Exclusive SXSW Interview: Director Anna Zlokovic talks about her SXSW featured Music Video “The Empty House”

The Iris had the opportunity to chat to Anna Zlokovic, the director of the music video, “The Empty House,” for musician Jack Kovacs. In our exclusive interview, we talk to Anna about SXSW, recognising music videos as art, the challenges of the shoot and what it’s like working with Jack Kovacs. Anna also shares her insights about the concept behind the video, her favourite parts of the shoot and the band she dreams of working with… Click through for our in-depth interview and to see the music video for “The Empty House”!

Thanks for taking the time Anna! How did SXSW treat you and the music video?

This was my first time at SXSW, so I was embarrassingly excited most of the time. All together, it was an incredibly fun and eye-opening first experience. The whole music video program was really amazing and inspiring- it was a little surreal to be a part of it all.

How important do you think it is for festivals like SXSW to be recognizing the art of the music video in this way?

I think that music video is an incredibly unique way for filmmakers and musical artists to connect on a common ground and explore both stories and concepts that normally couldn’t thrive any other way. Both for the film and the music, it allows each vision to live beyond what its potential could be alone, which makes it extremely unique. Since music videos unfortunately aren’t on the very forefront of cinema, SXSW showcasing them in such a supportive way I think is really vital to bringing them back as a relevant and necessary art form.

Assuming you were at the event, what were some of the highlights of your week? (Skip if you weren’t there!)

I think my favorite part of the whole experience was being able to consistently watch a lot of great work and then be able to interact with the filmmakers behind them and pick their brains about it all. Also, it was my first time in Austin, so exploring the city was awesome- 6th street during SXSW was a totally insane experience.

How did you come to work with Jack Kovacs?

I met Jack while I was at USC through my roommate (who is also featured on the song as her band Huxlee). He was a graduate of the jazz guitar performance program and I was at the film school. A few years back, I saw Jack play at a venue called Room 5 in LA. That was the first time I heard him play “The Empty House” and I remember totally forgetting everything else that was happening around me and having this incredibly visceral reaction to it. When he approached me to do the video, I was immediately all in!

Where did the concept come from?

Jack and I began talking about the video months before shooting, just getting on the same page. We talked about our mutual love for horror and how it related to the world of the music. Jack let me loose without forcing me into any kind of a box, and I created my own personal horror story. The idea of a house filled with darkness and secrets turned into this metaphor for the mind of a woman, focusing in on psych horror and mental illness. The concept became about a sinister disease, manifested as this black inky fluid. It originates within Sasha’s character, infecting her partner and tearing apart her beautiful relationship and home. That’s where the horror ended up planting itself- in this idea of having awareness of evil but no control over it, and then watching the things you love crumble around you because of it.

What was the hardest part of the shoot?

Definitely shooting the bathtub scene. We did all of the effects practically, which presented some intense challenges. Tommy, the lead male actor, had to be in a latex suit for hours on end drenched in this disgusting slimy fluid. He was freezing and tired and kept going. He was constantly shuffling between the bathtub and the shower (to be warmed up). Not to mention that this stuff was the most slippery thing ever. He was such a trooper, and so committed. Even though we had all of the safety precautions and team in place, it was nonetheless a little bit of a stressful experience. But it was also one of the most gratifying and memorable once it was all done.

What was the best part of the shoot?

In the end, the collective experience of shooting it was one of the most rewarding creative experiences I’ve had. To me it felt like we were this little family for 3-days going through this intense occurrence together, bad and good. It was amazing to get to work so intimately and personally with Sasha and Tommy, the lead actors, and also to have the crew be some of my closest friends.

Did you face any unexpected challenges in the production (either on set or in post?) that perhaps changed something from the original vision (for better or for worse!)

I think one of my “favorite” challenges during production was recreating the millipede (whose name is Dirk) so that Tommy could actually put something into his mouth to spit out into the sink that wasn’t actually Dirk. The mold of Dirk didn’t work out, so we tried to fashion a piece of string cheese to look like him instead. But that ended up looking kind of funny because it was so stiff. So now we have all of this bizarre slow motion footage of string cheese falling out of Tommy’s mouth into the sink… In the end, the effect was achieved through editing and the string cheese plan wasn’t necessary all along.

There was quite a team put together for the production – I understand of college students & recent USC graduates – did you all find the team through USC or are these people you have a relationship already. 

Yes! I met almost everyone through USC. The key creatives on the team had all been friends of mine for a while and most of us had gone through the film production program together. Most of us had just gotten our bachelor’s degree during pre-production, and some of us were still in school.

If you could work with one artist, directing their music video, who would it be and why?

It would be insane to do a video for Nine Inch Nails. I’d probably die and go to heaven. The video for “Closer” is one of my favorites of all time. In elementary and middle school, when I used to make these little (unfortunately terrible) films, I always somehow managed to incorporate a NIN song into one of them to make them better.

What else are you working on at the moment? (if you can say)

I’m currently finishing up a short film I’m writing which I hope to direct in the next few months, and another music video coming up which I’m excited to get started on!

This video screened as part of the Music Video component of SXSW Film 2015. Watch the video here: 

Questions by Larry Heath.