We had a really good time making it despite some cold and snow (we shot the video in bits and pieces from late November '14 to February '15). I was kind of concerned about the weather when shooting inside the church (because we shot that scene right after Thanksgiving) but, luckily, everyone was fine, Pale Horseman sounded fantastic, and it turned out to be the last warm day of the year was the day that we shot that particular sequence. The church still has really good acoustics even though it's in ruins. The battling knights scenes (inside of a crumbling auditorium, this time) were genuinely frigid but both actors ignored the weather completely and put on great performances.
There were a lot of moving parts to this project and I have to give Pale Horseman extra thanks letting me use the overall themes of "Conquistador" (a heavy and terrific song) and take some of my own creative risks using their work.
This is a music video so, in the case of "Conquistador", there's six and a half minutes to tell a story. The narrative has a more dense backstory (detailed at the end of this post) imagined for it but here's the quick(er) version:
Two powerful witches--long-standing enemies--settle an argument by playing a game of fate. No one can agree on who is right and who is wrong so, rather than starting an all-out war, they choose to take a more "civilized" approach in finding a resolution. They'll let the game decide. A few additional witches and warlocks (some powerful themselves, others just apprentices), understanding the gravity of the situation, have decided to serve as witnesses to the game taking place to make sure that things stay fair. During the game, they listen to music (naturally). On the table are instruments and symbols to be used throughout the game including a crumbling toy structure and poppets that represent the two matriarchs. The witches, rather than battling in their own world, have spirits battling for them on an appointed stage. The champion of the Silver Witch is a Silver King while the Gold Witch uses a Gold King to fight for her. The game turns nasty and aspects of the battle begin to penetrate the room. The Silver Witch wins the game meaning that the Silver King defeats the Gold King. Unexpectedly, the Silver King presents his witch with a choice of two gifts that she may use according to her will: a rose to offer the Gold Witch as a symbol of resolving peace (the nice option) or.....a pin. The poppet of the Gold Witch is just within reach (uh oh). The Silver Witch lets hate get the best of her and she stabs the Gold Witch's poppet, killing the woman it represents. The Silver Witch could have chosen mercy but, instead, she decides to execute her defeated enemy. From now on, the other witches and warlocks will view the Silver Witch differently than they used to.
There were plenty of influences for the tone and feel of this music video: David Lynch, Dario Argento, Alexandro Jodorowsky, Tarantino, "American Horror Story", Hammer Horror films, "Dark Shadows", "Flowers In The Attic", others, etc.
Pale Horseman's song is about the Spanish soldiers who explored (and caused havoc) in parts of North, Central, and South America in the 16th century. Because this music video was shot in Indiana and Illinois (where everyone involved on this project was based at the time), doing a straightforward visual interpretation of the song wasn't a possibility. We're on a budget here; a 10-person trip to a desert or a south-of-the-border ancient temple was a no-go. If we were based in Arizona, California, or Mexico, for example, it's entirely possible that this music video would have featured a different storyline because we would have had different topography to work with (sure, we could have done something using green screen but I'd rather not). So we ended up going with a mystery and mayhem story that abstractly alluded to the band's original inspiration behind the song. At one point, I was thinking about doing something that involved a really gross, gory, undead conquistador (could've been interesting....) but, instead, I wanted to do b-roll that went closer to the themes sung (annihilation, betrayal, blood-thirst) without being as literal as featuring an angry corpse with his face falling off.
When it came to where we wanted to shoot the band, we went with an incredible place not too far from Chicago. We had never been anywhere like United Methodist Church in Gary, Indiana. "Wow" is putting it mildly....
From what I understand, parts of "Nightmare On Elm Street" (the 2010 remake) and one of the "Transformers" movies shot scenes there. It's a magnificent, highly unusual location. United Methodist was opened in 1925 but was only in use for around half a century until its congregation shrank in the 1970's. It was later completely abandoned and fell into ruin. A history of United Methodist is detailed HERE. It's impossible to be in this building and not have an emotional reaction to it. It's a massive, complicated structure and the pictures don't do it justice.
