The Trinity. The rules of thirds. The Golden Triangle.
Three is the most auspicious number in the creative lexicon. It rules our composition aesthetics, it measures the acts of a story, it guides our beliefs. Ken Mowe, the best editor that I know, once taught me that if you use an editing device once in a cut, you must use it three times. Even Paulo Coelho, in The Alchemist says
“Everything that happens once can never happen again. But everything that happens twice will surely happen a third time.”
I still believe that things happen in threes. So when my friend Viv introduced me to Charissa Saverio in the fall of 2012, and she mentioned that she wanted to make ‘a few’ music videos, I somehow knew that we would be create a trilogy.
Charissa (aka DJ Rap) was a prominent DJ and was looking for a director and production company to create a music video for her upcoming single, “Satisfied”. It was a catchy drum and bass track and we were excited for the opportunity to work on it and to work with her. The concept was to create bold imagery that celebrated the contrast between the song’s dreamy downbeat moments and the heavier, darker parts of the song. I feel like we succeeded, even if it took us into a dark place…. like a bondage scene in an old meat locker (it sounds worse than it is, I swear). Charissa was fearless and was willing to take that journey with us. Rob Webb, our brilliant Director of Photography, has a skillset that thrives in darkness, and the images that he delivered to us were beautiful. Alika Awana, our editor, and I worked out a very simple, yet convincing, way to create a very cool bullet time effect.
Thanks to the resourcefulness of my producers, Randy and James, we were able to play with some fun toys, like a Super Techno Crane. The Techno Crane is amazing. It’s a tool that can move the camera in ways only limited by one’s imagination. I’ve been lucky enough to direct a few projects that were able to source one, and every time I try to make the most of it.
We had Panavision Primo Prime lenses on this shoot, as well. Also amazing. Arguably the best glass in the world. We shot on RED Epic. It was a great shoot with a strong team. And it was a lot of fun.
My friend Viv made a cameo as the stud that DJ Rap toys with in the backlit close ups.
If you can spare the 18 minutes, then please enjoy my abundant personality as I navigate the twists and turns of a low budget music video in this Behind the Scenes.
(that’s really really long for a BTS, I know. Well… I know that now. Seven years later. I didn’t know that then)
The actually music video is only 4 minutes. At this ratio, my first feature film should have a BTS of around 6 hours and 45 minutes.
A few months after we released Satisfied, Charissa came back to us for our second project together. It was a music video for an upcoming single title “Free Falling”. I recall that we had a very short turnaround time to shoot and edit and we had a very limited budget.
I wanted to explore a different style of video this time, something more narrative. My producer, Christian Fauntleroy, and I came up with an interesting concept which we’d be able to shoot at my house. It featured a simple narrative and supported a low budget. We decided to make a homage to Les Diaboliques, a French thriller from 1955.
The story revolves around a couple who, unbeknownst to the husband, were sharing a mistress. The husband and mistress devise a plan to drown the wife in the bathtub, but the wife and mistress have made other plans….(I hope this is cryptic enough to coerce you to watch the video)
We brought Jennifer Swift back to play the role of the mistress. Our producer, Alexander Abbott, asked his friend, Kurt Caceres to play the role of the husband. Kurt is a really interesting actor. We were lucky to have him. He and Charissa played really well together and off each other. We had a narrative story to tell, but they couldn’t speak a word.
I learned something about tension on this shoot. I played with concepts of revealing and hiding. I feel like I grew as a storyteller with these few lessons. As I reflect back on this and rewatch these videos years later, I am reminded of how important it is to just make stuff. If you are a filmmaker (or want to be) get out and shoot. I can’t forget Joss Whedon echoing this exact sentiment last year. I was DP on a PSA for March for Our Lives and Joss directed. Working with him was amazing. It was a small shoot, but just kind of surreal to collaborate with such an experienced and legendary talent. After our scout, we grabbed lunch. It was Joss, producer/co-director Sarah Ulman, producer Zach Mahassine, filmmaker-in-residence Samuel Curtis and myself. Samuel asked Joss what advice he would give to young filmmakers and replied:
“Just make…stuff. And finish it.”
Flash forward four years. Charissa reaches out to me about a vampire themed feature film with a music video tie in. It sounded very interesting. Michael Sullivan, a Scottsdale based writer, had written a script titled “Seeker Friendly” with Charissa in mind. It was about a servicewoman who returns home from a tour in the Middle East to find her brother missing, and her hometown under the spell of a dark and sinister force.
The script was action packed and we knew that we wanted to present a proof of concept to possible investors. We discussed many possible scenarios, eventually settling on my suggestion to shoot a fight sequence, with stylized hand to hand combat and high end special effect vampire kills.
Marc LeClerc was my fight choreographer and Charissa and I worked together with his team for about a month. It was a lot of fun and it came together beautifully. Charissa worked her ass off to get in shape and learn the frames (stunt speak for fight segments).
My friends at Butcher Bird Studios had just opened a sound stage, and it was a perfect size for our production. Kesey Morgan was my production designer and she built flats in the space and a created a very cool vampire den. Nick Novotny was my cinematographer and colorist and he killed it. It looks beautiful. I was very fortunate to have Jodi Lynn O’Keefe come out and play the Queen V for the day, and remember she had the f’n flu. But she showed up and she was great, and she didn’t complain once.
Oh…and we shot a music video that day, too.
Our 1st AD, Michael Thompson was a seasoned television AD. The television world runs on very tight schedules, intense planning and most operations require a village…the low budget indy world runs on adrenaline, optimism and lots of experience doing things very quickly for very cheap. When Mikey T, as we called him, looked at the schedule and saw a half hour set aside for a slated “music video shoot”, he was alarmed. He kept asking us…”what the hell is this music video shoot and HOW are we going to get it in the can in thirty minutes?!” I recall I just kept telling him not to worry.
Traditionally, music videos are a combo of b-roll and performance. Our action shoot that day would serve as the Broll, and all we needed was a handful of takes of performance. So while we were shooting the action, Daniel Gomez, the gaffer, had lit a very cool performance set up in another room. We shot through a triangle of quasar crossfades and double edged Charissa. We jumped onto that set, as schedule, with a cineped slider and shot about four takes of various frame sizes and got some great stuff and moved on.
It was a solid day. Shooting action is so much fun. Vampires. Also…so much fun.
Here is the full 4:45 trailer.
Here is the music video.