In his third music video for Porter’s Moctezuma album, Director Jorge G. Camarena brings the series to a close with the ancient metaphysical journey of La China. Combining narrative elements of renewal through pilgrimage, transformation and mutli-generational evolution, La China speaks to issues of female power and the importance of self-reflection as a means to discover inner strength. DN invited Jorge and his team to share the equally epic production journey they embarked on to create La China.
Director: Jorge G. Camarena
The story of La China is composed of different elements that introduce us to the pilgrimage from Aztlan to Mexico Tenochtitlan through a symbolic perspective represented by the transformation of a woman (La China) and her path – a multi-generation evolution that interconnects and complements each other. La China represents the harshness of the road and the importance of seeing into ourselves to find our inner strength. She manages to connect with her spiritual animal “Nahual” to carry on her mission. The different stages throughout our character’s growth represent essential values that translate to our own paths; trust, determination, courage and the alignment of the heart with mind, body and soul. The feather that La China puts in her belly represents the call of Huitzilopochtli and the symbolic pregnancy of will to continue the journey. The fire, water, blood, stone, feather, bone and heart elements represent the great Tenochtitlan. This is also a film that tries to embrace the power within women and the importance that their inner strength has on our culture and society. It’s a music video inspired by ancient Mexican tales and legends with no intention to be a lecture on actual history, but rather an opportunity for self reflection on the harshness of our own paths and a small peek into the world of Porter´s album Moctezuma.
The La China music video is the third of a consecutive series that attempts to represent the ideas and messages behind Porter’s most recent album Moctezuma. The previous two videos were for tracks Huitzil and Rincon Yucateco. Each video represents a different aspect of the Spanish colonization and life before it. The loss of identity is the main concept and La China talks, in a symbolic manner, about the path to regaining that identity as Latin Americans: to know and remember where we come from, so we can figure out where we are going.
We got the commission because we knew some of the band members from school or friends in common. When they recorded the Moctezuma album, Diego Bacter who is the bass player from Porter approached us with the concept for the album and the ideas they wanted to portray in the video. Porter has a visual artist named Christopher Houweling Voigt who is in charge of the entire visual concept for the band, he painted the album cover and designed the stages for the live shows. Christopher and Diego worked a lot in creating what would become the “Visual Universe” for the album, so Christopher was involved in the concept designs for all of the videos as well as in the script writing and became a fundamental part of our team as well. Not only because of his visual talent but because he has a vast knowledge about Mexican pre-Hispanic culture. So Diego, Christopher and I sat down to start sketching some of the ideas that would eventually become the video for Huitzil (which luckily ended being a Latin Grammy Nominee for best Short Video). We became a good team and there was good synergy between the band and our production crew so we continued to work together.
When we first planned the story for Huitzil we never thought the video would become part of a series and it was never intended to be so. However we wanted the videos to be part of the same universe not just from one video to another but have a message that goes in line with concept of the album and what the band was presenting live. That was something that really captured my attention because I think it is rare nowadays to see an album with a concept, not just different tracks put together to sell an album but tracks that are arranged in an order that has a meaning, and that the band and their visual style has everything to do with the concept of this album, their live shows, their costumes and the whole art that surrounds it. I think that when this happens and there is a conceptual universe created, the videos should only exist to strengthen this idea and give visual life to the ideas presented on the album. So when we realized that there was a narrative universe being created, we decided the videos should not have specific narrative continuity but had to be part of the same world.
This music video was made possible thanks to the talent and dedication of everyone involved, we like to work as a tight team so everyone’s ideas where not just welcomed but encouraged so that we could build the best video we could. Here are some of the crew perspectives on the project from their various roles:
Producer: Gabriela Alvarado Fregoso
The production of La China was challenging because we wanted to portray the beautiful landscapes of Mexico, so the scouting process was exhaustive especially because we where on a tight schedule and budget. Therefore it was imperative that we simplified everything without losing its essence and importance to the story. Locations were indispensable for the story, they needed to be beautiful but also demanding so that we could emphasize the harshness of our character’s journey. Production lasted a total of 3 days of principal photography. We shot at three different locations. The first stop was the Nevado de Toluca which is located about 80 kilometres (50 miles) west of Mexico City with an elevation of 4680 m (15,350 ft). The weather was cold with a lot of wind so it was physically demanding especially for our 11 year old actress, but it was important that the story began in a snowy mountain. We shot the scenes and then came back to Guadalajara, which is our production company hometown. We waited a few weeks because we needed to secure the other location permits and when we finally did, we went and shot 2 days in a row.
