Eric Wareheim on his insane new Mr. Oizo video and passing on “Turn Down For What”

Eric Wareheim on his insane new Mr. Oizo video and passing on “Turn Down For What”

In Random Reels, we talk to veteran directors about the projects that defined their careers. The catch: They don’t know beforehand what we’ll ask them to talk about.

The director: Eric Wareheim has spent most of his career in front of the camera as the taller half of Tim And Eric, but he’s got a passion-project side-gig as a director of out-there music videos. His shorts for Beach House, Depeche Mode, and Major Lazer have made waves in recent years, and he just released the Black Friday-baiting Mr. Oizo video “Ham,” which starts John C. Reilly as a Rascal-riding cypher for American gluttony.

Mr. Oizo, “Ham” (2014)

Eric Wareheim: “Ham” was a concept that I came up with like a year ago. I was visiting my relatives in St. Louis and we were going to a Wal-Mart to stock up on ammunition because my uncle was going to take us shooting at the range. And at the Wal-Mart there were about six or seven enormously obese people on Rascal scooters all trying to get in the front door at the same time. It was like a logjam. Then I walked in and noticed more of these Rascal scooters were going up to McDonald’s, which was inside Wal-Mart, and they would get their Big Macs and sodas and they would shop with the food, so they would be taking clothes and putting them on their bodies for sizing and they’d be all stained with ketchup and meat grease. It was just unbelievable. And then we went to the ammunition section and it’s literally right next to the toy section, which I couldn’t believe. So this whole idea of how our society is going toward fast food, obesity, and all the gun violence that’s been going on for the past couple years—it hit me really hard and I wanted to make something kind of showing the future of America, or actually present day America. A lot of my work doesn’t really have a social statement but this one leans a little more toward that. And Quentin Dupieux, Mr. Oizo, is a friend of mine, we’ve been collaborating recently. I act in his last few films.

The A.V. Club: One of those is Reality, which was just acquired by IFC, and you’ve also appeared in some of his other work, like Wrong Cops. Is this the first time you’ve directed him in anything?

EW: Yeah, he’s a super control freak. He directs all his own videos, all his own movies. So for him to let me do this is kind of awesome. It was a cool trust on his part because I look up to his work so much. But really, we’re collaborating. It took a long time to get the money to make this because it was very involved, with John C. Reilly and all the fat suits and everything. But JASH, my YouTube channel, they stepped up and found the money and financed it.

AVC: John C. Reilly is also someone you’ve worked with a lot.

EW: I’ve been working with him for many years, on Check It Out! With Dr. Steve Brule, and he was in Tim And Eric’s Billion Dollar Movie and he’s become a good friend. I thought he would be perfect. I needed a good actor that had an amazing face and he’s just willing to go for it. I told him, “You’re going to be in this fat suit all day, and it’s going to be horrible, low budget, shitty conditions.” He was like, “I’ll do it.”

It was so hot, there was no air conditioning in this dollar store, and in between takes he would go over to the air conditioning unit—we had these portable air conditioning units that really don’t do shit—and he would take a nozzle and just put it under his shirt and just shut his eyes. He told me later, “The only way I could get through this video and give you a good performance is if I shut down in between takes.” It was amazing to watch that happen. He’s a pro.

The Bird And The Bee, “Polite Dance Song” (2007)

AVC: Prior to Tim And Eric you were a photographer and also in the music scene, so it seems natural that you’d eventually make music videos. How did this first one come together?

EW: I’m friends with Greg Kurstin and Inara [George], who’re in the band, and they asked me to do it, and I loved the track. And then this is kind of how it goes: You do them a favor and then they do you a favor. There’s a big connection between Tim And Eric and music. People that make music, they all watch our shows on tour buses and I have a lot of friends asking us to do stuff and they return the favor by doing music for the show.

When it was on actual MTV back when they were still playing videos, seeing that The Bird And The Bee video on MTV was almost a bigger moment to me than seeing my own show on Adult Swim. Because I grew up watching MTV so much, it was such a powerful thing, such a staple in my formative years, that it was that powerful. That’s kinda why I do it.

