The Clash of the Clowns – An Interview With Josh Forbes

For those who think clowns are all seltzer bottles and slide whistles, The Offspring’s new video for “Coming For You” may change your opinion.

Directed by Josh Forbes, “Coming For You” turns an abandoned warehouse into a big-top of brutality, as rival gangs of clowns trade in their balloon animals for beat-downs.

The video was a labour of love for Forbes, a self-described “clown nerd” who taught himself pratfalls and juggling as a kid. After pitching clown-themed video concepts to a number of bands with no success, Forbes found a taker for his violent vision in The Offspring’s Dexter Holland.

The Los Angeles-based directed has been on quite a roll lately, directing Walk The Moon’s video for “Shut Up And Dance”, and recently wrapping shooting on his first full-length feature “Contracted: Phase II” (the sequel to IFC’s “Contracted”).

Josh was kind enough to answer a few questions about “Coming For You”, and share some insights on working with Juggalos, the genius of Jackie Chan, and why people love watching clowns get slapped around.

coming-for-you-clown-hammers

What inspired the concept for “Coming For You”?
A couple of factors went into the idea. First, the song feels very anthemic. Almost sports-like, like something that would play in a stadium. And it conjured up images of competition.

Second, the phrase “they won’t stop coming for you” brought to mind martial arts films where one guy has to fight a ton of people.

So I started thinking: “Could it just be one massive fight scene? Could that sustain over the course of the song? Who’s fighting?”

Then I landed on clowns.

Naturally! Were there any specific films or directors that influenced your treatment?
The initial pitch was basically “Hey! Three words: CLOWN FIGHT CLUB!” That said, I tried to avoid actually referencing Fight Club.

For this video, I watched a ton of Jackie Chan films. He is a god, in my opinion. There is no greater entertainer alive than Jackie Chan. Drunken Master 2 was a real inspiration.

Check this awesomeness out:

Another huge influence was the Riki Oh: The Story of Ricky. That movie is one of my absolute favorites. It’s essentially a vehicle for a series of super-ambitious, completely ridiculous gore gags.

I showed Dexter a bunch of images and clips from Riki Oh and he said “Awesome!”

Also, “The Warriors”, “Escape from New York”, “Mad Max 2”, “Dead Alive”, “Evil Dead”, “Scott Pilgrim vs. The World” and of course The Three Stooges.

What did the band think of the concept when you brought it to them? Were they on-board pretty much right away, or did you need to sell them on it?
I had a pretty specific treatment, but I got on the phone early on with Dexter to talk out what aspects of it he dug and what he didn’t.

I think he was kind of wary about it being too goofy. He wanted to make sure we took it in a dark direction. Which I hope we did.

I don’t think there’s any doubt about that – it’s definitely one of the darkest things the band has ever done. Coming back to the clowns, how many did you have on set? Did you hold auditions, or was it more of a “have red nose, will work for food”-type thing?
We didn’t have as many as I wanted, I’ll tell you that. In my perfect version there would be hundreds. Like a Lord of the Rings-style battle.

I think we had around 20 or so. Clowns are expensive and time-consuming. Our makeup team (headed up by Mayera Abeita) was amazing, but imagine doing 20 totally unique clowns’ makeup. It’s mind-boggling. Our wardrobe stylist Kimmy Erin also did an amazing job finding costumes for everyone.

coming-for-you-clown-costumes

Luckily we also had a bunch of self-made clowns come in. They were amazing! One guy, Roger Fojas, I worked with years ago on a video for Nicole Atkins. He’s part of a clown/performance troupe called Lucent Dossier. He came with him own perfectly made character. He had a rubber duck hanging from his hat. There’s no way I could have thought of that.

You also feature a number of Juggalos in the video – how did them and the “legit” clowns get along during the filming? 
Are you saying juggalos aren’t legit!? I wouldn’t say that to their face. They were really unruly. They were cooking crank in their clown car. We started with a dozen Juggalos but nine of them OD’d on Faygo and onion rings.

coming-for-you-juggalos

Who choreographed the fight scenes? Was there anyone that particularly blew you away with their stage-fighting skills?
Chase Rivera at Blue8 put the team together, and they were just perfect. Not just as fighters, but actors and characters. They’re all great, but some had parkour moves that killed me.

