Two days before Michelle Zauner was set to shoot the music video for "Boyish," the location fell through.\u00a0She had been planning an ambitious accompaniment to the song for more than a year, and had a large cast, crew, and several vans full of equipment all ready to go. Zauner had more than a professional investment in the shoot\u2019s success. Not only was she directing the video; she\u2019d written, performed, and recorded the song. Japanese Breakfast, the Philadelphia-based artist\u2019s musical outfit, has made waves among indie fans for a distinct sound that melds Zauner\u2019s wistful voice with lo-fi guitar and shimmering string arrangements. Her debut, Psychopomp, and her 2017 follow-up, Soft Sounds from Another Planet, are dynamic works, hovering just above depths that teem with grief.\u00a0Besides writing the songs, singing, and playing guitar, Zauner has directed almost all of Japanese Breakfast\u2019s music videos, as well as a growing number for friends and labelmates including Jay Som, Charly Bliss, and Phoebe Bridgers and Conor Oberst. Pop stars from Prince to Beyonc\u00e9 have taken active roles in their videography, but few indie rock musicians direct their own videos as consistently as Zauner has so far, or work as regularly as she does as a director for other artists. Zauner\u2019s interdisciplinary interests are evident in the decor of her Philadelphia apartment: Miyazaki posters ornamenting the wall, bookshelves filled with Toni Morrison and Louis-Ferdinand C\u00e9line, a happily disordered workbench. Though she is energetic and speaks rapidly, Zauner exudes a fiery intensity when she discusses her work. \u201cYou always feel like you could\u2019ve done a better job,\u201d she says. \u201cAnd it just destroys you. I feel that way about everything I\u2019ve ever made.\u201d She\u2019s from\u00a0Oregon originally, but she believes it\u2019s this seriousness that makes her feel more at home on the East Coast. https:\/\/www.youtube.com\/embed\/t3bjPGUDl1k As soon as Zauner finished writing \u201cBoyish,\u201d a swoony exploration of rejection and self-doubt that became the second single off Soft Sounds, she knew that the video was going to feature a school dance. She called Adam Kolodny, a longtime collaborator, and spoke with him excitedly for two hours, as she often does when she has a film-related idea.\u00a0They quickly realized they would have difficulty finding the budget to execute the project the way they envisioned it. An exclusive video release deal with Apple Music helped, and so did generous fans and friends,\u00a0including 50 volunteer extras culled from Japanese Breakfast\u2019s Instagram following. Another fan was a P.E. teacher who offered his school gym for free. Zauner\u00a0says she and her team checked every box to confirm this proposal: did he need money, a signature, insurance? But the fan insisted\u2014until\u00a048 hours before the shoot, when he called to say that they would not be able to use the school after all. Zauner and Kolodny thought\u00a0the\u00a0video had died inches from the finish line. \u201cI just cried so much. Adam and I were just devastated,\u201d she says. But after a series of motivational speeches from producers and frantic phone calls, Zauner\u2019s husband, Peter Bradley, who also tours as the guitarist for Japanese Breakfast, contacted his middle school alma mater. In\u00a0a last stroke of magnanimity from Richboro Junior High in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, the shoot was saved, and Zauner got to make the video she now calls her magnum opus. The \u201cBoyish\u201d clip has now screened at Raindance, the New Orleans Film Festival, the Philadelphia Independent Film Festival (where it won the award for best music video), and, most recently, SXSW. \u201cThe little video that could,\u201d Zauner says with a grin. The resulting video, awash in ethereal pinks and blues, both draws upon and subverts the angst and yearning of classic Hollywood dance scenes, from The Virgin Suicides to Napoleon Dynamite to Carrie. A trio of misfit girls strut into a celestial prom, with Japanese Breakfast as the hired band. The central character draws the gaze of the prom king, but ultimately turns toward Zauner, approaching the singer through a tunnel of applause as she has a rapturous vision of playing guitar in the center of a football field. The\u00a0video