Director Shane C. Drake had plenty of really good ideas for Panic! at the Disco’s “I Write Sins Not Tragedies” video. He just can’t remember any of them.
“I sat down with the band and we ran through five or six ideas over a few hours — but honestly, I can’t recall what any of them were,” Drake laughed. “Like I said, we were there for a few hours, and I was drinking a bit. Needless to say, I got totally wasted.”
Yet somewhere in the recesses of his boozed brain, Drake had a concept cooking: a kind of bizarro wedding-gone-awry featuring circus freaks, stilt-walkers, fire-breathers and vaudeville performers. And needless to say, the alcohol helped him convince both Panic! — and their label — that this was a great idea.
“The whole idea just came to me like a lightning bolt, and I turned to the band and said, ‘Here it is: We’re going to do a wedding where the bride’s side is made up of creepy, face-painted people, and the groom’s side is all carnival vaudeville freaks. And [Panic! frontman] Brendon [Urie] plays the part of the groom’s subconscious,’ ” Drake recalled. “They all sort of looked at me, so I said, ‘Look, it’s got stilts, brides crying and infidelity. It’s perfect.’ And they were totally sold. Then I got even more trashed and pitched it to the label.”
Somehow, Panic!’s people agreed and gave Drake the green light. The only problem remaining was finding a location and a cast of characters suitable for such a head-scratching concept. And doing it all on a shoe-string budget. But for Drake — who’s made his name directing similarly under-funded clips for artists like Hawthorne Heights, Paramore and Trivium — that was the easy part.
“I’ve always sort of let my imagination [lead] me and then let everything else fall into place. I was shooting a video a week later for As Cities Burn, and this guy who was [working on the video set] playback had a friend who was in a vaudeville cirque,” Drake recalled. “And so I asked him if they would be available for a video, and he said yeah. So I called his connection and she hooked us up with [Los Angeles vaudeville troupe] Lucent Dossier. And just like that, we were off and running.”
Shooting for the “Sins” clip began in early December 2005 at the same Santa Clarita, California, farmhouse that Rob Zombie used in his ’05 gorefest “The Devil’s Rejects” (“[The farmhouse] was totally awesome and gross,” Drake laughed.) The only problem is that the limited budget meant that Drake would need to film the entire video in one ultra-long day — one that just happened to fall in the middle of a particularly brutal (and rare) SoCal cold snap.
“We were out there for 20 hours and it was freezing cold. People were in pain, because most of them were just wearing tights,” Drake said. “We tried to keep the band as warm as possible, but basically they were just sitting in their van with the heat cranked all the way up. And Brendon suffered the worst, because he’s in the video the most.”
Also suffering his way through the clip was actor Daniel Isaac, who played the soon-to-be brokenhearted groom (and before the video worked as an intern for Drake). Yet unlike Urie, his suffering didn’t really end when the cameras stopped rolling.
“I feel bad for Daniel, because now people are constantly stopping him and asking him if he’s in Panic! at the Disco, and he gets all this fan mail written by little girls who think he’s in the band,” Drake snickered. “It really got annoying, and so to get away from it all, he took a job working at the Cheesecake Factory or someplace like that.”
And while the guys in Panic! had the benefit of a heated van, most of the assorted circus performers had little to keep themselves warm. So they stuck to a tried and true method: booze.
“It’s difficult to catch in the video — and even I didn’t realize it until we were done filming — but half of the bride’s side of the wedding is completely drunk in the video. They snuck flasks in and were drinking to stay warm,” Drake said. “I would’ve been pretty pissed at them if I’d known. I found out later that one of them almost threw up on my wife.”
Narrowly averted disasters aside, Drake says he’s got nothing but positive memories of the “Sins” shoot, and apparently so did Panic! — they hired him to shoot their second video, “But It’s Better If You Do.” And while he’s thrilled by the clip’s five Video Music Award nominations (see “Panic! At The Disco Carry Emo-Punk Banner Into VMAs With Five Noms” and “Shakira, Chili Peppers, Madonna, Panic! Lead List Of Nominees For MTV Video Music Awards” ), Drake is quick to point out that there’s definitely something missing from the video: fire.
“I did promise the guys that there would be lots of fire in the video, but unfortunately when we got out to the farmhouse, the restrictions were pretty intense, so we were only allowed to have one real quick blast of flames,” he explains. “So yeah, if I had to do it again, I would definitely throw more fire in there. But that’s about the only regret I’ve got.”