Vaughn: The first question that came to mind when I saw the "Superchrist" video was whether or not you had fun making it?
Justin Coloma: Ha ha ha! No! It was a pretty stressful shoot! I had about an hour to shoot everything that went into that video, which was a very small amount of time. A typical shoot day for a music video runs about 12 hours. I think Billy really wanted to create a sense of spontaneity and kind of a sense that it was not a big production. We tried to give the video the feel of someone stumbling into this bizarre rehearsal stage and catching this really strange sort of band playing – with the nurses and everything else. We really wanted to avoid trying to have it look like a typical music video.
Vaughn: Did you feel worried when you found out that you only had one hour to create a video for a band with a legacy of groundbreaking music videos?
Justin Coloma: Well, I knew in advance that "Superchrist" was not meant to be judged on the standard of the band's previous videos. We were not trying to make a high concept or high budget video. We were trying to do something creative, small and interesting. What is more, Superchrist is like a 7-minute metal jam. So, I liked having all of the limitations, but at the same time, it was really stressful and I was pretty nervous.
Another thing, Billy is very particular about his work. He really puts his heart into everything he does and he wants it done properly. This is not to say that he is a perfectionist as he does like it when things are not necessarily perfect. That is one of the great things about his music and his work. He likes to play with imperfections. He likes limitations and to throw in things that will maybe put everyone off. But, he creates something new that no one ever thought of. It is amazing how aware he is of what is going on around him at all times. Even mid-performance, while he is completely in character and playing all the chords along with the song, he still knew exactly where I was and where the other camera guy was at all times. Also, when we would finish a take, he would give us notes. It was great, because it was more of a collaboration in a sense, and it made it a lot easier knowing we were on the same page about shooting something that was obviously a departure from the big budget music videos of the past.
Vaughn: At some points, it looks like you tried to make the video look more low budget with a look like the film has come to an end and folded back on itself.
Justin Coloma: That is one of my special tricks. When Billy first spoke to me about the video and its concept, I immediately knew that I wanted to do something that looked low budget and gritty, but still interesting. I decided pretty early on that I wanted to shoot with Super 8 film. It is the smallest type of film that you can shoot and it has a very vintage look to it. We did shoot higher-quality video as back-up though, and we used some footage in the final cut. Basically, Super 8 was our main format. When I use it during the transfer process and when it gets scanned from film onto video – I really like to play with some tricks, some physical effects, like where it looks like the film's running out at the end and stuff like that. In fact, I used it again in the "G.L.O.W" music video a little bit too.
When I cut the video camera footage, I wanted it to look really old school, so I added some filters and de-saturated it. With the video camera footage, I basically took the color way down and added scan lines and tried to give it a vintage feel, like if someone used a camera from the 70s. Actually, I originally wanted to find a video camera from the 70s, but was really hard to find one that worked well. Even if you happen to, it is hard to find tapes for them, and then it is difficult to transfer the footage into a digital format that you can edit later.
Vaughn: With the lighting, there are some points in the video where you had a vertical bar of light coming down. Was that deliberate or just a happy accident?
Justin Coloma: That was part of the lighting scheme that I designed. The place that we were shooting at is this really strange rehearsal studio; it is actually the studio that the Pumpkins were rehearsing in before they launched their tour. It is owned by like a couple of hippies and it looks really strange and cool. But, the lights there were just your basic fluorescent lights; they did not really give off much of a vibe or character. I kind of wanted to bring in a weird, almost surreal David Lynch type of feel and atmosphere, so we set some new lights. I liked how the little spotlights looked and it was an inexpensive way to add atmosphere.
Vaughn: What were the themes behind the video?
Justin Coloma: To be honest, Billy and I did not really discuss the deeper thematic significance of a lot of things that we shot. It did not need to go to that level because we both kind of think in abstract visual terms a lot. The main idea Billy approached me with was wanting Gary Stern from The Seeds playing the bass in the band. I mean, Gary is obviously not a member of the Smashing Pumpkins, but in this video, it is like he is. And of course, Sky Saxon was in there too. So Billy kind of said: Hey Justin, I want this like, you know, older hippy guy playing bass with the Smashing Pumpkins. I sort of thought: That is funny and it will look cool! But thematically, that was enough for me as a film maker, and I just found a way to make it work.