AVC: The actors in this video are a bit unusual, as in much of your work, and they have some interesting and unusual dance moves. How do you direct people to dance?

EW: They all auditioned, so I could see their dance moves ahead of time, and I picked the people that seemed the most real and had the most unique dances. Everything I do is about realness. About real people with real, unique characteristics. Not just the way they look but also the way they move. I just know the right people to use, you can see that through all of my videos, the intensity of real people.

Flying Lotus, “Parisian Goldfish/Dance Floor Dale” (2008)

AVC: Some sources say that this is not an official video for Flying Lotus.

EW: It was an official music video, but they were so scared of how fucked up it was that they made it like a short film, and they put it on their own website so YouTube couldn’t take it down.

AVC: But it did get banned from YouTube back in 2008.

EW: Oh yeah, I do remember, it went down pretty quick.

AVC: What’s going on in this video? It looks like they’re really having sex.

EW: They’re not. The idea was to make it like super-simulated and then add these animated genitalia in. And then we cast the woman, and we were looking for a guy... and then during the female audition, the boyfriend of one of the girls dancing was this guy Dale, who’s amazing, and he wasn’t there to audition, he was just there to support his girlfriend. We were like, “Do you wanna audition?” because he was really grooving to the music and really loved it. So he got up there and did this dance, and we’re all like “Holy shit! This guy is killing it.” And so we cast him and told them what the deal was. They don’t know each other.

AVC: But everyone was cool with it when it was going down?

EW: Oh yeah. It was weird, being like, “Okay, you’re sucking his dick. Okay, you’re about to come. Okay, you’re coming.” It was as close as I got to shooting porn. But very professional.

MGMT, “The Youth” (2008)

EW: “The Youth” was cool because I used these kids from L.A.—a lot of kids in L.A. are these aspiring hip-hop dancers, you know? So I cast a bunch of white kids that—no offense to these kids, I love them, but they really didn’t have soul yet. They’re too young to be able to dance with soul.

AVC: The narrative appears to be about someone trying to be an individual and then his peers not liking that, but he defends himself, and by the end, the other kids have just conformed to his style and his individuality.

EW: That’s what I got from the song. It’s that classic story of doing your own thing, and the song had a really emotional impact on me, just like the Beach House song, and that’s what I wanted to try to showcase in the video.

AVC: Most kids wouldn’t be allowed to watch your work, though you had kids in Billion Dollar Movie and in this video. Is it hard working with kids?

EW: No. Like in our movie when we had to get all these young boys to diarrhea in this bathtub, everyone was on board. People just want to work. Kids will do anything. The parents know that we’re not fucking with them, you know? They’re down with it.

AVC: We saw some of that on Nathan For You, an Abso-Lutely production [Tim And Eric’s production company]. He tested the parents of child actors and saw how much they’d allow just to get their kid on TV.

EW: Yeah, it’s pretty fucked up. That is a real side of Hollywood. It’s crazy. But we never want to take advantage of the kids. They have fun. The kids that we work with are like, “This is cool! It’s not like any other show I’ve done.”

Major Lazer, “Pon De Floor” (2009)
Major Lazer, “Keep It Goin’ Louder” (2009)

AVC: In 2009 you did the first two of three videos you’ve done with Major Lazer. This is a rare instance of the band being in one of your videos. Do you not like having the band in the videos?

EW: No, I don’t. Most bands try to be cool, unless they’re willing to really fuck themselves up. I try to tell these little stories without focusing on the musician. I just feel like that’s the style that I want. There’s plenty of videos out there that highlight the singers or whatever, and even in my Major Lazer one where Diplo was in it, and those girls were singing in it, to me that ruined the video. I like the video, but I prefer those people not to be in it because it doesn’t make sense. You’re in this crazy world in my head and all of a sudden there’s these pretty things. That was one video that I didn’t have full creative control over, where the label was like, “You’ve got to put these people in it.” And because I’m friends with Diplo and because we had such success with the last video, I was like, “All right, I can do this for you.”

AVC: You’ve worked with Major Lazer more than anyone.