illustrates many of the aesthetic inclinations that define Zauner\u2019s growing body of work as a director, from a striking use of color and gel lighting to a command of genre and camp. A meticulous planner, Zauner says she extensively mines movies for inspiration before every shoot, seeking reference points that she assembles into a mood board. For \u201cRoad Head,\u201d another track off Soft Sounds, she studied Wong Kar-Wai\u2019s use of frames within frames and took cues from the demons of Pan\u2019s Labyrinth and Donnie Darko to tell an uncanny monster love story. When envisioning the Better Oblivion Community Center, a dystopian parody of a wellness center that was central to Bridgers and Oberst's collaborative album of the same name,\u00a0Zauner drew from Stanley Kubrick\u2019s Eyes Wide Shut, Twin Peaks\u2019 Great Northern Hotel, and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind\u2019s Lacuna, Inc. The virtual reality headsets that litter Zauner\u2019s video for the Better Oblivion Community Center song \u201cDylan Thomas\u201d were also inspired by a feature film, albeit more obliquely. \u201cI wanted it to have this VR component,\u201d she says. \u201cI hated the movie the Wolf of Wall Street so much, and I had this running joke: I would have loved that movie, if at the end of it, there was just this scene with fat Leonardo DiCaprio in a corner in a VR headset with piss all over himself, and the entire movie was just a simulation in his mind. I think that\u2019s how Wolf of Wall Street should have ended. I wanted the culmination of all those things to be what\u00a0\u00a0was.\u201d Dustin Liu\/Courtesy of the artist Bridgers first met Zauner in 2017, when the two musicians played a show together in Germany. She recalls\u00a0feeling impressed by the way Zauner seemed to act as her own manager: selling her own merch, booking her own travel, all while playing shows every night. "It made me feel like such a brat," Bridgers says. "She\u2019s so insanely organized, and was multitasking like crazy, talking about all her cool ideas for different projects relating to music." Also, "She was wearing light-up sneakers. She just took it really seriously." About a year later, Bridgers and Oberst were going through treatment submissions for the "Dylan Thomas" video from various directors. They chose Zauner's as their clear favorite, before they'd even realized who submitted it. On set, Bridgers observed the same meticulousness and work ethic that she'd admired in Zauner on tour. "It was by far the most organized video shoot I\u2019ve ever been on," she says. "I used to be on commercials and stuff. That shit runs six hours late. Michelle\u2019s did not run one single hour late." Maintaining that level of professionalism can be a challenge. During the shoot for Charly Bliss\u2019s \u201cCapacity,\u201d which depicts the band members driving through the desert after a bungled heist,\u00a0Zauner recalls not going to the bathroom for the entirety of a freezing twelve-hour outdoor session. For the Japanese Breakfast song \u201cMachinist,\u201d the first video Zauner directed by herself, she and Kolodny had been given access to a warehouse that they could use for free whenever it was not in operation\u2014that is, from 5PM to 5AM. That "was fucking the worst, hardest video I\u2019ve ever made,\u201d says Zauner. The heat did not run during these nocturnal sessions, and every day the crew had to assemble and disassemble a complex sci-fi set replete with flashing monitors, wiring, neon, and drainage piping. https:\/\/www.youtube.com\/embed\/UXzReYLuavg \u201cI think it\u2019s actually just such a hard, heartbreaking medium, in a way, because there just so many moving parts,\u201d Zauner says. \u201cSo much about directing for me is just learning a shit-ton every time.\u201d Her first significant experience as a filmmaker, in fact, resulted in disappointment. Though Zauner tinkered with goofy camcorder productions and loved anime when she was young, she attributes her first genuine involvement in the medium to Homay King, one of her professors at Bryn Mawr College. King\u2019s courses introduced Zauner to iconic foreign filmmakers like Jean-Luc Godard, Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Agn\u00e8s Varda, and Wong Kar-Wai \u201cAdam and I have huge boners for Wong Kar-Wai,\u201d Zauner tells me matter-of-factly. \u201cLike, we\u2019re always kind of trying to just rip off Wong Kar-Wai.