Welcome back to the second installment of Cinema Smack’s Artist Close-Up! This new feature will be comprised of interviews with various types of artists who are promoting their recent work and/or to put the spotlight on them to attract new audiences.
For those who’ve followed Cinema Smack regularly, you may be familiar with Count the Clock. We’ve reviewed some of their work and have also promoted their more collaborative projects on this site. Today, we interview the director and creator of Count the Clock, Zach Lorkiewicz, (with a snippet from collaborator Michael Coe) for more information on the group, its work, and their newest music video for the song, “Bubblegum.”
To begin, can you give a quick biography about yourself? What are your influences and how did you personally get involved in film/video production?
Zach Lorkiewicz: I grew up in a strange town called Berwyn, which is just outside of Chicago. It has some of the weirdest people I have ever met and I feel like that has influenced the kind of art that I create. It is definitely a unique place.
I’ve always been into horror – I watched my first horror movie when I was 4 (the remake of The Haunting) and grew up looking for the most obscure horror films I could find. Something kind of clicked when I was introduced to Dario Argento in middle school and I became interested in directors who seemed very singular in their vision.
Weirdly, I’m also equally interested in pop music videos and I love people like Hype Williams and Joseph Kahn. I think good music videos have some of the best visuals.
In general, I am interested in directing but I love art and want to keep expanding what I do in it.
You’re part of the artist collective, Count the Clock. Explain to the readers what Count the Clock is and how it was ultimately formed.
ZL: Count the Clock is a small group of artists who create pop-horror internet art, usually film related. We have a YouTube channel (located here) where we post all of our videos and that is our primary focus. There are also essays on our Medium account and post artwork on Tumblr. We usually make horror films, music videos, and fashion films.
I started Count the Clock initially as a production company when I was in school. I was creating so many projects that I wanted to put them together under a single banner. Count the Clock is a phrase that has always stuck with me (it’s from Julius Caesar) and I think the meaning behind the name really represents the work that we create. We eventually transitioned to making videos for the internet because I think YouTube has some of the most interesting and experimental film work out there.
Speaking of interesting and experimental, our first correspondence came in late 2017 when you brought your horror short, The Ball, to my attention. I definitely didn’t expect anything like it when I started watching. After a few watches, the style, story, performance, and visuals hooked me. For me, it was kind of a perfect jumping on point for Count the Clock and embodies the kind of content you create. What’s actually the first official work from Count the Clock and how do you feel your work has evolved since that first piece?
ZL: The first official project for Count the Clock is called Another Set of Eyes. Very few people who work on Count the Clock projects now were involved in that film.
To me, that project is almost like the tip of the iceberg. I had all these ideas I wanted to communicate and, slowly over the years, I have figured out how to better do that.
We also shot that project in my garage, which is funny because we have ended up shooting so many projects in garages. Garages are kind of the perfect studio if you can’t afford to have a studio.
Upon delving further into Count the Clock’s YouTube channel, I came across The Horror Collection. I’m more familiar with the pop horror side of Count the Clock which isn’t featured as heavily in The Horror Collection. Films like One of You and The Woman Without a Face are very reminiscent of David Lynch. More specifically, they reminded me a lot of Twin Peaks. Is that specific collection influenced by Lynch and, if not, what’s the background behind some of those films? Personally, I found Domestica to be the biggest standout and it’s a little more in tune with your recent work.
ZL: All the projects in The Horror Collection are interesting to me because we made most of them while we were still in school and they involved a lot of people who don’t consistently work on Count the Clock projects. They weren’t all influenced by David Lynch specifically but I love him and I could see those being more similar to his work.
Domestica was a crazy project to make because I had to actually grow the flies myself. I bought eggs online and grew them in a tank. It was an intense shoot and the actress (Meg Stanton, who I had worked with before) did not read the script when she signed on, so she wasn’t too happy when she realized exactly what was going on. We also were so low budget that we could only do each effect once so we had to capture it perfectly. The cleanup was horrific.
Since I mentioned The Ball, which is part of your Middleton High series of short films, what was the influence behind the sort of episodic quality of those shorts? They’re all pretty different, especially The Cheerleader Trials, but still feel like a part of the same universe. Of course, they all have that very distinct upbeat pop horror feel as well.
ZL: Middleton High is a world that I have dozens of ideas for that I want to eventually create. Each installment we have made has been inspired by a different concept or emotion. It’s a universe that is always going on in my head, but those projects require a lot of resources that we don’t usually have, so they are a lot harder to put together. I would love to one day make a series based on that world and have each season explore a different theme and aesthetic. Michael Coe and I have spent a lot of time building the history of that world.
