How Did OK Go Make Their Extraordinary ‘Needing/Getting’ Video?

OK Go’s “Needing/Getting” video is the first video performed by a car. (Sorry, Gary Numan.)

OK Go‘s revolutionary “Needing/Getting” video, which premiered today as a pre-Super Bowl commercial, might look like a three-minute-54-second musical joyride through a synchronous science, music and art project, but the video was anything but a serendipitous happy accident involving a cool car. How the “Needing/Getting” video was made wasn’t rocket science, but it wasn’t too far from it either. I talked to lead singer Damian Kulash, Jr., who co-directed the video with Brian L. Perkins, about how the band — and a team of experts ranging from physicists to his own parents — made the “Needing/Getting” video.

Creating the world’s first musical racetrack and world’s first song performed and recorded by a car took four months of careful planning to create the awe-inspiring video, which required the band to break down each part of the song, record each segment, and then piece and mix the song back together. If it sounds time-consuming that’s because it was.

“It consumed my whole life for four months,” Kulash, Jr. said. “We were out in the desert until midnight every day. I don’t even remember having a life outside of that. It was such a surreal world. Everyone who came out to help for a day or two was like ‘I can’t believe you built such an insane wonderland in the desert.’”

Here’s how that insane wonderland in the desert was built.

THE IDEA:
Unlike most celebrity endorsements borne of corporate marketing campaigns or music videos featuring blatantly obvious product placement (a text message sent to a phone that not-at-all-inconspicuously features a belabored brand close-up has been a staple of most videos shot in the past few years) the car-performance concept came to Kulash before Chevy ever entered the picture. “It was an idea I had about a year ago. Our co-director, Brian L. Perkins — he’s a old friend of mine, he was in my college band, and he’s directed some of our other videos — works for an agency that works with Chevy. I told him if you ever have a car company crazy enough to try something this awesome, then I have this idea. Sure enough, Chevy thought it was a great idea and they came on board and he got to direct it with us.”

Watch OK Go’s “Needing/Getting” video and find out more about how the video was made after the jump!

THE PROCESS:
“We started by writing out a list of all of the different ways sounds are made and instruments work and figuring out which instruments and objects could make the sounds needed to accurately reproduce the song. We spent a month in warehouse outside of L.A. with Noah Vawter from MIT and our friend Paul Rudolph from a band called Glank — all of their instruments are from junkyards. So we spent months trying to figure out what sorts of instruments you could play at 40mph and how to bring them to the desert. We bought the cheapest pianos we could find from thrift stores. I had to tune 58 pianos because I wasn’t sure how many we needed. I spent three days tuning those pianos.”

“Then we planned the course and figured out the parts that needed to be repeated. The chorus is basically looped since that appears three times. We spent a lot of time walking out the track with a measuring tape because we had to know how long something is and how fast we’d be going. Originally we thought we’d be doing 25mphs, and when we did camera tests it looked too slow. I also started taking stunt driving lessons by the Crowder family who are professional Hollywood stunt drivers — they drove in movies like “The Fast And The Furious.” It was really really really fun, and I am now not allowed in cars with handbrakes because it’s so tempting. But I realized I could do between 25 and 40 throughout the course. Then we spent about a month building in the desert with a construction team and then four days of shooting. When we were shooting, we focused on playing each section of the track. We ran it in full passes but recorded each part on its own to focus on getting each part exactly right. When we were done we had 189 tracks we had to figure out how to mix together back into the song.”

THE COST:

Kulash wouldn’t cite a specific number, but he did say the “Needing/Getting” video cost in the six figures to create and is OK Go’s most expensive video to date.

THE LITTLE MATTER OF RAISING THE BAR:
I mentioned that OK Go has to deal with the small matter of completely one-upping themselves every time they made a new video and asked where they might go next in the creative process: “We’re always stuck thinking what more can we do? Like, what can we do with airplanes? The bigger and crazier things get, the more things like that enter the realm of our normal thoughts.” I suggested that, having conquered treadmills, dogs, Rube Goldberg machines and the world’s first musical car, perhaps the next OK Go video would take place in space. Kulash’s response was immediate: “Oh my God, I so hope that’s true.”

Credit: Nathaniel Wood