Tuesday, October 18, 2011

How to make a music video in less than two weeks for under $100, despite having absolutely no idea what you're doing.

When you go a month between essays for your pretend internet magazine column, you'd better have a damn good reason. I do! I just wrapped shooting on a music video for the supremely talented Piney Gir, who is coming out with a great new album called Geronimo! in like, two weeks or so. I'm so incredibly happy with the way this thing came out, especially considering how much I love Piney's music. It's weird working with someone whose work you enjoy so much. It also provided me with a great deal of anxiety and fear and depression, but so does everything else.

When you're a kid, you dream of working with people you admire. Catching the game-winning pass from Joe Montana. Playing drums for Spinal Tap. Editing one of Maureen Dowd's columns. I'm sure you had something similar in your life. It usually doesn't happen for most people because, y'know, you're probably not going to be in a situation where your job intersects with a famous person. You're not going to have to do some actuarial work for Bono. The odds just aren't in your favor. So when one of my favorite singers approached me to work on a project together, I eagerly agreed to help, despite having literally no background in anything even remotely artistic. I think that by agreeing to help, I was creating some sort of tacit lie. Luckily, nothing bad has ever come of lying to people in order to impress them, so I had nothing to worry about.

It all started about a little more than a year and a half ago. Piney Gir, like a lot of people, used her Facebook page to promote concerts and music videos and new songs and stuff – information that I, a fan, would want. So I added her as a friend, assuming that it would just lead to a bunch of posts about gigs and photos of Piney and her band. It turns out that she's actually a human person, and she uses Facebook the same way most people use Facebook. How strange. It all came to a head when Piney sent me a message saying she'd be coming out to LA – she lives in London, though she was born in Kansas – to go to a conference for her day job and maybe play some gigs at night. She asked if I knew any places to play or club promoters or whatever, which I totally do not. I'm barely cool enough to have a blog, never mind hang out with club promoters. I did tell her that I had a bunch of friends who were super talented filmmakers, and maybe I could talk some of them into making a music video. Piney got excited, and since I'm an idiot, I said “AND I CAN DIRECT IT!” I mean, sure. I've never done anything like this before, but how hard could it possibly be? I mean, Spike Jonze directs music videos, and I'm taller than he is, so, y'know.

After a few months of planning and all of that, I had a plan for a video - an homage to D.A. Pennebaker's short at the beginning of the Bob Dylan documentary Don't Look Back, because nobody had ever done that before – and she had a few cool gigs to play, so I could finally see her in concert. She even sent me a pre-mixed version of new album, six months before it got released so I could pick out a song. Everything was set! Nothing could go wrong! Then, of course, a volcano erupted in Iceland and all flights from Europe to the US were canceled. So that went wrong. All the excitement and build-up, only to be kicked in the dick by a volcano.

My natural response to an emotional letdown is to spiral into as deep and dark depression as one possibly can. I ended up not shooting the video. I ended up not really doing anything for a while. It hit me pretty hard, I guess. Luckily, Piney contacted me again in a few months. She was coming to LA again in late March of this year to record another album. She suggested we try for another music video, and since I had once again forgotten that I'm not the kind of person who makes music videos, I said “YEAH NO PROBLEM I'M AWESOME AT EVERYTHING!” which, again, what could go wrong?

This time there were no volcanoes or delays. Piney and her crew came to LA, recorded their album and played their gigs. They even took the time to go to a theme park with me and my wife. It was one of the most exciting and anxious weeks of my life. It's hard hanging out with someone that you're a fan of and not just turning into a pile of spaz. At least it is for me, maybe you're just really cool. I mean, I get that way when I see famous people I don't even like. I see Kareem Abdul-Jabbar at work all the time, and boy do I ever hate the Lakers, but seeing Kareem is so incredible that I just have to stare up in awe. He is so fucking tall.

So the conceit of the video is that it's going to be a bunch of sock puppets doing fun sock puppet things. Piney makes the puppets, and it's my job to direct them. This seems like a pretty natural fit for me, considering that my favorite TV show of all time was hosted by sock puppets. I have this great, hilarious idea for a Love Connection/Dating Game-type show where all the dates are dumb and horrible. The problem now is that I actually have to make this thing, and I have no idea where to start or what to do. I think I have to do a storyboard? Jeez, I'm really out of my element here. It's then that it hits me.

I have no fucking clue what I'm doing.

I'm such an asshole for thinking I could do this in the first place. I'm out of my depth by a great deal. My greatest fear – being exposed as a fraud – is about to come true. I went into another deep, lengthy depression. I guess I figured that if I just kept putting the project off, it would go away. This is something that I did all throughout school, and that went just fine. Oh, what's this? Sorry, I'm being handed something here at the desk. I see. Well, it turns out that I actually failed out of college because I never did any homework or projects or labs or anything, and I kept putting them off until my GPA dipped below 1.0 and Bridgewater State College told me to pack my shit and leave. Hm.

So I was faced with something similar here. Since I had no idea what to do, I wasn't going to do anything, and then I'd be a failure again. Fortunately for me, I was initially so excited about this project that I told a bunch of people about it and they kept asking me for progress reports. I finally remembered that instead of not doing it, I had the option of actually doing it. And once I had done it, it would be done. And once it was done, I never had to think about it again. Hooray! It took me five months to figure this out, because I am kinda dumb.

Similar to many heist movies, the best part of making this music video was assembling my team. I have a ton of very talented friends, and four of them came over to my apartment to help make this thing. Only one of them had ever used a camera before. We shot for a total of ten or so hours, most of which was spent building sets, adjusting lights and turning an old soy milk carton into a roller coaster car. Between the art supplies, film and pizza, I ended up making this video for about $100. Not bad for someone who has no idea what the fuck he's doing.

Piney loves the video. My friends love the video. Honestly, I love the video. I think it came out really well. This can be attributed to the fantastic editing of Patrick White, the arts and crafts skills of Valerie Johnson, Janet Kim and Kimberly Wu, and the sets that were put together by Aurora Nibley, to whom I am somehow married. Thanks everyone.

Having finished this is a huge relief for me. I never, ever have to think about it again, and everyone seems to like a thing that I did. It feels really good. Since finishing this project, I've started a few others. I've started painting because, I dunno, maybe I can paint? Who knows. I want to find out all of the things I'm good at, because being good at things makes me happy. I know this is an over-simplified way to look at things, but it's working. I'm happier than I've been in a long time. I might even want to make more sock puppet music videos in the future. In the meantime, I'm just going to promote this video a bunch. Next week I'll get back to writing mean things about music I used to like. Probably.

Here's the result.

And now, behind-the-scenes photos!

A very blurry photo of me and Piney after a gig. I am the blurry one on the right.

Josh Grimmer, slack-jawed idiot, pretends to be a director. Also pictured, Patrick White, Valerie Johnson and the arm of Janet Kim.

Just one of the many weird positions you need to hold as a sock puppeteer.

I am slowly becoming more sock puppet than man.

Kimberly Wu and I soar like majestic eagles!

Again, more sock puppet than man. Movie time!

Title cards were done with chalk and black poster board. The guy at the art supply store gave me a discount because I was a "professional." Joke's on him.

Thanks again to everyone who helped. You can pre-order Geronimo! on iTunes for $7.99, and you should absolutely do that. Outta Sight is going to be the next single. How excited am I? Very. Very excited.