If you’re under the impression that the music video form is just about surface beauty, lacking anything which could be described as narrative depth, may we present Chase the Clouds – a six and a half minute short from writer/director Peter Edlund which pairs the beautifully brooding tones of Erik Blood with a dialog free nostalgic tale of summer love undercut by the odious practices of a gay conversion camp. DN asked Peter to share how he used Chase the Clouds’ emotional metronome as the foundation for his powerful tale of repression and secret desires.
Chase the Clouds is just such a dense, rich song. There are so many sounds and melodies that bubble up out of it on repeat listens, and I tried to use specific instruments or refrains to reinforce the emotions of a scene or signal a progression in the story. For me, everything comes from listening to the song repeatedly and seeing what kind of images pop into my head. The way the song builds, climaxes and subsides really lent itself to telling a complete story. I saw warm reds and yellows and remembered going to summer camp and having profound feelings that I was completely unable to express. Along with those dreamy elements, the song has heavy bass and drums that suggested something more sinister lurking below the surface. The combination of those feelings and some random images, like the final baptism/exorcism sequence and the hands reaching across the bunks at night, eventually led me to the conversion camp setting.
I really liked the idea of putting people into this nostalgic, familiar state of mind and then revealing the darker undertones of the story.
I wanted the film to remind people of the coming of age stories that we’re all very accustomed to. I really liked the idea of putting people into this nostalgic, familiar state of mind and then revealing the darker undertones of the story. It was a challenge to try and stay period accurate on our budget, but we found some locations that did a ton of the work for us. The sleeping cabins were built in the 1940s and retained that classic camp feel without any renovations. We looked at waaaaay too many camp sites, but eventually found ours through the classic ‘friend of friend’ connection. Thank God. Other then the sleeping cabin, we shot all of our interiors in one day at a grange hall in Camano Island, WA. It was the brilliant idea of our production/costume designer to start looking at grange halls because they are often large spaces that haven’t been renovated and they generally feel rustic enough to make sense with our forest exteriors.
Ian Lerch had starred in a short I made called The New West and Spencer was someone that I was aware of and really wanted to work with. I wrote the roles specifically for them. Lerch flew in from LA so he didn’t get to meet Spencer until we were on set. We shot all of the bunk house scenes first, and luckily the chemistry they had in my head carried over into real life. Spencer was doing a traveling Shakespeare production through the whole shoot, so he’d film all day with us, go do his show several hours away and then drive back into the mountains early the next morning. It was pretty incredible that he managed to stay awake, let alone act. With all of the other actors I really stressed the importance of developing a character whose story starts before the video begins and ends long after our film concludes. Even if the audience doesn’t get to see their whole arc, I wanted every one to feel part of a living, breathing world and everybody embraced that challenge. Not having the aid of dialogue presented some obvious challenges but it also forced us to really get to the essence of each character.
We wanted the filming to feel both nostalgic and immersive – like someone’s incredibly vivid memory. We shot on a red epic with Zeiss Super Speeds and tried to play up the reds and oranges so that everything would feel sun soaked and warm, but let the color drift to a slightly more sickening yellow when we got into the aversion therapy sequences. We started off in Enumclaw, WA in a cabin with no cell service and limited access to electricity. Most of the cast and crew stayed out at the cabin for two nights and it really led to this sense of comradery among the cast and the crew. It was like film summer camp. We filmed all of the exteriors in Enumclaw using mainly natural light, reflectors and flags. We were pretty lucky the weather cooperated. We moved on to a single day of shooting at the Grange Hall to get the majority of our interiors. We were really flying, but the flexibility of the space saved us a ton of time. The Aversion scene was pretty grueling. Everybody got snapped by the rubber bands for real, including me, and I was the only one who actually started bleeding. Hopefully there wasn’t a ton of resentment…
We had a script that was specific about when scene transitions and key shots occurred and we stayed pretty close to that in the edit. The aversion montage and the exorcism/baptism scene were the sections that really came together in the edit and that’s why I really value having Meg as a producer and an editor. It’s a great luxury to have someone who was there for the entirety of the shoot going into the edit. With the color we didn’t want to stray too far from what we shot. We just warmed things up in a few places and emphasized the reds and oranges. The most crucial change was making the exterior scenes feel more consistent. We would occasionally lose the sun while we were shooting and didn’t have time to wait it out. We tried to go pretty easy on the contrast and avoid the classic red cam look. I figured if this looked like Stand By Me or something, that would actually be more traumatic then going for a super dramatic look and feel.
My next project is a short film that I wrote with my brother called Mixtape Marauders. It follows two young burnouts, Patrick and Cheech, into a world of mindless day jobs, petty drug deals and wildly unconventional musical tastes. In film and television, the music interests of millennial characters are often comically out of date, unspecific, or cartoonishly typecast. These choices are mostly harmless—the music tastes of the character being a minor detail at most—but it’s a missed opportunity. With Mixtape Marauders I want to build a whole story around those ‘minor details’ and center it on two flawed, passionate characters striving to find meaning in the mundane. We start shooting this summer!