Just the idea of being trapped in a car for hours on end with only commercial radio for company has me twitching to reprise Michael Douglas’ Falling Down role, but for the more creative mind of director (and burrito eater) Patrick Muhlberger, the singalong sound of the hits of today led him down the road of inspiration to arrive at his latest short film Pop Music – the story of an avenging uncle with a past, and a samurai sword, who just wants to give his niece the opportunity to bust her moves for her high school crush. DN invited Muhlberger to take the floor and share how he made this stylised step up to the screen.
I’d been making commercials and kids’ content pretty regularly and was really starting to get that itch to make something that was 100% mine, in my weird, hyper stylized voice. So that was the main goal, to make a film that really represented me and what I want to do as a writer/director. I also really wanted to shoot fighting and dancing. At the time I was stuck in traffic a lot, listening to top 40 radio, and becoming obsessed with Justin Timberlake, Lorde, and Taylor Swift. I was also watching a ton of music videos and felt inspired by some of the crazy visuals I was seeing by directors like DANIELS and Saman Kesh. Finally, I’ve always liked writing stories about youth and those awkward feelings of adolescent love that can be so consuming. So when I combined all of that into a script, this is what came out.
To make this film I basically saved all my money for a year, working as many jobs as I could. Then I called in all my favors and asked all my friends to call in favors too. A lot of people worked for free, which was the only way I could have afforded to make this. I had an amazing producer, Andrew Crabtree, who wrangled everything together to get this film made. I’d known Elisha Yaffe for years and had written the role of Trevor for him, and we lucked out in finding Bella at an open casting call. She’d moved to LA like two months earlier and we were one of her first auditions. The rest of the cast was filled with friends or other people we’d worked with previously. Crew was the same thing. I’d worked with all the key people in some capacity or another, and everyone just came together to get this thing made. I think a lot of us get frustrated working on projects that may feel like they are just a paycheck, so people seemed to really perk up at the idea of making something kind of crazy, purely out of passion.
We shot this on a RED Dragon with Primo Lenses and I have to thank Panavision Hollywood for hooking us up with the camera and lens package. We shot in 6K and that gave us some extra room for post manipulation which really came in handy for some of the VFX shots or cheating mediums into close ups if we ran out of time on set. We had a steadicam for about 45 minutes to do the shot of Trevor approaching the house and walking into the various “ghosts” of himself, but beyond that we mainly lived on a fisher dolly.
I wrote Pop Music almost 2 years ago and then it took a year for me to save up the money. The first person I brought aboard was the composer, Seth Earnest. He immediately got started on the pop song for the climax. That song gave us the momentum to really start on pre-pro, and we shot over 5 days/nights last May, then took the rest of the year to finish the edit, working on it in our free time. The shoot went really quickly, because we had so many locations and set ups. That song really was the backbone of the entire production. I’d play it for people in pre-pro to try and convey the mood I wanted to achieve. On set, any time we questioned what we were doing, we’d watch the shot on playback while listening to the song. That usually helped us check our tone. I think the entire crew was singing that song by the last day, it was so engrained into our brains.
I’m not sure what my next project is, but I’m hoping to try to make more things in this tone. I really like mixing sadness and comedy and absurdity and style into a story. The rest of my work can be viewed at patjm.com.