We are fortunate to work with artists of all musical stylings and genres, and just as varied as their tracks tend to be, so follows their visual pursuits. While we have worked on music video projects in a wide number of ways which touch every part of the spectrum–direct performance, performance/story mix and pure story–our music video for dark folk band Rasmus Leon truly pushed the limits of what the creation of a music video consists of and how to accomplish it in a number of ways.
Burying the near-living for the ‘Back Home’ music video.
As much as we’ve worked with North Carolina-based talent and artists who have traveled to be a part of a production, we’ve worked remotely on just as many if not more productions. Prior to ‘Back Home’ our most remote project was done for the band She’s A Boy, a Parisian rock outfit, which was filmed in North Carolina and edited in New York. Because all communication had been done via phone and email, this had been the marker for years. All that changed with this music video, though. The music video, which was created as a part of a special promotional deal which gave bands access to full music video productions at a fraction of the rate they would normally pay. To accomplish this on our end we built a team of dedicated professionals who worked day and night (literally) for a week straight producing one video after another. It was a fever dream of a production, one concept burning bright and bleeding into another, creativity superfluously flowing as we lost all other bearings and ran purely on creative fumes.
The Graveyard in waiting, pre-filming for ‘Back Home’.
We opened up 5 spots for the promotion, and were happy to see a wide range of musical acts sign up for the slots, a mixture of local and regional acts which consisted of lounge music, hard rock, bluegrass, pop rock and folk. As varied as the styles of music played were the videos, which ranged from single-take technical feats, Dust Bowl period pieces with performances spliced in and stories of drag queens and children playing in the middle of the woods (not together, though that’s an interesting video idea as well). As always, each band had a say in what type of video they would have created to represent their style and visual brand, these performances and stories then built to accommodate those needs and extend their visual base. For Rasmus Leon, the story somehow managed to elude these categories, where we divined a piece that had no performance, was not a story and the band was nowhere near the production in any way at any time. In some videos the bands were featured, running about and performing under lightbulbs and in odd spaces all day and night, and in others the musicians weren’t in the videos but came to view the story unfold (as most prefer to do). Again, Rasmus Leon managed to elude this as well, and as they lived in various parts of the South, our communication occurred solely through email, thus stripping the title of most remote artistic collaboration from Paris to a trio of states in the Bible Belt. Conceptually, the band followed suit after signing up for the promotion, stating that they would like a video made and we had complete creative control over the content so long as it matched the song. Artists have long complained about the creative limitations that plague their efforts, but I was reminded what my mentor told me in undergrad, that “artists need limitations so that they have something to rebel against. Take those away and they simply do nothing.”
William S. Davis & Erik Murphy filming Tom England for ‘Back Home’.
So this is where we found ourselves. A music video for a band that emailed us saying we had full creative freedom to do whatever we wish. As a new request had been given to us, a new process was needed to combat this interesting challenge. While I have directed all videos prior, I took a cue from the liberal example set forth from the band’s allowance of complete control and let it shatter the positions that typically exist on our shoots. For this video there was no director, there were 5 directors. Each person was required to direct and shoot their own scenes, and each scene was to be built around an element of the director’s choice that could materialize and interact with the talent in some way. The only consistencies were the talent (a gifted Thomas England who endured us all with poise and style) and the camera (an 8mm analog camera resurrected from someone’s PTO program days in the 1980s, I imagine), as well as the editing which was masterfully placed together by Joshua Yates to concretize the efforts of all floating pieces beforehand.
Josh Yates filming in a basement for ‘Back Home’.
I can’t say for how long we filmed as my mind had long since withered away through the long shooting days (I almost chopped off the top half of my left ring finger during the shoot as well but luckily came out 10 fingers strong), and to be honest, I can’t quite say what the music video is even about, namely because of the nature of the production and the fluidity that was given to all parts. I do know that this music video is not mine, though, nor is it any of the other directors, or the actor’s, or the camera’s. I’m not even sure if it’s the bands either, even though it was through their direction, or lack thereof, which began this whole descent into unknown creative territory. I’d like to think this is why they had us make it this way, so that we would all be left in the dark and have to find our ways to somewhere, if not out. This thought makes me hear the “darkness” in their music in an entirely different light, and is why I believe we arrived at such a great result for what was truly a singular music video experience.
Cory McKennan filming Tom England in a graveyard pyre for ‘Back Home’.
All photographs courtesy of Joshua Yates (ThisisYates.com)