Music Video 'Dirty Night Clowns' Choreographs Marionettes That Go Bump in the Night
Short films featuring puppeteering tend to be rather thin on the ground — in fact only Natalie van den Dungen’s Paddling Ghost music video for Dan Deacon jumps to mind as a puppet centric film we’ve featured here on NFS. Which is all the more reason for me to not let the fine example of the craft that is Dirty Night Clowns go by unshared, even if I have been a little less than quick off the mark in its discovery.
Despite never having previously worked in puppetry, with the concept of the hunt for a nefarious clown come entertainer arriving more or less fully formed in response to Chris Garneau’s track, director Ryan Gibeau felt compelled to build his music video around a cast of marionettes, learning what he needed along the way. That isn’t to say that the production didn’t have to overcome one or two challenges before getting the green light:
The initial major challenge was funding. The budget was out of reach for Chris’ label, management and Chris combined, so it was up to me to find the investment if I wanted to make this video — which I found. The next major challenge was assembling a team that would contribute to and execute all of my ideas and designs. I hired two key artists to ensure our success in creating this video as I imagined it — my production designer, Danielle Brustman and my puppet builder, James Wojtal. I could write 6 more pages on how amazing their skills were and how collaborating with them so closely led to such beautiful puppets and sets. They were true heroes in the success of Dirty Night Clowns. The rest of the crew deserves a tremendous amount of credit as well.
With funding in place, and talented crew on board, there were still some hurdles to circumnavigate; such as the departure of the DP two days before principal photography, forcing Gibeau to fill the role and take charge of the RED One, Zeiss Superspeeds camera package (which was supported on set by a Fisher10 dolly, Fisher22 arm and weaver/steadman head). The heavens themselves also conspired against the promo with rain water flooding the studio on day one of the shoot.
As a niche filmmaking technique, it’s interesting to see how the crew worked on the film in this ‘day on set’ behind the scenes video — it also answers the question of how you get marionettes to enter a room through a doorway without severing their strings that I know you were all pondering:
The combination of set, character design and direction, along with the novelty of its puppet cast, all combined to elevate the Dirty Night Clowns above the constant flow of low-budget (and often forgettable) music videos posted online each week. With established members of the puppeting community including Sesame Street, the Muppets crew and New York’s Puppetworks embracing Gibeau’s work, a Best Film award at the New Hampshire Film Festival and a recent Walmart commercial featuring stringed puppets, it seems that there is both a community of professionals and an appetite for more ready to sustain the work of filmmakers brave enough to tackle something outside of their usual skill set.
Is puppetry an area of filmmaking you’ve considered for your own projects and do you think that there are particular stories best suited to the technique?