Underground Film Journal

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Music Video: The Lumerians: Life Without Skin + Interview With Director Waylon Bacon

By Mike Everleth ⋅ July 17, 2013

Take a nightmare ride on the Los Angeles subway in the dark and creepy music video directed by Waylon Bacon for The Lumerians’ atmospheric tune “Life Without Skin.”

A single gal riding the rails late at night — that’s never a good idea! — is pursued by ghoulish, inhuman monsters on the train. Then, after getting deposited in a desolate area of downtown, her journey continues into even darker territory until she is virtually consumed by malevolent forces.

Bacon, known for his twisted, grotesque comedy short films such as Help Wanted and Poster Boy, goes for a full-blown horror vibe here with spectacular results. His style also proves to be a perfect match for The Lumerians’ haunting melody, creating a unique piece that works just fine as both an original short film and a music video.

It’s a very disorienting video, heightened by the fact that the protagonist, who is never seen in full, is just as vague a character as the feature-less, blobby-faced ghouls. Still, through keeping the female victim shot in such extreme close-up, we are able to identify with her on an intimate, emotional level just by bringing attention back to her big, expressive eyes.

As big fans of Bacon’s previous films, the Underground Film Journal conducted a brief interview with the filmmaker to get more info about the making of the video, which is below.

Close up of a woman's eyeball

Underground Film Journal: Since the Journal is an avid Los Angeles Metro rider, can you give more detail about shooting on the subway? Which color line did you ride at what time of day/night to get an empty car?

Waylon Bacon: So glad to hear some love for the LA Metro — it’s actually very efficient, and as I don’t have a drivers license, I use it often myself.  On the shoot, we used the Purple Line going to Koreatown, as it is notoriously one of the least used lines.

The first time we  shot on the subway we did a Sunday morning, reasoning that this would cut back on foot traffic even further. We were also very worried about police presence — I’d heard horror stories about young directors being issued tickets, or even being arrested for doing this without a permit. Bradley, my producer, assured  us that as long as the crew didn’t exceed four people, we could exploit a loophole in the system that indicated a group number that small doesn’t count — otherwise they’d have to ticket tourists.

We spent  about two hours riding the train back and fourth, and although there wasn’t a complete lack of people (every stop would pick up a handful of riders) we were able to get the back corners of the train and knock out out shots without interference.

The second time around,  we were forced into an evening shoot on a weekday. Strangely, I was more bold this time around, and brought an LED light with red and green gels,and a five person crew. However, the evening commute proved to be even MORE desolate than the weekend commute, and we actually got better shots, with some mood lighting.

We encountered the most trouble while getting exterior subway shots in Little Tokyo. We  were asked to leave twice, once in the form of a casual warning about unauthorized filmmaking, and the second directly addressing us. However, we still had one more shot to get — I wanted a Ghoul standing on the subway platform while a train rolled past.

So, we hid around the corner, and whenever we heard a train, we would run over, get the shot, and then run back. We got it in three takes, just as a security car came around —  and ended up cutting the shot anyway!

Journal: Clearly, the video is influenced by horror movies, but did you have any specific works you were referring to? There feels like a Goblins/Suspiria vibe from the finished video.

Bacon: I definitely thought of Goblin when I heard the song, and wanted to make sure the finished product had the feel of an Italian horror film, although I didn’t want to reference anything directly. The lighting was definitely inspired by Suspiria, although I think the look came closer to a Fulci picture, as our budget was so limited. The imp of the  subway location actually came from when I worked night shift at EZ Stop Deli in Berkeley, and would have to take the very last Bart Train back to San Francisco,  where I had a few harrowing  experiences. As well, Jacob’s Ladder  is  one of my all time favorite  films, and I thought this was a nice chance  to pay homage. So I guess I did reference something directly. Oh well, they’re my own rules…

Journal: You’ve made films without or with nearly no dialogue before, like Poster Boy, so that doesn’t feel like completely new ground for you. But was it different and/or difficult editing a film to a predetermined length? Also, the Lumerians’ song is very orchestral, so did you feel like you were editing to the music, or just doing your own thing, then let visuals match up with the music however they may?

Bacon: It was a big challenge for me, mostly due to the experimental structure and length of this song. I knew it would have to be narrative to hold interest as a video, and I knew that certain things within the narrative would have to happen when the song shifted gears.

Paradoxically, if the narrative was too structured, or if the story shifted in ways that were too dramatic, I felt the video would become cheesy.

I finally settled  on having different lighting schemes and threat levels on the subway train, and then later, when I had to re-think the concept, having the locations themselves shift around, so now the first movement is on the subway, the second in the streets, the third in the void, etc. etc.

As for cutting on the beat, I  was initially against it, and wanted the visuals to be running under or over the music, but not cut TO the music. And the first few edits I turned in were like that. But eventually we did cut to the beat, which I think worked out in its own way that people have been responding well too.

Journal: This was your first film shot in Los Angeles since moving from the Bay Area. Did it feel much different shooting down here than up in your home area?

Bacon: L.A. is like San Francisco through a looking  glass. Both are teeming with bohemians, but if the Bay Area is the wild west then L.A. is the metropolis.

The first thing that struck me was being a needle in a hay stack.  You go to a coffee shop to have a meeting about your film, and everyone around you is also having a meeting about THEIR film. It gave me a lot of “who am I?” moments.

Locations also proved to be a paradox. On the plus side, we didn’t have to worry about pedestrians interrupting the film shoot, because  for locals film crews are a normal part of the scenery. On the other hand, there are bicycle patrols that come around every half hour to see if you have a permit (which we did not). The only reason they let us keep filming was because we weren’t recording sound, and had a small crew.

And while I found many amazing locations that wouldn’t occur in the bay, they came with the knowledge that they had been shot before, and will be shot again, which further adds to that dreadful feeling of blending in. So there were many contrasts, but it did give me  a boost to try and learn the lay of the land, and how I can work within it.

Watch Bacon’s short films Help Wanted and Poster Boy on the Underground Film Journal!

Read Bacon’s fascinatingly detailed shooting diary on the production.