In part two of our interview with the directing duo DANIELS, we talk about forging careers as music video directors, film school, storyboarding, writing treatments, and moving onto feature films. We'll even share their original treatment for their music video for DJ Snake and Lil' Jon's "Turn Down for What," which has gotten eight million views... since I published part one of our interview last week (bringing the total number of views close to fifty million, a mark it will surely surpass shortly.).
"This was the genesis of Daniels, was me just realizing that the more work I gave Kwan, the better the movie was getting."
NFS: How did you break into music video directing originally?
Daniel Scheinert: I kind of forced Kwan to do it. He always says he never aspired to be a music video director and didn’t watch a lot of them, but after film school, I was trying to do as many different things as I could, and one of those things was to make a music video just for fun. We directed “Underwear” for FM Belfast and I forced Dan to help me on it. At first I was just making him dance in it and help me with all the visual effects. This was the genesis of DANIELS, was me just realizing that the more work I gave Kwan, the better the movie was getting. As we worked on “Underwear,” we started co-directing. I was like, “You should really be here for all of this. It’s so much better when you’re involved in every step of the production.”
NFS: You guys met at film school?
Daniel Kwan: We met in a computer animation class. It was really hard, and we don’t use any of it anymore, but I think it was one of the best classes we ever had, because it was one of the only ones where the teacher actually wanted to hear what you wanted to make, and then tried to actually make it better. It’s sad that that’s a rarity in film school, but because of that we were able to actually get a good look at each other’s work and realize that, even though we come from completely different worlds – he comes from comedy and improv, I come from animation and motion graphics – we have very similar sensibilities.
I was interning at DreamWorks Animation when we were making "Underwear," so every night after that I would just go home. I hadn’t really done that much live action stuff and we were editing the whole thing in After Effects because that’s what I was used to. I didn’t use Final Cut Pro. It was pretty brutal, but because of that I was able to take all the things I learned from motion graphics like timing and overlapping action and all these fundamentals that make motion graphics feel so good. We were applying that to something that you usually don’t see that kind of stuff applied to. I think because of that, people were really into it. After that I got hired at DreamWorks but then like a month after working there, someone from London saw the music video and asked us to do another one in New York. I quit my job and then we flew out to New York and we’ve been doing this ever since.
"On No Film School, we don’t want to advertise our film school!"
NFS: You met at which film school?
Scheinert: That’s one of my favorite things – on No Film School, we don’t want to advertise our film school! It was an expensive one. What I would say is that I don’t regret it – neither of us regret the film school we went to. We met people there that we still work with, which is amazing. I think somehow they tricked a lot of amazing people into going to this school, but we gave a lot of money, and the money went to the wrong places.
NFS: Now that you are über-successful music video directors, do songs come your way, do they come through your production company Prettybird? What is the process of listening to stuff and coming up with ideas for the video?
Scheinert: A lot of our projects, not just now that people know us as music video directors but also from the very beginning, a lot of the best projects happened because a band was really interested in us directing it. Like we’ve only occasionally made videos for bands that had no idea who we were when we first pitched it. Even then we only got the job because someone was fighting for us. From the very beginning, the best projects were ones where the band was interested in us.
Kwan: A lot of our ideas don’t really work on paper. When you send them a treatment and you actually read the things that we want to do, it sounds awful. It just sounds like the worst video ever. It sounds like idiots who don’t know what they’re doing are the ones writing it. A lot of the times when we wrote treatments for songs where the band wasn’t familiar with our work, nothing ever happens. After a while we stopped writing on those kind of things and we only wrote on things where we knew someone understand why we pitched this ridiculous idea – like for someone who had a little bit of trust in what we were capable of.
NFS: Did you pitch for “Turn Down for What” and if so, was it a similar pitch to how the final product ended up?
Scheinert: Yeah, it was pretty similar. Originally Dan pitched the idea to me of, like, humping your way through the floor at a party…. and that getting bigger and bigger. As we worked on it, as we fleshed out the idea, I think I was the one who still felt like it was missing something, like, “this song is really dumb.” I hope that they don’t take that as an insult – it’s a wonderfully dumb song. It’s so funny! But we wanted to make sure the video didn’t take itself seriously, so originally we pitched a super stupid ending. The original ending was that they were going to hump through the floor at the party, right when the song gets moody and stops building, and they all fall into a Taco Bell. It’s Taco Bell, the real store with the branding, and we wanted the company to agree to product placement and it ends with just everybody eating tacos to the beat and having a good time.
NFS: Did Taco Bell turn you down? That would be the single stupidest move they could have made…
Kwan: No, it was the commissioner [of the music video], and also it was a weird idea to begin with. In the end we wanted to answer the question, “Turn down for what?” and the answer was Taco Bell. That is what you turn down for. You turn down for Taco Bell. The whole thing would just end up becoming this terrible commercial.
NFS: What else is in the treatment?
Scheinert: As we worked on it we discovered how much fun it was to have body parts dance to the beat. We took out some of our other weird ideas. Originally there was a little bit more nudity, like people in their underwear. Then we realized we thought it was funnier to keep people clothed but to have their body parts dance. You’ll see in the treatment that that changed.
The Daniels generously agreed to share their original treatment for "Turn Down for What." Click on the stills below to access the full PDF (you can also download it here).
[At this point we lose Kwan's cell phone signal.]
"In a lot of ways, this music video’s a reaction to what it feels like to write a screenplay."
NFS: You guys took a hiatus from music videos for a long time to work on your first feature project. How is that process going?
Scheinert: It’s going great. We got into Sundance Screenwriters and Directors Labs, and that was such an encouraging thing because it was driving us crazy – we’re used to immediate gratification. Music videos have spoiled us. It’s a very different thing to work on something for such a long period of time and not get to play with it on camera yet.
In a lot of ways, this music video’s a reaction to what it feels like to write a screenplay. We were like, “Oh man, now we’re going to go make a stupid music video!” Then we just threw everything at it and did not carefully think through what things meant or how to structure it. We just structured it based on how to get the maximum number of fun things in there and to have fun with our friends.
NFS: Long term, are music videos something that you’re looking to do throughout your careers? Is that kind of release something that you’ll be seeking for a long time?
Scheinert: Absolutely, at least within the genre of short form content. I feel like immediate gratification is a selfish thing that I like, but it’s also a very important thing creatively every once in a while. To just make something that you don’t over-think. Having short films and little ideas and fun things that you can just be like, “Okay, I’m just going to spend three weeks prepping and shooting this” is so healthy. This project was good for us psychologically.
Thanks to both Daniels for their time and for sharing the treatment! If you missed part one of the interview, check it out here.