For “Revolution Maker,” the second video from her current “Changeling” EP, Jane Jensen has collaborated with her “Tromeo and Juliet” castmate Valentine Miele. It marks the music video directing debut for Miele, who pivoted to experimental video work and directed the 2020 short “Her Release.” With a narrative based around human trafficking, the black-and-white video has a unique style that utilizes glitchy datamoshing effects. Over a Zoom interview, Jensen and Miele discussed the concepts behind and the making of the video.
I know that you had worked together on “Tromeo and Juliet.” How did you come to collaborate on this video?
Jane Jensen: Val and I worked together on “Tromeo and Juliet” and we became really good friends. So we maintained a friendship. I moved away for quite some time. Val moved from New York to Los Angeles. I was a real latecomer to the Los Angeles scene. So, when I finally did move out here, probably 10 years after Val, we reconnected. Val knew I was doing some music, and he was doing a lot of really interesting and cool film work. So, we talked about doing a collaboration. That’s how I recall it.
Valentine Miele: Yeah. More or less. I think maybe you saw “Her Release” when I was at festivals right around that time. And then we just started talking about it [collaborating].
Jane Jensen: You might want to fill Bob in a little bit about “Her Release.”
Valentine Miele: So my background is multidisciplinary, but I came out to LA in 2007 to act. I did commercials and movies for a while. And then in the mid-aughts, my son had been born, and some things were changing in life. I started gradually pivoting to basically doing little video sketches, just messing around with video; experimental video stuff. In 2019, a friend of mine was at South by Southwest and he had attended some panels and did a piece of automatic writing. And he sent it to me in the middle of the night. He was like, “Hey, is this anything?” It was this very, very, very, very weird little three-page script. And I was itching to make something that was more narrative than the little experiments that I had been doing.
So I said, “Sure, you know what? I’m going to make this. I’ll make it.” And then it ended up taking a year, because it takes a minute to get the money together, and the special effects. But it became “Her Release.” It’s basically a micro short, about four minutes long [“Her Release” can be viewed online here]. That went on the festival circuit and did surprisingly well. It played at the Nashville Film Festival, played at Filmquest, played at Telluride Horror Show, a whole bunch of other festivals. That springboarded me, got conversations going with different people about me working in the capacity as a director. And in the middle of that, one of the first people that came up was Jane saying, “Hey, are you interested in a collaboration?” I had been in pre-pre-pre-production on another short of my own. And I said, “I would love to collaborate with you.”
It was very cool. There were things that I wanted to mess with, so I said “Is it okay with you if it’s in black and white? Is it okay with you if I do this, this, this?” And she was awesome and open to basically anything. And she wanted a narrative. My first couple of pitches to her were more conceptual and more vibey. And I remember she was like, “Don’t you want to do something that’s more like a short film?” And I was like, “Oh, I guess I hadn’t thought of that.” So I went back to the drawing board. She had spoken about her work against human trafficking. And we incorporated some notions of that into the video. And “Revolution Maker” came out of that.
Could you talk more about the narrative and perhaps how it may have evolved as the video came together?
Jane Jensen: As I was supporting this group [Talitha Kum], and I don’t want to misrepresent myself as a major activist who’s out there on the front line fighting human trafficking, I’m not. I would love to have the skill and what a person would need to actually fight that fight. But I support them with what I can monetarily. Half of the sales from Changeling have gone to that organization. I donated some of my music to their organization and I led a musical meditation for their yearly prayer service that they do for victims and survivors. So that’s what I do with them. I’m not a major player or activist, but I admire the people that do that work. I have a great admiration for them.
So, with that, I was watching a lot of documentaries. I have to say, it’s a really dark rabbit hole to go down. And what you discover is how common it is and how it’s constantly hiding in plain sight. It is really disturbing. But one of the most disturbing exchanges I saw in one of these documentaries was a woman, a middle-aged woman, who represented herself as an agency for young women trying to get work. Domestic work, working as housekeepers, as nannies, and trying to assist these young women in their struggle to support themselves and send money to their families. And then [she was] basically selling them to men who want to own them as sex toys.
So it was very disturbing, but what was most disturbing is how normal she looked. Just a middle-aged woman. It really stuck with me, watching this undercover hidden camera footage of her saying, “well, the girls are about $800, just as soon as you get your hands on them, take their papers so you don’t have to worry about them running away.” And it was just disturbing. So I think we started thinking about the villain that she was, and maybe that wasn’t the end of the story. Maybe she was actually trapping someone; just turning that character around a little bit. And Val developed that idea to the point where not only was it an organized way of trapping an offender, but turning her character into someone who is obsessed with this goal of turning the tables.
Valentine Miele: Yeah, it’s definitely an intense revenge fantasy angle, trying to rewrite this horrible story into a way that makes it a better ending.
I’m also curious about just the general aesthetics of the video, especially the visual effects; the choice of style that you used.
