I’m incredibly grateful for the career that I have.  I get to work on a variety of really great productions and with extremely talented people and couldn’t be more grateful to do so.  Of all the various types of projects I get the privilege to work on, Music Videos are closest to what I believe is my personal greatest form of artistic expression.  They tend to be the most challenging and rewarding experiences I take on.  I put a lot of myself into them and always walk away with a greater understanding of how to stretch what my perceived limitations were before attempting new things.  I generally have a bit a fear walking into pre-production of a music video.  Fear because I want to really expand my abilities instead of resign on my laurels and rehashing old material in a new package.  The fear of failing at this goal is what drives the production.  I’ve read many interviews with Directors or Cinematographers that have said that if you aren’t somewhat afraid, you aren’t doing something right.  I’m paraphrasing, of course, and can’t site the source, but I believe it to be true.

My original goal in life was to compose movie scores and I went to music school to do so.  However, my chosen university didn’t offer film scoring and placed more emphasis on modern composition.  Even though I’m not composing music now, the time I spent in the UNT composition department prepared me more for what I do now than the RTVF department probably could have.  I learned form, structure, and finding a voice.  It just so happened that it wasn’t in script writing, shot composition, or directing actors.  My senior year in college I got heavily involved with performance art and multimedia.  This is where I started shooting my own stuff that we could put music to.  Soon I was getting requests from other composers to create video that they could put music to and we had fun creating avant-garde multimedia performances and presenting them in local shows.  These pieces also caught the attention of local bands who approached me as well.  I was hooked.  Even though I had no idea what I was doing technically, I felt I had a sense of how to create a visual mood that the music dictated and the stubbornness to follow through with it.

8 years later I’m still drawn to creating visual representations of other musician’s work.  I feel very at home in this medium.

It’s typical that every year you have a standout production.  Something that defines the year.  2013 seems to have a couple of these for me and I’ll be highlighting them in the next few blogs.  However, right out of the gate in 2013 I was asked by Kirtland Records to shoot Alpha Rev’s “Sing Loud” video.  I instantly felt connected to the song and was flooded with imagery that I thought could represent the tone and feeling presented by the music.

But I wanted to change my approach from how I typically approached music video shoots.  For the most part, you have a small window to shoot them.  You want them to look as incredible as possible.  You go with higher end cameras, better glass, bigger lights, things that eat up your budget really quickly if you’re not careful.  Previous music video shoots were dictated by extremely tight shooting schedules, requiring more crew to facilitate a lot of content shot in an extremely tight window all governed under the ever watching eye of the budget restrictions.  A couple months before this particular production I had shot a music video where we had one day to get everything we needed and we killed ourselves doing it.  At the end of it, there were things that I would have like to shot, or refined, that we just didn’t have time for.  I wanted time on this video and I was prepared to sacrifice certain things to make sure the vision was solid.

Camera-MonitorI don’t want to get into a huge discussion on gear, but I work under that pretense that if you spend enough time and love on crafting what is coming into the lens, you can get great results from cameras that don’t chew into your budget.  The desire to shoot Alexa and Red is always there, but I know you can get quality shots with lesser cameras so long as put the resources into that which makes the shot work.  I’ve seen bad footage on the Alexa and Red cameras just like I’ve seen bad footage on DSLRs because your  deck doesn’t light your shot, set your color pallet, or craft or composition.  The look was more important than our capture medium and felt like we achieved great results with the minimal equipment we ended up using.  We got a great deal on a Canon C100 rental and I purchased the Atamos Ninja digital recorded to record uncompressed 4:2:2 ProRes to solid state drives.  It was cheaper then the C300 and since we were bypassing the compression the C100 offers by recording ProRES our shots were on par with the quality the C300 without all the additional and (seemingly) unnecessary peripherals.   The ONLY drawback was having to use HDMI instead of SDI for recording and monitoring.  Everything else worked like a charm and the camera really surprised us in a lot of ways and we saved money in the process.

