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Behind Hak Baker’s Frenzied Fever Dream


RiffRaff director Hugh Mulhern takes LBB’s Zoe Antonov through the mish-mash of AI, live footage, claymation and prosthetics in the ‘Telephones 4 Eyes’ video

Behind Hak Baker’s Frenzied Fever Dream

Last week, Hak Baker premiered his video ‘Telephones 4 Eyes’, which was a nightmarish mix of stop motion, AI generated images, found footage, live action, and the artist’s own face screaming at viewers through somebody’s stomach. Produced by RiffRaff Films and directed by Hugh Mulhern, the visual mayhem the video wreaks is worth a discussion in its own right. 

As the song ‘Telephones 4 Eyes’ is about being distracted by overstimulation and consumed by it, on paper, a lot of concepts could have worked for its music video. But, according to Hugh, the aesthetic and creative decision making was ‘fairly instantaneous’, as from the get go, he had a very clear idea about a phone thief that steals a phone… and gets possessed by it. And although upon a first watch one might struggle to put their finger on the plotline, it does become apparent that the idea of the phone thief saw it through. “I think the song being so clear in its messaging and the music being so frantic helped me land somewhere very quickly,” says Hugh. 

He shares that he rang Hak and asked him ‘how far’ he’d be allowed to push the creative, to which Hak said ‘go as mad as you can!’. He also specifically remembers the artist mentioning Tetsuo the Iron Man as a key reference point. “He was very trusting, and in short, was just like ‘don’t hold back’, which is the best sort of thing to hear from a collaborator.”

At that point, Hugh knew that he could go ahead with his ‘mixed media’ approach, not only because Hak was all for it, but also because, to him, it tied with the song thematically - overstimulation, overconsumption, feeling a week’s worth of emotions in one scroll - all tied together in a unearthly sequence of visuals. “Hak’s message in the song was so clear, I didn’t want to add imagery that spelled it out for anyone watching. It’s all deliberately chaotic and random, to mirror what it feels like to consume information online,” explains Hugh. “But also to allow space for people watching to arrive at their own conclusions.”

When it came to stitching the material together and making the different approaches contrast or flow seamlessly, the AI imagery was just meant to fill in the gaps between the stop motion - “to interpolate between our stop motion frames and smoothen them out,’” asHugh puts it. However, the team ended up being really happy with how the stop motion was working on its own, and wanted to find out what would happen if they used AI to stylise the live action bits instead.

“We sent a few different shots to Dom (@infinite.vibes) and when he sent it back to us, me and Joseph the editor were properly blown away. Initially, I started taking stills from the video and feeding them through AI with different prompts and then sending those images alongside my prompts. But by the end, Dom was going off one sentence ideas and coming back with stuff.” 

Because the team had only a limited time with Dom, the selection process - when it came to which shots should utilise AI - became meticulous. “We had to figure out when it made sense and how to use it in a way that kept people watching, while also allowing the ending to feel climatic,” adds Hugh. “One of my favourite AI moments was the bike thief noticing the phone and morphing into a panther licking its lips - the reference being the howling wolf from ‘Red Hot Riding Hood’.” The AI platforms the team used were Midjourney and Stable Diffusion, and Hugh shares that at one point they were even trying to get the AI to draw imagery from ratkings (don’t google that). “Watching what Dom did with the AI for the first time, I was like a pig in muck,” Hugh says.

The approach of using AI as a story tool (over an aesthetic one)  was also applied to the other different media formats in the video. In particular, when it came to finding live footage, Hugh explains that he has an Instagram account that he specifically uses for bottom feeding on the internet, and a vast majority of the found footage in the music video came from there. “We wanted to stay away from images that were politically charged, as the song’s messaging was already clear,” he says. Instead, they wanted the found footage to mirror what it’s like to mindlessly scroll online - “One second you happen across a video of a monkey wearing a school bag and then immediately after, footage of humanity at its most depraved.”

Speaking of the iconic scene where Hak's face punches through somebody’s belly and sings the lyrics from there, Hugh shares that the stomach was prosthetic and Jack's face (the thief) also went through some light prosthetic construction. “I really didn’t want to cut away to a performance shot,” says Hugh when talking about how the scene enhanced the continuity and aesthetic consistency of the video. “We had the creative freedom now to make him pop up anywhere and the stomach just seemed right. It was a bit of a gut instinct.”

There we have it - claymation, found footage, AI generated images, prosthetics, all together. “It took fucking ages,” says Hugh… “and we worked super quickly.” In the end, the shoot was shot in one day, and the majority of it was spent on the stop motion. However the majority of the time spent went into the wild pre-production process where ideas were constantly flowing, changing and developing with the speed of light. “The thing about making this sort of stuff is you quickly become desensitised to what’s in front of you,” adds Hugh.

Nevertheless, he admits that the one thing that made a lot of the cast and crew more uncomfortable than the top layer of human stomach spread between two C-stands was a ‘huge jar of hotdogs placed in the set design by Rorry Mullen’, which allegedly made the entire RiffRaff office (where the shoot was) smell of hotdogs.

Regardless of the hotdog stench, Hugh is left with positive emotions thinking back on the whole process. “I’m very happy with this video,” he shares. “I know it’s the most obvious thing in the world to say but really the trust that Hak and Nadine, his creative director, gave me, partnered with the support of Laura Clayton and everyone else at RiffRaff is what let me make this kind of thing.

“Last year, I tagged along to the British Arrows and Matthew Fone spoke about how Megaforce got to make something as ambitious and impactful as ‘Open Spaces’ to Burberry. He said something like ‘it takes only one thing: trust’. So, I’m hoping projects like this one earn me more trust and lead to me and my lot making whole studios stink of hot dog water.”

Lastly, when having to describe the music video in only three words Hugh is tempted to go back to Eric Andre’s infamous quote: ‘NIGHTMARE, NIGHTMARE, NIGHTMARE’. 

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Riff Raff Films, Tue, 28 Feb 2023 17:28:37 GMT