Monday, July 16, 2012

Lie to You

In late April, Ksenia called me to discuss a potential music video. Ksenia Ranger had been singing for years and with her first album almost done, she wanted to shoot an music video to showcase her first release Lie to You.

She referenced the Siren Song video I shot with Jordan for the feel and wanted something similar.

Over the course of the next few weeks, I let the idea simmer in my head. What could we shoot that takes place up in the mountains, uses similar lighting, but has a real storyline to showcase the song?

Lie to You (lyrics)

Verse 1
So, what?
What are you waiting for?
You forgot
How to be something more
I don't wanna wait for a moment
I don't wanna stay, cuz I can't pretend
That you're gonna change what you're doing
I don't wanna lose in the end

Where will you run when there's nowhere to hide?
Who will you love?
Who will you lay beside?
Who's gonna let you be wrong if you'll never be right?
And who's gonna lie to you?
Ooh, ooh
Ooh, ooh

Verse 2
So, who?
Who do you think you are?
Yeah, you
You, with the broken heart
You don't wanna tell all your secrets
You just wanna tell all of your lies
Never gonna change what you're doing
I just gotta tell you goodbye

Repeat Chorus

Dum-dum, dee-dum, diddy, dum-dum [4x]

Repeat Chorus

As a 4 minute song, the song needed a solid story to carry it through the entire length. And after weeks of simmering, we had gone through scenario after scenario of potential storylines. Many of the stories involved a boy and a girl and someone getting shot. It was strange but we were seemingly fixated on the idea of someone dying and then telling the story of why those events occurred in that sequence. We threw out tons of ideas including a variety of twist endings. Ultimately I drew my influence from a similar storyline from the TV series Lost (can you tell I am a Lost fan?). Specifically the Nikki and Paolo episode titled Exposé.


(spoiler alert) As in Exposé, we decided to base the story loosely around a heist. We start the story with our protagonist dead. Why is she dead? She got shot. Why did Mark shoot her? That's the story.

Basically our couple comes across some money and though they are madly in love, the money causes a rift in their relationship. In our story, Mark suddenly gets involved with some shady business dealings in obtaining a Mercedes, changes his look with his slicked hair and fancy suit. All while Ksenia is apparently waiting for him. The change is too great to overcome and like any rationale human being, Ksenia figures that by getting rid of the cause (the money), things will go back to normal. By holding the bag of money hostage and over the bridge, she forces Mark to make a classic decision, money or love?

Of course, that's a very abridged version of the story. As we discovered through shooting the entire video in 1 day (and 1 hour the next day with just Ksenia), our story was quite the beast. There were many nuances in the video that we wanted the audience to understand without us having time to actually tell the backstory. For example. Where is she coming from in the beginning of the video? Where did the money come from? One of the things we regrettably omitted was linking the money to the bag in the first 10 seconds of the video. It isn't until much later that you find out there's money in the black bag. That's a rookie storyteller's mistake.

But it wasn't terribly important where she was coming (walking out) from and where the money came from. What was important was that they reacted to some newfound wealth. What was important was that we saw them in love and that they had been together for some time based upon their interactions. What was important was that we saw Mark in normal clothes and dressed as an "average Joe". The contrast between pre-newfound-wealth-Mark and post-newfound-wealth-Mark is what's important.

And the key is that with all of the events transpiring to what seemed like the beginning of the video, the audience is left a little confused asking "If he lowers the gun at the end, did he shoot her or not?"

That question was the culmination of the entire story. But the question isn't relevant unless we build it up and provide the backstory to who these people are and why you should care. The backstory is just for reference. It's just enough to get you to watch until the end. Just enough to want to know whether or not Mark actually pulls the trigger.

As for the answer to the million dollar question? Maybe I know the answer and maybe I don't know the answer. The point is that it's supposed to be somewhat open to interpretation.

Kudos to Mark Di Maria who displayed a pretty incredible range of acting. Being in the presence of someone who can transform himself and command a set is inspiring and awesome. There were several instances during the shoot I wanted to put the camera down and give Mark a standing ovation but I didn't have an Oscar handy.


As far as the nuts and bolts, I worked with Rick Craft on the production and we were very mobile with the variety of shots necessary and shot the 7D handheld on a follow focus rig. In retrospect there were several shots that could have benefited from the use of a dolly on a track but the terrain, time constraints, and budget were prohibitive. A more stable camera stabilizer with more inertia could have helped because it was difficult using the 7D and CMR Blackbird under windy situations.

The SmallHD DP4 (hooded) with focus assist was absolutely critical for composing and getting shot especially under the sun. This field monitor never ceases to amaze me in production as it solidifies its place in my production workflow. In fact, I now have 4 LP-E6 batteries just for the DP4. That's in addition to the 2 I have for the 7D.

That's basically it. There was one shot where I was on a pair of rollerblades (the shot following Mark as he walks to the white Mercedes) but other than that the entire video was shot handheld and on 2 feet.


What were the highlights of the shoot?

Character. I felt the acting on Mark and Ksenia's part was strong. This video pushes my experience with directing actors and moving slightly away from the fashion aspect of what I do best. In fact the entire storyline operates under the assumption that there are character actors able to carry their parts.

Midnight. Making mid-afternoon look like mid-night was challenging but fortunately resolved in post-processing. For a while we were debating whether or not to wait until nightfall to get those shots. No artificial lights were used. That was 4PM sunlight shining through the curtains. White balance and exposure were key to getting the look.

Grading in After Effects

Color-grading. If it weren't for grading I don't think the video would have come together as well as it did. The color enhanced in post allowed us to color match the same sequences (though some shots were acquired on different days). Grading also allowed us to simulate different times of day even though the scenes might have been shot back-to-back. Overall it gives the video a polished look that doesn't look like it was shot on a Canon 7D.

Team unity. This was a fun ragtag group to work with. It was a long shoot. Some of us got up at 2AM to get to the studio at 5AM. We were in the mountains by 7AM shooting the opening sequence of the video. Actually to my knowledge Brian didn't even sleep. He was running on 36 hours of being awake when we saw him. So for what it's worth we had a lot of fun. The picnic scene was hilarious as revealed by the shot where Ksenia stuffs that cookie in Mark's mouth. That was not in the script. It was all organic. The acting, not the cookie.

For long shoots such as this, you can't ask for anything more! Having a like-minded team of positive individuals is paramount to keeping things light-hearted and upbeat! Kudos to the entire team.

Script from Lie to You and Stick to the Script

A solid script. Shots, angles, sequence, timetable/schedule, itinerary, and all. Don't get me wrong. There was plenty to figure out on the day of the shoot. And there were times when I couldn't wrap my head around a particular shot. That's when it's up to your team to carry you. Rick with his immense music video experience was able to shoulder the load when I didn't have any good ideas for a specific challenge. It goes back to having a solid team.

Not attracting unwanted attention for waving a prop gun around in public. Nuf said.


Ksenia was an amazing client and I'm looking to collaborate with her again. Without her, the entire project would never exist. This was a fantastic project that taught me many valuable lessons in video making. I discovered that the music video format is just long enough that there needs to be a story but it's not long enough to tell a complete backstory. As such, there are many assumptions that the audience must make just to follow along. And it's the storytellers responsibility to allow the audience to not have to make too many "leaps of faith" in order to follow along. Otherwise the audience gets lost. But with good preproduction planning and good execution, you can produce a solid story that keeps the audience engaged hopefully long enough for the payoff at the end. Assuming there's a payoff at the end. Which goes back to the whole good storytelling thing. Otherwise, you just wasted 4 minutes of your audience's time!

Looking to put together more music videos in the near future!

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