\u201d For her senior thesis, she wrote a short story and adapted it to film. The narrative centered on a young girl\u2019s visit to an aunt dying of cancer, an experience drawn from Zauner\u2019s own life. But instead of writing about a Korean aunt, like Zauner\u2019s own, she made the characters white. \u201cAt the time I really felt like in order to be literary, or in order to make art that resonated with other people, it had to be from a white lens,\u201d says Zauner. She laughs as she remembers a scene where the characters eat chicken and broccoli, the sort of meal she imagined a white family eating.\u00a0 Varun Bajaj\/Courtesy of the artist Zauner was so dismayed with the final product that she resolved to stop directing permanently. That didn\u2019t last long. She graduated from Bryn Mawr and played in a few bands before starting Japanese Breakfast, at which point she knew she wanted total creative control over the project, including its music videos. Zauner admired artists like Bj\u00f6rk and Grimes for creating idiosyncratic cosmologies and personas outside of their music, and for her, filmmaking was an essential part of this vision. Yellow K Records, the label that\u00a0released\u00a0Psychopomp, gave Zauner 500 dollars for her first music video. She created a concept for the album\u2019s opener, \u201cIn Heaven,\u201d a luminous inquiry into her grief over the death of her mother, and pegged Kolodny to direct it. The video is a fitting prelude to Zauner\u2019s film oeuvre, juxtaposing jubilant scenes of neon-lit nightlife with delightfully weird tableaux vivants of Zauner and shirtless men. Kolodny also directed Japanese Breakfast\u2019s second video, \u201cJane Cum,\u201d but Zauner continued to take an active role on set. When it came time to make the third Psychopomp clip, for a gem of a pop song called \u201cEverybody Wants to Love You,\u201d Zauner says, \u201c was like, \u2018You know you\u2019re directing. Maybe you should just take over.\u2019\u201d Galvanized by his encouragement, she co-directed \u201cEverybody Wants to Love You,\u201d which remains one of her favorite videos. After signing to Dead Oceans and releasing Soft Sounds in 2017, Zauner went on to be sole director for \u201cMachinist,\u201d \u201cRoad Head,\u201d \u201cThe Body is a Blade,\u201d and \u201cBoyish.\u201d Kolodny stayed on as director of photography. https:\/\/www.youtube.com\/embed\/wujw-FH2Itw Zauner\u2019s videos embody many of the themes that also make her music so captivating: the weariness and doubt that arise from grief, the cheekiness about sex and desire, the strange reserves of hope in the midst of a harsh world. Her characters often walk the line between intimacy and isolation, navigating social settings with a sense of detachment. Whether it\u2019s the trio of anti-Heathers at the prom in \u201cBoyish,\u201d or Eva Hendricks of Charly Bliss regarding a group of carousing men with jaded scorn in "Capacity,"\u00a0the people in Zauner\u2019s videos often find themselves alienated from conventional modes of pleasure. Sometimes characters opt for self-love, rejecting the prom royalty for glittering rock star dreams or stripping their blindfolds and gleefully fleeing the twisted thrills of the Better Oblivion Community Center. Other times, the limits of happiness become dangerous, suffocating. \u201cRoad Head\u201d ends with blood splattering Tarantino-style over Zauner\u2019s face and shoes as she kills the ghastly, oddly endearing creature of her affections. The "Machinist" video addresses similar themes, exploring the feeling of longing as it relates to the frustrations and rewards of the creative process.\u00a0"BUILD ME," a computer screen suddenly implores to Zauner's zonked-out inventor character, who happens to be wearing light-up sneakers, just as Zauner was when Phoebe Bridgers first took note of her work ethic\u00a0in Germany. So begins a doomed robot love story, with Zauner struggling to create a physical form for her new software companion,\u00a0which ends with\u00a0the director suspended in a net of her own tangled cables, no closer than she was at the outset. Sometimes, your vision devours you, the "Machinist" video seems to say. And sometimes, that willingness to subsume yourself into your work\u2014to be devoured by it\u2014is the vision itself.