but at the time we didn’t know that that had a name. I was doing all of the creative stuff, and he was dealing with logistics, making sure people were where they needed to be. So he was producing and I was directing. One of my favorite directors is Garth Jennings, this British guy who just made Son of Rambo and The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. He and his producer partner were called Hammer & Tongs. I was kind of ripping them off.

FW: Do you find the production process changes a lot from band to band? Or is it often the same?

JF: It’s definitely different. I’ve had to learn to deal with the big record label machinery. When you’re working with an indie band, it’s just them, and it’s their money. Now with the bigger bands, I deal with all these middlemen. I guess they serve some purpose to some extent, but for the most part I feel like they usually get in the way.

FW: Do you have to submit boards to a record label before they say, “OK, we’re going to shoot this” the way ad creatives have to for commercials?

JF: It depends on the project. Some projects are more specific and intricate so storyboards are really helpful to make sure everybody knows what’s going on. So there are no surprises at the end. If you can kind of ease them along during the process, then they’re not going to look at the final thing and freak out.

FW: What was the most frightening moment you’ve had on set thus far?

JF: I guess there have been a lot of frightening moments. The last video I did was for Metro Station, and the concept was to make our own carnival out in the desert. I showed up and the bumper cars weren’t working, and then there’s this big ride called the Zipper that was going to be the centerpiece of the video ⎯ it raises up really high in the air. I got there, and they couldn’t raise it.

FW: And you don’t exactly know how to fix a Zipper.

JF: No, and you’re asking these carnies, and they smell like booze, and they all have bleary zombie eyes, and they’re just staring back at you. They had to call the guy who owns the company and it’s not funny to say this, but he showed up, and he only had one leg. I felt like, oh just my luck. It took them forever but by like four in the morning, they finally got the thing up. They were able to turn it on and get it up enough that it kind of filled a hole in the background. You can’t tell. The video still works.

FW: That sounds distressing though.

JF: It was a nightmare.

FW: You used to be a copywriter at an ad agency before quitting to direct full-time. How does it feel to have left your day job?

JF: It’s awesome.

FW: Period.

JF: It’s awesome period. It’s stressful. It’s a different kind of stress or whatever. I’m very ADD so I have a really hard time structuring myself and structuring my day.

FW: Do you find yourself dragging around until 11 a.m.?

JF: I won’t get going until noon or one. Then I’ll work until three in the morning. But it’s fun. My editor is part of a company called Ghost Town, and that’s where I’m moving my offices. They have this awesome house in Korea Town. It’s the best. They have a Playstation 3 and an Xbox.

FW: Sounds like a fraternity house for geeks.

JF: Exactly.

FW: So is there a band or artist that you’re desperate to do a video for?

JF: Weird Al Yankovic.

FW: If you could travel back in time and go to any concert that’s ever taken place, where would you go?

JF: I’d go back to the second show I ever went to which was Weezer. I saw them in Denver. I would go there and tell myself I needed to move my mom’s car out of the Laundromat parking lot, because it will get towed.

FW: So your second concert experience was ⎯ your car got towed. But it was Weezer.

JF: Yeah, it was awesome, and then it was the worst night of my life.

FW: If video killed the radio star, are the music video’s days now also numbered? Not to be all doom and gloom but with the record industry in trouble, seems like something that might be on your mind.

JF: People are lamenting that the day of the million-dollar video is over, and my opinion is like “does it really take the combined gross domestic product of several third world nations to sell records for Beyoncé?” Music videos have always been a great way to get your hands dirty and make things. It’s still the most creative medium out there, as far as I’m concerned.