Who was the VFX lead on the video?
What do you mean? That was 100% real. All those clowns are dead now. This was actually a documentary.

I clown, I clown. The VFX were done by Norton. He’s a great director in his own right. We’re both at the same company, More Media. He did an amazing job and is also very handsome.

Were any of the effects particularly difficult to film?
Not really. The practical effects are pretty time-consuming. People in the horror community like to complain about digital effects, which I get. Obviously practical effects are always going to look better, but they can take forever.

When you’re shooting a video like this, you get one day to do everything. I’d rather have 20 digital blood hits than use up all our time trying to clean up blood and reset a blood hose. It’s a give and take. This one was so cartoony, I was cool with going digital on a lot of gags.

coming-for-you-clown-decapitation

Speaking of cartoony, was there anything specific that inspired the jack-in-the-box decapitation scene? Perhaps a desire to re-purpose the spring-loaded-fist from the “Shut Up And Dance” video in a darker fashion?
Haha. I was hoping nobody would notice. I’m running out of tricks.

That scene just came out of brainstorming how a clown would try to kill another clown. I’m sure the Joker does stuff like that all the time.

The bloody stump was a nod to Kill Bill, but also movies like The Master of the Flying Guillotine.

We so much going on during the shoot, you must have had some challenges in post.
We did. Like I said, we had a ton of stuff to cram into one day. I had a whole other fight scene that got cut. We shot a really good scene with Cirque du Soleil-style clowns that got cut because they felt tonally wrong. We also were missing a lot of the more intense gore gags because they got cut for time.

After the first day the cut was looking really rad, but it was missing that next level violence we were hoping for. But Dexter did the most amazing thing: he pushed for a second day of shooting!

This made all the difference. We were able to regroup and team up with an additional gore FX artist, Julia Hapney, and really do something special.

I’ve never had a record label do that. It was really amazing to work with a collaborative team who were willing to put in the extra time and money to do things right.

Well it was definitely worth it – the fight scenes and gore look amazing! Any tips for aspiring film makers shooting their first fight scenes?
Get a good stunt coordinator, and good stunt people. That’s huge.

It sounds expensive (and it can be), but there are always people looking for rad stuff on their reel. The Blue8 team really worked with us because I pitched it to them as basically a showpiece for their team.

Having great fighters is 90% of the battle. For this project, it was all about stringing together funny moves. I basically made a big list of things that I wanted and gave them to Chase. I knew I wanted things like the Three Stooges eye gouge, and the electric hand buzzer, but I didn’t really have the order fully worked out. Having a great stunt guy really helps tie everything together.

coming-for-you-clown-hand-buzzer

As far as the technical aspect of doing it, having two cameras is great. We didn’t on this one, but it would definitely have helped. Also, we ended up re-editing the video to let the fights play out longer. Our first edit was insanely fast-paced and really cool, but we found that letting the fights speak for themselves ended up being the way to go.

There’s a great video essay by Tony Zhou about Jackie Chan (Tony’s videos are the best!):

He talks about how Jackie lets the action play out in the wide. It’s more in line with how Chaplin or Keaton shoot. We didn’t completely adhere to that, but it was useful in deciding to let the stunts speak for themselves.

With all the buzz this video has received, we had to ask: clowns, creepy or cool?
Both. A lot has been written about this video sparking people’s fear of clowns, which wasn’t the intention. For me, in this video, the clowns represent a sort of tribalism. It’s funny to me that there are distinct groups of clowns all with their own looks. They remind me of tribal warriors in the jungle. Or literally warriors from the movie “The Warriors“.

coming-for-you--the-warriors

I’m really interested in how violent clowns are in general. They’re always hitting each other and getting knocked around. Think of things like Punch and Judy. They’re incredibly violent. With all this violence I had never seen it portrayed in a realistic (or semi-realistic) way.

And lastly: any final thoughts on what makes it so enjoyable to see a clown get slapped around?
I think the point of clowns is that they can’t be hurt. The red nose creates an objective distance. Or so I’ve read.

I’m just so excited that I was allowed to do a video that I wanted to do, the way I wanted to do it, with the level of violence and comedy that I wanted. It’s a rare rare treat. I’m so glad people are digging it!

A huge thanks to Josh Forbes for his contributions to this post. A talented director and very funny guy, be sure to look out for “Contracted: Phase II” in theatres and on VOD this Spring.

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