Overall, I think we just wanted to have something that was unexpected, something that would kind of reset the public's expectations of what a Smashing Pumpkins' video was. I think that it was the main goal going into it. I think people had become used to expecting million dollar productions when they think of Smashing Pumpkins videos. I mean back in the 90s, that is what videos were like, and that has changed now. There are very few bands that make huge videos, but I guess with a band like the Pumpkins, there is still a little bit of that expectation. I think Billy just wanted to put it into people's heads that the Pumpkins can still do a crazy video that is fun, weird and cool, and that they do not have to break the bank to do it.
Vaughn: One thing I should probably ask you is how you came to have Sasha Grey in the video?
Justin Coloma: She is Billy's friend. Billy suggested having her in there, and I thought it was a great idea. She has a really cool and interesting look. She is super nice and calm. We were thinking of how to fit her in the video, and we kind of came up with a special character for her to set her apart from the other girls. She is kind of a star unto herself. Actually, my fianc�e helped to design the look for her. She was meant to be this metal angel with black wings. She was very professional and patient on set, and it was great working with her.
Vaughn: And Ginger, Lisa and Jeff do not appear in the video?
Justin Coloma: You know, I was a little bummed that I did not get to shoot them. I barely knew them at that point, and it would have been great to get to work with them. I eventually did on "G.L.O.W". Again, I think it goes back to Billy wanting to play with the audiences' expectations. I think that the idea of the Pumpkins getting back together, and who exactly was part of the Pumpkins was still a big question to casual fans. Billy and Jimmy are the only original members, and at that time, I think he was still interested in playing with that expectation. Throwing this completely unexpected character into the performances might confuse people, and might be considered as a sort of a funny joke on who the Smashing Pumpkins actually are. Jeff, Ginger and Lisa have more than proven themselves as worthy Pumpkins members, and we definitely feature them in "G.L.O.W".
As fas as their absence in the video, Billy wanted to focus on this mysterious third member of the band instead of on him or Jimmy. It was part of the same idea that if you just accidentally stumbled upon the video and started watching it, you would have no idea that it was the Smashing Pumpkins. And then, you know, about a minute or so later, you would see Billy or Jimmy for a second or two, and then you would start to wonder – Who are these guys? Was that really Billy Corgan?
In that way, "Superchrist" became something of an anti-video. Not just because we did not show Billy or Jimmy for long, but because we did all the things that you are not supposed to do. In a video, you are supposed to show more things in 7 minutes than what we did, and you are supposed to cut a lot more too. My normal tendency is to cut a lot faster than I did on "Superchrist", but because I understood we were subverting the expectations of what a mainstream video is, I held shots for a lot longer than I normally would.
Vaughn: When "Superchrist" first appeared, there was a lot of conjecture about the meaning of the syringe. What was the impetus behind it?
Justin Coloma: That was actually very spontaneous. There are things that happen on a music video set that are completely spontaneous, and I like to leave room for that kind of stuff. The syringe was part of the costumes that we picked out for the nurses. When we were shooting, one of the girls, I think it was Audrey or Hanna, just decided to do that. Billy and I just started cracking up and thought it was a great idea.
When I found out about the different interpretations – I thought it was great. I think you have done something right when you elicit that kind of reaction. It is why I am huge fan of David Lynch. He creates these really iconic, ambiguous, strange images, and he never tells you what they mean. And really what matters is what you think it means – as an audience. In a way it tells you something about yourself, and that one of the great things that I love about cinema. In some ways, it can work as a mirror for society and for yourself. If cinema is intelligent enough and beautiful enough, you can learn something about yourself from it. So, I was really flattered that people were trying to read into the different little elements in "Superchrist". It was not something that I was expecting at all. I just thought people were going to think it was a funny, fun and weird music video. So the fact that people were going out of their way to assign a sort of deeper meaning to it was really cool. As far as there being an actual meaning, or an intended meaning – What can I say? Maybe sub-consciously I was thinking of something, maybe we all were, but there was not any deliberate meaning. It is what the audience sees that makes it something, because without them – there is nothing there.