Monday, April 16, 2012

Lost Behind the Scenes

Lost started out as a simple idea. A girl, a horse and the wilderness. It literally started off with these three very simple components and as such I went into this video thinking it was going to be that simple.

But it never is that simple is it? :)

During a Johnny Rockets meeting with Jacqueline Lavaun, wardrobe stylist extraordinaire and overall intelligent creative at heart, I mentioned that I wanted to create this video (which at the time was nameless). I mentioned that I wanted it to look and feel like a perfume commercial but with a twist ending. Perfume commercials are great because they are so fashion-oriented in construct. A girl, a location, no dialogue and lots of nice clothes. Check, check, check and check! Jacqueline loved the idea and saw my vision immediately. She suggested that our heroine/protagonist's wardrobe should change throughout the video and symbolize what she's feeling. I loved that idea. And by the end of the meeting we had a solid storyboard on our hands. Below is a portion of the email that resulted from our meeting:

1. Scene opens with ROMANCE. It should feel warm, like my Siren Song video. Protagonist should be doing "something" that shows anticipation of romance, oddly I picture her picking flowers out in a field or something. But body language and camera angles should suggest sex and love.

1-2 TRANSITION. Scene titled DISCOVERY. Protagonist "somehow" comes across the letter and reads it. Wardrobe?

2. Scene revolves around SORROW. Protagonist is seen moping around, moving indecisively. Probably pacing. Fidgeting. Standing and sitting repeatedly. Closeups show nervousness and worry. Wardrobe should reflect that she's a prisoner to her emotions but she doesn't know what to do. Wardrobe?

2-3 TRANSITION. Scene titled DECISION. Protagonist drops the letter and leaves towards her horse. Music should pick up to signal climax. Wardrobe?

3. Scene revolves around ESCAPE. Protagonist is flying away from her memories. Angry. Scared. But determined. Trying to escape her sorrow. Wardrobe?

3-4 TRANSITION. Scene titled DESPAIR. Protagonist stops riding, and dismounts only to run a few more steps and realize that she can not outrun her sorrow. She runs towards the camera, and then slows down and looks into the camera with vulnerability.


The crux ending should feature our protagonist going back through the motions of picking up the letter and reading it and discovering it. Only this time she never finds the letter and instead finds her love interest standing in the doorway.

Another email:


CONCEPT: Loosely based off of a perfume ad. Our Protagonist takes the audience on an emotional roller coaster ride through romance, shock/sorrow, escape, and despair. This journey takes her through time and alternate realities. In the first scene, the Protagonist is scene at the mountain rocks in a romantic scene alone but anticipating love. She comes home to find a letter at the door of the house. She reads the letter and (in the second scene) the letter saddens her. She is initially in shock and sorrow. She sits down on the bench????????. When she decides that she can not sit around any longer she decides (transition between scenes 2 and 3) that she must escape this situation and runs to her horse and rides away (scene 3). When she finally can't ride anymore, she dismounts the horse and continues running. She runs until she can run no longer and then looks into the camera.

Then time reverses and the audience observes the protagonist moving backwards in time. The difference is that while the major actions and scenes are exactly the same (but moving backwards time-wise), the protagonist is wearing different wardrobe and there are minor differences in the actual edited scenes and small nuance differences in each of her actions. These differences suggest that the protagonist moving although seemingly retracing her steps/actions backwards, is certainly NOT reliving an exact reversal of what the actions the audience just witnessed.

Everything reverses back to the point where the protagonist finds the letter and then never having seen the letter and ends with the protagonists her love interest standing and waiting for her in the walkway of the front yard of her house. The video ends with the protagonist turning around and discovering the love interest is standing there waiting for her.

Did it happen? Did it not happen? What happened? What is real? What was imagined?

None of these questions or answers truly matter. What really matters is the emotional journey that our protagonist and audience experience. The wardrobe reflects the emotions. The changing outfits are whimsical and dream-like with no clear beginning i.e. they just "happen". We'll likely use specific camera angles and movements to bridge the gap between outfit changes between scenes.

Since the story eventually hits a point in time and then starts to play backwards in time (but with different wardrobe and slightly different actions), we will need to film every scene basically twice. Once going forward with one of wardrobe. Once going backwards with another set of wardrobe. The wardrobe makes it impossible to just shoot each scene once and then just reverse it.

Our protagonist really needs to emote and be over-the-top with her emotional representation of each scene. If it's too much, I'll ask for less but plan on giving more and really sending a clear message that you are "ROMANCE" or "SORROW" or "ESCAPE" or "DESPAIR".

