Dreamin': Behind The Scenes (pt. 2)

We got up at 4:30 in the morning to prepare for our first shots amongst the commuter rush outside Penn Station. It was 10 degrees and windy, and the sun refused to rise. Camera batteries lasted 20 minutes in the cold. Hands hurt just holding the camera. Our lenses froze, making them nearly impossible to muscle into focus. We warmed equipment in the car, then lined the bag with hand-warmers. It worked, barely.

 Søren + Joe dealing with our frozen rig.

I'd chosen Dai's coat to stand out amongst the black uniform of metro New York. Just about everyone emerging from Penn Station came dressed as I'd dreamed, in all monochrome, and Dai's coat stands out better than we could've possibly hoped.

The following day, we went upstate to film in a forest I'd scouted in previous months, and chosen for its trees, streams, and frozen waterfall. When we arrived, we were met with an unforeseen problem: way, way too much snow. It was 2 degrees. Rivers were frozen and covered in several feet of powder. Dancing -- much less running around with a camera rig the price of a Porsche -- suddenly seemed an absurd proposition. I cooked dinner for the crew and we talked about how we'd handle the morning.

We got up at dawn, calibrated our equipment, and set off for a day of improvisation in parts of the forest that might be accessible. We knew we'd be jumping out of the car, hiking into the woods, and filming for as long as possible until Dai, or the camera, froze beyond cooperation. Coming up with ideas on the fly is nerve-racking -- especially when several people are on board -- because there's a lot on the line. But if you have a good, small team all in sync, it's the most exciting way to work. Joe, Søren, Bekka, Dai, and Sam were all on board without hesitation, which made it possible to make quick decisions and try new moves in un-scouted locations, and know that we'd make it work.

The MōVI was indispensable for creating these smooth, luscious shots in snow that was often too deep to walk through. But it's a very particular creature: heavy, awkward, and insanely delicate (it can't be put down on the ground). Which meant everywhere we went, we had to set up a C-stand to pause and re-calibrate. A reasonable price to pay for deliciously smooth footage while tromping through the snow. Most my work is shot with a DSLR, and it was also crucial for us to have the dynamic range of the RED with the sharp winter sun, the brightness of the snow, and the deep shadows in the forest. When it comes to 4K RAW video, I'm officially in love.

In the end, we shot most the winter scenes in four locations. The abundance of snow meant that all the original spots I'd scouted were unreachable. Filming was going well, but I couldn't let go of the frozen waterfall scene that had been part of the idea from the start. As sunlight began to dip, we realized we could reach a part of the Rondout Creek by walking along parts of the creek that had frozen into an ice shelf. This was our victory moment, and as the clouds rolled in, the team used 200 feet of rope for a makeshift cable-crane (photos here). Poised on top of a frozen rock, Dai mustered the energy for a few final backflips before the day was done.

The following day, we drove further upstate to film my father in-law, Dong-Sil, who was the spiritual figure looming over the main character. He was more than happy to be surrounded by plants -- one of his primary loves -- and look longingly at his wife's lithographs hanging in the living room. We were treated to an opulent Korean feast and returned to the city to start extensive post-production + color work, which Sam will write about separately.

 Special thanks to Bekka Palmer for the behind-the-scenes coverage + unflagging good mood.

Special thanks to Bekka Palmer for the behind-the-scenes coverage + unflagging good mood.

Dreamin': Behind The Scenes (pt. 1)

I first heard an early cut of Dreamin' about a year ago and was instantly taken by it. Haunting. Beautiful. Strange. You know it's a personal song, even though it's been recorded to sound distant -- like the voice of someone trying to keep their feelings in sight but out of reach. The track was already cinematic; I wanted to be the person to make a video for it. 

I called my friend Scott -- Pillar Point -- who was preparing his album (which has just come out and deserves your attention). We agreed we should make a new mix of the song just for the video that would beef up the intro, and build into a major crescendo.

We've had one hell of a winter here in New York, and I rather than fight the frost and grime, I wanted to build it into the project. For a few days, I was probably the only one in the city who was delighted by the miserable weather, and constant threat of snow.

Ever since making Girl Walk, I've been dying to make another film with Dai (who plays The Gentleman). When I approached him with the song and a treatment, he signed on immediately. The words I gave him to think about for the movement: yearning, urgency, stealthiness, joy. The story, as I imagined it, was about this character's need to connect with nature, and distance himself from the intensity and congestion of city. I asked him to experiment with momentum and moving low to the earth. 

We filmed a rehearsal in my apartment for a long afternoon; we'd play music while Dai danced and I took notes. Then I'd stop the music and mimic the moves I loved and wanted him to develop. I love this part of the process: figuring out how to articulate what you can't put in words. I wind up mimicking different dance styles and showing micro-versions of particular moves to explain myself, which is fun and rather tragic. 

Two minutes of rehearsal

The song has this gauzy emotional groove that I wanted help translating into film. I got my friend Søren on board early to talk about leading the cinematography. Søren has experience with just about every camera I can imagine, and I wanted to be able to focus on directing the project and managing a medium-sized team in the snow rather than getting consumed by the camera operation. 

We wanted to shoot a lot of slow-motion, and have a ton of lattitude in post, and decided it was a project for a RED Epic and an amazing new camera stabilizer called the MōVI. We spent a lot of time talking about camera movement, transitions, and how to develop the story across two entirely different locations. I rarely have the luxury to spend so much time in the concept phase, and it's a huge treat.

Joe -- a super-experienced DP and climber -- came on board to experiment with rigging the setup and flying the MōVI, and made it his mission to figure out how to simulate a crane shot using an array of ropes and pulleys to push the final scene at a frozen waterfall we'd found. More on that in the next post.

Nearly Impossible Conference

 Rusty Meadows welcoming the crowd at the first-ever Nearly Impossible Conference.

Rusty Meadows welcoming the crowd at the first-ever Nearly Impossible Conference.

 The room was filled with beautiful objects, furniture, and of course — delicious coffee. 

The room was filled with beautiful objects, furniture, and of course — delicious coffee. 

We were psyched to be asked to shoot this year's first-ever Nearly Impossible Conference, two days of talks, workshops, and mingling for people who make and sell physical goods. Headed up by Rusty Meadows of Tattly, the conference brought together lots of industry expertise, with speakers from Rifle Paper Co., Areaware, 20x200, as well as Seth Godin and James Victore. The room was rife with an abundance of well-honed design details, places to hang, and solid brew. We'll have videos of the talks from the conference to share in the new year.