It was almost 5 years ago that we first spoke to NYC-based filmmaker Jake Saner (and were also introduced to the choreographic greatness of recent DN alum Robi) about his evocative docu-dance short Spaces Part I: Interior. Today Jake returns to our pages to discuss the creative luxury of crafting a zero budget music video for Lauren Declasse’s Evisu – a 16mm film which presents a poetic portrait of a day in the life of a young boy living and surviving in East New York, one of the roughest neighborhoods in Brooklyn.
I first met Lauren Declasse outside a coffee shop in Brooklyn. He couldn’t find parking so I just got in the car and we cruised around Atlantic/Barclays listening to music and talking. I was in love with the track Evisu the moment he cold emailed it to me, but I didn’t realize the potential of this project till I met Lauren, an impassioned 22 year old from the projects, with unparalleled drive, great taste, and desire to create.
The collaboration process started then, as an organic conversation about Lauren’s life and the root of this song. He shared stories about growing up in East New York, where he still lives today. A memory of walking through the Linden Projects late at night past 4CD (an intersection ominously deemed 4 Corners of Death) and being surrounded by a group of boys — dropping the Entemans cupcakes he was holding, terrified for his life, before talking his way out of the situation. A memory of being picked up by the cops for running in the rain.
We wanted to show both sides of the experience of growing up in East New York.
Though the pangs of hardship cut through, the general tone of Lauren’s recollection was loving and hopeful. He shared with me a sentiment of home, summer nights with friends, and his vivid, supportive community. Beautiful pastoral wanderings through an overgrown riverside path, the artificial rolling hills of Starrett City, a massive housing complex. Its nostalgia, the memory of the good and the bad entangled in a longing for the past and future.
We wanted to show both sides of the experience of growing up in East New York. Both the unavoidable struggle and the undeniable solidarity and support of this close community. Both the hard cracking cement of the rough urban landscape and the overgrown nature that entwines it.
From that first car ride brainstorm, Lauren and I both took home a list of images and memories. For the next few weeks, we pieced together a loose narrative based on what we had discussed. We landed on two specific through lines. The day in the life of a young boy, outcast from an unstable home life and yearning for greater things. Yearning to fly away somewhere. The other through-line, a group of enigmatic black men dressed in white, who we dubbed “thug angels”. The heart of the neighborhood, the moral protectors of the misunderstood. Outcasts themselves who make a pilgrimage of sorts to the young boy and ultimately offer him support in his community where he had none.
Our largest challenge and our biggest blessing was that we had almost no money. Lauren put up $1500 out of pocket for film purchasing and processing. We shot on my old Arri S standard 16mm film camera. I had no crew, save, my girlfriend Lauren Pratt and her sister, Ramya Pratt. It was bare bones but I would not have done this project any other way.
For me, this environment invigorates intuition. This story required true authenticity from everyone involved. As a director, I tend to remove variables that inhibit me from following my gut on set: large crew, rigid shot lists, unreasonable time constraints. Zero budget filmmaking is a specific brand of luxury. We rented no equipment and hired no crew so had very little financial restraint on our timeline. We ended up shooting this for 4 days over two separate periods. We had our simple narrative, our cast of Lauren’s friends (in edition to Kabir Jabrane, the young boy who was brilliantly cast by Ramya in the very last minute), Lauren’s car and a camera.
Zero budget filmmaking is a specific brand of luxury.
With very little attachment to a specific outcome, only a drive toward what feels right, everyone in this intimate workspace becomes a collaborator and everyone’s energy is at play and contributing to an instantaneous creative process. The more open each person can be to this way of creating, the more fluidly the piece shapes itself into something true. All of us were on the same page and ready to roll with the punches (quite literally in this case actually when Indigo SVN took an accidental elbow to the nose and bled some real blood for us while “choreographing” our little fight scene).
This story required true authenticity from everyone involved.
The edit of this video was a series of blessings as well. Visual themes I had not fully been aware of on set began to drive the cut forward. The song made it easy, providing a steady but relaxed drive with very little repetition of flow that revealed a natural progression for our images.
The result is an emotional, personal piece that we all feel close to. And Lauren and I began an effortless creative partnership that I know will continue on.
Evisu is one of the many great projects shared with the Directors Notes Programmers through our submissions process. If you’d like to join them submit your film.