When it came to the battling knights, I wanted to go with another location that happens to be close to the church. Although I loved shooting in United Methodist, I also found that place to be deeply intimidating and distracting (it just is--you'll understand if you go there.). On a different day, we had to have a place that would be conductive to a fight sequence and, therefore, I needed a lot of easy floor space to work with. The abandoned Memorial Auditorium in Gary fit the bill because of its available, clear floor space and it looked aesthetically linked to the church even though it's actually a few blocks away. It isn't difficult to imagine phantoms dueling with each other in there (maybe they do in the middle of the night when no one is looking--who knows?). The Auditorium's dramatic staircases and crumbling doorways were perfectly suited to the story that we wanted to tell. The history of Memorial Auditorium is summarized HERE.
I would definitely recommend shooting in Gary, Indiana because of these places (among others) and the fact that the Gary Film Office is very cool and really helped us in securing the perfect locations for this project. A very, very big "Thank You!" belongs to the Film Office (Ben C., especially) and, also, to the City of Gary for keeping these breathtaking structures available to artists. Decayed buildings can teach us a lot about history, nature, and architecture as well as adding emotional and metaphoric context to photographs, films, videos, paintings, etc. I wish that other cities would find ways to keep their ruins too. There's a rumor going around that they want to eventually turn United Methodist into a safer version of itself, a "ruin garden", similar to work done in Europe but whether or not that's true, I don't know.
My favorite visual style is the look of 16mm film. I don't like overly-pretty, fussy visuals and lighting; that sort of thing pisses me off sometimes. For a lot of my projects, I actually prefer "ugly", fucked-up lighting and aesthetics in specific cases partially because the kind of work that I do usually features outlandish storylines, strange costumes, surreal characters, etc. so--in order to balance those out and to give my work a certain anchor of grit, timelessness, and believability--I intentionally prefer to keep things a bit dirty and rough, camera-wise. Not always but, with some projects, I prefer for them to look as though the film stock took an extra-long dip in the acid bath; to look a bit neglected and to have a kind of distant, aged, "found footage", mixed-media feel to them. Footage from a documentary of a dream, that sort of thing.
more about the characters and backstory, as imagined for this music video:
(If you enjoyed the music video, and want to learn more about the characters just for the fun of it, here you are...)
What are the two main witches fighting over? Over the years, they've battled over plenty of issues. This time? Real estate. The two main witches were taught by the same warlock who has now died and it was revealed that he owned a piece of property that, at one point, served as a church (a front in order to get approval for licensing and to deflect neighborhood suspicion). When the story that we see takes place, the witches have just learned that he was the true owner (no one knew this until an old document was found in a drawer in his study). Although this piece of property was always considered special to him, no one was quite sure why exactly.....
The significance of the building (now in ruins) has nothing to do with what's in it but, rather, some of the materials that it's made of. Almost a century ago, the warlock smuggled half a cargo plane worth of expensive, extremely rare, and powerful crystals from Mexico and Peru. These were taken without consent from their respective locations, angering plenty of other witches, sorcerers, and shamans (to the point where this warlock's death may have occurred due to their retribution rather than old age but no one is certain; only rumors). These crystals were embedded in some concrete and bricks that were used to build the walls and foundation, turning the structure into something of an occult power generator. The building, practically pulsating with energy, might as well have become a convention center for spirits, demons, and angels and, also, for practitioners looking to mine its power for use in whatever Light and/or Dark Arts that they might be engaged in. The eventual abandonment and ruin of the building was circumstantial. The warlock was intending on revealing the truth about the ownership and nature of the building but he died shortly beforehand, creating a clusterfuck of legal confusion and unanswered questions that remained unanswered for decades (partially due to a rush-job on the lawyer's end, greed, neglect, lost documents, and bureaucratic foolery). Until now.
