the art of pulling
Posted by chris
May 6th, 2014
There are two things that we greatly enjoy—telling stories and taking on new creative challenges. Our storytelling has extended into wedding, documentary, and commercial work, but something that we always wanted to try was getting our feet wet in the music video world. We were given the opportunity to make that leap this past year with the Midwestern rock-pop quartet, ELSINORE. Making killer tunes since 2004, this band is the embodiment of passionately pursing a craft and the art of bootstrapping that goes along with it. ELSINORE recently released their latest album, PUSH/PULL, counseled by seasoned producer Beau Sorenson (Death Cab for Cutie, Bob Mould), via Parasol Records.
Ryan Groff, the band’s lead singer, teamed up with us to create a visual representation of the album’s opening track, “The Art of Pulling.” In his words, “This song, along with the entire PUSH/PULL record, is about living with yourself and the people around you. It’s a wake-up-call of a song, asking the “you” in the song to get up and DO something.” And DO something we did, as our collaborative efforts led to involving 50 of ELSINORE’S closest friends and a host of favorite locations around Champaign-Urbana. Read on to learn more about the creative process behind the smokey, dream induced goodness of “The Art of Pulling.”
The challenge of cinematography is translating a vision into a frame. More than creating a picture that looks nice, whenever possible we try to be intentional in using visual elements to enhance the story, even if it’s on a subconscious level. Aside from the band, our story follows three main characters who are stuck in a rut, so to speak. With these three main characters we decided to use soft light to give the scenes a gloomy feel, not too dissimilar from a depressing overcast day. We kept the colors on the cold side and intentionally kept the color palette muted. Teresa Ellis of Surface 51 was our production designer and she did a fantastic job dressing the sets in line with this vision.
On a technical level, we wanted to keep the lighting as natural as possible. It’s ironic how much effort was put into achieving that goal so that the image didn’t look overlit or fake. It’s worth mentioning that virtually no interior shots used natural, available daylight. Part of our shoot took place at That’s Rentertainment, a video rental store (yes, they still exist, and yes, this one is AWESOME) and aside from the doorway entrance, the video rental store has no windows. Even if it did, it wouldn’t have helped us since our shooting times were after store hours, from 10pm-7am!
The smoking man’s apartment was actually a music recording studio converted into a set. Similar to the video rental store, it also had no windows (a fine example of art direction magically transforming a location). Finally, the painter’s studio is actually a storefront and while it had large windows, whenever cars or trucks passed by the busy street, it would cast distracting colored reflections into the room. The solution? USE OUR OWN LIGHTS.We didn’t use tungsten lights for a variety of reasons. First, a good amount of our scenes called for a blue daylight look. The second reason is because we were shooting for slow motion. At 240 frames per second, regular tungsten bulbs will flicker due to 60Hz AC house current. We decided on a combination of fluorescent fixtures and plasma lights. There is a shift in the music video where each of the three main characters has a personal epiphany. We have a major change in the lighting scheme as they burst outside into a warm wash of golden sunlight. The change in lighting is symbolic, and the visual theme of warm light remains for the rest of the piece.
During the conceptualization phase, we agreed early on that using colored powder and smoke would be a great way to visually symbolize the idea of an epiphany or inspiration. While we did end up compositing and computer generating some smoke to enhance a few shots, we wanted to do as much practically as possible and get them in camera—this ultimately meant a lot of takes and retakes as it was a real headache trying to control puffs of powder, smoke, and the direction of wind. Major kudos to all of our production assistants who helped with these sequences as we couldn’t have done this without them! It also took quite a bit of patience and mental math as we juggled numbers in our head to ration our limited supply of smoke grenades. We grossly underestimated how quickly we would go through 25 smoke grenades and ended up ordering a total of 100!
All this technical and creative origin talk aside, this post would be incomplete if we didn’t mention all the people who volunteered their time and resources to make this film happen. We’re humbled that so many people believed in ELSINORE and in the project to contribute. It was truly amazing to see local artists, actors, businesses, and volunteers come alongside us, willing to help throughout the shoot. Ryan Groff either has great friends, the power of persuasion, or both—after all, we didn’t need much convincing to hop on board with this project ;)