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Capturing As Long As: Yielding to Uncertainty as an Artist

When I first listened to As Long A, I was sitting in the band’s living room in Fishtown, Philadelphia. “We have a new song,” Dan said as he fired up his sound system and queued the track. “Still needs to be mastered, but you’ll get the idea,” he added.

I had never heard anything like it—the tones were so rich and deep, every layer was crisp and present, yet masterfully weaved into the ultimate mix. It was as though I was standing in the recording studio, my head against the kick drum, my eyes on the bass strings, Maria singing directly into my ears. “Have you planned a music video?” I asked.

I knew within seconds that there was a story to this song and, as with any good story, I felt compelled to find it and let it be told through moving pictures. It wasn’t necessarily my story nor my interpretation of that story that I was interested finding. It was Maria’s story. And it was beautiful.

Shortly after getting back to San Francisco from that trip, I booked a flight back to Philly—it was official, we were going to film something. We were going to make Brother Martin’s first music video. Maria and Evelyn had been dancing together at a studio in Philly for quite some time, so we decided to film there as we could use lights they already had and spend all night working without interruption—at least until eleven or midnight, by which time everyone would be tired anyway. The weeks leading up to the project seemed to drag on—I was excited to go east and make a video, something I was and still am very passionate about; Maria was passionate about her song and Dan was about the recording process, which to me came off as an intense seriousness about one’s craft… I wanted in, wanted to participate in collaborating on something much larger than I could initially perceive it to be.

The day of my flight finally came. Did I pack enough? Sony A7rII, one 128 GB SD card, six batteries, and several lenses… somehow I forgot a camera strap and when I unpacked everything I realized I didn’t have a USB-C adapter, so transferring the footage and starting an edit during the filming would be impossible unless I bought something, which I did not do… a baseline hum of anxiety followed me as we dove into filming. There would be no way to know what the visual would look like nor whether we were getting enough usable material until I got back to San Francisco.

On Friday Night we met at The Iron Factory. The first thing we did, after clearing the space and finding power, was listen to the song and write down our thoughts. As Evelyn and Joseph, the movement artists, and Maria and Dan, the musicians, each shared their thoughts and visions, I realized they had all together covered what I had written down. We were on the same page and it was time to get started.

At first we lit everything very bright, but I felt that this didn’t match the mood of the beginning of the song, So I pulled all the key light out, leaving the background illuminated and Maria and Evelyn silhouetted. In retrospect, I pushed them too far into darkness; it was hard to see them after getting the footage onto the computer and the picture was muddy here and there. If I was to do it again, I would put some more fill light in, but we were short on lights, using a few table lamps and work lights from The Home Depot—the studio’s photo LEDs were too bright, white, and casted scanning bands across the video. So we did what we could with what we had and, in the end, the scene is at leastvisible; it also moves smoothly into the next, a jarring juxtaposition: the bright, green woods.

That night I slept on an air mattress in Brother Martin’s practice room—if you can forgo hotels, you can use those funds later for something much more valuable—and we all drove to the Pine Barrens in the morning. It was beautiful out, with soft, overcast light on everything. As Evelyn began moving and I began filming, we fell into a cadence. I had never filmed dance choreography quite like this— it wasn’t choreographed, but organic and evolving. “I think the term ‘movement’ is broader in its scope,” Evelyn told me, “[Choreography] describes movement that is pre-decided, practiced, and performed as planned; which of course we did together, but I [feel] that using the word ‘choreography’ [doesn’t] leave much room for our heavy focus on inspiration.” Evelyn’s spontaneous movements enthralled and enlivened me and inspired me to be creative. Ultimately I realized (yet again) how much I love making films.

Throughout this entire process, Joseph played a huge role in advising Evelyn and Maria on how to move and me on how to film them. I was able to really focus on the camera, my eyes, and the light. Joseph stepped in for all the work outside of my realm of expertise. I like moving, I have been a dancer in and out of the production space, but my understanding of kinesiology is that of a hobbyist at best. Joseph and Evelyn together brought a sharp expertise to what we were doing.

As the sun lowered, it came time to get the “money shot”—Maria submerging into the marsh. Again—anxiety. Had we gotten everything we needed with her looking dry? We did have towels, but it didn’t matter; she came up out of the water covered in black mud, wiping it off her face, and gasping for air. It was an outtake I had to include, not only because it was a beautiful and shocking moment, but also because it would justify why she looked the way she does at the end when she is singing and toiling around in the muck.