The woman nicknamed the Gold Witch believes that the property should belong to her because of a supposed vow that the warlock had made to her coyly stating that he was going to leave her someplace special (not something) upon his death and that he was meeting with his lawyer (because changing documents using magic is more trouble than it's worth, especially if there are multiple copies and locations involved; it's better to just go about it the normal way, in most cases; plus he didn't foresee actually dying half a week later) to make some changes to his will. The warlock ended up dying 3 or 4 days before this supposed meeting with the lawyer was due to take place. The Gold Witch's sister-in-training (the woman nicknamed the Silver Witch) disagrees, believing that--due to the warlock's official, registered will (from which she received slightly more) and her elevated status within the community--the property should belong to her. And this is how we end up with a big disagreement over a strangely valuable piece of land between two former allies who've hated each other for years (via various misunderstandings, back-stabbings, disagreements, and competitions which would require an entire novel to describe).
The Gold King and the Silver King are just spirits playing roles. They're not actual knights, even in the story that we watch. Their battle is symbolic. Spirits don't bleed and they don't die but they will understand the concepts of humans fighting, bleeding, and dying in order to solve an argument and to make a point. The Gold and Silver Kings are daemons hiding behind archetypes, standing in as the warring spiritual avatars of the two main witches.
When the Silver Witch kills the Gold Witch, she creates an entirely new series of problems for herself and her community.
The "Conquistador" Music Video Annotated Some of the images in the "Conquistador" music video are overt while others are more subversive. Now that you've read the full version of the story that takes place within the video, there are all kinds of things to notice when you view it again.
*Stairways To Heaven: Stairs are everywhere in this music video, from the ruined buildings to inside the toy model near the game poppets. When the band appears (who are muses to the witches within the story taking place), we first see them descending down a staircase. Ditto for the Gold King (the Silver King appears through a doorway but he has his own staircase behind him too). In faith and folklore, holy beings travel down to earth using ladders and staircases. Sacrifices took place at the top of staircases on Aztec temples (like the ones overtaken by conquistadors). Staircases and ladders represent transformation, transition, and travel from one dimension to another. Jacob's Ladder is the perfect example. We can see a ladder in the background while the witches play their game at 1:04 in the video.
*Valley Of The Dolls: The poppets representing the Witches, Kings, and the band are made of plastic, plaster, rubber, tape, weeds, leather, metal, paint, and bones. Their overall design concepts were inspired by objects displayed in the Vodou: Sacred Powers of Haiti exhibit at Chicago's Field Museum.
*Drinking Buddies: To spark up visions, seers throughout history have guzzled special elixirs before engaging in rituals. These Witches are no different; they're served a vivid, green liquid (absinthe?) that spikes their teas before the dice start to roll and the wheels begin to spin.
*Bloody Mess: Beware of crimson. There's danger mixed in the dice (3 white, 1 red) that the Witches utilize in their game, the paint that they use to mark the injuries of the Kings, the jewel topping the pin, the cynicism of the Silver King's rose, and (of course) the blood that appears when the Gold Witch and King are defeated.
*The Writing's On The Wall: The church and the battle court are defaced by graffiti, traces of long-lost messages; the toy building on the witches' game table is also coated with old stories and messages in the form of newspapers that mimic the graphic lines of bricks and stones.
*Eyes On The Prize: The Gold Witch focuses on a vision of the church (at 5:32) right after she/her King gets hit in the eye. Even though she suffers at that point in the game, she's still in it to win it.
*Stargazers: Lillies (flowers representing death and mourning) are placed uncomfortably close to the doomed Gold Witch throughout the game.
*Stay Golden: The Silver King wears mainly white and silver just like the Silver Witch. The Gold King wears mostly black and gold just like his witch (who even has gold fingernails). Apparently, not all of the warlock's smuggled crystals ended up inside of the church walls; the Silver Witch is wearing some of that stash on her fingers and wrists.
*Friends In High Places: There are the characters within the story....and then there are the other characters within the story. The witches are watched throughout their game by skulls, preserved animals, paintings, and additional sorcerers. On the base of the alter in the church, the face of a Sun God leers out at us at 0:06 while the band plays on. And for all the story about the warlock whose actions lead up to the game/duel, you'd think that he should appear at some point in the video, even though he's dead. Well, he does. That's a portrait of him, perched on an easel, behind the Silver Witch at 7:02. Should we be surprised that she won?
