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The Making of Tonight, Tonight by Smashing Pumpkins

Smashing Pumpkins were riding high on the success of their album Siamese Dream when they made the acquaintance of husband-and-wife directors Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris in 1994. Although they would collaborate on several music videos over the next three years, perhaps their most acclaimed and recognisable was 1996’s Tonight, Tonight, a playful homage to the 1902 short Le Voyage dans la lune (A Trip to the Moon) in which a middle class couple arrive on the moon and are harassed by the strange people who live there. Full of bizarre imagery and a childlike innocence, the video took MTV by storm and propelled the already popular group to even more success. Utilising many techniques that Le Voyage dans la lune had experimented with almost a century earlier (including matte paintings), Tonight, Tonight has since become the most referenced and requested video that Smashing Pumpkins have ever produced.

Jonathan Dayton was born in Alameda County, California on 7 July 1957. Having graduated from Ygnacio Valley High School in Concord, Dayton enrolled at the famed University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), where he studied film and television. During his time there, he met a young dance student called Valerie Faris, a native of Los Angeles who was one year younger and shared a similar passion. Upon leaving university, the two continued to work together and formed an inseparable bond that would eventually lead to marriage. Their first professional collaboration together was on the cult series The Cutting Edge in 1983, which showcased up-and-coming talent under the production of IRS Records. Their next notable effort came in 1986 with Belinda, a short documentary that charted the new success of singer Belinda Carlisle, who had left the pop group The Go-Go’s the previous year and had begun to promote her debut album.

In 1988, Dayton and Faris produced the hit documentary The Decline of Western Civilization Part II: The Metal Years for independent filmmaker Penelope Spheeris. Charting the rise of hair metal in Los Angeles during the mid-1980s, the film featured the likes of W.A.S.P., Poison, Faster Pussycat and Ozzy Osbourne and would cater to the young rock crowd who watched shows like The Headbangers Ball and Power Hour religiously. They had also begun to shoot music videos themselves, having made their first effort, Wolves Lower for a then unknown R.E.M., in 1982. Their first major success would become in the fall of 1990 when Been Caught Stealing, the breakthrough track for cult group Jane’s Addiction, took the indie scene by storm. Other hits would soon follow, including Soundgarden’s Outshined and Extreme’s number one success More Than Words. In 1993, they documented The Jim Rose Circus Sideshow performance at Seattle’s Moore Theatre, in which Rose and his cohorts would perform all manner of disturbing tricks.

As well as re-uniting with R.E.M. for two singles during the mid-1990s, Dayton and Faris would be hired to direct a video for a track called Rocket by a young group called Smashing Pumpkins. Formed in 1988 by twenty-one year old Billy Corgan, the band would become one of the most popular of the early’90s scene that would also include Nirvana, Pearl Jam and the old school Sonic Youth. Corgan was born in Elk Grove Village, Illinois on March 17 1967 and first developed a passion for music whilst in high school, learning songs by his favourite groups like Cheap Trick and Black Sabbath. After a brief move to St. Petersburg, Florida in 1985, Corgan began writing songs with fellow guitarist James Iha. Eventually, after meeting bassist D’arcy Wretzky and drummer Jimmy Chamberlin, Smashing Pumpkins were formed in October 1988. Having released their first album, Gish, in May 1991 to a rather lukewarm reception (due to the phenomenal success of Nirvana’s Nevermind), they produced their follow-up, Siamese Dream, two years later.

Having scored a major triumph, Corgan knew that expectations would be high for their next release and so commenced work on the daunting task of writing another masterpiece. Issued as a double album with a total of twenty-eight tracks, Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness was released on October 24 1995 and became an instant commercial and critical success. Samual Bayer (whose feature debut, the critically-mauled remake of A Nightmare on Elm Street, was released in 2010) directed the band’s first video to promote the album, Bullet with Butterfly Wings, which was shot in Los Angeles at the same time as Mellon Collie hit the shelves. Dayton and Faris were drafted in to shoot their next video, 1979, which was filmed the following January. As the public went Pumpkins crazy, the group were forced to shoot music videos one after another, whilst also simultaneously preparing to embark on their exhaustive world tour. Thus, Yelena Yemchuk, Corgan’s then girlfriend, directed the promo for Zero in March 1996, with Dayton and Faris brought back immediately afterwards to shoot Tonight, Tonight.