EW: Yeah, I’m just friends with Diplo, I really love a lot of his music. It was his idea to do this; he sent me the first videos of daggering, this Jamaican dancehall style of dancing, which is in the “Pon De Floor” video, and I was obsessed with it. We went all through the country to find these different daggering dancers that had their own kind of style. Super proud of that one. And with “Bubble Butt,” same thing. I loved the track. I love booties. And the booty videos.

AVC: “Pon De Floor” really feels like a precursor to Lil Jon’s “Turn Down For What.”

EW: I actually passed on “Turn Down For What.” They sent it to me to direct it and I just wasn’t into it. I liked the song, but I was too busy or something. And then the Daniels, who directed it, they were my former interns. They give me props when they do press for the video of taking some inspiration from my work, but they took it above and beyond. I think it’s an amazing video.

AVC: When you say you passed on that video, does that have anything to do with working on someone at that level where there could be 100 million views and there’s a lot of money at stake?

EW: I knew the finances, and that was part of the decision. But it’s more of an emotional response to the song or an emotional response to the band, and I didn’t know Lil Jon. And the track was good but it wasn’t really moving me. What I do is I get a song, I listen to it over and over and over again until the visual pops—and sometimes the visual doesn’t pop and I have to pass on it.

AVC: If you heard a song by One Direction or Miley Cyrus and it inspired you, would you make a video with them?

EW: Yeah, definitely. A good example of that would be Sia—I’m friends with Sia—but that “Chandelier” song, that thing almost made me cry. That was such a beautiful song. And then they made a fucking killer video. Or like Rihanna’s “Diamonds,” Sia actually wrote that song but something like that, I would definitely tackle that.

I get asked like literally five tracks a week from artists all across the board that are either huge fans or... That sounds really braggy. I love doing it, but it’s really a side project when it comes down to it. The Tim And Eric thing is the most important thing, that’s what I focus on, and I do music videos when I have time.

Depeche Mode, “Hole To Feed” (2009)

AVC: You said you were obsessed with MTV as a kid. What was it like working with Depeche Mode?

EW: I was like, “Of course I’ll do this.” And they had a lot of money behind it so we could do some cool camera moves. We shot it on film. And when I showed it to the record label they were like, “WHAT THE FUCK IS THIS?” They were really scared by it. But the band liked it and they knew that it wasn’t going to be like a big commercial success for them. The fans of Depeche Mode revolted. They were like, “WHAT THE FUCK IS THIS?” They were used to these “cool” videos. So they took a big chance on it.

AVC: Some of their fans went crazy when this video was released, calling it “disgusting,” “tacky,” and “gross.” There was apparently some massive, 103-page argument on a Depeche Mode website.

EW: I love it. That’s my favorite thing.

AVC: When you don’t actually put the band in the video, is a lot of this stuff just a phone call?

EW: People that know me just give me the song and they’ll get a cut in a month. Except for the Beach House one, where I worked with Victoria a bit because she’s such a genius. All the other ones are like, “Just let me do it,” and the bands are like, “Okay.” That’s the only way I would want to work—I love music but a lot of musicians don’t have the greatest music video ideas.

AVC: Has a band ever been upset with the final product?

EW: No. Everyone’s loved it cause they sort of know what they’re getting. If you’re hiring me, you know my work. They know what’s going on. It’s not like I’m a director for hire like a lot of those guys are. They all look at my treatment.

AVC: What would this treatment have looked like? “A lot of people lick each other’s faces?”

EW: I was thinking about releasing all of my treatments and my animatics for fun, because it’s really funny to see. They’re very close to the treatment, the videos. It’s exactly what you see, how I describe it.

AVC: Depeche Mode was a surprise to you. Who is the biggest surprise of an artist that liked your work and wanted to work with you?

EW: I’ve met with Kanye West about making a new video for him. Everyone wants a video that’s gonna be different or go crazy, so I think a lot of people play with the idea of wanting to take a chance with me. With Kanye I wrote a treatment and he’s like, “Dude this is so fucked up. I can’t do this.” And I’m like, “I totally understand.” I’m not really gonna tweak it, because even though I respect Kanye, I do these video for me first and foremost.

AVC: Please say there could still be future work with Kanye.

