Behind extraordinary ideas, there are extraordinary people. Dumbo Feather is a magazine about these people.
Where are they now? Natasha Pincus makes music videos
“It’s never what you expect and it’s always the best thing that could of happened.”
“It’s never what you expect and it’s always the best thing that could of happened.”
A lot, I mean a LOT, has happened for Natasha Pincus since she first spoke to Dumbo Feather in 2008. Just one of those things happens to have been creating the music video for Gotye’s ‘Somebody That I Used To Know’. You know, the song that won ARIAs, Grammy Awards and topped music charts in 26 countries? Yep, that one.
Sitting across from her in a Melbourne café she is all smiles and bursting with energy as we discuss her success as a writer, filmmaker and music-video director. Her face is animated as she tells me about stepping out of a day job and jumping into the international film industry, braving the wintery waters of Byron Bay with Missy Higgins and sitting on the front porch with Paul Kelly. Receiving ARIA awards, screening at SXSW (South By Southwest), and featuring in Spectacle: The Music Video Exhibition at ACMI are just a few of the feathers she has added to her cap in recent years.
And did I mention she is working on a few feature films?
Can we get a summary of the last five years? 2008-2013: what’s happened?
Everything. It’s been crazy. Someone told me once it takes ten years writing scripts from your first word to getting your first film up, and it will be almost that for me. Even though a lot’s happened in five years and I’ve taken great strides in terms of luck as well as ability, it still takes that long.
So a lot has happened and nothing has happened: I still live in the same apartment, I have the same boyfriend, the same car, the same parents, the same dog, it’s all the same. People ask me if my life has changed because of the Gotye video explosion… not really at all. I’ve had a lot of offers to change it: offers to move to LA, all those seemingly attractive ‘Come work with us we’ll get you to do Nike commercials’ things you think you might want, but when they become available to you at short focal range, you get to assess them up close you think I didn’t want that in the first place, why would I want it now?
I remember you talking about jumping out of the corporate game in your DF interview for that very reason; that you don’t want someone else setting the benchmarks for you. You want to be exploring that for yourself and following your own creativity.
It’s very much like you get a series of tests. Life is like this anyway, but I feel like in a creative career you might think one thing or believe something in terms of your moral world view or your ethics about work or whatever, but your entire journey is being confronted with that question over and over again. And because circumstances change you’re asked to see whether or not you’ve changed, often you don’t know until that happens. It’s quite an introspective exercise and quite confronting each time. So I guess this last five years has been a series of tests, of being asked again: “Why are you doing this? What do you have to say? How do you want to work? Are you a relevant voice in this industry or in the global community, or is there something better you can be doing with your powers? Is this the best thing for you to do?”
I’m not sure if you’ve looked at it lately, but there have been over 450 million views of the Gotye film clip on YouTube. According to Wikipedia it’s the 16th most viewed YouTube video of all time—you’re up there with One Direction and Psy.
It was one of YouTube’s most viewed videos before Gangnam Style.
Well Gangnam Style has over a billion views, but to be up there with 450 million is pretty awesome.
I know! That’s like 900 million eyeballs!
So was the Gotye video the big turning point?
I think so. Well, there have been a few mini turning points along the way because my first clip—for Paul Kelly’s God told me to—really helped propel my career. Nothing really happened in isolation. The IF Awards, where the Paul Kelly clip won best video, is actually where I met Wally (aka Gotye). So in a round about way, Wal and I might not have met if it hadn’t been for the Paul Kelly video! Every video project along the way—from Powderfinger to Blasko—has brought its own gifts. And all have spawned new opportunities in some way. It’s all become a part of something. It was this weird perfect storm because I’d already written several feature films—I’ve written 12 now—
At the same time the Gotye thing was happening in a weird way—it was big here, and of course big in America later, by the time it was getting up in America it was exactly the same time that a script I’d written won the UCLA post-graduate competition for screen play. I was already getting interviews with agents in America because of that. So by the time people came in saying “I hear you’ve done that Gotye video, what else have you done?”, I could say “I’ve also got this film called Clive”. It was good timing.
