Zachary Cole Smith tired from shooting

Director’s Chair: Ian Perlman

Mass Appeal’s Director’s Chair turns the lens on the creative minds behind some of the hottest music videos.

If you’re a true music fan it’s impossible to overlook the indie scene revival. Indie music has become the voice of the transplant’s New York. People who may not necessarily be from the city, but have definitely adapted to its culture.

Beach Fossils and DIIV are two bands largely responsible for this resurgence. DIIV, with their catchy single “Doused,” and Beach Fossils with a whole catalog of hits, “Adversity” being one of their finest, have helped to push the culture forward significantly. Not only with their music, but also their imaginative videos. The man behind the camera for these groups is 24-year-old Ian Perlman. Perlman’s imagery perfectly mirrors the groups’ sounds, and his innovative visuals have painted a newer, more progressive Brooklyn.

Mass Appeal: Where are you from?

Ian Perlman: Long Island. I’m grateful to have parents who knew I was too weird for the town of Northport and allowed me to avoid a life trapped there. They taught me the New York City subway systems ins and outs when I was young and always encouraged me to explore.

MA: What were you exploring in New York?

IP: I used to be a graffiti artist. I wasn’t very good, but that was what we did. We’d go into the city and go to this big graffiti store called Scrap Yard. It was the only place where you could buy different kinds of caps and stuff like that. My folks were into me being an artist, but being a graffiti artist – that’s not something your parents really want you to do. So, I couldn’t really order these caps online.

MA: What was the first video you remember loving?

IP:  Jamiroquai’s video for “Virtual Insanity.” I had faith that the moving image was capable of properly translating my crazy ideas, but the first time I saw this video as a young lad, oh man, that’s when I knew it was the tool I’d use to make them a reality. Perfect execution of a simple concept light years ahead of its time and a solid hit of a tune. It blew my mind.

I used to wait for it to play on an MTV’s “Music Video Block,” then patiently await the show’s re-run, knowing precisely when I’d be able to see that gem again. Oh, the simple days before YouTube.

Zach Cole Smith Performance shot
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MA: Is “Virtual Insanity” what got you into music videos?

IA: Music is in my blood. Before I could walk, my biological father was teaching me how to play the drums, but I’m a horrible musician. I take pride in my ability to create an image and feel like I’ve found my voice in the rhythm of the edit. Cutting to the beat and flow of a song came natural to me, much like most musicians must feel when they play their instrument.

I’ve never been the strongest writer either, but music always seems to fill that gap and become the perfect companion to the images I’ve created. It’s in that harmony that I feel I can express what’s in my head.

MA: How did you link up with Beach Fossils and DIIV?

IP: I met Dustin Payseur [Beach Fossils’ frontman] on the night of my 21st birthday. Dustin and I instantly hit it off. He felt like the long lost best friend I had been waiting to talk to about all of these weird ideas. Dustin was looking to make a video for a song off his new EP, and lucky for me he had seen my previous work – he was into working with me.

Before then, I had never really listened to Dustin’s music, but I had this strange feeling it was going to be exactly what I needed. “Adversity” hit me like a ton of bricks and immediately all of these visions began popping up in my head. We didn’t waste any time, I think we met up again and began brainstorming the next day.

Within the next few days Urban Outfitters had approached Beach Fossils about making a video. Urban Outfitters originally wanted to choose their own director and song but Dustin was convinced I was the man for the job. I’ll never be able to thank him enough for that.

MA: So from linking with Dustin you started working with DIIV as well?

IP: I think I met Zachary Cole Smith [DIIV guitarist/singer] when he moved to New York City from Seattle. He was originally the drummer for Beach Fossils when they first started but then moved away. As the “Adversity” video was coming together he then moved back to the city. They had another guitarist, this guy Chris, who I had done a bunch of live videos with. When we actually shot “Adversity,” Cole was the guitarist because Chris ended up leaving and lo and behold Cole was around.

It was interesting because when DIIV took off no one was really mad, but everyone knew this was inevitable. Cole wouldn’t be playing with Beach Fossils as much and DIIV just kind of took off.

From DIIV’s first show at Monster Island Basement in Brooklyn as ‘Dive,’ to quickly becoming the buzziest of buzz bands, I was lucky to have been around to support. Once DIIV’s first album Oshin was finished Cole sent me the album and asked what song I wanted to make the video for.

MA: Why did you end up picking “Doused”?

IP: It’s a hit. Not all DIIV songs sound like “Doused,” you know? And you can feel it if that makes any sense. It’s like, what song makes me turn the volume to 11?

MA: Yeah, that song does knock. What was your plan going into the shoot?

IP: Well, Cole was in town for a week. So we were talking about all these ideas and that’s when DIIV just clicked and everyone wanted a piece of them. It was so difficult to try and pre-produce, produce, and get everything shot in a week with no budget and barely any ideas.

Cole did have the idea that it should be performance-based, and I wanted it to be as well. There just wasn’t enough of his time because he was really busy with interviews and stuff like that. We basically just pulled it together. I have no idea how.

MA: It worked well. How did you guys end up using 285 Kent as a location?

IP: Thankfully we had so many connections at 285. That was the family. Because 285 was a shit show warehouse that our friends ran they were like, “Yeah, sure. Shoot whatever you want.”

DIIV was playing a secret show with Cloud Nothing and we were thinking we could just shoot during the show. It ended up selling out though, and we had to come back a couple times for some pick-ups. Hopefully it matched, but I don’t think it did. Everyone else thinks it did, though.

MA: Shooting performance videos can be tough. You really need to be on point.

IP: Yeah, I think my buddy Joe Pacheco really saved this video. He was the editor and just did a phenomenal job with it. He was actually my first internship. Joe was that guy where I could learn everything about filmmaking. He’s just the best editor I know. The fact that he took on this project for nothing is incredible.

MA: I could tell the idea in the video was that Cole was running to the show. Was there any significance to that or just a cool scene?

IP: I think it was based off this dream Cole was having. And those Army figures and stuff were mainly his idea too.

I think that’s how I deal with music videos. It’s not just about me, it’s making sure the artist is having their vision come through, too. My job is kind of to help execute their vision, however big or small. Cole actually wrote the outline of the video and how it builds on this little slip of oaktag. When I saw it I figured out how to string the video together. Up until then it was just a bunch of random ideas.

MA: From that piece of oaktag to the final project it only took one week?

IP: Yeah, pretty much. It was an interesting project because there was barely a treatment. This was also one of the most personal projects I’ve done. I wanted that song – the hit. Because of that I almost had to just jump in where lots of times I like having a clear treatment. Something that’s not so scrambled. The only written thing we had as far as a treatment was that piece of oaktag. The “Doused” video is definitely a ‘how not to’ in music video filmmaking.

Ian Perlman would like to dedicate this to Paul McRobert. May you rest in peace.

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