I traveled to New York to Direct a Music Video for a new disco-pop solo act "Hybris Jinn". Unsurprisingly, New York city was great; I sat on the plane next to Wanda Sykes, she's just as hilarious in person as you'd expect. She kept saying "Yeah, I get that all the time.. I look like Wanda Sykes." and "Kid! For real.. I'm not Wanda Sykes!".... Wonderful person.
As soon as I got off the plane I saw the most incredibly stunning young flight attendant who immediately took my breath away. I worked up the courage to ask her name, "upyoursdude" she said, must be French.
I had a lot of camera equipment to carry and some very nice gentlemen offered to help me. They must have got lost after I handed off some of the weight because I never saw them again, but I was so appreciative of the thought.
Soon, I was in Manhattan. Some very rude pedestrian ran out in the middle of the street just to push me really hard, but then he immediately got hit by a car.. Carma... Amirite?
I stayed in Midtown across the street from the Empire State Building. The building manager was very insistent that I may not have roof access because "Too many people go up there and jump off". So, I just went back to my room on the 11th floor with enormous windows and no guard bars.
Everywhere you go in New York there's something iconic.. Times Square, the Rockefeller Center, the subway steps where Pizza Rat made his triumphant ascent.
People in Missouri are constantly giving you sideways looks and judgmental stares for every little thing, but in NYC I swear to God you could run around naked and no one would even give you a second look. NYPD would care least of all.. Seriously..
But, nevertheless people are friendly, anyone I approached for directions or even just casual conversation was joyful to oblige. However, they may have just been happy I wasn't trying to sell them something.. EVERYONE was trying to sell me something.. Rap albums, weed, sex, photos, weed, caricature paintings, weed.. I ran out of money almost immediately.
I stayed for about 4 days meeting with the artist and preparing before our shoot day in Queens, where I saw Spider-Man exactly zero times.....
Anyways, here's what we came up with..
I was approached about making a dark, moody Music Video that also worked with this upbeat music. As soon as I heard the song, I did feel that it was an ironic pairing, but that it would work well. This was my first Music Video that had so many conceptual elements drawn from art and dance, but it was mostly performance driven paired consistently with the artistic features.
The opening shot strongly emphasizes a piece portraying Edgar Allen Poe and his iconic Raven. This short story (The Raven) serves as a great reference to the themes of loneliness and heartbreak present in our Music Video. Given how the Raven torments the narrator in Poe's story, we later use a whole murder of Ravens which fly over the artist's face and blot him out. Much like how his solitude eventually consumes him. Though it's a little hyperbolic, I like to make big, bold expressions like that and hopefully fit them in in a relatively subtle way.
Beyond the very first shot, we open with a fairly straight forward monologue about fame and ambition. This features a few shots of the artist seated on a mattress alone in an empty room. The monologue that was originally written was twice as long and talked about sitting in his room alone at night thinking about his aspirations to be a singer, but for obvious reasons this needed to be trimmed down and was instead visualized.
The opening sequence is in black and white, as the music begins we introduce a little bit of color, then we transition to brighter flashing white lights, and plateau with flashing colored lights that change hues in time with the tune of the music. Then we go back through each of these lighting styles in reverse order before returning to black and white. This represents the rising action, climax, and falling action often associated with relationships. The progress that leads up to the "Honeymoon" phase if you will, before inevitably growing apart from each other until you're alone again.
In the same note, the artist begins the first act of the Music Video sharing a bed with a real person, but the next time we see him laying on his mattress he's accompanied by only a mannequin, and after that, he lays in bed alone. The person symbolizes the time that the relationship lasted, the mannequin like a memory of that relationship and once he's alone, all semblance of the relationship is completely gone.
The first of two mannequins featured is clad with roses and blood flowing from the belly. This is based on Salvador Dali's 1930 painting "The Bleeding Roses". Dali's inspiration was his wife who was in excessive pain due to a uterine infection. Although she was eventually cured, she was left infertile. This shares direct parallel's with the inspirations behind this Music Video. Since this relationship is like an infection, even though he may remove this arrangement from his life, it leaves him incapable of Loving someone ever again. I know that's a lot to draw from a piece of art that shows up for only a few seconds in the whole video.
The roses, however, consistently symbolize Love throughout the video. This is the type of metaphor that is pretty much pre established and everybody knows what it means, but its the way we shifted around this symbol and used it to illustrate more detailed messages. The Roses bleeding on the mannequin is broken Love or dying Love. A person's Love that has been damaged so much that they can't give it to anyone else. Later, he takes a rose from a vase which, of course, causes him to bleed. This is another way of saying that Love will inevitably cause him enormous pain, but in the third act, he partakes of it anyways by literally eating the rose. In the same way, despite knowing a new relationship will only cause him pain, he still enters into it.