*Call Us If You Need Anything: On top of the crumbling toy building, the witches place poppets of musicians (Pale Horseman) before they start their game at 0:54. A proper duel deserves a nice soundtrack.
There don't need to be any more than those and there won't be any more than those for this year. This is a deliberate decision.
One dark-sided, sludge metal music video for Pale Horseman and then--coming from a completely different tonal direction--one very weird fairy tale short film epic.
One music video and one elaborate short film. Both projects have many moving parts to them. Neither are basic, quick, or simple.
The Pale Horseman music video should be online in February (next month).
And the fairy tale short film will be up at Christmastime (pretty much exactly a year from now but that will barely be enough time to cross the t's and dot the i's but we can do it).
[And while I'm filming and editing those I'll also be doing some promotion of older projects because a.) I should and b.) because I need to practice that kind of thing for current and future projects.]
Working on the new music video for the single "Conquistador" by sludge metal band, Pale Horseman.
Really fun shoot, great musicians, gorgeous location.
This project, being worked on in bits and pieces, will be online in early 2015. We already shot the band's performance footage and now we need to cover scenes that will reflect a darkly magical storyline that weaves itself throughout. This will definitely be an unusual musicvideo (those are the best kind, in my opinion) with a strong, heavy song and wicked visuals.
So what's it going to be like?
Vocals, guitars, drums, ruined cathedrals, aggression, various levels of existence, and a score-settling occult game. And that's all I'm telling you for right now. You'll have to wait until early next year to hear and see what I mean....
Well, it's actually more like "featured projects" because what's being featured as recommended viewing, for the moment, on this production blog are the (quite strange) videos that we did with The Baby Magic, an indie band based here in Chicago.
Without a doubt, Mary Beth is one of the most creative rock singers around, which is why I love doing projects with The Baby Magic.
Visit The Baby Magic Projects page right HERE to view music videos and a documentary.
Sometimes I do illustration work but these days, when I do it primarily, I do it to sketch out image ideas (character design, costume concepts) for films.
I did illustration work for book projects, music events and bands, restaurants, and websites. It was not a bad gig! When I was in Los Angeles, I got tired of working on other peoples films--I got tired of films in general which may or may not have had to do with me feeling "out of sorts" when I lived in L.A. because........because I do have a love and appreciation for Los Angeles but......it's just not my thing. It's just not a place where I felt comfortable living for an extended period of time. The weather, the culture, it's just not my thing.
So when I lived in L.A., I started doing professional illustration work. It taught me a lot about running a small business, deadlines, dealing with clients, etc., those sorts of things. It was nice and it was a good break from working on sets (where I usually was part of the art dept.). My work got featured in some galleries in Los Angeles and Chicago (I continued to do illustration work for a while after I moved to Chicago) and in some group shows. I sold some work and made some money. Overall, my experiences doing illustration work were very positive. There were a few clients who were pills but, whatever, that's life. I look back on my "illustrator period" very fondly.
I don't do professional illustration work anymore so I don't really have an outlet or website at this point to display some of my old favorites. Is it completely cohesive to put up a page on here--an indie film production blog--to show old illustration work? No, not really. But where else should I put them? Where else could they go?
So I figure "what the heck", why not? I might as well. Just for the fun of it and those who enjoy my film work will be able to see visual/thematic circuits between my old illustrations and the kinds of work that I do now through the medium of film storytelling.
As you can see, I like to explore a certain range of subjects. Although the mediums through which these ideas are expressed (from illustrations--whoosh!--all the way over to moving images) are quite different, these kinds of visuals will probably not surprise you (lots of darkness but camp and color and all that kind of stuff--I'm very predictable in my tastes and offer no apologies!).
Some of the work here is really weird (well, of course) but, believe it or not, I was just going with what the clients requested because they wanted a specific moment of a story visualized or they wanted to feature a certain kind of tone, etc. So, yes, a lot of the strangeness is my own fault but I can't take the blame for it entirely (I worked for some very cool and unusual people).
These illustrations (my favorite ones) were made at various points between 2003 and 2010 depending on the project for which they were created.