It's been a while since the last Creed Production Journal. In this installment, I'll talk about the making of the concert piece "Who's Got My Back", the song from Creed's current "Weathered" CD. Be warned: this is a journal; random thoughts up ahead.
When J Curtis, Ken Gay (dMedia), and myself (Faktur Films) began exploring how we were going to create Creed's concert visuals for their 2002 World Tour, we knew that we wanted to create concert visuals that were more "narrative" in nature; an approach supported by the Creed camp. To see this concert visual click HERE. The norm for concert visual production is to create "wallpaper", that is images and content for the screens that doesn't in any way "compete" with the artist(s) on stage. It's merely there for looks; "wallpaper". While none of us felt compelled to revolutionize concert visuals, we wanted to do things different. So that you know, the production of concert visuals is an entirely unique process. It's a priority of the artist's management but not to the extent that the music videos are. It seems that while the artist and their management is aware of the need for the visuals to accent the concert performance, it's rare that ample time, energy, and resources are ever really relegated to the project(s). And then there is the approach to actually producing and editing them, which I will get to in a bit. The only direction we received from Creed for the song "Who's Got My Back?" was that Scott Stapp saw images of the desert. That was all we had to go on. After listening to the song many times several things stood out at us: 1. the Cherokee Indian chant at the start of the song. Scott Stapp has Cherokee ancestry and we knew that we wanted to feature this somehow, an idea that was supported by Stapp. 2. the line "...the convenant has been broken..." 3. the intensity of the vocals during the later choruses. Other images stood out but remember this is a concert visual, not a music video. Keep it simple. So J Curtis and I set out to shoot the Imperial Sand Dunes of Yuma, Arizona (yes we can proclaim that we shot in Tattooine). Our gear list was the Canon XL-1, a Canon Optura, 1-chip camera, and various props. The props we had were an hour glass and "antiqued" documents that would be the visual references for "the convenant". The night before we left for Yuma, J and I spent a few hours in my kitchen pouring coffee on printer paper and toasting the results in the oven (to the dismay of my wife). The wording on the paper that you see in the video is the lyrics to the song written in Cherokee; a nice little font I found somewhere online. For the most part, we just shot the desert and the props against the backdrop of the desert. I'm not trying to minimize the production of this piece but J and I were on the same page, to the extent that we knew what we needed; images of the desert to manipulate in post. I learned very fast that the only light to shoot the dunes under is directional sunlight (early morning/late afternoon). That's when you get the long shadows that "pop" the various features of the sand and the shape of the dunes. So we shot from 7am-11am, took a break, and then resumed shooting from 3pm-sunset. I fell in love with shooting all over again. Creatively, it's a HUGE challenge to be given an 8 minute song, which this is, with the knowledge that you have to get enough images of sand dunes so that you don't repeat any of them in the piece. While we were out there, J had the idea to bury his head in the sand, face up, and then rise out of the sand. I wasn't sure what he was thinking but during the edit, a storyline developed of a man that rises from the sand and walks about. Another thing too is the fact that all of the images were shot handheld. This is a great testament to the XL-1s's Image Stabilization feature. I'm pretty happy with how stable they are. The last thing we wanted to do was to carry a tripod around while we traipsed through ankle deep sand. Oh yeah hindsight says take a covering for the camera when you shoot out there. I don't know what I was thinking or not thinking. It never crossed either of our minds. FYI - the wind is CONSTANTLY blowing out there and sand will get in every crack in your skin and in every crevice of your gear. Just ask the Canon Service center who serviced this camera upon our return for $700.00. Geez. Back to Nashville and the edit began. Ken and J had seen me as the director of this piece all along, which is very appreciated, and during the prep, it was decided that this would be one of the ones that I would edit as well. This project was my "trial by fire" of Final Cut Pro 3. In fact, dMedia received the Version 3 update while I was shooting the Creed visual "Hide". So Version 3 was new to all of us. We were chomping at the bit to try out the new color-correcting features of Version 3 and impress us those features did. FCP 3 has a great tool in its color-correcting palette and it really saved this video's ass. The tool is it allows you to pick a shot, frame, scene, etc., and tell FCP what to make as the white reference. Say that you shoot your actor indoors but the color temperature of the camera was set to outside. Well, the whites and other colors in the footage will be off. With FCP 3, you can call up that shot, tell FCP what "should" be white in that image and FCP will correct the entire shot based on its new white reference. You can't beat that. I used this extensively, actually I relied on it for this video. Granted, I shot with the white balance set to daylight (5600k) but the sun was constantly moving (like it does). The only way to get the tones of the sand shot during the morning to match with the sand shot in the shadows during the afternoon was to constantly white-balance the camera, which would have slowed us down. So knowing that this feature existed in FCP 3 allowed me to set the overall balance of the camera and just shoot. During the edit, I realized that there was no guarantee that the images would sync up with the live performance. I was editing to the CD track and the band performs in a live setting with tons of energy. Two different tempos going on there. With some bands, the visuals are so integrated that the drummer will play alongside a click track. The way this works is the video producers will author the video tape/files so there is one track of audio (which goes no where/just for reference), and one track of a metronome sound that maintains the beats per minute of the playback speed. This metronome or "click track" is sent to the ear monitors of the drummer and he bases his playing tempo accordingly, thereby insuring performance tempo that is in-sync with the visuals. Exhale. Well Creed wasn't going to be playing to a click track so who knew what tempo they would be playing at from night to night. So I tried to not edit on the beats (very hard coming from a music video background). In hindsight, I think this approach gives the visual an "epic" quality that cutting to the beat would not have given it. But there is one point where I just had to, I just had to, edit on the beat and that's where we go into the first chorus. Various thoughts: I set out to find and shoot (with a camera that is) an authentic, Cherokee indian. Anyone heard of Wes Studi, the actor from "Dances With Wolves" and "Heat"? Well, I got his brother Bob. "You can't have Wes but how 'bout his brother Bob". Anyway, Bob was great and is the Indian in the piece. Bob's pieces were shot after J Curtis and I returned from Yuma. I actually had to shoot Bob in the Winter season somewhere in Tennessee. The trick, obviously, was in NOT shooting any trees or foliage with Bob. It had to be cut with images from the desert. I think I succeeded. So that's my journal entry for this Creed visual. As time allows, I'll post another journal for another visual. (another day another dollar) mike Tools used: Final Cut Pro 3, Dual Processor G4 500MHz, Canon XL-1s, Canon Optura camera.