Just in case you’re one of the few people on the planet who hasn’t yet encountered OK Go’s “Rube Goldberg Variation” video of This Too Shall Pass, let’s get that out of the way:
As far as I’m concerned, OK Go are winning at internet video. From the self-conscious genius of A Million Ways, iterating through Here It Goes Again, stopping at the artistically hip Do What You Want, before blasting through CDMo favorite WTF? to the new hotness of This Too Shall Pass, which they’ve actually released two completely distinct single-shot videos for this year!
Their work has run the gamut from ridiculously simple and cheap, to equally ridiculously complex and expensive. Throughout this progression, they’ve produced work which is varied, yet instantly recognizable. The productions maintain a thread of simple, effective, creative concepts, and each has been appropriate to the band’s available resources.
I think this is the essence of creativity, and what makes “indie” production so compelling. It’s not sustainable to continuously produce work which strains your budget or resources, so we all generally work with a set of constraints built around what we have available. Record labels have ready access to film studios with white walls and bright lights, so a frightening majority of label-released videos follow a sadly predictable path of “something something story something, and then the band mimes along in a white-walled studio with bright lights”.
OK Go are on a label (Capitol/EMI), but they’ve definitely managed to maintain the level of control required to call the shots, and decide where their budgets should be spent. Gizmodo just posted an interview which purports to “tell the secrets of the band’s geeky videos”. I didn’t really discover any production secrets, but the band’s attitude towards creativity, and record label constraints is quite interesting:
Our label, bless their moronic hearts, was given our record nine months ago. It kept getting pushed back. We basically wound up with several months of our lives to just get in trouble. If we’d had to go into promo land and get on tour we wouldn’t have time to do this kind of stuff. Basically I got home when the record was done and wrote down my dream list of videos. This whole project started with a two-paragraph description that I put down online as a job post, essentially. I asked for two creative engineers, because I figured that’s about what it would take. Two engineers, and a couple of months. It ended up being more like 60 engineers, and five months of work.
[from Q&A: OK Go's Lead Singer Tells Us Secrets of the Band's Geeky Videos]
For me, “wrote down my dream list of videos” is the key phrase here. None of OK Go’s clips are contrived or cynical attempts to “go viral”. They obviously love the medium, they love creating new things, monkeying around on treadmills, making the world’s biggest tv-smashing, paint-firing machine. They’re obviously having a blast while they’re doing it, and if you love what you’re doing, your audience can’t help but love it too.
When WTF was released, I wrote about “originality”, and the concept of making creative work from well-understood building blocks.
As long as you produce something which has personality, and creates an emotional connection with your audience, then I think anyone who accuses you of being “unoriginal” is missing the point.
The Rube Goldberg Device is the ultimate collection of “well understood building blocks”, and a beautiful metaphor for the art of the visualist. We’re taking the objects we have ready access to, building new things to interface them together, and making something amazing.
Update: Just to hit home on the topic of record labels not understanding truly fresh, creative work, Techdirt are reporting that OK Go have left EMI and started their own label, after repeated issues with the label turning off embeds and generally acting like soulless fatcats who don’t at all understand how viral culture works.
Update2: Official Announcement on their site.