French duo Cassius (aka Philippe Zdar and Boom Bass) have been making musical waves for two decades now — even longer if you count their pre-Cassius collabs — but still manage to make it look like they’re just getting started. Their latest album, 2016’s Ibifornia, features a number of high-profile guest stars, a sonic palette to match contemporaries like Daft Punk, and some mind-bending accompanying visuals. Among those is the recently released clip for “Go Up,” a disco-dance-floor-ready track featuring vocals by Pharrell Williams and Cat Power.
To make the video, the duo turned to Alex Courtès, the co-director of their very first music video, 1999’s now-classic “Cassius 99.” Courtès got his own start with that clip, as part of directorial duo Alex and Martin, who would follow up with videos for U2, Phoenix, the White Stripes, and more. Having operated solo since 2008, Courtès was thrilled to get the opportunity to work with his longtime friends again, and knew it meant making something special. What they came up with is one of the most creative uses of stock video we’ve ever seen, so we simply had to catch up with the director to hear more.
Developing the Split-Screen Concept
The “Go Up” video is remarkable in the way it pairs seemingly disparate images together to create new meaning. It’s a masterpiece of video editing that’s funny, contemplative, challenging, and extremely memorable. It also accomplishes the all-too-rare feat of creating a visual experience that demands repeat viewings. “I come from a graphic-design background, so some of the stuff I do is like putting graphic design in motion,” says Courtès of his process. “One thing I like to do is to start strong, not build up too much, because if you build up too much, the beginning can be boring.”
Here, the visual mashup concept was the starting point. How they would get there was the first real challenge. “Philippe from Cassius told me about the meaning of the song, which was to go for everything that can lift you up — whether it’s religion or sports or sex or drugs, or whatever else,” explains Courtès. “At first, my idea was to convey all these concepts together and meld them into an experience, but not to be too literal — to have images that can create another meaning. But it was very, very difficult to shoot.”
Selecting Stock Footage as the Source
That’s when Courtès decided to use existing footage to achieve their vision. “Once we settled on that, we spent a lot of time creating ideas for the shots,” he continues. “Then we went digging into archives and footage resources to find the proper ones. That’s really a job of being creative and having fun with it, but it was also a long process to find a visual system that works. We had to get a few shots right first, and then it was easier to situate the content.”
With resources including Pond5 at his disposal, the only limit to what Courtès and his team could accomplish was the amount of time spent searching through footage and testing combinations. Of course, with more than 7 million clips in the Pond5 library alone, that could go on infinitely, but he and his crew stuck to a more realistic timeframe.
“It was a little more than two months, but it was fun,” says the director. “We started with some shapes and ideas, and it took two or three weeks to really understand how it would work. We tried a lot of different things. We created a lot so we could get rid of some of the weaker ones. There was a third of what we did, maybe more, that we didn’t use, because the more we worked on it, the better we got.”
Preparing for Liftoff
The final video speaks strongly to the initial vision of “things that can lift you up,” but in its play between war and sex, media and addiction, temptation and destruction, it also seems to be providing some not-always-favorable commentary on the state of the world. As to whether that political angle was intentional, Courtès explains, “Of course it is, but we didn’t attempt to be really controversial. I don’t want to be too political, but it’s something that is in all our minds now. It’s not supposed to be too serious, though. I’m just glad that people like it.”
Asked if he has any personal favorite moments from the video, the director settled on three: “The one that made us the most laugh was the man fishing,” he reveals. “Also, I really love the man going into the mother’s womb. And I like the stripper spinning around with the tool on the other side.” (We’re also pretty partial to man dunking himself in the teacup.)
As mentioned, watching this video once means you’re most likely going to watch it more than once. Given today’s short attention spans, that’s even more than Cassius and Courtès could have hoped for. “With most videos, after ten seconds, you kind of know what you’re going to see, so it’s very hard to hook people for the long haul. People that are watching it watch it to the end,” says the director. “Apparently it’s a hit, so that’s very nice.”
Explore more Pond5 footage from Cassius’ “Go Up” video in the collection below:
What are your favorite shots and juxtapositions from the video? Let us know in the comments below!