Music videos have always played an important role in my life. I would record videos on MTV to a VHS tape and had a personalized mix of all of my favorite bands. I didn’t have a CD player at the time, nor ways of finding new music, so this was what I had. Before MTV turned to shit. I found a great band where I felt a great connection to the music, approached them, and made a video.
One Hundred Thousand is quite a progressive band. I wasn’t sure which song I wanted to do, but “Low” is one that, to me, has three acts. I felt like I could tell a story with these parts, and with Rich Matos (the band’s singer), we thought of some cool ideas that would visually bring this song to life. The band’s drummer, Kurt Wubbenhorst, mentioned the song was about loss. Since it was winter in New Jersey, I felt it was an appropriate time to shoot something sad.
The idea behind this video is our subject’s journey through a place that isn’t life or death. Sort of a limbo between the two, but feels like an out of body experience where he’s slowly learning the events that took place before he died. There is no religious tone, or anything like that. Just wanted to capture that feeling of the possibility of what would happen if you were blindsided in an accident, and you get this opportunity to learn how it all happened. I feel like it would be nice to know things like that.
Production took place over the course of two days. The first day was all outdoor snow scenes in my aunt’s backyard in Wantage, New Jersey. Acres of land where we were able to plant our story of this dreamworld. We shot on RED Scarlet, with the majority of it being on a Helix gimbal. We did some test shots the night before to get the hang of the gimbal, and it just wasn’t working. Calibration after calibration, nothing was working. It was just being an ass, so we packed it up and Matt, our DP, was able to make it work on shoot day. The crew was this - Matt, myself, and two generous high school students helping out with playback and assisting Matt with camera.
We actually weren’t anticipating as much snow as there was. I went a few months back to the location and you were able to see the ground. On this day, there was about two feet of snow, AND it was snowing, so we lucked out in a lot of the slow motion shots. Since there were a few VFX plates we wanted to do here, I made a shot list of some things that would be cool in this “limbo” land. Something that would have Rich feeling trapped in this out-worldly place where he would really feel like he isn’t on earth. Things like the forcefield came out great, and him touching the rock to feel this emotional connection that he’s not in reality gave it a tiny sci-fi element. We had some other ideas like Rich picking up a rose, squeezing it, and blood coming out. Too cheesy I thought. And also him picking up a dead bird and it coming to life and flying away - out of budget, and that’s a make-or-break I suppose. Glad we didn’t do it.
We shot the performance a couple of months after the outdoor stuff. I had already cut most of that together and strategically placed the shots I wanted in the appropriate areas. We shot in a Hoboken saw mill in about 8 hours, with two RED Scarlets, one being a Dragon. We used a mix of 2, 3, and 4K to nab some high frame rate closeups, and used some sliders - not a dolly (which we couldn’t get in time). Earlier in the day, we took care of the rooftop setting, where you can see the New York skyline from Downtown Jersey City. Sort of bummed we didn’t get the Freedom Tower in, but I wanted to keep it as generic as possible.
For post, I brought everything natively into Premiere and overcut the performance on top of the snow scenes. I outsourced the VFX forcefield shots to a group of kids I found on Reddit and they had the final pieces ready by the time I finished my rough cuts to share with the band. I cut the whole video in about two days, and spent a couple of weeks tweaking. Once I had a final I was happy with, I sent an XML over to Matt in New Jersey from Miami where he had a master backup of all the footage to grade in Resolve and finish in 2K.
Great experience, great band, and probably won't work in the snow again any time soon. Here's the video:
Jacked was something I wanted to put together for a long time. It’s funny because just as in the industry, stories and ideas formulate early on and can take up to a year to shoot – most, even longer. Brandon Meyer spit an interesting idea at me while shooting Rough Draught. His pitch was simple and hilarious. “Three burglars try to steal a car – at the same time.” Loved it. It took about a year until I was able to find time to do it. I had moved to LA from Florida, and luckily, so did a handful of kids from my film school class. I didn’t have to network much to obtain hands to handle the production. But I needed a script first. I had a meeting with Jeremy Fox to discuss the script. I gave Jeremy free roam to create the characters to his fancy, and only suggested that the banter between them be clever. In approximately 48 hours, this nice guy sent me a complete script.
I researched the process of shooting inside a car. What are the challenges? What are the complications? How can I keep this thing organized? I decided it would be best to storyboard. I briefly hired a storyboard artist, someone with very little experience in creating storyboards, yet my lack of good direction nearly scared her away. I needed to do this myself. Early on in my career, I had a knack for outsourcing almost everything I could in order to focus on directing (or editing, or whatever major creative role I was playing in a project). In Jacked, I was having so much trouble describing what I wanted that it only seemed best to create my own storyboards. I’m in no way an artist, and I met with Kyle Hardesty to show him what I had drawn.
Kyle: “So, we’re shooting in an airplane? Why does the pilot have a mohawk?”
During this time, I was also casting for the film. A good friend from school recommended Nathan Danforth, and Nathan suggested Andrew Roach to play opposite him. The two were working as valet guys at the Chateau Marmont in Hollywood at the time, and said we’d be clear to shoot in its underground parking garage.