Since our working relationship began, you’ve sent me a number of other projects that have been featured on this site as well. There was your C10 Pop online art gallery and the Pop Horror Made Me Do It visual album. Both featured collaborations with a number of other artists both in front of and behind the camera. Do they all frequently work behind the scenes on projects or does Count the Clock also provide an outlet for other artists who share a similar vision? What was the motivation for these different types of projects?
ZL: There are really only a few people who consistently work on every Count the Clock project but we love to collaborate with artists who share a similar vision. I would love to work with more people and do another C10 Pop type of thing. Someday that’ll happen again.
For Pop Horror Made Me Do It, I wanted to release a video every week on YouTube. We were producing, shooting, editing, and releasing videos all at the same time. It was hard but it pushed me in a way I had never been pushed before. Terence Yoon, Michael, and I were working nonstop on those projects. It’s exciting to work with Terence. He is extremely talented and transforms my visions in really exciting ways.
I view the projects of PHMMDI almost as moving paintings, or at least that’s how I approached them while we were making them. I was really inspired by old gothic/romance book covers. They have sick artwork and I love how they communicate a narrative in one image. The models/actresses we worked with were very inspiring and I think all of them are going to move onto doing really amazing work (not that they aren’t already).
I love working with artists who seem like they have their own aesthetic and their own style. I think all the artists in Pop Horror Made Me Do It and C10 Pop are really unique.
Speaking of collaboration, some familiar faces from Count the Clock projects include Avril Dominguez, Danielle Lauder, Allie Hagen, and Michael Coe. Who are the core “members” of Count the Clock and what other things do these individuals bring to the product?
ZL: The three people who have consistently worked on every project the last few years have been me, Michael Coe, and Terence Yoon. There are many projects where we are the only people involved outside of an actress or model. Mei Gao lives in China but, when she is in the US, we collaborate a lot and she’s amazing to work with. Catherine Yang lives in Chicago but she still provides music for different projects. Dylan DeLuca is more of a behind the scenes person and he works on random projects as well. Me, Michael, Terence, and Dylan actually live together so we are constantly developing projects. Dylan is a great person to ground our work at times.
Danielle Lauder is in a lot of our projects obviously, as is Avril Dominguez and Allie Hagen. They are all really talented and I’d love to work with them all a lot more in the future. Danielle Lauder is someone to me who feels kind of out of time so she is a great presence in our projects. Avril is hilarious and brings so many bizarre characters of mine to life and Allie is just a jack of all trades. She can do anything.
Michael and I pretty consistently collaborate on ideas and he is a springboard for me on a lot of projects.
While music has always played a big role in your films, it has become quite the focus moving forward. Recently, you released the music videos for “Who Killed the Homecoming Queen?” and “Bubblegum” (which we’ll be getting to shortly). Coe often seems to handle a lot of the musical duties on your shorts along with playing eccentric characters. In addition, Catherine Yang is a frequent musical contributor under her pseudonym, Shyyness. Both of their styles seem perfect for the content you produce. I’d like to hear more about the creative process behind the music. Is it made specifically for the projects or is the right piece just inserted where you think it fits best?
ZL: Our process is very weird for music. Michael pretty recently started creating music and he is extremely fast at it. Me and him have a very open relationship with that. He will send me music he makes randomly or I will tell him an idea for a video or song and he will work on it. We are usually creating the video and song at the same time. It’s rare for the song to be done before we shoot the video but there have been times when he made something that inspired a video idea.
Catherine and I usually collaborate on narrative content. She has an amazing ability to elevate projects and transform their mood, especially on horror projects. She actually studied classical music for a lot of her life so her approach to composition is really fascinating to me. When we work together, the video is usually finished and she scores it.
Michael Coe: I started making music because it allowed for us to make a lot more video content (since music videos are cheaper than short films) and because I was feeling creatively frustrated. I was mainly a creative writer when I joined Count the Clock and writing is very ancillary to the CTC brand. We’re a YouTube channel first and foremost and I got sick of having to shoehorn “writing” into videos in ways that felt unnatural. I decided music would be a better way to get involved and to express myself in a way people would actually care about.
I’m very into The Fall (English post-punk band) and they were the main template for the original concept of my CTC music: very repetitive, very weird, and sometimes tied together by some offbeat mantra I’d write, like “pop horror made me do it.” I liked the idea of something repeating to the point of brainwashing.
