Dugan O'Neal talks about directing TV On The Radio's "Will Do" video

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A few years back Dugan O’Neal was featured in the Guardian’s SCENE magazine to highlight Two Renegade Cops, the retro 70s pulp TV series he’d created with fellow Bay Area artist Leighton Kelly. O’Neal has since moved to LA to immerse himself in directing music videos and short films. 

It caught my eye that he’d recently directed the TV On The Radio video “Will Do.” The song is off their latest recording Nine Types of Light, an album that has a video attached to each song. The amalgam of those videos has been pieced together as a Nine Types of Light film that you can watch here

With the band poised to play two dates at the Independent next week it seemed high time to touch base with former SF local O’Neal to hear about his experience working with TVOTR and other projects he has on the burner. We caught up with him at his studio in Silverlake. 

San Francisco Bay Guardian: When did you leave SF for LA?

Dugan O’Neal: Two years ago, though it feels like more. I was coming down here a lot after Two Renegade Cops. Leighton and I had a lot of meetings with our management company and every time I came down it made more and more sense for me to be here. And then he went traveling for a year...

SFBG: Are you still doing anything related to Two Renegade Cops?

DO: No, that was just a limited thing. Fuel TV owns it. But Leighton and I have a whole book of ideas that we want to do. He’s still traveling and has this amazing blog where he creates a piece of art every day. So it just made sense for me and Brandon [Hirzel] to move to LA. We were working a lot with David Myrick who was already down here... he shot that SCENE cover for the Guardian a few years ago and he also shot the TV On The Radio “Will Do” video. 

SFBG: Tell me more about working on TVOTR’s video. I hear my NYC friend Ivan Bess was on the project...

DO: Yeah, working with Ivan was great. We shot a bunch of stuff in New York and fortunately he was able to help out with that. 

SFBG: Which parts were filmed in New York?

DO: Everything with the band. The shots that were narrative based with just lead singer Tunde [Adebimpe] and Joy [Bryant] were filmed here in Silverlake. Even the outdoors stuff was done in the neighborhood. 

SFBG: Who designed the goggles?

DO: These twin brothers named Nikolai and Simon Haas. It was crazy because I turned in the treatment to the band on Friday, got the job on Saturday, and was on a plane to New York on Tuesday. Tunde had seen my "Eskmo" video and it resonated with him. And I’d wanted to use the virtual reality idea to create a narrative. But when I got the job we basically had a day and a half to figure out and make the virtual goggles. My rep Danielle had to fly with these crazy contraptions...

SFBG: Wow, with the wires everywhere they must have looked like a bomb...

DO: Yeah they totally looked like a bomb! I couldn’t believe that they didn't get checked... she just carried them on to the plane! That was kind of disturbing. I mean I got patted down like 40 times...

SFBG: Because of your beard...

DO: Yeah. But TVOTR killed. Most of the people who directed the other videos were friends of theirs. I was the only one who wasn’t already in their circle. But once I started working with them we realized that there were a lot of connections, especially through Kyp [Malone], to my Bay Area family... the Yard Dogs and the folks at Five and Diamond. 

SFBG: How does the “Will Do” video fit into the larger picture of the film?

DO: It’s not like there’s one consistent story or plotline, but all the videos are saying a similar thing in different ways. There’s a cohesive vibe. There are interview parts that tie it all together. The second half feels more like a story because there are about 3-4 videos that lead into one another. 

SFBG: Tell me about the other stuff you’re working on. 

DO: I directed a video for a new artist on Rhymesayer named "Grieves".. it’s kind of atmosphere and underground hip-hop ish. It’s an awesome song and I got to work with Kyle Mooney of Good Neighbor Stuff. So I’ve been doing that and writing treatments. But any time there’s a lull I’ll make my own stuff. 

SFBG: I saw one of your videos... the one where you’re at the window...

DO: Oh the "Happy Birthday" one... that was fun. But that’s the worst part of this kind of work. You’re always pitching things but then you’re stuck waiting. You have to make sure you’re still producing because that’s how you attract more work. I was really inspired by Leighton’s blog... so I started to created a video every week, just forced myself to hit that deadline. For me it was cool to see the progression, and to see how many times I hit a wall in the middle of producing a video... but finally I just learned to trust the process. 

SFBG: And the move to LA has been good for you?

DO: Yeah. I love it down here. Living in San Francisco was super instrumental to finding out what I wanted to say as an artist and a filmmaker. There was such freedom there and less of a focus on commercial work. A lot of people there just want to create art and everyone’s down to participate. But I always knew I would come back to LA.