EW: Yeah, totally. That’s how we kinda left it. He works very closely with the directors, they’re making cool shit, I totally get it.

Health, “We Are Water” (2010)

AVC: I absolutely love this video. Was it supposed to be scary or funny?

EW: Both. All of my stuff has a little tinge of humor into it, this one I wanted it to be really scary. The actors were amazing. But then I wanted the end to be like, “This girl won, she beat this guy who was keeping her locked up.” That’s always going to be funny to me: stabbed in the balls.

Beach House, “Wishes” (2013)

AVC: I think a lot of people really became aware of your music videos once “Wishes” came out.

EW: It was highly ambitious, but not a lot of money. But I was really passionate about this project because I love the band so much. I love the music. I love Ray Wise. Sometimes magic happens. You really feel for these characters. You feel what they’re going through and to me that’s success. That’s what people are responding to, as well as the visuals being really beautiful and colorful—fireworks, horses, it just had all the right elements.

AVC: When you visualized this video did you have Wise in mind?

EW: Yeah, that’s pretty much it. He’s the man.

AVC: In the making-of clip, you looked blown away by his method. He just knows exactly how to do what you ask him to do when re-creating the visuals in your head?

EW: Exactly. He proved that to us in our movie and our TV show. He’s just a really good actor. And he’s really good in any role that you give him. It’s awesome.

Dutch Boys featuring Twank Star, “Backpacker Bush” (2013)

EW: DJ Douggpound, my collaborator on this, we were in Australia together and we wrote this song at a backpacker bar and we had this audio recording of us doing the rap—I should release those, too. I think I’m going to release a whole behind-the-scenes video of all this stuff. We just were like, “Wouldn’t it be funny if there was this thug rapper that was in here that was really turned on by hairy girls?”

Major Lazer featuring 2 Chainz, Bruno Mars, Tyga, and Mystic, “Bubble Butt” (2013)

AVC: This is your most viewed video on YouTube, with over 13 million, and it features some big mainstream names. Did you work with those guys or just do it on your own?

EW: At first, both of those guys (2 Chainz and Bruno Mars) were going be in the video. 2 Chainz was going to rap and Bruno Mars was gonna be that disco ball, but eventually that fell through and I’m glad because I loved the people, loved Buttzilla.

AVC: Were those real butts?

EW: None of the butts were enhanced. What you see on camera is what was there.

AVC: How did that casting process go?

EW: It’s hard. The first Buttzilla we had is this girl named Pebbelz Da Model from Atlanta. We cast her, and the week before the shoot she got arrested. She was accused of murdering another big-butt girl by injecting her with concrete. So she was in prison. And so we called the warden of the prison and we’re like, “We really need this girl. She’s the star of this big video.” And the warden was like, “Well, we would normally let people off on a work permit but Pebbelz tried to flee the state. So she’s a flight risk so we can’t let her go until the trial.” And then she was convicted of murder. It’s crazy. So we go deep. Like I said, we go to strip clubs. My producers know how to scour the Internet to find the right people for the look that I want. It’s a big, tense process.

Tobacco, “Streaker” (2014)

AVC: This is a really evil, demonic video.

EW: This year I’ve been into nightmares. Tim and I released a series called Tim And Eric’s Bedtime Stories, which was pretty much all nightmares. Some of this video was like a dream I had. It was this creepy guy in a massage parlor, these massage parlor people, taking over and scaring the fuck out of me. So it’s based on real nightmares. Last year I made some pretty videos with Beach House and Bubble Butt, and here I’m making videos like “Streaker” and “Ham,” and next year my mind is already changed. I want to make beautiful videos next year because things have changed in my life and that’s a different kind of story I want to tell.

AVC: Your style has always seemed inspired by David Lynch. Are you a fan of his?

EW: Oh yeah. Massive, massive. He was and still is my idol, in terms of filmmaking and storytelling. I went to see Lost Highway in college and was just blown away.

AVC: You’ve said that you wouldn’t just direct anything, but Twin Peaks is coming back. Would you direct an episode?

EW: Oh my God, yeah. I would just fucking quit everything. I would give up all my money just to be a part of that, for sure.