DN regular Matt Genesis is back with a new music video for Elliot Moss’ I Heard!. The pair initially had plans for a large-scale and ambitious video which was thwarted by the arrival of Covid-19. Forcing them to adapt, Genesis directed Elliot (and his Dad) remotely as they constructed an ambitious set build with remotely programmed cameras for an equally impressive video that synergises wonderfully with Moss’ singular blend of pop electronica. DN caught up with Genesis as he reflects back on the last few months.
I’m curious to know, given the current global situation, if this was initially your idea for a music video?
So, we’re in the midst of planning an elaborate music video with a giant cast and enough locations to make a producer Full Metal Jacket you with a bar of soap in your sleep. Not only that, it’s for one of your favourite artists and you respect him on multiple creative levels, Elliot Moss. It’s time to call your producer, Maria Carrera. If anyone can help make this ridiculous project, it’s her. It’s a script that I personally put a lot of love into. Elliot and I were ready to make our film. Everything is going perfectly until… Covid-19.
So, it was a case of adapting to the situation?
We found ourselves in lockdown but still wanting to make a film. I initially didn’t want to give up on that script so I began begging animators to do me a solid and make this story a reality. The stars did not align on that plan and it just didn’t feel right. Thankfully, Elliot had an idea about still doing something live action involving a TV art installation and images on screen. This initial concept evolved into the idea of making a film about an artist stuck in quarantine. I know, I know. ‘So meta’. But, it honestly seemed like the best way to make art that was more vulnerable and relevant to our current experience. I am a firm believer that I personally won’t make anything of substance until I truly explore a subject I deeply care about on an intimate level. Also, stories about quarantine only call for one location and one cast member. Bar of soap in your sleep averted.
Did it end up being the complete opposite of what you intended, with just you and Elliot working remotely?
We had our computers and Elliot and his father live on set. The crew was based in Minneapolis and Elliot was in NYC. Thankfully, Elliot is a super talented filmmaker himself. And, his dad actually had some cinematography experience before dropping out of film school to pursue music.
We wanted to figure out a way to make this to the best of our abilities, not just the best for the circumstance.
This was a unique experience in many ways for me personally as a filmmaker. We decided that we had to go for it fully because it wouldn’t be as creatively fulfilling otherwise. We wanted to figure out a way to make this to the best of our abilities, not just the best for the circumstance. That meant mailing a serious amount of gear, learning new skills, and not letting a problem get in the way of our enthusiasm.
We’ve heard that from many filmmakers in the current climate. It’s amazing how people are stepping up, we’re seeing a lot of artists shooting their own videos whilst being remotely directed.
I think one of the most impressive aspects was how Elliot and his father stepped up and learned new skills on the fly in order to make this happen. In a lot of ways, it was a bizarre social experiment on communication. We are talking about some serious hours put in on Zoom and a very interpersonal dynamic because the shooting location was at Elliot’s home.
We didn’t just phone this shoot in and settle for Zoom footage, stock footage, or GoPro. We pursued it like we would any other shoot and didn’t let these new hurdles become creative limitations. There are a lot of filmmakers out there that feel like they can’t make their art due to the world’s state. I would argue that this is the time when the world needs our art most.
I’d agree. People are making it look so easy though with quick turnarounds. A lot of these quarantine videos aren’t as easy to make as you’d think.
The only way we saw this endeavour working out in our favour was to plan. And, when we were done planning, plan some more. We did lighting tests, on set remote workflow tests, acting and blocking tests – we tried to test as much as we could so we could get ahead of problems that could potentially impact our final film negatively. You can’t just assume something is a limitation because it sounds complicated. But, you’d be surprised how many words you have to say in order to get the camera in the right spot, much less keep your normal aesthetic intact.
The camerawork remains so slick. Could you walk us through executing some of the more challenging shots you aspired to shoot?
I immediately enlisted the help of my long time friend and Director of Photography Marcus Taplin. Time for some of those tests. Our Assistant Camera David Ishida worked with Marcus and the awesome guys over at CineMechanics to solve the problem.
When it was in action, it looked like the Mars rover and it was super cool.
We ended up being able to program a dolly shot from across the country with a remote control camera all viewed through Zoom. In order to make this happen, we used a remote camera head system call the eMotimo. It’s normally used for VFX shots or table top shoots because you can program the camera for repetitive moves. The next step we had to overcome was how we could control the camera from our homes in Minneapolis. We used Google Chrome Remote Desktop so we could take over a computer at Elliot’s house and ran a program called Dragon Frame to program the shots. When it was in action, it looked like the Mars rover and it was super cool.
Reflecting on the project as a whole now it’s out there are there certain aspects, like the incredibly focused planning, that you’ll take into future projects?
In order to make this with as little compromise as possible, we had to fully develop every shot and articulate every detail in order to get the result we were looking for. This meant creating a detailed animatic, 120 plus storyboards and taking photos of every frame on a program called Artemis beforehand so we could problem solve and get on the same page. There was absolutely no room for fuzzy thinking. Personally, I started at the freestyle end of the spectrum at the beginning of my career and relied a lot on my personal intuition and communicated very little to my team because I hadn’t developed the understanding of the craft necessary to do so. Over the past handful of years, I’ve found a lot of benefit through learning to communicate and plan, even if you’re going to change it on the day.
This project was communication and collaboration on steroids. If we didn’t discuss it, it didn’t happen. There were diagrams of the house drawn and extensive schedules laid out that planned every minute of our seven day shoot. Actually, it ended up needing to be cut to six because we pushed things a bit too hard quite frankly. It was a grueling, enlightening, and beautiful experience that I am personally very thankful for.
I Heard! 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.