Eva Michon talks us through creating the dreamy modern legend of Kazu on a picturesque Italian island, featuring a 23-foot silver dress
Visual albums have been growing in popularity for a few years now, but what director Eva Michon has created with Kazu for her debut solo release ‘Adult Baby’ is something beyond that.
Realised by production company Lief - with the support of Ponderosa Music Records - the film includes each song from the album by the former Blonde Redhead front-woman, but is something closer to an esoteric short film than an extended music video.
Shot, obviously, back before so many of us were confined to our homes (so many real-life locations!), it was conceived and delivered on the island of Elba, Italy, where Kazu has decided to spend some of her life. Like a new piece of folklore, it tells the legend of Kazu, a beautiful giant exiled to the sea, who emerges to become human for a day. It’s a visual feast that you won’t regret pouring 30 minutes of your time into.
Watch the film and read Eva’s interview with LBB’s Alex Reeves below.
LBB> Adult Baby isn't a conventional approach to a music video. Was the idea always to direct a short film for the whole album?
Eva> Yes, I knew I wanted to make a larger narrative piece that tied the album together. But I didn't want it to be like other visual albums, I wanted the music to be used as a score and a portal to the character's inner world, in addition to the traditional performative music video approach.
LBB> How did you end up landing on that approach?
Eva> Well, Kazu asked if I would make a video, and to pick any song from the album... But as I listened, the images flowed from one song to the next and somehow it made sense to step back and look at a larger picture. Kazu's music is so cinematic that it was exciting to imagine something big and unified. I was also greedy and wanted to play with all of the songs myself and I'm lucky she agreed!
LBB> And where did the idea from the narrative come from?
Eva> The idea came in a few ways. Kazu used an audio sample from Godzilla on one of the tracks, which inspired the image of her as a giant monster. Her lyrics touch on the sea, depth, identity longing...
She was living on the island of Elba in Italy, where Napoleon was exiled in 1814. So I started with this idea of Kazu being sort of banished to the sea and emerging to cause havoc on shore. And even the title Adult Baby inspired the motif of scale, large and small. In the end we ended up with a story about a giant who simply becomes human for a day. She becomes small but feels giant emotions, and experiences the most human thing: to fall in love.
LBB> The island of Elba is a beautiful setting and I know Kazu has a connection to it. How did the place inform the idea for the film and how it took shape?
Eva> Kazu does have a long history with the island, going back to her origins with Blonde Redhead. She was living there when we shot the film, and so we had to use it as the location. Napoleon's bee obsession, his exile, his tiny size but mammoth influence on the world but also this small island (like designing their flag) all played some role in the film. The shoot itself was very organic and informed by the people in the village. My crew and I immersed ourselves, we cast the locals, ate lots of food and enjoyed the beauty of the setting. So Elba became an important character in itself.
‘Mario’, a local friend cast as the hero love interest, in Capoliveri
Producer Margo Mars and Kazu prep an Ape [A:pe, Italian 3 Wheeler] ride through Elba’s streets
Eva, DOP Matt Chuang and Mario on the beach where giant Kazu appeared
LBB> The idea of an adult baby - an adult that acts with the naivete of a child - is a clear theme throughout. How did you and Kazu work together on portraying that sense? Her performance is great!
Eva> Thank you, Kazu is very good at emoting non-verbally, she expressed so much with her face and body language alone. But not to underestimate her, I think she could relate to this character who feels out of place and maybe shy but with supernatural powers. And she communicates through song, she is an amazing performer.
Kazu rehearses with Eva
LBB> The styling is incredible! What were the key decisions in that respect? Obviously there's THE DRESS…
Eva> Ohh well, we were lucky to have Isabel Marant do the costumes! She and Kazu are old friends. It was Isabel's idea to use the silver silk fabric because it looks like water and seems like something this sea monster would wear. It had to be iconic. The rest of the wardrobe was selected on a visit to Isabel's studio in Paris.
We had lots of clothing to work with to style the locals. They are all wearing Isabel's creations, even the elderly folks praying in church. Also, my friend Calla Haynes, a Paris-based designer, lent us footwear for the shoot - her multicoloured babouches, which the locals wore.
Locals of Capoliveri in Calla Paris babouches
The giant dress came from my desire to bring an element from the story into real life. I knew that as with all music videos, this film would have its existence online. But I wanted to go further and have something to present in person when screening the film. It's a 23-foot dress and it's magnificent. I'm not sure how I convinced everyone to go along with the idea, but I'm so glad Isabel was on board because it just wouldn't be the same if it had been made with VFX. Now that everyone is on lockdown, we can't tour the dress with screenings... But maybe it should do its own tour around the world, hanging in empty city streets?
LBB> Were there any big surprises or bits of serendipity in the process that changed the course of the film?
Eva> Definitely, and this is very much a part of my process. I like to have things planned but to be ready and flexible to pivot as inspiration comes. For example, the shot of the giant dress hanging over the balcony - that is Kazu's balcony, and my assistant Paride unravelled the dress to air it out and get it ready for our next scene. But it looked so incredible hanging there, like oversized laundry, so I wanted to quickly shoot it. And I remember that it was kind of disruptive and someone on the camera crew was intensely annoyed because the gear was already packed. But once we started rolling, quietly watching it sway in the wind, everyone including the annoyed crew member became mesmerized. It is one of my favourite shots in the film that makes it seem like Mario took the dress out of the water and brought it home to dry. I couldn't have come up with that when writing the script alone in my apartment.
23-foot Isabel Marant dress on Kazu’s balcony
Another serendipitous thing was shooting Kazu walking around the streets in Capoliveri, and coming across the fish shop - we ended up getting access to it while it was closed because someone knew the owner, and shot all these underwater elements in his front window aquarium - bubbles and "deep sea waves" that I wouldn't have been able to recreate in the actual sea.
And finally, the video for ‘Adult Baby’ of Kazu singing on the rocks was unplanned. I was working with the drone operator on the other side of the beach, shooting the dress in the water, when Kazu gracefully wandered onto the rocks on the other side. My cinematographer Matthew Chuang noticed her and started shooting. They shot for a while, then I joined and we added playback and got a bonus music video out of this moment.
LBB> Are there any moments in the final piece that you're particularly proud of?
Eva> I would say that Kazu's performance on the mellotron, the song ‘Meo’ with all the candles... it was a very special thing. I think it really captures Kazu's intensity and what it was actually like to be in that room, with a tiny crew, her small audience. It was very intimate and we were very moved in that moment.
Eva sets the intimate Mellotron scene
Intimate scene with Mario, captured by Eva and Matt
I'm also very proud of the scene with the giant walking through the city. We gathered lots of separate elements at night, and prayed it would come together correctly. It got rather tense in the moment I remember, we had to move fast and some of it was guess-work. Luckily we had the amazing VFX team at Common Good in Toronto bring everything together and the giant came to life. It makes me so happy to see her stomp around the empty Capoliveri streets and say hello to her little dog, Colette.
LBB> It was obviously made in a very different time - the time when outside was more of a thing! How do you think that affects how people have responded to it?
Eva> I have heard that people are feeling transported by it. The emotion of Kazu's music with the sea and air perhaps makes you forget this claustrophobic time. I hope people will play it LOUD and watch it in a dark room and feel some magic.
‘Adult Baby’ is a Lief production. All photos by Margo Mars & Eva Michon.