The first time music video directors Daniels met, they despised each other. So much so, that after being pitted together in classes at summer school, Daniel Kwan ended up throwing a bowl of salad over his prospective partner, Scheinert. “He smelt like vomit for the rest of the day,” Kwan reminisces fondly, adding, “we eventually realised all we had was each other, and that it was better than being alone. Thus, Daniels began.” Wonderland thought it would be fun to sit the pair down and discuss the ins-and-outs of their mesmerising, internationally-lauded work.
What was the first project you worked on together?
The very first was a short we made at summer camp. It was like three or four in the morning and we were outside with a 5D Mark II, just screwing around. We sort of accidentally discovered our way into making half-arsed visual effects that night. The short ended up being called Swingers – it was extremely dumb and crazy, but eventually got ‘Staff Picked’ at Vimeo. We realised the general public tends to like really dumb things – it’s sort of become the motto we adopt with all of our projects.
Do you share interests, obsessions, heroes?
Yes, but we differ on certain things. Kwan loves greasy fast food and Daniel Scheinert loves his girlfriend.
Who would you most like to meet?
A masseuse, a midget, and/or rich film financiers. Or, even better – someone who is all of these things: a ‘ma$$eudgit’.
You’ve said that you tend to let the music you’re writing visuals to inspire ideas. How did this come into practice with the Battles video?
It’s a wonderfully unusual song. So stressful: no chorus; the vocals just cut out halfway through. We wanted to make a video that took advantage of that. The one-shot escalator fall felt right. Amazingly, we separately had short film ideas in college about someone falling down an escalator forever. We asked our friends if they’d do it, and they were all like, “What if I get hurt? Wah wah I’m a baby.” Now that we’re a big deal, we just paid a guy to do it.
How did you overcome the shoot’s obvious dangers – sharp escalator stair edges, general falling motions, electricity and feral shopping?
We had a wonderful stunt coordinator called Jess Harbeck, who made it safe. He had pads under his clothes and as a stuntman he knew how to fall safely. But we wanted it to be real – it’s a real escalator. Our job was to be so clear with our direction that he only had to do it once, maybe twice… The project so nearly fell through, though: we almost resorted to hiring an actor who didn’t know what the video was about and sneaking into a mall in the night with a camera.
Your super-short animation/live action piece Tides of the Heart follows similar themes of general misadventure. Are you big fans of black comedy?
We wouldn’t say we are big fans of black comedy, specifically – we’re just really into comedy that doesn’t feel like a comedy. We like tonally-confusing films that make you feel three or four different things at once, so everyone takes something different from it. The Battles video is straight up confusing. People don’t know if its supposed to be funny or scary or sad or just plain dumb. The truth is, it’s all of these things.
What can fans look forward to from DANIELS in the coming months?
We’ve done a couple of music videos for Foster the People, which was really fun – they have a great sense of humour and love being playful with their image. But mostly, we’ve been taking the past few months off to develop our own personal projects: high-concept short films; features that would be impossible to produce; a TV show about high school; a project about people pooping their pants.
Wow – we just leap-frogged five years into the future. What are you up to?
We never wanna do the same thing twice because we get bored too easily. We’re also trying to wean ourselves off of visual effects, which has sort of been a crutch for us. It’s pretty possible that we’ll leave filmmaking altogether. Daniel Scheinert loves to act and is probably going to pursue that, eventually. Daniel Kwan wants to write and illustrate children’s books.