There are another 8 pages of script describing each scene, transition, shot list, prop list and schedule. Based on the concept, I had to write it down. While the concept was very easy to understand, the execution of the shots were extremely complicated.

First of all, the shots did not follow the sequence of the actual video. That's normally the case but it mean that hair, makeup, wardrobe and shooting all took seemingly twice as long because every shot was practically done twice in each wardrobe.

Secondly the wardrobe transitions had to be consistent. There were 4 main scenes. ROMANCE, SORROW, ESCAPE, and DESPAIR. But there were 3 transitions, one in between each scene. So there's a ROMANCE>SORROW transition, SORROW>ESCAPE transition, ESCAPE>DESPAIR transition. Okay, that's simple enough right? But which outfit does the Protagonist wear in the transitions? Oh, that's easy, when you're going forward in time ("out") you just wear the one before and her wardrobe doesn't change until you get to the next scene. For example, she wears the ROMANCE outfit in the ROMANCE>SORROW transition. Cool, that's easy enough.

But what about in the time reversal footage ("coming back")? Because aren't there actually 6 transitions? You only listed the 3 going forward in time, what about DESPAIR>ESCAPE, ESCAPE>SORROW, SORROW>ROMANCE??? Hmm, then it's backwards because it's more consistent for the viewer. For example, she should wear the SORROW outfit for the SORROW>ROMANCE transition because in the reverse footage ("coming back") the audience will see the SORROW scene first, then the SORROW>ROMANCE transition, and then the ROMANCE scene. For the audience it makes more sense if she's wearing the SORROW outfit as she's "coming back".

So when you're shooting both transitions back-to-back, you see how things can get very confusing. Especially when the outfits are similar in color. I often found myself asking Jacqueline, "Wait, which outfit should she be wearing again? And seriously at about 10AM there were 5 minutes when I wasn't following what Jacqueline was saying. She was explaining the sequence to me and I was having a brain fart and I literally could not follow what she was saying because I was so mixed up in my head. I pretended to understand when I really didn't.

And I wrote the script. Seriously. WTF. I was really upset because at that moment I was lacking the aptitude/wherewithal to comprehend the sequence. EPIC. FAIL.

This is why movies have historians.

And we were limited by sunlight. We arrived before the sun got out of bed. Drove through the desert at 5AM and arrived before 6AM which meant most of us were up around 4AM. Rodney Alan got up at like 3AM because he drove from San Diego and picked up Jennette Pulecio along the way. I picked up Jacqueline Piccola along the way. Jacqueline Lavaun and Breanna Broach drove together. Codi Babcock and Matthew Hendrix were either already at Codi's grandmother's house (the location) or only 10-15 minutes away in Palmdale.

Why so early? Because it was the dead of winter and the sun sets at 4:30PM and we needed to maximize our available light.

Which was funny because when we were ready to shoot our first look at 7AM, the sun wasn't even in the right position (the opening sequence in the mountains). The sun was literally behind the rocks and we were getting a cold color temperature shot with very diffuse ambient light. It wasn't until almost 8AM that the sun was peeking over the rocks and giving us warm color temperature and the soft flare that I wanted by shooting directly into the light. So we were slightly delayed until the sun finally decided to cooperate with us.

By 8:30AM we were already 30 minutes behind schedule.

Fast forward 7.5 hours later, it was 4:00PM and the sun was rapidly setting but we still had time to shoot the two DESPAIR sequences. We drive 15 minutes out to where the ocean of windmills are and start shooting. No sooner did we hop out of Codi's truck than did the "government people" kick us out. Basically we were trespassing. There was an older woman and then an Asian guy. Each said that we weren't allowed to be there. I said, "No worries! We're sorry. Can you tell us where we can shoot?" The Asian guy was nice enough to personally escort us off the private property (government land) and take us to where we could legally shoot.

During that entire debacle, I was able to shoot the first of the two DESPAIR sequences. The second DESPAIR sequence (reverse time) required a wardrobe change anyway.

The only problem is he took us 20 minutes away from where we were. And 4:30PM was our "drop-dead" time when the sun was going to set behind the mountains in the horizon. I remember constantly looking at my watch every few minutes as we drove farther and farther way. We hadn't gotten the second sequence and there was a chance that we wouldn't get those shots at all. Then we'd be screwed.

But there was nothing we could do. Just be patient and follow the government people to our legal shooting spot.

It's 4:35PM and we finally arrive at our legal shooting spot. I jump out and run to the first possible shooting location and the team is right there with me. We crank out the last sequence just as the sun sets into the horizon. I even have time to ask Rodney, "Did we get all the shots we needed? Did we miss anything?"