In La China we wanted to show not only the scenery that Mexico has to offer but also the strength of women.
The second place was the Nevado de Colima, which is one of the most active volcanoes in Mexico, and North America – to get there is not easy, it requires effort and perseverance. We shot in Cuitzeo Lake in the state of Michoacan, which is the second largest freshwater lake in Mexico. The casting was a challenge also, it was important to find indigenous women who could transmit the feeling and effort of our character so that the audience could identify with her not as a person but as a symbol of our own selves. In La China we wanted to show not only the scenery that Mexico has to offer but also the strength of women. We started filming on International Women’s Day, an interesting fact because it was our mission and source of inspiration to empower women. It is not the role of a submissive woman (which is very common in the misogynist culture here in Mexico) but rather one of a persistent woman who tackles complex situations as they come. We are extremely glad to fulfil the dreams of Christopher Houweling (who had the original idea and was our Production Designer) and Director Jorge G. Camarena, and capture each one of their ideas in images while improving them and attempting to make them more meaningful with the assistance of Porter, who gave us the opportunity to collaborate on a song that we all identified with.
Art Director: Alex Arbesu Norton
We tried to represent the evolution of the different cultures that evolved from this ancient land through her weapons and clothes. We needed this girl to appear as a very strong and independent being so we decided to equip her and give her a strong look with the falcon claw and thorn piercings. She’s a nomad, so she has to travel light. Her hair is so long at the end to help understand that a lifetime (longer actually) had past. Finally the eagle lands on the cactus and her journey comes to an end, the promise land is now under her tired feet.
Director of Photography: Gerardo Guerra
Depicting a pre-hispanic world that was credible to the audience was a mayor feat in the video. I think we all saw La China as an origin story, one that talked about the roots of the Meshika and their journey to Aztlán. It was of huge importance for the tonality of the piece to have a production design that could convey all the texture and elements we needed to make the story real in camera. We shot on RED EPIC at 5k WS .r3d using Canon EF and Zeiss ZF lenses (16-35mm L Series, 24-70mm L Series and 35mm, 50mm, 85mm Zeiss Distagon) on a DJI Ronin gimbal. I tend to want to have the camera in my hands, but the use of movement was important for Jorge…. gimbal use still seems to take a bit of control from my hands, so the confidence of the operator and the assistants was crucial.
The use of lights overall was minimal, except for the night shots where mini-brutes and a couple of fresnels where used. For the transition scene of the La China character as a teenager and the night shots we used a Sony a7s shooting in S-LOG2. This seemed like a good idea since we really couldn’t use too many lights as a result of the limited crew and power we had on location. For most of the shoot we embraced natural light using it in our favor and complementing that with fill light were it was possible. The REDCODE RAW files allowed us to efficiently maximize post-production and in some cases making use of the HDRX capabilities of the camera proved to be beneficial to the lighting circumstances that we encountered during the shoot. Jorge uses extensive storyboarding, so it really becomes a matter of interpreting the frame on location and making it work visually for camera. Working in remote locations became a feat of its own, since we had to trek to most of the locations within a limited time to get the takes.. Practically speaking it was a risky move, but one that actually turned out to give us the world we where trying to portray.
Director: Jorge G. Camarena
I believe La China was the last video for the Moctezuma album, Porter is doing a big live show in Mexico City to end the tour and the Moctezuma era. We are currently editing another music video for a band from Hermosillo called The Mud Howlers who are also about to release an amazing album. Here’s a small teaser for the next video:
We are eager to keep doing the kind of projects that require extra effort, team work and the opportunity to become better at what we do.