Director Nate Brown on That Insane Alexander Wang Video
Those that were lucky enough to attend Alexander Wang‘s SS16 show last week during NYFW were not only treated to a stripper themed after party catered by Hooter’s, but a runway show that was backed by a massive 150 foot long screen. This screen remained dormant for the duration of the show, until the parade of models and clothes suddenly ended and the screen burst into life. Projected in multiple frames and edited like a barrage of machine guns, the mammoth-screen showed a comprehensive and trance-like journey through the past 10 years of Wang’s meteoric rise through the ranks of fashion.
No matter what celebrities were there or what after party hijinks took place, it was the film that stole the show. It was created by director Nate Brown, who worked closely with post-production house Velem. “Nate and Institute came to us with a hard drive of this awesome archive of Alexander Wang’s 10 years of campaign shows, from day one to now,” said Velem’s Andrew Makadsi. “So we of course provided our post-production services, from choosing the footage with Nate and talking to Alex’s team on what they want, to delivering the picture to fit that crazy big screen.”
Milk’s Jake Boyer spoke with Brown to learn more about bringing this immersive project to life.
Tell me about this video installation you’ve created. Is that the right term to describe it?
Yeah, I mean if we can make it as museum-quality as possible I’m set. One of the words I hate in life is “content.” If you’re a director and someone who doesn’t understand the lingo calls you a videographer then, by nature, you get offended. For me when I’m making this stuff and people say, “oh did you do the content?” No man, it’s an installation. I appreciate you introducing this thing with that term.
How did the project get started?
Well I had worked with Alex eight years ago when he first launched at Barney’s. We had always been in touch and been friends and gotten drunk in weird cities together, but this was the first time we worked together since then. He texted me and said, “Can you come in for a meeting? I want to discuss a project for Fashion Week.” I was a little unsure of what it was but I sat down with him anyway. They said they were doing this big party/show and it’s highly confidential and that I would die if I told anyone. They asked if I wanted to be involved and I was just like ‘100% let’s go’—while still unsure of what it was. We had discussions about doing a room full of projections and a ceiling full of projections. “Projections” was really the key word. We finally settled on a 150-foot long custom-built projection screen that would play this crazy flashback of the past ten years of his life. The origins and beginnings of the brand and everything it’s encompassed up to this point in time. That was kind of the down low of it and then we worked with this awesome sound designer named Jean-Michel who created this epic piece of music that bordered on being scary. Actually, it didn’t border, it was terrifying.
Yeah, I was definitely scared of the music.
[Laughs] That was what I wanted to get. With this kind of stuff, I feel kind of numb to it at a certain point. The goal now is how can we make people sit up and watch something at a time when nobody wants to watch anything. Also with Fashion Week on top of that, nobody even wants to sit still for five minutes. The goal was a visual machine gun barrage that would scare you, make you cry, and maybe laugh. Just incite some kind of basic raw human emotion and look fucking pretty at the same time.
I think you achieved that.
That was what I was going for. I’ve worked with Andrew (from Velem) on so many projects in the past and, for me, he’s one of the only people that get the mentality of being both highly tasteful but also super rock and roll at the same time. It’s like putting a project on drugs. It’s really hard for a lot of people to understand how to get to that level and he just gets it. We just have this unwritten law that everything we do together has to be nuts so it’s a given going into a project that it’s going to be nuts. I feel comfortable saying that he’s one of the only people who knows how to make it that way. There are a bajillion editors who can tastefully put things together but there’s surprisingly not that many who can cut to a pace that’s bordering on being almost rudimentary and slapped together but also highly intellectual and tasteful. It’s an art form and I think he’s mastered it. That’s why it’s always fun for me to work with him because we just sort of get it.
So it was easy to work with Alex?
Yeah, it was just fun. He’s just one of the coolest people. Alex is an icon and someone that I’ve always looked up to from a design and clothing perspective. Also how he presents his brand and the thread that continuously runs through all of the creative projects he does and still somehow ties back to a very specific vision. That is really hard for a lot of people to nail and he nails it and for me to be able to collaborate with him was the ultimate awesomeness.
Was it hard for you to keep that vision intact as an outsider? Was it difficult to make his vision realized in such an insane way?
He gave me freedom. There was an understanding that we knew the vibe and aesthetic of the brand and I feel like since I grew up with it, I get it. I work with a lot of his collaborators so we’re sort of in a group in that sense. The challenge was less about getting the brand and more about… two things. One, convince people that something this wild and crazy could be seen on a screen that big and, two challenging ourselves to push our boundaries of what we have done and not conform to being comfortable with knowing that we’ve done stuff that’s crazy before and not falling into that rut. So, it was more about challenging ourselves to push that medium and that boundary internally and less about aligning ourselves with the brand. I definitely didn’t have to convince Alex that this was something he should do. He thought it was awesome.
Tell me more about the custom-made screen. From what I saw it seemed colossal.
It’s huge. Actually, to talk about challenges, one of our challenges was trying to figure out, because we have this massive screen, we kind of didn’t want to technically reveal it until the end. We had to figure out a way for it to almost be in the background. It’s really hard to have a 150-foot screen in the background, so what we decided to do was make it the wall, and basically just projected white for the duration of the show. And with it being blank and white, I think we conned people. When they realized that there wasn’t any visual playing, they resigned themselves to a comfort zone like “Cool, we’re watching a white screen, Alex’s show is happening, and then he’s gonna come out, bow, and then obviously there’s gonna be some crazy party,” because that’s an expected thing with Alex. It doesn’t matter what, when, where, why, how, who’s performing, et cetera. So when the screen did turn on it was a shock moment when he did come out, and so I think we were able to achieve that feeling of this crazy thing. I feel like I shouldn’t speak in terms of, like, the technical details of it because I don’t totally know. All I know is it’s a big fucking screen that was custom-built, and it’s 150 feet long, and that’s crazy.
Do you wanna tell me a little bit about how you think this stacks up with the rest of your body of work?
It stands on it’s own, it’s cool. I try to make things that are powerful in some way, shape or form. If that works, it works. If it doesn’t, I guess I failed. I hope it worked this time.
I would say it was a resounding success.
Okay, cool. I don’t know how it stacks up with everything else, but it’s cool in it’s own right. If it’s powerful, I’m happy with it.
Check out more of Nate’s work here
Visit Velem’s website here