Because that was one of my biggest fears. With the complicated storyline and the wardrobe changes, we could have very easily forgotten a transition or screwed up the outfits within a transition. On top of that I feared that I missed a specific shot or camera angle because I deviated from the shot list after about 8:30AM.

Which meant I was shooting willy-nilly for about 8 hours.

But at 4:45M the sun had set and we were wrapped whether I liked it or not. It was what it was. Hopefully we didn't forget anything.

I imported the files and then over the next couple days I put together a very rough cut of the video just to check if I had missed any crucial storytelling components. Luckily we had all the big pieces.

Over the course of the next 3 months I dreaded cutting the video. Literally living in dread. I had bad dreams and anxiety attacks about it. I lived in agony thinking that even though I had the rough footage that I wouldn't do the story justice. That I wasn't good enough. Not enough experience. I wouldn't be able to edit it so that the audience would understand it.

I worked on it off and on throughout those 3 months and each time I edited it, there was promise. Lots of promise that it could be a good final cut. Lots of care was spent trying to create logic and consistency throughout the video making sure that the audience would understand the movements and location changes without having to use any brainpower. As for the storyline, it was complex and there was no way to facilitate understanding of it outside of writing an entire behind the scenes summary on it. Hence this entire post. After all, the raw video footage was set. All I could do was make sure we stuck to the script best as possible and let the viewers try and figure it out on their own.

And I think that's the beauty behind this video. Totally contrasted against the Kate Compton/Skrillex or Jordan/Siren Song video, this video has much more depth. The kind of depth that I can't communicate with a single image no matter how much concept there is. The kind of depth that makes you ponder. These are the kinds of stories that get my creative juices flowing. And these are the kind of stories that I want to tell, because they aren't obvious.

But there are so many challenges. How do you tell a story with (virtually 1 character), 1 location, no dialogue, no budget, but keep it fashion-oriented? This is the riddle that I constantly struggle with. The story needs to be molded around these immovable limitations. Did I intend for it to cut to 3+ minutes? Nope. Hell, it started out longer. Do I wish it were more dynamic and had more ups and downs in the middle. Yup, because honestly as I watch it over and over again I feel sometimes it's a little slow and a little long. But every time I see the letter going from the ground back into her hand (in reverse) I remember how much thought went into creating this story. One that is very open to interpretation. And I feel a little tingle of anticipation inside.

Speaking of interpretation, the ending doesn't answer all the questions. Perhaps it even introduces more questions that it answers. Who's the guy? What did the letter say? Why does time reverse? What's with the wardrobe changes? Did any of it actually happen then? Questions unanswered but irrelevant on an emotional level as long as the audience buys into the character enough to want to see what happens in the end.

Kind of like how the show LOST drew us into their characters for 6 seasons. Ultimately it wasn't the secrets of the island or the smoke monster that kept us captivated. Sure, we wanted to know the answers to all those mysteries but at the end of the day it was the presentation of the human element that kept us enthralled. People being people. Making mistakes and dealing with them as real people do. Each character had a unique story to tell and we loved them for their flaws. Set against a beautiful backdrop and gifted with incredible cast and crew (particularly the writers), the character development in the series was just as important as the storyline.

If you can't tell, I'm a huge fan of LOST. I titled the video Lost as a tribute to the show. And I still think the LOST score/soundtrack written and conducted by Michael Giacchino is amazing. And if I can only be a fraction as talented as Lindelof and Giacchino, I would be incredibly proud. Incidentally, Giacchino called this musical theme Life and Death and anytime anyone important on the show died, you'd hear this music in the background. In the finale this particular piece was named Moving On. So if the soundtrack sounds sad, it's because it's supposed to be sad.

Anyway, this is just a behind-the-scenes look at the making of the video. There's so much more conversation to be had! Such as the direction of fashion editorial videos. Who's the audience? Do fashion videos need a storyline or can it just be eye-candy? Are these videos marketable? What about nudity? You shoot so much fashion nudity in your still images only to totally abandon that in your fashion videos (going forward)?

Maybe a podcast discussion is in the horizon? :)

Cheers! Let me know what you thought of the video!


  1. Meticulous attention to detail and an obviously talented team resulted in a beautiful, dreamy, touching film.
    Thank you for sharing the video and your insight into the process.
    I really enjoyed it.

  2. Great work! I'd say it was a success. I'd say it's marketable, maybe you have a future in perfume ads or fashion commercials? I want to learn more about video myself... but I admit, it seems daunting.

  3. How much of that vid was hand held?

  4. All of this video was handheld... All of it. I only had a follow focus rig but it was handheld.

    Oh wait, check that. I did the horse scene on a tripod. The one where it runs across the distance. That's it.