OK Go, known for using treadmills and other complicated machines in their viral music videos, have stepped into the background with their latest, "White Knuckles," creating a shifting playground for twelve synchronized dogs and a goat. (Watch it after the jump.) Bookshelves become elevators, trash bin pyramids are toppled, and the puppies exchange high-fives with the band. The video, like those for the previous hits “Here It Goes Again” and “This Too Shall Pass,” was shot in one take, meaning no cuts and therefore no mistakes allowed on the part of man or canine.
Lest you scratch behind your ears wondering how this video came together, we talked to the band, the video’s director, and the fearless head dog trainer to learn how OK Go pulled off their latest choreography coup.
“There’s the saying, ‘Never work with kids or dogs’ in the film business, but I never went into panic mode,” says bassist Tim Nordwind. “We were just working with people who were very good with dogs, as well as working with dogs who were very good at being dogs.”
"One of my theories behind this was that the treadmill was great because it was guys on machines, but wouldn’t it be kind of cool if this time the guys were the machines and they’re enabling and operating the dogs,” says Trish Sie, who directed the treadmill video and returned to helm this latest effort (she’s also lead singer Damian Kulash’s sister).
Lauren Henry, the owner of Talented Animals and head animal trainer for this video, was brought in to make the canine choreography a reality. "They needed to enjoy it,” says Henry. “Otherwise there’s no way you’re going to drag a dog out there and have them do the same action again and again, day after day."
"We spent a lot of time playing with them Each behavior is part of a whole game they’re playing,” she explains. “For instance: the dogs running around people’s legs at the beginning. Riot, the little dog on the left, I would have her go around the chair and then I’d throw the ball. Then I would have her go her around the chair twice, and then throw the ball. And then three times, and then add the person.”
Sequestered in a studio outside of Portland for two weeks, the full routine was only completed about fifteen times. "It all gelled the second week of filming. The one we’re using was the first run we did on the second-to-last-day of filming,” Nordwind says. “We’ll work until we fall down, but the dogs needed time to rest. They were done by about 6:30 [p.m.]. They get tired: They want to go home and eat. In that respect I liked working on the dogs’ schedule.”
Toughest part for the canines? Perhaps when they have to duck in and out of holes while stepping on and off the shelves that are being spun around by the band. "That was a tricky thing to get a dog to wrap its brain around," Nordwind says.
The routine was created over a year ago with three dogs and some stuffed animal stand-ins, and the idea itself dates back to a pre-VMA dinner in 2006. OK Go were in New York to perform the treadmill routine and were reeling from how far their no-budget music video had taken them. Sie was already looking ahead to the future. She joined them for sushi and proudly declared, “I have the next one.”
The band decreed the idea to be “absurd and awesome,” although it took a few years to make it happen. After completing Of the Blue Colour of the Sky, the band brought their dogs over to Sie’s house and gave the record a spin, eventually deciding that something about the funky “White Knuckles” perfectly matched canine movements, with bonus lyrical references to “paw” and “pet.”
Sie felt a bit of artistic pressure, not having directed the band since “Here It Goes Again.” In her words: “I definitely did not want this to be a big fat fucking flop.” She tried to return to the mind-set that had inspired the treadmill routine in the first place. "There’s an exuberant infectiousness about it,” Sie says. “These videos are not that brilliant and they’re not polished.”
As a dog owner and rescuer, Sie has spent a lot of time with the canidae family, but it wasn’t until this shoot that she realized motivating dogs can be much trickier than inspiring a human cast. "For people, when your energy starts flagging at the end of the day, you turn the music up — you pump up the band and remind them how fucking rock and roll this is. That gives people get a new jolt of energy. But for a dog that doesn’t help — if they felt us getting more intense, and they would get more riled up and distracted. So we created a very calm atmosphere.”
There was also the danger of one dog following the wrong directions, especially since there were usually more than a dozen trainers on set. To make sure Riot wouldn’t accidentally start taking instructions meant for Buckets, Lauren Henry made sure each dog was paired with a trainer they already had a strong bond with.
In addition to the dozen doggies, a disgruntled goat named Ranger also graced the set. “We were originally going to roll in a treadmill with the goat on it,” Sie said. “But when they smashed the hell out of the television set playing the treadmill video [in the video for "This Too Shall Pass"], we ditched that reference. But I could not part with the idea of a goat.”
Although it’s easy to miss the goat’s cameo, he left an indelible impression on the director. “He was such a dick,” laughs Sie. “His feedbag was one the other side and he just hauled Andy [Ross, keyboard player] across the set. This goat was my favorite animal there, even though he was completely indifferent to me and everyone else.”
Sie says she’s already working on making their next unthinkable stunt a reality, which she hopes to have completed for the next single from Of the Blue Colour of the Sky. "I can’t go into specifics, but we’re probably going to make it in the next six months,” Sie teases. “It would require some help from professionals, and it would involve some really cool clothes and rethinking the way people see gravity. But it’s not going to involve ropes or trapeze or cables or airplanes.”