Background - Last year, we were referred to by a friend of UrbanMouse (Thanks Sheldon!). The client was a hip-hop artist named Gliffics. He was a very enthusiastic artist, adamant about the level and quality he desired for his single, "Call Me Crazy."
To achieve this, Gliffics was willing to generate a budget for those production expenses that many indie clients overlook, such as set design, props, wardrobe, etc... Dont get me wrong, the CMC budget was still somewhat limited in terms of what could fund our creativity. This meant that we would not be able to afford to hire much of a crew due the amount of materials we had to buy. In other words, Spike and I would be handling most things from prepro to post. That said, we needed to come up with a concept/treatment that would fit the bill. I view this as a somewhat formulaic process: Concept x Cost = Budget. Now I'm not very good at math, but with this equation it's easy. If we know that the budget and cost values are fixed, then the only variable that we can change to make this formula work, is the concept. In a perfect world, we could solve for budget as the variable. This isn't a new approach for experienced producers, but I find putting it in these terms makes it simple mathematics, not opinion.
Concept - After much discussion during a road trip with Spike, I came to the conclusion that a Dexter-themed video could work and make sense economically. For one thing, DEXTER is current. There is already an established story, so by parodying it, we avoid having to establish/support the storyline. We can simply rely on visuals to support thematically. It's simple. Dexter kills bad people; Gliffics kills bad rappers. Moreover, after doing some research, I found the DEXTER materials to be pretty cost efficient with a lot of bang for buck. For example, covering a room in plastic really is easy/cheap set design. One industrial 2000ft role of saran wrap is simple wardrobe/costume for a victim as well as added set design. Tyvek suits, latex/rubber gloves, plastic face guards, and the like all proved to be relatively cheap purchases. A trip to Home Depot and the Restaurant Depot and we were set.
Locations - Where can you find lots of empty space that will let you create a giant puddle using 120 gallons of fake blood? Though our client secured the music studio location, we couldnt leave the "blood scene" location up to him. Because we knew exactly the level of mess we wanted to create, we needed to be absolutely sure the location owner understood what we would be doing and not change their mind later claiming it wasnt explained clearly. It felt too risky to leave this up to anyone else so Spike reached out to a friend of UrbanMouse, Gfella. He hooked it up with a warehouse that we practically had free reign in. Thanks again, G! Using one of OUR favors for a client, free of charge. Just another example of UM customer service! (shameless plug over).
Blood - This is where most of the production funds went. I think Spike is now an expert mixologist for various types of fake blood. After much research and experimenting, we found that creating good-looking blood is easy with the right materials, particularly corn syrup. However, how do you make 20 gallons of quality, fake blood without blowing the budget? Have you ever seen a bottle of corn syrup at the grocery store larger than 16 oz? Even more difficult is how do you make another 110 gallons of fake blood without the expense of corn syrup? As I said earlier, Restaurant Depot really saved us by allowing us to buy in bulk. For example, they sold corn syrup in 4 gallon cases! For the less important 110 gallons of blood, we bought rasberry red jello cases, corn starch and red/blue food coloring, all in bulk. We mixed them in drum barrels (see pic to the right - Thanks Melissa!) Restaurant Depot is the truth, and I wish I could shop there for my regular grocery needs! You need to be a member to shop there and that usually means you own a restaurant. Our access was from another favor from another UrbanMouse friend (Thanks Jam!) saving our client hundreds! Ok, that was the last one, seriously.
Cinematography - I guess I should mention something about this since I claim to be a DP. We shot using our trusty Zeiss ZF lenses. However, I would say a third of the project or more was shot with the Tokina 11-16. It proved to be a "Crazy" lens for this music video. Shot on our EPIC-X. The size and mobility of the EPIC helped us set up quickly and get all our shots done in two days. Because the production wasn't so smooth, (e.g. no AD, no line producer, missing actors, ppl not showing up on time) we needed to shoot fast when we were actually shooting. Also, the variable frame rate options on the EPIC played a big role. We overcranked quite a few shots at 5k 120fps during the blood scenes - god i hated 2k 120fps on RED ONE. The stop motion-ish look was achieved at 12fps at a 1/96 shutter. We knew we wanted to employ some kind of motion effect to add to the craze of this piece. At first, I thought a slower shutter speed with lots of motion blur would be desired, but after scripting the treatment, I felt that a hard, crisp, edginess of a faster shutter would better compliment the blood and grit of the theme, and that it would contrast well with the humor and ridiculous acting that we would get out of gliff, lenny and the gang. To determine what shutter speed I found most preferrable, I did a little camera test with the opening hook, featuring my girlfriend, as my hype-man! This video may be better than the actual "Call Me Crazy" video but what do you expect with such amazing talent on screen?
For the plastic room in verse one, I only used the one 250w edison bulb. I promised my go-to gaffer, Tom Chaves that I would make up some elaborate schematic of how we achieved lighting in verse 1, but I dont really want him to get any work besides through UrbanMouse, so yeah, just one edison bulb. We simply hung it low enough to cast shadows with Gliffics body. We also kept it swinging to make it a bit more dynamic, throwing shadows all around. The plastic that we hung up was pretty thick at 4 mil. It bounced a decent amount of fill from all sides which made the single light approach work. Especially since the artist wanted to wear a baseball cap, bill forward.
Post Production - I knew I wanted to keep the rhythm of the shots/cuts at a fast pace. BPM's on this track are pretty high so I wanted to keep the visual energy as stimulating as the music. Because we scheduled an adequate amount of shooting time (2 days), we were able to get all the footage we needed. Therefore, I was in a good place in the edit room when assembling the scenes/verses together. At times, I actually had a hard time fiiting in shots that were deemed "must use." This was a great problem to have because it forced me to judge shots with much more scrutiny. Also having a good amount of footage ensured that I could cut rapidly without running out of ammunition and having to repeat shots. Clients often opt for 1 day of shooting because it will cost less, but it more than pays for itself to schedule accordingly, and if you cant afford adequate shooting time, I'd say go back to the formula above and solve for concept again.
Spike handled all the AE workload. He used Twixtor on the 120fps "Blood Splash" footage to get it slowed down to roughly 4% of its already 5x slow motion speed. For these shots, we set the camera's shutter speed to 1/2000sec to minimize blur in anticipation of using Twixtor. It's not perfect. You can still see some morphing, but this is difficult to avoid given the speed and unpredictable shape a splash makes. Additional blood was added in post for the "sawing" shot. Optical flares had to be tracked manually because the the 12fps footage couldnt be tracked using the software. We worked in tandem remotely, as he would send 5k TGA and 1080 PNG's with alpha over our dropbox account. I used QT to interpret then brought into FCP.
From a Directing standpoint, I was very happy that to see the idea/concept & previsualization come to life, as planned, in the edit room. Often times, you think of an idea and even though you plan and shoot-for-the-edit, what you end up from the shoot prompts you to change your plan in the edit room and you end up with something slightly different. Not saying this is always bad. In fact, sometimes it ends up being a plus as opposed to a compromise. However, in the case of CMC, it really came to life on screen the way I imagined it could. If somehow, youre still with me, thank you for reading, and without further blog nonsense, enjoy the video.
To hear more from Gliffics, visit Gliffics.com. His debut album "Against All Odds" is available on iTunes.