When you’re onto a good thing creatively it makes nothing but sense to see where you can take things next, which was part of the motivating factor that brought director Alex Amoling and musician Chae Hawk back together for Chin Ups after their fruitful work together on the Remember This Night promo:
“On the way back to NYC from the shoot of Remember This Night, I was listening to Chin Ups on repeat developing images in my head, not knowing that would be the next project. After a few more phone calls while in post on RTN, Chae and I really bonded over that track and the ideas flowed.
I pace a lot when I’m thinking. Back in my home town in Maine there were flattened patches of grass in the front lawn where I would do that. After listening to the track consistently for a couple hours a day I thought, “What if I couldn’t walk around… would I be able to think the same way?” An absurd and simple thought, but that was kind of the jumping off point for the idea. A broken back can be mentally debilitating and physically, of course, and not everyone can recover from something like that. If people are in pieces then maybe they just need someone to come along and help them build themselves back up.
The idea developed from there and it turned into an ‘island of misfit toys’ of sorts where broken people are discarded in an industrial wasteland. Chae and I share interest in local histories and the industrial complex so location wise, shooting in Buffalo again was the best setting for the video. Chae reached out to photographer Christina Laing, who captures beautiful and haunting images of the cities abandoned spots. She has an intimate knowledge of its people and places so we worked with her to find the right location to capture the idea. After seeing a few more of her photographs I wrote the treatment to be placed in those locations so she played a pivotal role in development and production.”
Shooting from sunrise to sunset at Buffalo’s Silo City, the skeleton crew of DoP Kyle Wullschleger (who also operated steadicam on Amoling’s and Michael Lawrence’s Go To Sleep Mess promo), 1st AC Derek Means and make-up artist Madeline Jane, were able to capture Chin Ups over the course of a freezing cold 14 hour day, which had already seen them get into a back road head butting contest with a resilient dear. As Amoling had only recced the location via Laing’s images, the two did an initial walk through Silo City, marking out the best spots for each scene. Whilst being an uncomfortable working environment, the sub-zero temperatures also meant that conveying performances imbued with feelings of cold, fatigue and frustration was made easier as a result of the method school of acting. The discomfort continued on into the on set VFX work, at least for Amoling:
“For VFX, on set, I actually played the legs of Chae. It seemed like a good idea at first, but when we got together I realized that he had about 20 pounds on me of pure muscle and that I was roughly three inches taller. To get the shots, I had to hang him over my back, but not by the knees. If it was by the knees his head would only reach my lower back when it needed to go to my knees at least. So with a little finagling, Derek, the 1st AC, would hold Chae in a hand stand until I could get into position and wrap his feet around my neck. To hold your weight, plus 20 pounds, over your back and around your neck for three 45 second takes… I’d rather not remember the choking and back pains. I think Chae and I learned a valuable lesson from that experience.”
Fortunately, the pain didn’t carry over into post-production, with Chin Ups taking a mere two weeks to edit – only a week of which being dedicated to VFX, colour and sound design. So back pain and freezing extremities aside, is the Alex Amoling / Chae Hawk collaboration likely to bear more fruit in the near future?
“I’m not 100 percent sure why Chae and I seem to always put ourselves in these painful situations, but when it’s over you can always see it in the work. Chin Ups was a powerful, but trying experience that ultimately solidified our bond as collaborators and refined our vision of things to come.”