After Maria’s swamp mosh sequence, we wrapped and left. I hadn’t taken one single photograph. A huge part of this entire process was letting go and yielding to the mounting uncertainty. All I could do at this point was forget about my anxiety and look forward to editing the video, which took four full days of work spread out across four months… that was one of the great aspects of this project, we had started so early that there was ample time for other life and work events to take over before we finished what we had started. We weren’t operating on the timeline of a label’s release cycle. Every decision was up to Brother Martin. When we finally did decide to release >As Long As the day before their Fringe Festival performance, we were practically finished and ready to put together a press kit and release strategy.

>As Long As was a unique opportunity for me to be the sole video producer on a project, which gave me certain freedoms and constraints that allowed for creative problem-solving and experimentation. It feels like the ideal situation, to work as an expert with experts of other mediums, where everyone can inform each other on their craft and make unbiased suggestions or adjustment to the others’. That is evolution.

Capturing As Long As: Yielding to Uncertainty as an Artist2019-10-06T23:08:38-08:00

Creating Strangetown: Compassion & Democracy in Production

On the set of Strangetown U.S.A., over a hundred artists came together to unify their visions in a democratic process.

I was interviewed by Suite Spot—a creative production company I’ve been working with since 2016—about what I believe contributes most to the production value of any given project. I said, “Production value begins with the way you treat people on set.” I would revise that to include the way you treat people in the office during pre-production and in the edit suite during post. At the end of the day, it’s the ambitious drive we get from positive reinforcement that improves the quality of our work. Many production companies (some of which I worked with when I first moved to Los Angeles in 2013 and will never work with again) run their crews on fear and loathing and even hunger to get the job done on as tight of a schedule and budget as possible. I’ve always found that this destroys the final product and oftentimes creates unsolvable issues, such as incongruous cinematography, poor performances, and even lost footage. To get the best possible quality out of your project, you must motivate your team. The crew should be happy, cast comfortable, and client, if there is one, confident. This is the formula for an amazing, best-job-I’ve-ever-had production.

Eric Sheehan (Assistant Director), Dillon Morris (Director), and Adam “Ready” Richman (Cinematographer) kept the show running while listening to hundreds of continual notes and suggestions from collaborators of all roles and backgrounds on set.

When I was asked to elaborate on some comments I had about inclusion on set, it got me thinking back to those moments I had been assisting on jobs where the Production Managers strictly enforced a Do-Not-Speak-To-Anyone-Above-Your-Position-Unless-Spoken-To policy. I was on one particular feature, however, when upon returning with cigarettes requested by the Director and the AD—who were pacing around the camera, unsure about a big car crash they were framing up—the AD thanked me and asked, “Well what do you think?” I told him and naturally, he went the other way, but it was that notion that I could be included and asked for an opinion, that opinion respected and somehow—even if he didn’t agree with what I had to say—help push his decision forward to get the shot finished faster and the next setup underway. Since then I’ve always opened my shoots up creatively and oftentimes an actor or a sound engineer or a grip may have ingenious insight—because at the end of the day, we’re all filmmakers, we’ve seen thousands of hours of visual media, and we share a fluency in the language of motion pictures.

Adam reflects on Jen Johnson’s (Producer) insights while Paul Savage (one of 11 Vignette Leads) and Treigh Love (Production Designer) work out the elements of an upcoming scene. At any given point there could be a dozen conversations happening, all to be worked out and the outcomes of which to be shared at the right time.

This entire notion of compassion for the cast, crew, and client and a more democratic process, rather than the standard military hierarchy on set, reminds me of an incredibly collaborative project I was so lucky to just witness—the production of Pancho Morris’ Strangetown U.S.A. music video in early 2018. Directed by Dillon Morris of Here4Fun, with Cinematography by Adam “Ready” Richman, the approach to production was unlike anything any of us involved with experience on set had ever seen. The departmental structuring was more or less democratic and the creative direction was shared by everyone. It sounded ridiculous at the time and many of us were nervous the project would become unhinged and never make it off the ground. But over the course of one weekend, over one hundred artists and filmmakers pushed forth the production of the video. I was invited to document the process, which can be seen below. Photographs of the endeavor are also available in my portfolio.

What are your experiences with compassion and democracy in the workplace?
Reach out to me on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram.

You can learn more about the Strangetown U.S.A. project at strangetownusa.com.

And check out Suite Spot, we’re doing some pretty cool things.

Creating Strangetown: Compassion & Democracy in Production2019-09-03T14:51:54-08:00