(Skip this whole section if you're not a filmmaker and don't care about the technical stuff)
This Music Video was shot on a single Canon 5D Mark IV and only two lenses were used, a Canon 50mm 1.4 and Canon 24mm 1.4. This was the first Music Video that I completely moved away from Sigma Art lenses. I also prefer the 5D over the Canon C100 MkII in low-key settings. The C100 does have noticeably greater dynamic range, but in low light creates excessive digital noise whereas the 5D is surprisingly much better about this. The only other DSLR I've ever shot a Music Video on is the Sony As7 III which was also used on more of a low-key setting. The As7 is incredibly noisy, much more so than the Canon C100, the As7 does come standard with a Cinema Log color profile, it does not have the dynamic range of the C100's Log and is even noisier. The 5D can also have Canon's Log equipped.
Nearly the whole music video was shot at an Aperture below 2.0 to accomplish a very shallow depth of field and partially compensate for the lower quality, cheaper camera and lenses. Besides the lights visible in several shots, I used a single LED light diffused with a large Octagon Softbox dialed down to nearly its dimmest luminance and warmest color temperature. I used this to create a high-contrast rembrandt lighting effect when being used on its own, but used the same set up as a fill light when back lighting was being used. I mounted a DJI gimbal to a tripod which was then mounted to a rolling rig to create long camera movements.
We shot at Studio 4 in Astoria, Queens and production lasted approximately 12 hours. The studio was fairly small and got crowded quickly with several people on set and a need for long pull out shots and push ins. Not to mention an entire mattress, two mannequins, a number of large studio lights, a giant disco ball, 4 prop pillars, and furniture. Most of this stuff we had to get from Manhattan to Queens, which meant renting a Uhaul, we were thankful that I'm not a New Yorker and drive regularly since no one else knew how to drive at all.. The make up artist suffered some kind of injury the night before production and had to be replaced last minute, since it was the middle of the night and we had no other contacts, she was replaced by a friend of my Tinder match from that night who, quite thankfully, turned out to be an excellent make-up artist.
We held three dance rehearsals at a studio in Manhattan leading up to production, I was grateful to work with a choreographer/dancer that specializes in Music Videos and communicates very well with the Director on set.
In less positive reflections, I hired a filmmaker to travel with me and act as the Director Of Photography since these in studio Music Videos involve so many different responsibilities for one person to keep track of. After purchasing her plane ticket, luggage and AirBnb; she stood me up when we were meant to meet and drive to the Airport together. We did not receive a penny back in refunds despite our best efforts. This was in direct contradiction to the number of recommendations that assured me she was reliable and competent.
I asked a friend in Mexico City to do Post-Production for me so she could add her creative touch and because it was a great opportunity for us to collaborate. I loaded all 400 Gb of 4K footage onto an external drive and shipped it off to Mexico (That's how we always did it when I worked in television)......... It never made it.... To this day its probably sitting in some Mexican post office. I happened to be telling my Grandmother about it, who's born and raised in Mexico, and she says, "Oh, yeah. I used to try to send your aunts and uncles letters to Mexico all the time and they never got any of it.. You can't send anything down there."......... Gracias Abuela.... Glad you told me that now....
The day of production I began to suffer from an incredibly painful gout infection in my foot. By the next day, when I was supposed to travel home, it had amplified to the point that I was tempted to resort to amputation. I had to carry 70 Ibs of camera equipment across New York to a bus, to take me to the Airport, to drag it across the terminal to check it, then to a 3 hour layover, then another 4 hour flight, then a 3 hour drive to my house.. And I literally can't walk.. like, at all.. I could hop on one leg, but just the motion of it hurt so bad the profanities alone would cause a sailor to blush. So what could I do but call the artist for help, which he kindly obliged. I scraped my way from New York to Kansas City by crawling, wheelchairing and cussing. I was utterly humiliated at times, I had to keep telling myself ,"There is virtually no chance I will ever see the people on this flight again in my life". Then, the drive home. My car's cruise control picked one hell of a time to stop working, and the infection is in my right foot, and just moving it was excruciating.. Any physical contact whatsoever was like continuously driving a whole bunch of rusty nails into my foot. I literally screamed the entire drive.
I somehow made it all the way home, hobbled up to my door and opened it to the sound of my bathtub rumbling with running water. Somehow my cat had turned the water on, knocked the drain closed AND blocked the back up drain with a cup. It was literally moments away from overflowing when I made it home.
I can't help but wonder how different the end result would be had this production not been marred by problem after problem. I'd like to tell myself it actually turned out better because of it, but we'll never really know and.. well.. It probably didn't. I've become accustomed to working through issues with every project, but this one seriously tested me. Even traveling, I've never run into so many issues all at once, extending far beyond the one's I've mentioned. Someday I'd like to find out what its like to Direct and Produce a music video that isn't plagued with relentless resistance and complications, maybe I'll find out I can't make a decent film without literally everything going wrong.