Valentine Miele: Yeah. Well, that was another interesting thing. I had been interested in datamoshing, which is what that pixelation is; that thing that looks like digital artifacts. It’s called datamoshing. And I had been messing with it and trying to do it in an organic way. Without getting too completely geeked out, it’s a replacement of frames that happens accidentally, typically. It’s typically a digital artifact. And that was too complex for me to do on my own because I work on a Mac and you needed to get this old software that you had to break in order to make this work and do all this circuit bending type stuff.
And then a couple of years ago, someone came out with a plugin that does it. I started experimenting with that plugin a lot and looking at new media, digital art online. There are a lot of Reddits and Instagram communities and things that deal with that same aesthetic, like digital disruption as transition. And I still love it. I just love the way it looks. I love the way it feels when it happens. And I like it in black and white. I wanted to mess with it in using what is typically considered an old visual aesthetic. And doing this very specifically digital thing with it, I thought would give good tension, be an interesting friction.
And then strangely, there was just a small video clip on Instagram of a dance piece that incorporated exactly what I was trying to do. It was black and white and it was using the datamoshing as a transition. And I just reposted it on Instagram and Jane saw it and she was like, “What is that? That’s really cool.” And that was part of the beginning of our discussion of doing something. It was based on that literal clip, that literal black and white datamoshing clip. I was messing around with an industrial noir vibe, like Eraserhead, but a detective thing. Just trying to combine all of those things. And then there’s the other quasi-analog things that pop up sometimes; we’ll distort Jane’s face, it’s on a TV, but that’s combined with some other stuff. I was really just looking for things that I hadn’t seen in a narrative video that I liked looking at, that were pleasing to my eye.
The EP has two versions of this song. Was it obvious which one would be used for the video?
Jane Jensen: When Val and I first started talking about collaborating on a video project, I just gave him all the tracks. And he could have chosen “Changeling,” the other song, or any of the remixes. But Val chose this one.
Valentine Miele: Yeah, I chose this one because I just like the energy of that remix, of that version.
Jane, I know you’ve had music videos since early in your career. I’m wondering how is it different doing a music video now in terms of the way people view them and the how they are produced?
Jane Jensen: Well, like everything in our culture right now, everything is so much more accessible. So I’m far more involved. I feel so much more a part of how I can contribute to the video, to help plan. Whereas in the past, with my first two big videos, “More Than I Can” and “LuvSong,” I was told to go stand here … I got to approve ideas, I got to pick the ideas and the vibe. But other than that, it was other people doing it all, making all the decisions and really leading the way creatively after a concept was agreed upon. And so it’s definitely exciting to play more of an active role in creating that art. And working with Valentine; when you really trust someone’s eye so much that you know getting started that you’re going to be really pleased with the outcome, it’s awesome.
What about in terms of people tend to watch videos online, as opposed to how they might have been exposed to them in the past?
Valentine Miele: Speaking for myself, this is the first music video I had done, it definitely changes it. I recently watched it on a big TV and was really pleased with it. And of course, it bums you out to just know that it’s going to be on a phone 90% of the time. It just is. And I will say that it was also conceived with the intention of going to festivals. So I know that there will be spaces in which people will see it on an actual big screen and that pleases me immensely.
I would imagine some of the aesthetics play to the strengths of a short attention span, but I think it’s a more challenging video than normal. It’s not just image, image, image, image. It’s a bit of a long thought. I mean, it would be great to imagine a time when it’s going to be on 120 minutes. That would’ve been cool. But that time has passed.
Jane Jensen: But it’ll be on 320 minutes.
Valentine Miele: It’ll be on 320 minutes. Yeah, exactly. But you know what I mean? It would’ve been, ‘wow, it’s a buzz bin clip on MTV or whatever,’ but the function and consumption is so different. I hope it’s an eye worm. I hope it gets in there.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Jane Jensen: We had some really talented people in that video. Robert Maffia.
Valentine Miele: That’s true. The actor who plays the man in there is an actor by the name of Robert Maffia, who’s a tremendously talented actor. I’ve known him since when I moved to Chicago in 1992. Rob is one of the first people that I met and became friends with. I actually lived above the bar where he was a bartender and he was the first bartender to serve me in that bar. And we’re friends over 30 years later. He’s performed on Broadway and originated roles, many of Tracy Letts’ plays and he’s done a bit of everything. We were lucky, super lucky to have him, for me to be able to text him and say, “Hey, do you want to do this?” And sight unseen, he came and did it, which was awesome.
And then Chris [Guanlau]. Chris is the drummer from the band, Silversun Pickups, and I’ve known him for many years and it was a similar thing. I knew he had been a kid actor here in LA and I was like, “You feel like doing a little something?” And he said, “Sure.” And then the funniest one is actually the girl in the video is someone who I didn’t know had any acting experience at all. But we got to the 13th hour and didn’t have someone to be in that part. I reached out to a friend who I work with and she was like, “Sure.” And she ended up being phenomenal. I thought she was great. I love the way she is on camera. Her name’s Caroline Grothe.
Purchase the Changeling EP at: https://janejensenmusic.bandcamp.com/.