Setting the scene for Morgan Saint’s mournful lyrics at the singer-songwriter’s own funeral, NYC based Director Griffin Stoddard’s God Bless Our Souls channels the song’s themes of self-destruction and doubt into a fittingly sombre music video. Presenting his director’s cut of God Bless Our Souls here today, DN asked Stoddard to share how the weather lent an assistive hand to the video’s atmosphere and the logistical joys of burning a piano on a beach.
I had reached out to the artist, Morgan, a while back. By the time I wrote the treatment for God Bless Our Souls, Morgan and I had gone through 3 different treatments for other tracks that never ended up getting produced. The track God Bless Our Souls ended up being a really wonderful fit with my style and was exciting to develop.
Morgan and I sent imagery and references back and forth and some things struck a note with her, so I expanded on those ideas. I was really into this visual of spectators, a seemingly random assortment of people gathering for something – and I’m always gravitating towards a feeling of ritual. I drew a lot of inspiration from Greek director Theo Angelopolous. Taking that visual and applying the content of the song is where the funeral came from. Initially, it was a far more abstract version but the label wanted more narrative. We revisited the creative but I kept most of the characters. Fire had been an important motif for Morgan so that became more and more prominent as it developed.
The song deals with feelings of dread and self-destruction so it felt right that the Morgan’s character would be watching her own funeral. I think everyone has imagined their own funeral before – who would show up, who would cry, but those fantasies are only appealing as hypotheticals, so there’s this feeling of regret and a kind of horror at seeing it actually play out.
I had rented huge hurricane foggers to attempt the very effect we showed up to.
Once the label approved creative we had about a week to pull it off. My Producer Jeremy Truong was a total godsend. We got the production advance from the label maybe 3 days before the shoot and approval from the fire department about ten minutes before the end of the day on the Friday before we shot. One of my biggest concerns was not having enough extras, as we didn’t have much to offer them, but between all of our friends and Jeremy’s casting, it all came together. The characters were really wonderful and such good sports.
In a bizarre and fortuitous twist of fate, there was a really thick fog hanging in the air at the top of the day. I was sure it would burn off as soon as we started shooting, and I had rented huge foggers and hurricane fans to attempt the very effect we showed up to… but the fog stuck all day. It was the craziest and luckiest instance of nature I’ve ever seen on set.
We shot on the Venice with Canon K-35 primes. We went with these because of the ethereal quality when they’re shot wide open. This is the third music video I’ve shot with Oren Soffer now. He’s insanely talented and I really love when I get to create these eerie, beautiful worlds with him.
Photos courtesy of Sofia Colvin
The day was very hard and very long. Once we made it off the marshes onto the beach it began raining. The mud on the beach went up to our knees. The piano and all the steel deck had to be carried way out on the beach by hand. As the day went on, we cut more and more and it really got to that point of ‘getting what we can’ after lunch. The camera was on Steadicam the entire day – our op Calvin Falk was incredible.
I made two coffins to burn – they were filled with dry firewood and soaked in gas. I burned a huge chunk of the deck and the piano had to be sawed into pieces by the fire department at the end so we could carry it off the beach. It was just a hideous pile of ash and debris that all had to be hauled off the beach by hand.
Given how many scenes we cut on the day, a lot was riding on how the edit went.
The post process proved to be more difficult than the shoot itself. Given how many scenes we cut on the day, a lot was riding on how the edit went. I had the footage for about half a day before doing an in-person edit session with Morgan. We got a pretty decent assembly together and then I continued to edit for the rest of the week. I had a tough time finding the structure and pacing but got great input from friends and colleagues. Josh Bohoskey at The Mill really brought the look together and I’m quite happy with the product.
I had all my favorite collaborators on this shoot and everyone worked really, really hard. It’s definitely a world I’d like to explore more.