Power-pop outfit OK Go have been experimenting with concepts of music distribution for years, but they’ve been best known for their innovations in video, from the charming synchronized-treadmill routine clip for “Here It Goes Again” that put them on the viral-clip map a decade ago to the elaborate Rube Goldberg–machine-themed short film that accompanied 2010’s “This Too Shall Pass.” For their latest video, they took the concept underlying a song title – “The One Moment,” from 2014’s Hungry Ghosts – and expanded it, both figuratively and literally.
“The One Moment,” which premiered today on Facebook, uses just 4.2 seconds of footage to make its point – the shortest amount ever filmed for a music video – and rest assured there’s a lot jammed into that blink-of-an-eye instant. A total of 325 discrete events occur in that time span, from exploding guitars to band members coming alive via flipbook. Those 4.2 seconds are then stretched out to the song’s full length, with some of the moments slowed down by 20,000 percent from real time. It’s a sleight-of-frame-speed that turns even the most minor movements into elaborately choreographed moments.
“I’ve always had a fascination with slow-mo footage – it almost feels like cheating because everything in slow-mo is beautiful,” says OK Go frontman Damian Kulash, chatting with Rolling Stone while on break from shooting a Late Show With Stephen Colbert segment that airs tonight.
The grandly sweeping “The One Moment,” with its dreamlike imagery (“Won’t you stay here with me/And build us some temples/Build us some castles/Build us some monuments/And burn them all right down”) and themes of reflection, was a natural fit for a video celebrating slow-motion grandeur. “When we were trying to come up with the idea of a video for ‘The One Moment,’ [we wanted to] keep the sense of emotion and earnestness,” says Kulash. “We love that our videos are so often joyful and wondrous, and that they have this sort of buoyancy to them. But this song is a more emotional song … and it was like, ‘This is the perfect time to do something that is wondrous but also magical, and even a little bit nostalgic or melancholy.’
“Honestly, I love the song,” he adds. “I can’t speak for anyone else. But to me the song has a more weighty presence to it. It’s meant to make you think about those few moments in life that really matter. We didn’t want the visual idea to undercut that, so hopefully this clip helps give it a sense of majesty.”
The Kulash-directed clip took roughly seven weeks to complete, start to finish. While it looks like the product of one take, it was actually shot by several ultra-high-speed cameras affixed to robotic arms – the only setup that could handle taking in so much information in such a short time, although even that was a trick.
“I was working on [the video] as a filming exercise for a couple months before that,” says Kulash. “The hardest thing was mostly the way we were pushing the limits of what the robots could do. We know what [a robot’s] published fastest speed is, but we don’t know if it can do that fastest speed right after it’s done this other thing, right after another thing. As far as I know, no one’s tried to film something with this complex of a movement in slow motion.”
Orchestrating the clip entailed Kulash and his film team breaking down movements into elaborate calculations that “an insane bunch of computing and robot technology,” as he puts it, could understand.
“When we’re working in the universe of half a second, you can’t do choreography,” Kulash explains. “Choreography just turns into math. What we’re doing is sub-dividing that into beats – the fastest intervals in this thing are on the neighborhood of about two milliseconds, and two milliseconds is incredibly fast. Things have to be perfectly accurate two milliseconds apart and they have to perfectly accurate two milliseconds apart after they’ve fallen from eight feet up in the air. So, you wind up with a lot, a lot, a lot of math.”
Ten years ago, OK Go’s clip for “Here It Goes Again” lit up the then-nascent YouTube with its intricate choreography and punchy chorus. Since then, the band’s mini-movies have only grown in scope and ambition. According to Kulash, who pursued visual art in his youth and worked in graphic design before doing OK Go full-time, the band’s ambitions have shifted as their filmmaking has grown more sophisticated.
“We’re always trying to think of something that feels just on the other side of impossible to us,” says Kulash. “The line between between possible and impossible is a hairline, and if we can get a tip of a finger over that line for just three minutes, awesome.
“That felt the same 10 years ago – it’s just where the line is has shifted a lot.”