"A love story in a cursed land" -- that's basically the elevator pitch director Warren Fu came up with for his mythologically inspired video for The Weeknd's "I Feel It Coming." The Space Age tale of a doomed love that turns to stone was shot in a whirlwind one-day blitz on a Los Angeles soundstage just before Christmas and held under wraps until Friday (March 10), when it fell out of the sky like a surprise visit from Daft Punk.
The French robots, of course, make a cameo at the end in the clip, which Fu tells Billboard was inspired by a variety of images and memories from his childhood. "I was thinking conceptually of the people who were entombed in the volcanic ash of Mt. Vesuvius... that pose," he says of the fate of The Weeknd and his love interest, who (spoiler alert) are turned to stone by clip's end. "I looked it up after we had shot it, and I realized I must have seen that photo of the guy reaching out," he says of the iconic image of a victim of the eruption in 79 A.D. that froze some of the people of Pompeii in mid-gesture in an ashen tomb. "When I was on set with Abel [The Weeknd], I said, 'Reach out your hand in this way like you're yearning for something, as if God has turned his back on you.'"
Some of the other images that informed the doomed-love storyline came from more modern takes on ancient tales, including the Medusa head-chopping scene from the cheesy 1981 Clash of the Titans movie Fu saw as a kid. "It's a somewhat romantic song, as far as The Weeknd goes -- a lot of his songs have a darkness to them -- and he has said in interviews that 'Starboy' is the super tough intro to the album and 'I Feel It Coming' is kind of the happy ending in the end credits."
Going into the shoot, Fu says he had some very basic parameters: Daft Punk and The Weeknd had to be in it and there had to be a female lead. Including the futuristic French dance icons meant that Fu couldn't very well shoot it on the streets of L.A., so he went for a more timeless feel on the set, which consisted of a mix of custom-built space rocks and some borrowed boulders in front of a massive (40 feet tall by 80 feet wide) screen on which he projected Stanley Kubrick-inspired sunsets and skies.
"It's almost like a fable, something in a storybook you'd read as a kid, so I tried to think of a darker ending, and that image popped into my head," he says of the final scene featuring Daft Punk, in which they wipe some dust off a mysterious screen. Fu says that mysterious shot was a reference to the apocalyptic nuclear holocaust flashback at the end of James Cameron's Terminator 2. "When they're wiping the dust off at the end, it can look like the first chapter, but I wanted to leave it open-ended, so you can also see it as a Möbius strip reference back to the painting I did that's in the background scene in the 'Starboy' video," he says.
The pastel-colored backgrounds in the film were all created using a rear-projection system with colors Fu researched in an attempt to match the palette of the "dawn of man" scene from Kubrick's iconic 2001: A Space Odyssey film. Fu was adamant that the female romantic lead balance out the French robots and Canadian/American singer, so he pushed for Japanese-American model Kiko Mizuhara to give the story a worldwide, non-national feel that makes it seem more timeless.
The clip has the by-now-signature old VHS-tape-fuzz look that Fu has employed in his past work with The Strokes and Daft Punk. But after some discussion, he decided to go even more vintage, down to the colors of the sunset. "I wanted the colors to reinforce the overall aesthetic, so the pink and blues were kind of like the palette from the end of the Knight Rider [TV show] credits," he says of the kitschy 1980s series starring David Hasselhoff and his talking car.
The best part? Fu says he's not even really that big a sci-fi fan, and it took someone on his crew to point out that one of the most memorable scenes -- when Mizuhara appears out of nowhere in a glowing form -- was an unintentional reference to another 1980s sci-fi fantasy/comedy. "That effect where Kiko appears in front of Abel... I couldn't describe the 'hot glow' look I wanted where you can't quite make out the details," he says. "Then one of the team members did one I liked, and they said it was a lot like something from Cocoon, which I had never seen."