Q&A: Director Tim Saccenti on Zola Jesus’s “Dangerous Days” Video

Marc Hogan

By Marc Hogan

Lead News Writer
on 08.28.14 in News

Zola Jesus has shared the video for “Dangerous Days.” This thunderclap of prismatic electro-pop is from Nika Roza Danilova’s first album for Mute, Taiga, which is due out on October 7. The album title is a word that describes certain forest areas in the northern latitudes — as a category, it falls between tundra and temperate forests — and she filmed the video with director Tim Saccenti in Washington state’s Hoh Rainforest. Vogue, which premiered the track, also noted a similarity at times to the ’90s video game Myst. And Danilova reportedly maintains the goat-wool cape she dons in the video has been worn before just once, by Marina Abramovic. Saccenti has also worked with Phantogram and Depeche Mode, and he spoke with Wondering Sound today via email.

Can you please tell me about the concept behind the video?

The spirit of the song and the album is deeply rooted in nature and the Earth, and man’s effect on it and chaos to some degree. Nika has very clear concepts in her art which are wonderful for me to bounce off of visually. She has impeccably high taste levels so that informed visual representation of the concept, the collision of man and nature. The song to me was a kind of call to arms and I wanted that feeling to come across. When I work on pieces I’m more concerned with how the viewer feels during and after viewing the piece, rather than what they think.

How did Myst influence it?

There was no real Myst influence but we did want to have a synthesized reality feeling at times. The track has a beautiful contrast of synthetic sounds, but with her soaring, soulful vocal on top. We worked with Ivan Safrin, a code artist and video game designer, during our visual effects process as well, so that was an influence. At times we were hoping to confuse the reality with the synthetic world.

How did that goat-wool cape get involved?

Jenni Hensler, the stylist/designer, creates most of Nika’s looks. She was very involved in the video and brought these pieces out to our remote shooting location, the texture and movement of that particular piece told its own story and added the texture we wanted for the film.

What it was it like filming out in the Washington rainforest — did that present any special challenges?

We filmed only during pre-sunrise and just as the sun was setting. Each location was remote, hours away from any towns, so the logistics of that were quite difficult. We were limited to a small crew due to the fragility areas we wanted to film in, but we had a dedicated team of artists working together, and the environment itself was so awe-inspiring that it felt like we were on a mission.

What’s going on in the part where Zola Jesus looks to be computer-animated, and how did you do that?

All the visual effects in the video, the sculptures in locations, floating elements, robotic/faceted pieces, digital landscapes, etc. are all created from digital captures of Nika herself performing the song. Captures of her were taken by our digital artists, Ivan Safrin and Matt Posey, and those structures were created for each scene. But they are entirely made of point cloud mesh captures of her. She is the DNA of the digital realm here. So for the void element in the video, at the second chorus, we wanted that spirit to appear in its basic components, point cloud captures of her that were capture with Kinect devices. The effect was quite haunting and ended up being one of my favorite pieces of the video, the stark, nearly sinister minimalism contrasting the absolute grandeur of the natural world.