My interpretation of the song deals a lot with hope and after a couple discussions with Casey McPherson (the bands lead singer / songwriter) we expanded on ideas of the individual’s triumph through adversity.  I leaned heavily on influences from Terrance Malik and Andrei Tarkovsky who both are incredible with nuance and how to visually represent the internal struggle.  I created two realities in the piece:  the real (surface) world and the internal world.  When we listen to music, we create visual narratives in our head or attach the song to a memory and moments of personal triumph in our life have an instantaneous nostalgic presence.  Since our budget didn’t dictate epic moments of triumph involving many people, we decided to deal with small, personal moments of triumph and adversity instead.  It’s the small moments that tend to carry the most weight in our lives.

ARev-Dolly-Track-INTSince it the dead of winter, the leafless tress would be a great visual representation of internal conflict.  However, I wanted complete control of the lighting.  Shooting outdoors would have meant an overnight shoot with big expensive lights in the elements.  We were shooting in January so I wasn’t looking forward to shooting in the cold.   Since this set was suppose to represent the internal thought, I really wanted to shoot inside a raw space with lots of great texture.  I’m incredibly fond of the Warehouse at Panhandle House.  The exposed brick and open beamed dried out ceiling had the texture I wanted.  That alone as a setting could worked, but I really wanted the branches we would have seen outside in the shot as well.  So we got permission and cleared out a small plot of land of all their small trees and transplanted them inside.  I ARev-Jib-INTcouldn’t have been happier with the effect it created, especially when we added the backlight and atmosphere.  Josh Pickering (DP for the shoot) used 2 1200 HMI lights, one for the hard backlight, and one to the side shooting through a 6’x6′ silk to increase the ambient.  We then flew in a Kino Image 40 for fill on the lead singer only.  This allowed us to shoot with an 850 ISO at F4 for all interior shots and stylized the look of the set design beautifully.  We tracked the entire song using doorway dolly and Jimmy Jib Triangle.

One note about the Jimmy Jib:  We balance the head of the jib so we could have fluid movement on the pan and tilt, but left the tripod slightly off balanced to dutch the angle slightly.  I loved the effect since we had a lot of perspective lines in the ceiling  and the slightly askew angle really accentuated that.

We tracked the bands entire performance in the space and shot inserts with some of the actors.  These shots play into the narrative of the video.  It was some of my favorite shooting of the year.  Screen shot 2013-01-03 at 11.34.45 AMWith the actors, I wanted to create static moments or “recollections” that could be inserted between takes in the “real world” to represent their state of mind.  A visual representation of the internal dialogue we have with ourselves.  That is also why I put the band in the same environment.  It’s to represent the soundtrack we play in our Screen shot 2013-01-02 at 2.48.47 PMheads during our daily lives, especially when we need a catalyst to feel better in the moment.  We shot two days in the space, and it had been a while since I had been so charged on set.  We took our time, we got it right.  I saw through the monitor exactly what I had seen in my head during preproduction and it felt great!

For our “real world” shots I wanted to use as much existing light as possible with the sun behind every shot.  I wanted bright vibrant shots and we achieved those with reflectors if we shot outside, and the same 1200 HMIs if we were inside and wanted to blast sunlight through the windows. Originally we created a narrative Screen shot 2013-01-02 at 2.50.41 PMbased on family struggle.  We completed an edit with just that dynamic and presented it to the band. However, my original treatment had scenes that extended beyond the family to other people.  In the process of production, I decided to focus on the family due to time and budget and didn’t communicate my intentions adequately.  Based on that, the idea Screen shot 2013-01-02 at 2.52.32 PMfor more diversity in the narrative shots was conceived by the client and when it wasn’t there, it was desired.   I felt we had a strong video and tried to push the edit through.  In hindsight, I’m glad that we shot extra scenes.  We got really creative and cashed in some favors to get a bunch of new footage to use along with some of our existing footage.  All in all, the desire for more was a correct one.  We ended up with a much better video.  There are some really great moments form the first video that didn’t make the cut that I really miss, but they didn’t make sense in the new narrative.  However, the sentiment was intact:  small moments of triumph and small moments of adversity.  So in that, it is still a victory and I can walk away from the experience feeling extremely good about the process.  For me, it’s important to not discredit adversity.  You need to show it.  Accept it and transcend it.

Watch the video here

Black and White set pictures by Andy LaViolette