The momentum was building…
And it just happened. I mean, if I’d gone in and they’d said “What else have you got?” and I’d said “Nothing”, then I think nothing is what would have happened.
And it could have all fallen in a heap.
Yeah, I think the worst thing that can happen to your career is actually success too soon. If you don’t have a follow-up you can’t come back.
It’s almost nice that those stepping stones happened as they did because it’s such an organic process.
As long as you stick it out.
And that’s it; you’ve persisted…
Yeah, I’ve watched some of my peers, ridiculously talented artists, leave the industry. And it’s so upsetting because you know they have an abundance of talent. But I think in the end it’s mostly tenacity that gets you there. Maybe even blind tenacity, maybe foolish tenacity, but tenacity nonetheless!
And a bit of luck.
And a lot of luck! I mean, I could have made another hundred videos and never experienced the Gotye video’s boom. It depends so much on timing. We might have made the same video for that song exactly but if it had been before YouTube, before Facebook…who knows? That world was literally coming to a pinnacle in Australia just as the video came out.
So the timing was impeccable.
Within the first week the clip had 70,000 views. But because so many of those people put it on their Facebook page; it spread. For a while it was the most shared video in Facebook’s history. We actually watched this on a map, all the lights going off around the world, going Wow! Holy shit! Within 24 hours someone in Romania watched it and then shared it with someone in Germany. Without that tool to share, it couldn’t have happened.
I was thrilled but i was also in a little bit in shock. I didn’t make another video until the following year. I kept busy screenwriting, but I kept away from music videos. There was a lot of pressure from people saying, “What are you going to do next? You had better make the most of this momentum…” I just thought, I’ll sit and let this pass and get a bit of distance. I felt like I was becoming a brand. I felt a bit overexposed. I’m happy to share my story and be interviewed but all of a sudden I was kind of everywhere, and that’s not what I’m in this for.
Everything was paused on that one moment, once you had an ARIA and a whole swag of awards for this one project, are you just going to be constantly talking about that thing that happened in the past.
Yeah, I’m still talking on panels about it. I think, Geez, am I going to be that person who in 15 years is still…
Your name is just connected to that one thing
Thankfully we won the ARIA for best video the following year for Missy Higgins’ Everyone’s Waiting. That was so important to me. I’m not a one-hit wonder!
You’re genuinely good at what you do!
Yeah, I make music videos! That’s what I do. And it was completely different to the Gotye video: it wasn’t in a room, it wasn’t stop-motion; it was kind of important for me to reset a little bit and change it up.
It’s beautiful in a very different way.
I hate playing favourites, but that’s my favourite at the moment because it’s just so honest and filming it was a joy. And the song is beautiful.
You’ve talked before about the vulnerability of the artist and when you listen to Everyone’s Waiting you can see how exposed she is.
I know, so brave. When she first performed it in my apartment, just the two of us—we had already established a relationship through a previous video together and had developed a mutual trust and a strong friendship—she asked me about doing the video and at first I said I can’t do it again. I was quite tired.
Emotionally burnt out?
Well the Unashamed Desire video was a really hard one as well. There were a lot of collaborators and a lot of pressure. I loved that project and am so proud of it, but I really gave a lot to it and when it was over I needed a break. But then I heard Everyone’s Waiting, and I thought Oh God, I have to do this.
Was it at all fun filming in the ocean? I imagine it was pretty hard work?
I’m an absolute ocean bunny but the conditions were definitely not as nice as they could have been! It was winter in Byron Bay; it was perilous! We had a nightmare situation with the waves but things have a way of working themselves out. There’s a brilliant expression—a father’s advice—Don’t fight the weather. And I live with that everyday. Every time I go to shoot something it’s the complete opposite circumstances than we need and it always works out in our favour. It’s never what you expect and it’s always the best thing that could of happened.
Sometimes those surprises can be great to keep you on your toes and keeping you thinking creatively.