Corgan had a vague idea of what kind of video he wanted for the track and had drawn various sketches inspired by the artwork for the album sleeve, which had been designed by Yemchuk. Sending his ideas to Dayton and Faris, they were reminded of Le Voyage dans la lune, a French short had had been produced in 1902 by brothers Georges and Gaston Méliès. The former was an ex-magician who had used his theatre background to design elaborate sets and special effects, often by having the backgrounds simply drawn onto the walls (a crude form of matte paintings). Although he had been directing for several years by that point (he had attended the world’s first ever public screening of a moving image and had directed the first ever horror film, Le Manoir du diable, in 1896), Le Voyage dans la lune is arguably his most famous work and would inspire generations of filmmakers. Using both the short and Yemchuk’s artwork as inspiration, Dayton and Faris commenced work on developing a treatment based on Corgan’s suggestions.

Working through a daunting eighteen-hour shoot, the directors would require a team of talented artists to help bring their vision to life. The sets that were deigned, using similar techniques that Méliès had employed, although with more state-of-the-art equipment, were extensive and extremely detailed, although the cameras were only able to shoot from one angle without the risk of revealing the background to be merely painted. To help create a unique and fantastical look for the film, the directors brought in cinematographer Declan Quinn who, like Smashing Pumpkins, was raised in Chicago. Brother of actor Aidan Quinn (Desperately Seeking Susan, Stakeout), he had worked on two documentaries for U2 before moving onto movies with Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare. He had previously worked with Dayton and Faris on The Jim Rose Circus Sideshow and had ample experience shooting music videos (which had included The Fly by U2).

One important presence on set was that of Bart Lipton, Dayton and Faris’ producer who would remain with them during their transition to feature films with Little Miss Sunshine in 2006. Lipton met the directors in 1991 and soon became their most trusted collaborator, producing their various music videos and commercials. In 1993, the trio were brought in to help shoot a pilot for a show that was to be produced by Madonna’s label Maverick Records, in which Smashing Pumpkins performed their track Geek USA on stage surrounded by clowns. The shot, which was presented by comedienne Janeane Garafolo, was never broadcast but introduced the group to the filmmakers that would play an integral role to their later success. Lipton would also work alongside Corgan towards the end of the band’s career (they would split up in 2000 and then reform six years later), helping to produce documentaries that saw the band performing their farewell tour.

Tonight, Tonight

Tonight, Tonight

The shoot for Tonight, Tonight took place in Los Angeles in March 1996, their fourth video in as many months. Wishing to avoid simply using digital effects, Dayton and Faris instead opted to use the same simple tricks that Méliès pioneered. For instance, during a scene in which the strange moon men begin to harass the young couple (played by real-life couple Jill Talley and Tom Kenny of the cult sketch show The Edge), the woman begins to hit them on the head with her umbrella, causing them to vanish in a puff of smoke. This was simply achieved by pausing the film, replacing the actors with smoke bombs, and then starting the cameras again, creating the image that they had disappeared. Each member of the band had to be filmed separately in front of a different background, with each shot contained several different layers. Despite Corgan and his band mates being exhausted from constant touring, promoted and shooting videos, they remained in high spirits and were more than happy to tolerate the hassles that come with filmmaking.

When the shoot was finally completed, Wretzky was so impressed with the sets that the crew had created that she had them shipped out to her farm. Once the video had been edited by Eric Zumbrunnen (who regularly worked with Spike Jonze) and ready was to be screened, a copy was sent out to the group who by that point had embarked on their biggest tour to date. Viewing the promo in the tour bus as they travelled between shows, each member agreed that Dayton and Faris had produced something truly special. Tonight, Tonight was released on April 15 1996, the fourth single to be released off Mellon Collie (following Bullet with Butterfly Wings, 1979 and Zero) and became a huge success, receiving regular airplay on MTV and positive reviews from various music magazines and radio stations. The video itself won several awards at the 1996 MTV Video Music Awards including Video of the Year, Best Direction and Best Special Effects.


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