Bathed in blue and pink light, the singer King Princess rolls around a motel room, smoking and languidly laying in the lap of a lifeless Real Doll. It’s an appropriate metaphor for absence in the music video for King Princess’s “Talia,” which mourns the end of a relationship.
Director Clare Gillen, who also shot King Princess’s “1950,” music video, captures both the reality of melancholy and the absurdity of wallowing in one’s own feelings. It’s exciting to watch this collaboration between like-minded artists unfold – we can’t wait to see what’s next for both.
Clare Gillen is an artist and director from Philadelphia currently living in Los Angeles. She’s represented by I Am Sound’s visual agency. With a background in photo and stage design, Clare has recently proven herself as a video director as well.
We had the opportunity to speak with Clare about attempted Ferris Wheel rides with sex dolls, her background in art and creative direction, and her creepy/cute aesthetic.
Your video for King Princess’s “Talia” filters the singer through a soft-focus lens, capturing one of the most tender on-screen representations of a relationship with a sex doll that we’ve ever seen. Can you talk us through the process of working on this video, from the initial ideas through how they developed on set?
The song is named after a real person, and one of the first lyrics is “Hey my Love, I buried you a month or two ago”.. there was no better way than to represent this person as a ghost. A sex doll was the perfect manifestation of a lifeless form… a memory of a girl, a dead thing you can love. And importantly, a bit dark, like the song.
With some teamwork we found a “real” doll we could rent by the hour. Had “her” dropped off at my house by a stranger at 10pm. Said stranger needed my help bringing her up the stairs into my apartment. She came in a giant plastic tupperware (casket). I opened her up and found her naked with her head screwed off, sitting in her lap. I screamed.
We wanted to shoot in a slutty looking motel room. With no budget for permits we had to sneak her and our very minimal crew into the room. We were so nervous and shady about shooting as people did double takes while we carried her through the motel. The doll was actually an older model and was extremely heavy, (the newer models are much lighter). It took 2-3 of us to carry her so trying to do anything, (change her clothes, stand her up), was really difficult and hilarious.
We also took the doll onto the Santa Monica pier and tried to bring her on the Ferris Wheel. LOL. They denied us as she was a “loose article”, and ended up causing a big scene.
What were some of your visual reference points for the video?
The film Lars and the Real Girl, haha. Spring Breakers, and The Florida Project.
Were there any favorite moments of working on this video? Any unique challenges that this shoot posed for you?
It was exciting to explore something so bizarre. And to be able to bond over how uncomfortable we all were at first, it felt like mischief making. Other than the dolls weight, and having to sneak around, we all had to do the most in terms of role sharing. Working together on taping gels to the ceiling lights, it was a group effort just putting pants on her, haha.
This isn’t the first video you’ve shot for King Princess – you also directed her video for “1950”. How did the two of you meet and begin working together?
My friend Harley Werthheimer, who is King Princess’ A&R, introduced us. He knew we would hit it off and suggested I creative direct for her. Mikaela (King Princess) and I got so into ideas and content making together that we will actually have a video piece for every song on her EP.
What has the process of collaborating with King Princess been like? How do your artistic visions overlap or play off of each other?
It’s a dream come true with her. I think it works so well between us because of humor and openness. She’s funny and weird, and down to flow and experiment which is how I like to work. She’s not high maintenance and is very thoughtful.
You found your way to directing from a background as a visual artist & all around creative polymath, including as a frequent collaborator with artist Alex Da Corte. Can you tell us about your career trajectory – how did you find your way behind the camera?
Working for Alex Da Corte in Philadelphia was a miracle. He helped me realize you can do whatever you want if you just keep doing it everyday. While I was in Philly, I did a ton of projects that were very small and very much for no reason. Art shows with friends, freelance jobs, babysitting so I could buy a camera so that I could take random photos of my girlfriends dressed up ridiculously. After many years of flopping around I put work I was proud of on a website. I showed that website to a guy I met at an art show, who ended up hiring me to assist him in Los Angeles (Willo Perron).
I mostly creative direct but got asked to direct my first video based off of an old photoshoot! Everything has a tiny ripple effect outward and upward.
What would you say are some of the hallmarks of your artistic vision, from project to project?
Cute and creepy!
How does your art practice inform your work as a director, and vice versa?
It’s amazing how helpful randomly accumulated skills are. Directing for me is an art practice in itself but I must say my experience in scenic and stage design has contributed to my thought process. As well, asking people to get weird for artworks has streamlined my ability to give direction intuitively. Directing has recently informed my art practice in that to make a video you need so many people involved along the way. That part of it inspires me to get more people in on my art practice, so that it can be bigger than myself.
What are your long-term creative goals?
My creative goal is to maintain surprising myself. I’ve never really had strict creative goals and I would have never imagined a few years ago being where I am today. So staying open and connected and allowing myself to try anything I want will certainly keep the ball rolling.
What other exciting projects do you have in the works?
The band Mount Kimbie is touring with some visuals I made for them. I’m about to make more visuals for Zara Larsson’s summer tour as well. Finishing up these other King Princess videos in the next week and her EP cover tonight!
Finally, what advice would you give to creative women interested in following a similar career path?
I would say- get weird! In your room! Alone! And don’t ever stop trying stuff. You don’t have to be one thing to be taken seriously. Audition different adventures and most importantly, do stuff for no reason, all the time. All the things I initially did for no reason, no matter how pointless they seemed at the time, paid off by creating a body of work and informing an entire career.
Director: Clare Gillen
Director of Photography: Trey Gilliam & Paloma Criollo
Production Company: I Am Sound
Editor: Amandla Stenberg
Asst. Editor: Paloma Criollo
Colorist: Amandla Stenberg