One of the best music videos of 2013 belongs to a 48-year-old song. The interactive video for Bob Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone,” released yesterday, is a tour de force: as the music plays, you can flip between sixteen channels of simulated TV programming. But whether you’re watching a financial news update, a romantic comedy, or a tennis tournament, it looks authentic except that everyone seems to be lip-synching the lyrics of the song. While many of the channels are peopled by actors, the lineup is peppered with numerous celebrity performers such as comedian Marc Maron, rapper Danny Brown, the hosts of Pawn Stars, and Drew Carey (on the set of The Price Is Right). The overall effect is head-spinning but incredibly compelling: the more you surf through the “Like a Rolling Stone” video, the more the song’s contempt seems to be addressed to all of western civilization. By the time you land on a vintage live performance of the actual Bob Dylan, he feels like the only real person in existence.
“The effect can only be surrealistic if the channels are realistic,” says Vania Heymann, the video’s 27-year-old Israeli director. “In reality, channel-flipping is a very passive act. You’re sitting back in your house, doing nothing. We wanted to make it an active thing, reediting the song itself to make a new version.”
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The video took about two months to put together. “It’s an hour and fifteen minutes of content if you watch every channel from top to bottom,” Heymann points out. “It’s like a feature film inside a five-minute music video.” While Heymann shot some channels in California (The Price Is Right, for example) and the tennis match was filmed in Israel (so he could recruit friends to be in the crowd), most of the filming was done in and around New York. One suburban house served as the backdrop for five different channels on the same day, including the home shopping network, the history channel, and the cooking show.
Yoni Bloch, the CEO of Interlude Studios, the digital production company behind the project, says of the video’s painful gestation, “You know how in the middle of every creation, nothing makes sense and you want to die?”
Heymann reports that most actors who auditioned for the project told him at the end of the audition, “This was very weird.” The doubts continued during the shoot. “I tried to tell people, ‘In the end, it’s all going to be connected.'” He instructed his performers “not to refer to the lyrics of the song. It’s like they’re trying to say something completely else, and their mouth is possessed.” Adeena Sussman, who plays the host on the cooking channel, would rehearse each shot pretending she was going to give actual culinary instructions, and then substitute Dylan lyrics at the last moment. The dessert she prepares is an actual recipe (with the ingredients detailed by onscreen graphics). “You can make it at home,” Heymann promises.
Heymann has a cameo himself — on the news channel, as the stabbing victim who then looks up into a security camera and delivers the song’s second verse. While you might suspect the perpetrator was the mystery tramp, he says it was actually the video’s executive producer.
The video is already a phenomenon: Bloch reports that it had close to a million unique viewers in its first day, with over 90% of them actively flipping channels. “And I can’t say who, but our inboxes are flooded with big networks asking if they can add their shows to the mix. It’s like we’re building a format.”