We weren’t one take in before security came and busted us. This was the first moment where I felt I truly failed. Where I felt this project was impossible. The cast and crew patted me on the back and suggested we head to Sardo’s in Burbank to get sloshed. It’s one thing to get shutdown on a gig with a budget, but when people are working for free and selling favors, it’s a heartbreak.
I had to do this. The script was easy – one location, five actors, two cameras. How hard could this be? Why did I fall asleep in producing class during the location permit lecture? I could do this. I just need a location…
One of the supporting actors in the film happened to teach 3rd graders at an elementary school in Beverly Hills. He spoke with the principal, and as long as I were to donate a few hundred bucks to the school, I could shoot in the parking garage on a Sunday. That’s one day to shoot. Eight hours. It can be done. Once again, I have time to prepare.
I scoured the internet for a way to create legible storyboard panels. I came across a few programs, but Frame Forge happened to be the right fit for me. It allowed me to create my own shots in 3D space using props, settings, and directions. I was even able to adjust the focal length of the camera, and change the expressions on the faces of the actor props. I’m an avid player of The Sims, so this was quite easy to pick up.
I aligned my storyboards to the shot list, and geared up to shoot. I wanted to specifically use a Chrysler 300 for the car – mainly because it’s classy for a neo-noir genre. I found a guy on Craigslist who let us use his car for $75 for the day. He even washed and detailed it beforehand. Nice guy. I was ready to shoot the first shot ahead of schedule until a problem was discovered – the parking garage ventilation system’s fan motor refused to shut off. Alfredo Marun, my 1st AD at the time, alerted the elementary school’s janitor to fix the problem, yet he couldn’t turn the fan off. We routed lavalier mics and set up a plant mic in the car to cover different grounds to see what sounds better in post. Better safe than sorry…
Audio was the only major problem on set. We set up two cameras, pushed them far back, and zoomed in to get the interiors of the car. Continuity wasn’t broken so much, since it was difficult to tell if the windows were rolled down or not. Overall, the shots were simple to get, thanks to the storyboarding of every shot. My routine was as simple as asking Alfredo what shot was next, and lining it up with the storyboards I held in my hands. This made it simple for the crew to know what to set up, and there was practically never a still moment on set. From setup to breakdown, production was accomplished in less than eight hours and cost less than $500 to produce (2/3 of that went toward the location).
In post, I had a lot to work with. The banter back and forth was fun to assemble and I was able to mix and match different takes from all of the improv that was done. Color was a small task, as I wanted to have a cool blue tint with some grain… the original footage were very pinkish.
I worked with a good audio friend of mine, Mike Carr, to clean up the audio. He was working on Avatar at the time, and was nice enough to work with me for a couple of sessions to get that nasty fan out of the mix. I exported my audio splits into OMF’s and he did his magic.
Ultimately, I consider this project an accomplishment. It was a failed attempt brought back to life with an inspirational group of talent and a remarkable crew. Looking back, it’s a blessing I was shut down for the fact that I wouldn’t have had proper storyboards and extra rehearsal time. You also learn a lot from your previous works; my first film was ridden with tons of problems and casting issues as a result of poor pre-production. When you keep things simple and plan them correctly, you wont have a microwave oven go off during a shot or have only four extras show up to a party scene. The $500 budget for Jacked was also used for minor equipment rentals, extension cables, and lots of Red Vines.
Here's the final product:
And here's behind the scenes:
My first project outside of school was, let’s say, quite disappointing. A bomb in my book, yet the biggest learning experience I’ve ever received. Originally a short film pitched to my 35mm final project/producing class, it was done on my own time with my close friend and colleague, Kyle Hardesty. Together, we put together the script for this short comedy, yet were denied to produce it on the school’s budget via a nasty pitch session.
You would think, at a well-respected film school, teachers and course directors would reel you into the producing end of the industry – pitching scripts, developing projects for TV, etc. Nope! Instead, they shot everyone down and ripped us apart with no tips or advice for survival. Talk and positive criticism of the script floated around the soon to be graduated class of 110 students, and many were upset that they couldn’t work on it. It came to me that since we planned out so much of what we were going to originally shoot, “what the hell is stopping me?”
I spoke with Kyle about doing the project ourselves. We already had volunteer crew members and a script, but needed gear and some locations. I brought on a production manager, a DP, and even a script supervisor – all students who took roles in their respective areas of what they want to ultimately do outside of school. We kindly asked to use the school’s pre-built bar set, and were granted without a problem.
I ended up shooting on two Panasonic HVX’s over the course of 3 days, and I was able to bring in a good friend,Brandon Meyer to star.
Though it didn’t make the cut for the final film project, students claim it was more fun to work on than what was chosen for school. Kyle and I criticize this film all the time. We reference our current struggles to particular moments of building this project, and laugh of the hurdles of what we went through. We even went as far as creating a commentary version of the film explaining everything that was wrong with it. I find this to be more entertaining than the original cut. At the end of the day, I had to learn the valuable aspect of “producing” while skipping producing class.