“If anything it strengthened me as a director. It forced me to be extremely articulate with what I wanted.”
Rachel Perkins, an Emerson student studying acting and directing for film, always dreamt of directing a music video. When her friend Thomas Chadwick, one of the lead vocalists and lead guitarists of the Boston-based band Sunsetta, approached her about directing one for their song “Nasty” on his band’s EP, Perkins could hardly hide her excitement.
From there, Perkins, the band members, and the group’s manager Kristen Cawog worked together to come up with a concept for “Nasty.”
“The premise of the music video is that the band wakes up one lazy morning and they have these weird interactions with love,” Perkins said. “And those weird interactions are these clips of people doing things related to love or just random things in general on their TV, in their dreams. And it just freaks them out a little bit.”
Perkins made a plan to execute the music video in person, while following COVID-19 safety advisories. With a combination of shooting at Chadwick’s apartment and a rented studio on campus, the rookie director was confident she could create a beautiful clip while also keeping talent, crew members, and Sunsetta safe. Two weeks before shooting, though, cases at Emerson increased significantly. Cawog suggested reimagining the music video via Zoom directing.
“My brain instantly went to the Charlie XCX ‘Boys’ music video, which was a big inspo for the one-on-one, social-distanced scenes where you just have the one person doing a fun bit, or two people doing a fun bit,” Cawog said. Perkins was immediately on board with the idea.
For “Nasty,” the team decided to have talent film themselves with the guidance of Perkins. She wrote out some guidelines for the talent that already knew what they wanted to do for the video. These directives mainly covered framing, timing, and phone-positioning in order to maintain some consistency within the footage. This allowed people all over the world to submit videos, including people in Norway and Italy. Some clips were as simple as eating rice, while another one features glow-in-the-dark makeup.
For participants who were unsure about what they wanted to do, Perkins hopped on a Zoom call and directed them while they recorded their segment on their personal phone. This allowed her to work with people on their ideas, all while teaching them how to record themselves. From there, Perkins then had them send the file to her so she could give pointers and feedback.
In one segment, a student puts on lipstick and kisses her reflection. But because of tricky bathroom lighting, Perkins had to help the student get the angles just right: “I had her get her suitcase and her books and her laptop and prop her phone up against it, so the camera could be there. I turned my actors into crew members.”
Despite the chaos and complexity of directing via Zoom, Perkins feels like she is better at her craft now. In retrospect, she says she gained strength and inspiration from British Vogue’s editor-in-chief Edward Enninful and his 12-hour Zoom photoshoot with Beyonce.
“I thought that was insane, but after my experience, that is very much possible,” Perkins said. “If anything it strengthened me as a director. It forced me to be extremely articulate with what I wanted and exact with what I needed. It taught me how to communicate my vision and my thoughts a lot in a really articulate way. Because I couldn’t touch anyone. I couldn’t show them. All I could do was just talk at them.”
And she did it all with COVID-19 precautions in mind.
“Each bandmate has their own story line and then they all come together in the end,” Perkins said. “They were only in the same space two times: there’s a scene where they’re all playing their music in the bathroom, and then they all get together and they sit down in the living room.”
The band members also got tested before shooting to decrease the risk of contracting and spreading the virus. Aside from the added stress COVID-19 presented while shooting, Perkins says directing Sunsetta was a breeze because of the established relationships she already had with the band mates.
“Not only were they willing to collaborate, but they were throwing in ideas that I hadn’t even considered,” she said.