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DaddyPhotography James Franco and Tim O'Keefe

Watch James Franco & Tim O’Keefe’s high school music film

The two artists – who together make up the band Daddy – talk nostalgia, youth and why they asked high school students to help make a full-length music video for their debut album

Earlier this year, Daddy – the band made up of actor/polymath James Franco and producer/multi-instrumentalist Tim O’Keefe – released their debut album Let Me Get What I Want. The album was based on a series of poems that Franco wrote and published in his book Directing Herbert White: Poems. Those poems were themselves inspired by The Smiths (the album even features original Smiths bassist Andy Rourke on each of its tracks) as well as Franco’s experiences as a teenager attending Palo Alto High School. Each poem took its name from a Smiths song and told the story of Tom, Erica, and Sterling, fictional characters loosely based off a number of real people Franco knew while at school. “They weave through the dark ways of high school: love, death, and dreams,” Franco says of his characters.

When they first started Daddy, both Franco and O’Keefe saw the band as a multi-disciplinary project that would encompass film and visual art as well as music. And now they’ve turned Let Me Get What I Want into a full-length film, which brings Tom, Erica, and Sterling’s story into the visual realm. The film ties into Daddy’s music in other ways, too: its footage was shot by current students at Palo Alto High School, where Franco’s mother teaches theatre. The students were asked to develop a script and shoot based on Franco’s poetry, with the raw footage edited by filmmaker Irene Su and visual artist Beth Wexler, who helped develop its distinctive visual effects, colour, narrative, and aesthetic. The film has no obvious start or finish, working instead as a loop that can be joined at any time, watched in one sitting, or viewed as ten individual music videos.

With the release of the Let Me Get What I Want film, we caught up with Franco and O’Keefe over email to discuss the film, school days, and nostalgia. You can watch the film below, and check out the individual video series on YouTube.

First off, why did you want to make a 50-minute film to accompany the album?

James Franco: Our project has always been about the videos as much as the music. We had a story that spanned an album, and an extended video/movie went with this.

Tim O’Keefe: Since we first started Daddy, I think James and I didn’t think of it as a traditional music band. We both explore other visual mediums. We were always thinking of the songs as both sonic and visual works. James had already written the poems that we made into songs, and they were already a story with each poem/song representing a chapter or scene.

What’s the story of Tom, Erica, and Sterling? 

James Franco: It’s a classic love triangle filled with all the yearning and pain of youth.

“We wanted it to feel like high school, but also like something more was going on, like a Lynchian underworld just beneath the surface” – James Franco

Is their story important to understanding the album and film?

James Franco: Certainly the feelings they express – that’s what’s most important.

Tim O’Keefe: I definitely think it offers context to understanding the lyrical content and how it’s all connected. The film itself is pretty abstract in style too, so I think it offers clues, a direction for the viewer to interpret the work.

When did you decide to work with high school students?

James Franco: My mother works with high school theatre students and it seemed like the perfect opportunity: we would have students from the very high school that inspired the characters in the songs. I went to Palo Alto High School and graduated in 1996 alongside Lisa Brennan-Jobs, Steve Jobs’s daughter.

Is Let Me Get What I Want a nostalgic album?

James Franco: For sure. It was inspired by The Smiths, whose music is filled with nostalgia and, at the same time, irony.

Tim O’Keefe: I certainly do, in terms of the style. It’s reflective of the sound of the music I listened to in high school. Working with James’ lyrics, and understanding the story behind the characters as it relates to James, brought me back to my own high school experiences. 

Did you meet any of the students involved? Did anything stick out to you about their scripts or footage?

James Franco: I loved how earnest the work was. I met all of them because my mother was their instructor and I came and talked to them.

What are the paintings that appear at the start of each video?

James Franco: They’re paintings that I made from images in my high school yearbook of the people that inspired many of the characters in the songs.

How did you end up settling on the cyclical structure of the film? 

James Franco: We wanted it to feel like high school, but also like something more was going on, like a Lynchian underworld just beneath the surface. 

Tim O’Keefe: When we created the film, we did so with the intention of showing it in more of a gallery or museum space as an installation. It made sense to connect it so that is was one long loop that you’d walk into, instead of film that begins and ends, then replays. I kind of feel like our memories can be seen as having cyclical structures, and when we’re recalling them, we’re visiting a point along the cycle.

“I kind of feel like our memories can be seen as having cyclical structures, and when we’re recalling them, we’re visiting a point along the cycle” – Tim O’Keefe

Why did that structure lend itself to your music?

James Franco: We wanted a feeling of youth but permeated with great pathos and sadness. But also hope.

Tim O’Keefe: The album itself is one long interconnected piece. There’s generally no silence between the tracks – one blends into the next as it breaks down and builds back up between discrete songs. I think the music, with its dreamy quality and texture, lends itself to be cinematic and therefore worked quite well with us creating it as both a film and album. We knew we were going to connect everything, including the beginning and end when we made it, so it was shaped with that intention.

Do you have plans to do anything else with Let Me Get What I Want, or is this the final chapter?

James Franco: I keep writing about those old days, and I think we will probably make more music inspired by such stories.

Tim O’Keefe: We have a number of remixes and remix videos that we’re finishing up on for the record. We’ll be releasing them along with a remix album over the next few months. I’d like us to still find the right opportunity to show the film as an installation in a gallery, museum, or pop-up. After that, we have new material we’re working following this record.

Let Me Get What I Want is available now on purple vinyl with a signed postcard from Franco and O’Keefe