Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Video Killed the Philosophy Professor

As some of you know, I got to film a music video for my original song "Heart of Stone" last week with my best friend from college, Dana Gabrion (Co-Executive Producer of America's Next Top Model) and musician/composer/videographer and all-around artistic genius, Chris Morgan. I should say, first, that the whole idea of shooting a music video couldn't be further from my normal, "real" life, but I thought that since most of us don't get a chance to see the behind-the-scenes process, I'd share a little bit of my experience here. I was really shocked at how much care and creativity it takes to put images to music, and I'm so glad that Chris was there to bear the brunt of that responsibility. He had a clear vision of what he wanted to capture on film, and an impressively intuitive sense about how to get it. I've seen some of the rough footage from our shoot and was, quite simply, floored by his work. I can't wait to see the final product.

For a few months when I was an undergraduate, I worked for a special-effects guy (Steve Wolf), so I thought I had a vague idea of what filming was going to be like. My memory from working with Steve all those years ago was that the movie business involved a whole lot of hurry-up-and-wait and was almost unbearably bo-ring work. (We worked on the John Grisham film The Client, and my entire contribution was just to "waft smoke" for hours into a scene that I can't even remember now.) A little of that was confirmed with the video shooting as well, although things definitely moved along much more quickly and smoothly under Chris' direction and in the absence of a large crew. What really shocked me, though, was how much raw footage is actually shot for what will eventually only be a 4-minutes-or-so final product. We shot for 6 hours straight on Thursday (in the midst of a tornado, no less), and Chris said that the whole six hours would probably only comprise about a minute of the video. Ditto for Friday, when we had the "actors" with us. I can't imagine what the editing process must be like.

Another surprising thing to me, as the songwriter, was how much could be added to the song through its re-telling in images. The song itself is a fairly straightforward story, and my rather dull imagaination pretty much saw the video as attempting to recreate that story literally line-by-line. Chris and Dana, thankfully, have much better imaginations. We actually had conversations on set several times about "motivation" with the actors and even disputed how one or the other character would really look or respond. This may have been the most enjoyable part of the process for me because it was like watching the stories and characters of my songwriting imagination become "real" and, to some extent, independent of me. It also made me respect the craft of acting a lot more.

I have to be honest and say that the whole experience of traipsing around downtown Memphis doing a video shoot was really fun, too. When people would walk by and say "what's going on here?" and we got to say "we're shooting a music video"... well, I'll admit it, even I felt pretty cool. The whole experience is old hat to Dana and Chris at this point, but definitely not so for the rest of us. You wouldn't believe what you can get away in the company of a camera crew. One of the bars that we shot at actually let our bartender-"actor" pour real beers for all of the takes of the scene she was in. And, yeah, we drank those beers. For free. We had less success with the scenes that we shot on the downtown trolleys. Memphis trolley drivers were unimpressed.

Finally, the whole experience made me love Memphis in a completely new way. Because our time and resources were so limited, we had to call in a lot of favors in order to find actors, shooting locations, equipment, etc.. So, let me take this opportunity to give a shout out to my good friend (and excellent chef) John Bragg, for letting us film at his restaurant Circa. And also to Judy Peiser and her crew at the Center for Southern Folklore, which turned out to be an absolutely wonderful place to shoot. We also filmed at Rhodes College's McCoy Theater, but only under the condition that no one would be able to identify the location. Even still, the McCoy folks let us move a lot of stuff around and gave us a great space to work. The final shots were done in the hotel that Dana owns and which is run by her parents, the Talbot Heirs. (Seriously, if you ever visit Memphis, you should stay there!) I picked a few of my best-looking friends-- Max Maloney, Marlinee Iverson, Emily Fulmer and William Harwood-- to play the characters in the video, and they all were exceptional. I couldn't have done what they did, and it would be a gross understatement to call them "amateur" actors (except for the fact that they were grossly unpaid!). I'm not thanking the Memphis trolley system... the shots we got there were entirely the credit of Chris' guerilla filming. But the trolleys are really pretty on film.

When it's all done and edited, I hope to be able to post the video on this site. Rest assured, however, that Dr. J has no plans to quit her day job!

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UPDATE: You can view the finished product here: "Heart of Stone" music video
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1 comment:

Bryan said...

I just listened to the song. My mind went instantly back to the first time you played it for me in '99. If any one listens to that recording and doesn't develop a broken heart, they likely don't have one. I, being far from a Tin Man, will no doubt fall more deeply in love with Dr. J with every listening.

Mr. B