Sunday, February 27, 2011

My Brother's Keeper Video/Spiritual Enlightenment

I finally have a moment to think and have decided to try and explain the last few weeks and the latest project in my life. I'm not sure that it will translate to words but I'll give it a shot.

A few short explanations before I get started.

1. I just finished a record called 'Chronicles Of Harvey'
2. One of the songs from that record is called 'My Brother's Keeper'
3. Tim Gill, my best friend on this planet, and myself have shot videos together in the past and thought we should do something for this record...

Now. Let's start out of order...
On Sunday, Feb 20, at 3am I began to feel disoriented, at a moment when a fantastic dream succumbs to waking and though I tried desperately to thrust myself back into that dreamland it was over. I was getting into a truck with my father and leaving the set of My Brother's Keeper, the music video (more of an art film , but I digress). Leaving behind the people who had become my family, my guides and friends over the last few weeks. I was leaving the most magnificent moments of my life within the arts and in an enlightening spiritual sense behind.

18 hours before that moment I had arrived on another set and began day 2 of this shoot. Just short of 100 people were bustling about getting lights into place, dressing extras in an RV behind the Church at our first location, assembling tables to hold refreshments throughout the day, prepping a camera that had only ever been used at this years Superbowl in testing (the Phantom V641 by Vision Research). There were some people I knew and lots that I didn't working to fulfill a vision that Tim Gill and I had sculpted over the last few weeks. We had been in meetings the days before, everyone nervous that our ambition might have been larger than our pocketbook or our schedule would allow...and this morning the race was being run. It was beautiful and should have been frightening, but somehow I was also just reeling in amazement at the precision with which they worked and the fact that we had come this far in a few short weeks.

David Wright was the man in charge of making sure the camera functioned. It shoots at up to 2000 frames per second in high definition which gives us the opportunity to slow life down to a crawl and preserves it's beauty in HD as we watch the resulting exposure. He had flown in two days before, been picked up, taken to FED EX to get the phantom, dropped off at Day 1 for test shots, discovered that we had a camera no one had yet worked with instead of the V640 he was accustomed to, met the Director, myself and a few of the lighting guys, reprogrammed the camera over the phone, slept very little and was now prepping to make a music video with it...for me and for Tim. For all those invested in this. David was fun, light-hearted, very professional and has the experience of National Geographic shoots, years of experience behind the camera and working with teams of all kinds all over the world. He looked relaxed.

Tim Gill was in rare form this morning. 2 days before he had told me that he was frightened by the fact that he wasn't scared about this shoot. He has worked as a Director of Photography on countless occasions, making someone else's vision beautiful time after time. He has been artistic all of his life. We've shared art and ideas for years and always planned to create something magnificent, as everyone does, but until this project he had not Directed anything other than college projects and those that have 2-4 people on set. He was always behind the camera...
For his first attempt he has decided to direct the cast of 45-ish including 6 leads playing complicated characters, and the crew of about the same size in an environment where lighting, which is his specialty, revolves around a camera with unknown parameters. The story is complicated, the decisions to shoot or not to shoot sequences, how to shoot them, getting it right in very few takes will make or break this project and ultimately define the art itself. We have nearly 40,000 watts of large, medium, small and specialty lighting on set, a HUGE generator out back, a half dozen electricians, a lighting company...and Cecil Daniel, Gaffer...head honcho in lighting for this.
Tim's not scared. He's drinking coffee, smiling and greeting everyone, giving soft-spoken orders to anyone with a question and appears to be taking it all in.

Behind this building is an RV. The RV is full of clothes. The lady who brought them 750 miles to dress a cast into the summer of 1938 has never been the head of a wardrobe department on a professional shoot. Her name is Deb Maevers. She is being assisted by an old friend and an ambitious 14 year old girl who aspires to do this type of work later in life. Deb has a degree in fashion, owns an antique store that specializes in vintage clothing and has done her homework. Denita Hartle, her friend from NC has come in and will do whatever is required to help. No one knows how much talent she has. Sierra Hughes, the young lady who is one of my daughters best friends (and rode out from Missouri with my family for the shoot) hasn't seen anything like this.
A couple hours after the set began buzzing...ghosts of the summer of 1938 began appearing on the lawn. Beautiful black women in dress hats, summer church dresses, gloves, handbags and shoes of the period. Robert Johnson appeared in the form of David Girard, an actor that came recommended by another lead on the cast. He's in a collarless jacket, well-worn fedora, wing-tips...he looks as though he has traveled long to be home. The hairstyles of the women are amazing. I'm seeing finger curls pressed to their faces, block-square tufts in tight patterns on short haired ladies, each with a flare of personality that fits the characters face. They all look as though they were worn this way on a daily basis, not a hint of the fact that Ebony Pinar had just worked with each and every one to make them look naturally beautiful.

Ebony was hired as an extra... She then became the woman who would bring most all of the mens clothing, she too an antiques officianado, hairstylist, actress, amazing soul. More about her later...

We saw the cast in full dress, they were beautiful, and I got butterflies in my stomach, became choked up a bit and realized that something amazing was about to happen...

I'm gonna stray a minute again. A couple of weeks before we were deep in the casting process. Jody Scheisser, Tim Gill and myself were reviewing photos of potentials, videos and talking constantly about 'the look' of individual actors and extras. There was great debate about 'The Preacher'. Tim and I had a similar idea about this role. He was to be the oldest character in the film, tall and strong, aged through trial and work in the sun. We never found that actor. There were people who fit the description at our disposal but each one lacked something that we felt was necessary. Roger Moss was on the list but we were never sold on 'The Look' that Roger had. After exhausting all possibilities we revisited the idea that Roger could pull off this character. From the beginning we agreed that he had unique qualities that we did truly enjoy and that he had the necessary talent to make this character come to life, but no one was sold. It was decided that he should do an audition for the character and we would review again after seeing him. Roger dropped by Tim's house, did an on-camera audition that convinced us....enter Roger Moss.

Back to Day 2, the morning at the church. The cast is dressed, lights are up, camera is ready and shot 1 is the preacher giving his sermon. Roger was called to the alter, Tim talked quietly with him for a few minutes and they called for a walk through of the shot. The room fell to silence after the assistant Director called the shot and Roger became a southern baptist, black preacher from 1938. The scripture he chose (though his part would be silent) was the one about entering heaven blind rather than with eyes that sin, legless etc. He was bold, animated, powerful and beautiful. As he began roaring Bible verses and testimony with unanticipated rage chills ran down my spine. The bar was set, it was high, and everyone KNEW we were about to do something amazing. The first applause of many rang in that church. Tim and I glance at one another, smile inside and out and it has begun.

I'll pick up here later.


here's a glance or 2