Rek Interviews Brian Wendelken and Erick Sasso, Co-creators of the “House of Flying Daggers” VideoJuxtapoz // Friday, 11 Sep 2009
Ghostface Gears up for Battle
Interview and text by Rek
Dirty cops, hookers, and murder by kung fu. Codirectors Brian Wendelken and Erick Sasso throw all the right elements into Raekwon's House of Flying Daggers visual to keep it extra grimy, edgy, and indubitably Wu. Scroll down like papyrus to see what they had to say about the creative process, and working with the Chef.
Give us a little background about yourselves. What’s Chain Gang Productions?
Erick Sasso: We started it towards the end of high school, and once we got to college we put our ideas into what we wanted and put the name on it. It's a team that’s actually going to be part of a bigger team. We’ve got a lot of friends we’re going to start working with more. It’s all about not doing things solo. Working with people will benefit you in the long run.
Brian Wendelken (left) Erick Sasso (right) photo by YOOKNIGHTED nyc
How'd you guys get the Raekwon gig?
Brian Wendelken: We met Rae through a shitload of networking. We met people that knew people that knew people until we finally chilled with him one night.
Erick: We spoke to him while we were listening to his new album, Only Built 4 Cuban Linx Pt II. I guess it was an opportunity to give our input. Musically, we had nothing to say, but visually, we had a lot to say. We rattled off some ideas about what could happen video-wise and exchanged numbers. We called a week later with a treatment for something on his mixtape and he was like, “actually, I’ve got this single dropping, it’s the first single. I’ve got all these guys on it and to get them all in the same room I think an animation would be a good way to do it.” We never did an animated project before, so we were eager. We already knew off hand the people we wanted on it, so we immediately blew up the illustrator's, 1000styles (WWW.Esot ErickDesign.BIZ) phone. It was like 1 in the morning. Our next move was to call two amazing animators, Ryan Johnson and Drew Taylor.
Midget Remembers Battle
What programs were used to actually animate this video?
Erick: It’s basically a cocktail of a few different things. We used 3-D programs to make the environment and we textured it with illustrations. A lot of the stuff is actually hand-drawn illustrations mixed with After Effects. Then we brought it into Final Cut and did the final edit. Animation is the way to go sometimes, because the production value is totally different. If you want an old man eating a cat then you draw it or describe how you want it to look, and then it's like—holy shit.
That's why anime porn is so popular. Did Rae want anything specific for the video?
Brian: First he brought up the movies that were a huge influence on this, Five Deadly Venoms, this old Shaw Brothers film, which was a huge inspiration. He wanted it super-violent, super-graphic. So right away one of the things we pitched was a homeless guy biting into a cat.
Erick: He had ideas and then we would build off those ideas and let our imagination run wild. We didn't need to be censored because we knew this would be for the Internet. He'd be like, “You could have disease-infested hookers,” and Brian’s was like, “Cool, how about disease-infested hookers who have to pay off cops?” He was down for pretty much anything.
Raekwon Blocks Ninja Attack
One thing that sticks out for a lot of people is Dilla as an old wise man. Who conceptualized that?
Brian: That was Rae's request and Dilla obviously produced the track. When we brought up the idea of RZA as this wise man in the beginning, he was like, “Yo, you gotta have Dilla playing the other wise man.”
How'd you decide which Wu member should get what style?
Erick: That was Rae. We watched the movie and saw how everyone had their own style. So I texted him and asked who do you want to be what? He said, “GZA can be the centipede style and I want to be the Toad style,” and then....
Revising ‘Unlucky Chicken’
He already knew right then?
Erick: Yeah, he knew.
Did he explain why?
Erick: Nope. I’m sure he had his own explanation in his head.
How'd you decide how to depict each style, from the film?
Erick: Yeah, heavily influenced.
Brian: Some of the shots are actually from the film. Sick movie, ya'll should check it out.
Erick and Ryan Revising the ‘Hunter’s’ Walk Cycle
Erick and Ryan Revising the Hooker Scene
Talk about the little gems we may have missed.
Erick: There’s a lot of fun stuff. We were just staring at these illustrations for so long that besides the obvious movement and things we wanted to do, the artist would be like, “What do you want on her belt buckle?” We'd be like, “Yeah, write ‘anal’.” It’s the prostitute on the far right.
Brian: I know it’s in the credits but the opening score in the beginning was done by a band called Envy on the Coast and the hunter was modeled after the lead singer of this band. He was super-psyched about that, because he’s a huge Wu fan.
What did you think of the new album?
Erick: I don’t mean to sell the album; it really just sells itself. But everybody has been waiting for so long, myself included, and it’s worth the wait.
Brian: People don't understand that there’s about to be a new classic by Rae.
You guys are film people so I’m sure it appeals to you all, because he’s a master of storytelling and imagery.
Erick: Working with him was easier than anyone else. Not because of his connections or because he’s easy going, but visually you can tell him something and you don’t have to say it twice. You can reference a movie and he’ll know exactly what you’re talking about. When Brian and I asked him what the old dudes would be playing, we obviously knew it would be chess, and he goes, “definitely chess. Nothing else but chess.”
If you had your choice, who would you choose to work with next?
Brian: Busta Rhymes.
Erick: Busta Rhymes, first and foremost. Then Q-Tip and NASA.
Brian: Be ready for some crazy shit. We’re working on a couple of scripts. A bunch of music videos we’re really excited about.
Erick: You'll see all this stuff on our website (Chaingangproductions.tv). It's under construction right now but you can definitely still visit it.
Erick and Ryan Revising
Peep the video in it's entirety here...
Directed By—Erick Sasso and Brian Wendelken (ChainGangProductions.TV)
Animation By—Ryan Johnson and Drew Taylor
Producer—Larry Bernardo for LB Productions
Original Score for intro—Envy on the Coast (www.myspace.com/envyonthecoast)
Assistant Director—Ben Chacko
Animation Consultants—Bleu Bailey and Ramon Sosa for Lost Cause Studios
Lighting Tech—John Rosario
CG Supervision—Jason Ortiz
Production Assistants—Mario Mascetti and Woo Kim