15 years. We're all OLD.
Brace yourselves - today, this very day, September 13, 2019, marks 15 years since My Chemical Romance released what has come to be pretty much the most iconic music video in scene history.
That's right - 15 years ago, cinema peaked with My Chemical Romance's video for 'I'm Not Okay (I Promise)'.
In celebration of 15 years, we had a chat to the man behind the marvel. Marc Webb directed all of the music videos during My Chem's 'Three Cheers For Sweet Revenge' album cycle (plus the 'I Don't Love You' and 'Teenagers' videos as well), and has shaped scene culture through his videos. Before he was directing the Netflix original series The Society, 500 Days Of Summer and The Amazing Spiderman, he was out here directing the music videos that we all used to watch hours of MTV in order to see.
We talked through the 'Three Cheers' era with Marc, working with My Chemical Romance, and how music videos peaked back in 2004.
You’ve made videos for heaps of iconic bands in our world - how did it all start?
Says Marc: “I started making videos probably in the year 2000, and it wasn’t necessarily the music that I listened to the most, but that was the music that was popular at the time - the rock music that was popular at the time that would make videos. I just ended up, for whatever reason, getting that kind of music in. I did a Green Day video early on for the song ‘Waiting’, then I did a Good Charlotte one, but my relationship with My Chemical Romance was the beginning of videos that started to catch on a little bit more. And I know that ‘I’m Not Okay (I Promise)’, which is their first video I did, was a very low budget video - and I think it was a surprise for everyone.
“They had such a personality, and it really connected in a way that was kind of hilarious. We shot [‘I’m Not Okay (I Promise)’] over two days, and I think expectations were relatively low - at least for me - and then when that blew up, that was the beginning of my association with that genre of music, in a way.”
You directed all three music videos in MCR’s ‘Three Cheers For Sweet Revenge’ cycle - did you drive the concept of the videos?
“I don’t remember exactly – I talked to Gerard about what ‘Helena’ was about, which was about his grandmother. I think he may have mentioned a funeral of some kind, but I don’t think that he had a super specific idea of what to do. He was really generous, and the band was really generous. I think that Gerard definitely had an arena that he wanted to play in for that video, with what that song was about. I think for me, the struggle was, ‘How do you make a funeral interesting and not morose?’ Because the song is explosive and joyful in a way, and I remember I was sort of stuck on the treatment for a while, and I was washing my dog in Hollywood, and this old line from a TV show called Night Court popped into my head, which was, ‘Let’s put the fun back into funeral’. So it’s a joke that I’d heard years before.
“So, I remember that was the first line of the treatment that I wrote. I didn’t want it to be so morose, I wanted there to be a brilliance to it, if not joy, an expression for reclamation of life. So, the beginning of the idea was that concept I think, of bringing something, and making a funeral feel bright. And from there it was about the structure of it, and making it into a pageant. The moment that defined that video is when Tracey [Chapman, ‘Helena’ actress] wakes up and dances when everyone’s head is bowed, then she falls back and grabs the bouquet – that’s the last dance as it were of that character, and I think that’s what made this special. That was the turning point I think when I came up with that specific idea. That’s kind of what I built the rest of the video around.”
Looking back, do you think these videos are still as culturally impactful as they were 15 years ago?
“It was like… what’s interesting about this, and that band in particular... I think My Chemical Romance are a really good visual band. And they’re really adventurous, and really involved, and I think that was very closely related to their identity as a band. And the music is great, but their videos are the vision. So that’s why I think people remember those videos, possibly none more than those two [‘I’m Not Okay (I Promise)’ and ‘Helena’], and so it’s really hard for me to evaluate cultural impact. It’s significant for a very specific group of people I think.
“They occasionally come up in Rolling Stone and stuff, where these are some of the best videos ever, and I think that’s fantastic, but it’s very hard for me to view them in that light. I look at the flaws in my work more than anything else, so it’s hard to celebrate or rejoice in that. But to go back to your question about if they’re as culturally impactful today? I don’t fuckin’ know man.”
Why do you think, especially the video for 'Helena', these videos have connected with an audience so much?
“For some people - and particularly people at a certain time of their own lives - they found a particular connection with that band. That video was a way to talk about mourning and sadness in a way that was empowering and made you feel like a part of something rather than alone. I think that’s the real power of art… I think that worked for them, and it’s really successful. It’s so fun - I still see kids sometimes with My Chemical Romance t-shirts on, and I fucking love it - it doesn’t feel that long ago. And ultimately it’s a testament to the band and Gerard’s appetite for specificity in their visual identity.”
Across the three iconic videos you made with them, was there any standout moment that springs to mind?
“I remember Michael Rooney was the choreographer on Helena and I remember thinking that incorporating dance into a rock ‘n’ roll or emo video is a strange - wait no I don’t even know what emo is, it was a rock ‘n’ roll video - but it felt very organic. I remember when that was going on and people were moving around the casket, and I think we had ballet. We had fucking ballet on MTV! The girl who played Helena was spinning around and pirouetting in a fucking tutu, and it worked!”
You've moved on from making music videos, but do you feel fondly about the period of your life?
“In some ways that might be like a separate life, but I feel very deeply connected with the intermingling of cinema and music. It’s something that I’ve felt since I was watching musicals as a kid, and it’s something that impacts every project that I do. The industry of music videos doesn’t exist anymore in the same way that it did in that moment. I feel very lucky to have intersected and have been a part of a movement where MTV would play videos like ‘Helena’, and having them being viewed by a large audience. It was a part of culture that everyone participated in, rather than you just go and seek out which particular thing you want… the way that we consume music now is really great, because I think everyone can get what they want - but back then MTV was a source for what was cool. When they endorsed you, everyone got to see that, and that was kind of cool. There were downsides to that, certainly - but I also really appreciate that that genre of music was popular enough at that moment and that my aesthetic and the band’s aesthetic intersected with popular culture in that moment because I think that it’s gone.”