Throwing caution and extensive preproduction planning to the wind, Director Michael Parks Randa and his bare bones crew headed out with a sense of reckless adventure and a pair of wolf-masked, skateboard-toting teenagers, to hunt for the right images for Delta Spirit frontman Matthew Logan Vasquez’s solo track Fires Down In Mexico. In keeping with the project’s guerrilla nature, what follows is Michael’s unmediated reflections on the freedoms to be found in planning to have no plan.
When I wrote the concept for Fires Down in Mexico, I knew I wanted to approach the production as an experiment in spontaneity. With a loose concept centered around two wolf-masked, skateboard-toting teenagers on the 4th of July, I decided to root the process in discovery during production rather than over-preparation in pre-production. I threw my hands up and decided there would be no shot list, no location scouts, no rehearsals, and no permission to do anything that I envisioned in our 48 hour production window.
I threw my hands up and decided there would be no shot list, no location scouts, no rehearsals, and no permission to do anything.
The plan of action was to assemble a skeleton crew in Brooklyn, head south to an unfamiliar town in New Jersey, steal as many shots on the fly in as many locations as we could, and construct the jigsaw in post. With a mood board in my head informed by the tone of the song, lyrics, and characters I created, we hit the ground running, chased inspiration as it came, ever in search of the strange.
Bare-boned with just a Red-Scarlet, Zeiss Contax lenses, and a minimal lighting rig, we drove around rather aimlessly and let the locations and residents reveal themselves naturally. We welcomed blacked-out attendees at the motel pool to co-star (they probably won’t remember being in this), staged fights on a farm (the cops inevitably showed up) and were welcomed with open arms by the enigmatic, endearing carnies of the State Fair.
A far cry from my general practice, deciding on a run and gun structure was anxiety-inducing. Without a proper shot list how can you ever know that you’ve shot enough? What if it doesn’t flow the way you think it will in post? What if this was actually a really shitty approach? The devil was firmly planted on my shoulder.
As it turned out, all those fears were put to rest immediately once we started to film. We quickly found the tone in the characters, luck in the locations, and the charm in the chase. It was an ‘anything goes’ approach; no idea too large or impractical. What did we have to lose? When things didn’t work we moved on, and when they did we pushed them to their limits. 48 hours of creative exploration later, I left New Jersey feeling renewed, free from the shackles of my own common practices.
As a director who always edits his own music videos, this was a dream to sit down and create. I was giddy. Surprisingly, the only drawback was that we shot too much! It was tough to leave some really deserving footage on the cutting room floor, but I can say with certainty that the final product is my proudest edit. I love the flow and pacing of it and I’ve been encouraged by its reception.
It felt like we were levitating – I’ll forever chase that feeling.
Fires Down In Mexico was one of those ethereal productions where you’d stop to pinch yourself if you weren’t too busy chasing the magic. It felt like we were levitating – I’ll forever chase that feeling. Lucky for me, I think I have a better idea now, more than ever, where I might find it.
Special thanks to Matthew Logan Vasquez, Matthew Canada, Jake Sharpless, Paris Peterson, Andrew Dell Isolla, Rob Bessette, and the unexpected magic of Bordentown, New Jersey.