We’re always at our most truthful when we’re off-balance. I put myself into these situations where we’re shooting through the tiniest eye of a needle. I don’t deliberately make it hell for myself, but I pick the best concept for the video. Most of the time it’s really hard but I do it anyway.
Generally, songs depict struggles: an artist has been driven to write a song because they feel a conflict about something and they’re torn. So I get delivered an experience that is one little lightbulb moment in another person’s heart. So obviously a video that represents that is going to also encompass difficulty in some way; it’s going to have conflict and turmoil, something insurmountable or ugly-beautiful about it. And I guess that’s why my videos ultimately look the way they do.
There’s definitely that distinct narrative power in your work that compliments the songs nicely. Is that something you look for when choosing who to work with?
Definitely. It’s not artist-specific though. Some wonderful artists have shared songs with me that we’ve discussed developing videos for. But sometimes, the songs have been amazing, but they don’t have the tug in them you need to base a video on. You need a push and pull. It needs to be worth everyone’s time—especially for independent artists who are financing the video themselves. Paul Kelly, one of my favourite artists I’ve been privileged enough to work with—and one of my favourite people on the planet—his last record has some of the most incredible music I’ve heard. One of the greatest gifts in this profession is the friendships you make. Paul gave me a CD the day after they recorded it. I was sitting on his front porch with him and he said “Can you have a listen to a few of these, they haven’t been fully mixed yet but let me know if there is anything that sounds like a video”, and I’m thinking Oh my god, how did this happen? There are awesome little moments like that, the trust in the collaborations—that’s why you do it. So I had these ideas I fell in love with but I also had to think about what was best for the song and for Paul; “This is a really great idea for a video for the song, but it’s not going to find him a new audience, it’s not a spectacle. It’s not going to go viral. It’s going to cost him out of his own pocket. I don’t think he should do it”.
If it’s not going to value add…
That‘s the thing. It can’t just be an art exercise, and it can’t just be masturbation. At the end of the day, the whole thing is so expensive, you have to be sure you’re not pissing resources up a wall. What you can see in some videos at the moment is the filmmaker forcing a spectacle idea on a song that doesn’t urge that idea. It’s just an attempt to cut through and get attention.
So of everything that’s happened for you, are there distinct moments or people that have left a distinct impression?
Being included in the ACMI exhibition, Spectacle: The Music Video Exhibition, has been the biggest moment for me in some ways. Being included among your heroes in that space is completely ridiculous. I got into music videos because I was inspired by the works that are in that exhibition. Then there are moments like sitting on the front porch with Paul Kelly that just blow you away; How did I get here?
That must be very humbling.
I’m very grateful for the access to collaborators who I admire. To be included amongst such incredible talent and be asked to look at their work and critique it. What a compliment to be part of such an exciting artistic movement and being included in a community of people that I respect.
What’s in the pipelines at the moment?
My whole career I’ve been trying to find balance. At various times I’ve found it by splitting my time and attention between feature films and music videos and even television. This is the first year I’ve really had to focus on just one, and it’s been writing. I don’t know if it’s the best thing for me; I’m feeling a little bit unbalanced. I’m attached to eight feature films at the moment so it’s a lot to juggle.
The one that I’m really focusing on, which is the one I’m directing, is Clive—the one that made the Blacklist last December. I’ve had that on hold all year. I had a lot of opportunities to make it in the US after the Blacklist. It was really overwhelming—I had 42 meetings in two weeks in LA. I was at this creative crossroads and I left it alone. I had to think about staying here or going there to make it, which would change some aspects of the creative process for me. Because I didn’t really know what I wanted to do or what the project needed I decided to pause and reflect. I wanted to have some quiet time to reconnect with what it was that drove me to tell the story in the first place. Only now am I ready to open it again and rewrite it one more time with fresh eyes. You don’t want to overwork something and kill the magic, but you want to make sure you’re still being rigorous. In my heart this is my project. It’s my great unanswered artistic question that hopefully I’ll find the courage to start again properly in 2014.