The first “internet album” we did was mainly just weird songs I’d give to Zach, which we’d develop over time in tandem with a visual idea. The consistent thing is that we’d always have an actress in the video whose essence had to match with the song. Sometimes she’d even perform on it in some capacity. I would often record the actresses talking or saying a lot of random stuff and use their voices to give the music a little more personality.
As time has gone on, I‘ve gotten bored with making experimental music and became more interested in making real music, like songs. The majority of music I actually like is much more melodic and emotional than the Pop Horror Made Me Do It music so that’s what people can expect for the next few videos. “Bubblegum” was definitely a big step in that direction.
Let’s talk about “Bubblegum.” It stars Danielle Lauder, who’s fantastic throughout the video, and has an infectious pop tune from both her and Michael . It also has a sinister little narrative reminiscent of The Ball taking place throughout. What’s the story behind “Bubblegum?”
ZL: “Bubblegum” is truly the weirdest video I have ever worked on. It started when me and Dani were sitting on her couch, watching Keeping Up With the Kardashians, and she sang this tune she had written in the 3rd grade (the verses of “Bubblegum”). I recorded it on my iPhone and sent it to Michael and half jokingly told him to make it into a song. He sent us a rough song the next day and the chorus (what you hear in the video) was so catchy and I was shocked he had written something so fast. At first, the video was going to be shot with a week of planning and be just for fun but it somehow morphed into a huge production. It was a really ridiculous development. Also, Dani apparently has been singing that tune for years so all of her friends knew it when we started making it which was really funny.
I wrote the script and was inspired by videos like “Girlfriend” (Avril Lavigne) and “Blank Space” (Taylor Swift). I feel like in pop music videos there is a common trope of the pop star playing multiple characters and I wanted to explore that in a slightly darker way. Dani and I talked about the idea a lot and she told me inspirations she’s had over the years. I incorporated her ideas in different ways in the script and visuals. Whenever I write or develop a project, I base it around the actress/model in the video and I definitely did that for “Bubblegum.”
Mei flew in from China actually, unrelated to working on the video, but the timing was perfect so she came and production designed it. Me and her spent a week together working 16 hour days, shopping, creating fake cakes, and painting. It was a lot but it also taught me a ton. You really learn the most in art when you’re forced to work in areas you are not completely comfortable in.
The song process was a bit intense as well, because none of us had ever done any song similar to it, and Dani has no interest in singing (outside of this project).
I would say overall that the process was very unique and bizarre but a really rewarding experience I will never forget. I love working with the people I work with.
One thing I noticed while watching the video was the production value. While it’s possible that the video had a small production, it doesn’t feel that way. It’s colorful and vibrant while giving viewers a handful of locations to absorb. It feels like there’s always something different to look at. Even something like Mandy the Plumber or the video for “Who Killed the Homecoming Queen?” provide a lot of intrigue despite being in a smaller space. How was the overall production for “Bubblegum” and have the productions for Count the Clock actually gotten bigger or have you just learned how to maximize and visually exhaust the spaces you have at your disposal?
ZL: “Bubblegum” was definitely the biggest production we have done but our crew was pretty small relative to most productions. Me, Terence, Mei, Michael, and Dani pretty much were the heads of every aspect of the video and got everything together (for the song as well).
I do think though that we have just gotten really good at working with spaces in ways to make them come across as bigger than they are. Our budgets are usually almost nothing on projects so it requires us to be really creative. It has forced me to learn how to build actually, and work with wood in order to enhance locations.
To date, Count the Clock has released short films, music videos, art galleries, visual albums, and more. What kind of projects are coming up next for the artist collective and what are your expectations for the future?
ZL: Right now we are focused on creating narrative content, specifically horror. I took a break from (more traditional) horror for a while but I am interested in getting back into it 100%. We also have two more music videos coming up, one starring Mei actually, and one starring Tatiana from Pop Horror Made Me Do It.
Lastly, is there anything else you’d like to add for the readers?
ZL: Please subscribe to our channel – we have dozens of videos on it and that is where we post all of our content: youtube.com/counttheclock. We are not typical YouTubers so we are constantly trying to find ways to reach our audience.
A big thank you goes out to Zach Lorkiewicz for his insight on Count the Clock and their projects. Thanks also goes out to Michael Coe for his contribution to the interview. If you’ve yet to check out any of Zach’s work with Count the Clock, do yourself a favor and click on any of the links featured throughout the interview. It’s all very unique and entertaining. In addition, make sure to pop over to the YouTube channel linked above and subscribe to Count the Clock if you like what you see.
Finally, make sure you check out the excellent music video for “Bubblegum” starring Danielle Lauder below!