Last week you may have caught wind of a horrifically awesome new music video for the electronic band Ratatat featuring some vaguely familiar faces. “Drugs” is the work of Carl Burgess, a U.K.-based filmmaker who enjoys making his audience squirm: For this video, produced by Blink Art and Colonel Blimp, he employed one of his favorite mediums, compiling the entire video using stock footage from Getty Images. The footage is entertaining enough in its fake generic way, yet paired with the crashing notes of the music, the resulting video is more like watching a horror movie. Burgess tells us about his fascination with stock footage, why he had to edit the video himself, and which of the actors became his favorite. [That’s not Burgess in the picture above, but rather, one of the many memorable mugs from the video.?Ed.]
Fast Company: The video is funny but at the same time almost painful to watch—was that the original intent?
Carl Burgess: Yeah, I edited it that way on purpose. A lot of my work mainly focuses on one subject and more often than not has some kind of humor.
At first I edited it like you would a normal music video, fast cuts, everything on the beat but I quickly realized that they lost impact when shown in this way. It’s the long cuts, the drawn out smiles and the obvious direction that’s the interesting bit.
What kind of direction did Ratatat give you, or how did the song itself drive your decisions?
I had the idea using stock footage for a music video long before Evan from Ratatat approached me with the idea of maybe doing something together. I proposed it to those guys and they liked the idea, they have used found footage in their previous videos so it seemed like a perfect fit to me.
But to answer the question, They just trusted me to do what I felt was right, there was obviously changes and tweaks here and there but not very many at all. If only all clients were like this.
You’ve made other pieces using stock footage. Why the fascination with such generic imagery?
I’ve always been fascinated by the awkwardness of it all. If you look on my site I have worked with it many times in the past, and a couple of people show up again and again.
I found one particular stock footage site which had examples of how they were supposed to be used, for example they had a clip of a sad teenager and their proposed idea of how to use it was to comp it onto a back drop of needles with the caption “Is your child on drugs?” When the clips are used in this way you probably wouldn’t think twice, but as soon as you remove any kind of context and put them in plain background their actions become surreal and the absurdity of it all rises to the surface
But I feel now that I’m kind of done with the whole stock footage thing. Ratatat was the crowning moment. I don’t think I’ll be revisiting it in the near future, plus I used up all the good clips.
Did all the footage come from Getty Images? Do you do the editing?
Yeah, I edited the video, I have never done any editing before this but it was something that I felt only I could do. I had to spend time with the footage and get to know the intricacies of the characters to know where to use them for full effect plus I wanted to get some of my personality in to it too, I felt this was important.
How much did the entire video cost, since I’m assuming you had to purchase all the footage from Getty?
It’s top secret. You could probably figure it out if you scoured Getty, though.
Anyone who’s worked with stock footage or photography starts to see certain similarities…the same actors/models again and again, certain cliched looks or poses…anything you noticed or that gave you a good laugh when looking through this footage?
The woman with the dog at the end of the video is my favorite–she is a gem. I just wonder who on earth has ever bought that clip before, it’s just too weird. Everything about it is great: her styling, the direction. I love that one. These are a couple of good ones I left out: Happy Office Guy 1 and Happy Office Guy 2.