Mumford & Sons music video: Director reveals production secrets

Ed Helms actually knows how to play the banjo but looks more like the piano player.

The wig maker from “Saturday Night Live” did everybody’s hair — except Jason Bateman’s.

Even though he was lip-synching, Jason Sudeikis sang at the top of his lungs — all day.


And Mumford & Sons really, really didn’t want the song to be “Hopeless Wanderer.”

Those are some of the details behind writer-director Sam Jones’ music video for the English folk rockers, which substitutes a quartet of actor-comedians (Helms, Bateman, Sudeikis and Will Forte) for the real musicians.

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In its first few days of release, the video has become a minor Internet sensation, largely because the performers make fun of the very band they are depicting.

With some creative camera angles, slow-motion photography, lens flaring and representative costumes and wigs, Jones, the director of the Wilco documentary “I Am Trying to Break Your Heart,” is able to hide the identity of his video’s celebrity cast for a bit.

But as soon as his conceit is revealed, the actors start to revel in the ruse, as the ersatz Marcus Mumford (Bateman), Ben Lovett (Helms), Winston Marshall (Bateman) and Ted Dwane (Forte) pound their instruments with Mumfordesque abandonment, ultimately smashing their equipment to pieces as if they were The Who with banjos.

A prominent Hollywood photographer who has made videos for Foo Fighters and The Wallflowers and recently started an interview site for actors, filmmakers, musicians and athletes, Jones met the band when he photographed them for a Rolling Stone magazine cover earlier this year.

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When the band’s record label soon thereafter solicited outlines for a new music video, Jones pitched his idea for having A-list comedians substituted for the band’s members.

The label and the band liked Jones’ idea. “Then I was like, ‘Oh God,’ because I didn’t have any actors that I’d actually talked to.” So he called Sudeikis (“Horrible Bosses”), whom he knew from a photo shoot, and the actor called Bateman and pretty soon Forte and Helms were on board. When the band asked if they could have input over which actors would be considered for the video, Jones told them, “Too late. We’ve already cast it,” Jones said. “They were very cool about it.”

Negotiations were trickier on a different matter. At the last minute, the band asked if the song “Babel” could be substituted for “Hopeless Wanderer,” but Jones refused to switch. “I said it just wouldn’t work,” the director said.

Jones said Helms hoped to double for Marshall, because the actor can play the banjo, but “The Hangover” alumnus looks more like Lovett. Marshall showed up on the set, and in close-ups, his fingers, not Bateman’s, are plucking the banjo strings. “That was another disappointment for Ed,” said Jones, because the actor hoped he could at least play a little.

Shot in one long day at the Golden Oak Ranch in Newhall in late April with the actors receiving several hundred dollars in pay (they volunteered to work for free, but had to be paid minimum Screen Actors Guild scale), Jones suffered only one production issue.

When the band starts destroying their instruments, Forte swung his bass so hard that he destroyed several banjos, leaving the quartet one banjo short for a synchronized banjo dance; a prop person ran out to get a replacement instrument so they could finish that sequence. Forte (“Saturday Night Live”) was sick the entire day, which made his on-screen kiss a bit risky for his co-star.

“The band loved it — they didn’t want to change a thing,” Jones said of showing the video to Mumford & Sons. “I’m obviously so excited that everybody is watching it. It was one of those rare experiences where the record company and the band really let me do what I wanted to do.”


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