Sometimes things just come together perfectly. A year ago, in February, I brought together a group of six extremely talented young women to make a music video for a song on the about-to-be-released Matt Ryan record. Everything about “(I Just Died) Like An Aviator” rocked. It’s one of my favorite shoots, one of my favorite videos. You can watch it here.
Then, last Wednesday, I read that Matt would soon be releasing an unadorned acoustic version of the same album. He sent me a copy, and I immediately turned on the acoustic “Aviator” and before the song was over I knew what I had to do.
The texting began. I started with my Matt Ryan-impersonator Chloe Barczak as she would have to carry so much of the idea I had in my head. She was in. Then co-producer Charlotte Beatty to handle the organization. And the first video’s guitarist Carina Begley, as the guitar was (except for a few piano notes at the very end) the lone instrument. An acoustic version of the same team, so to speak.
Then I told Matt we were again making a music video of “Aviator.” He never even asked what we were planning, and instead got American Songwriter Magazine to agree to premiere the video sight unseen. He sent me the chords and even a video for Carina on how to play a few of the guitar parts.
By Friday of last week we had a schedule and a location. The same location as the original video. We all met at 8:45 AM on Sunday, loaded up my Jeep with almost all of my gear, and drove the two tenths of a mile to the home of Dean and Shellye.
As Carina got used to the feel of my Martin acoustic, Charlotte and Chloe helped me set up lights and camera. By 10:30 we were filming, buzzing from a lot of Willoughby’s coffee, Coke-a-Cola, and salted-caramel Orangeside Donuts.
But this time around Chloe and Carina had their work cut out for them. My concept was to present the video in one long take. No cuts. Just a perfect performance and some precise rack focusing. No sweat.
We worked on blocking the first half dozen times through, as Chloe worked on her emotional delivery. She felt this version of the song was really sad. Desperate. Depressing even. Both Charlotte and Carina agreed. I was not about to argue.
We got the blocking just right, the lighting perfect. And by the twelfth take I started noticing tears in Chloe’s eyes. That was when I knew we had something special. We knocked off one take after another, with barely a pause between, and she nailed it. Take sixteen was fucking brilliant. Take eighteen was perfect. We did a few more. I had a B-camera rolling just in case my impossible one-shot idea would not work. And after the twenty-fourth take we wrapped.
I got home around 1:30 PM. I copied the footage onto a drive as I put away the gear. Then I started editing, going back and forth between takes 16, 18, 12 and 24…but ultimately the fucking brilliant won out. It would be take 16. I added titles, the slightest color correction, some film grain, and I exported the timeline. By 4:30 PM I texted Matt, Chloe, Charlotte, and Carina a private viewing link for the video.
This is what Matt Ryan wrote to me after seeing it for the first time: “My god she’s killing me. I seriously have tears in my eyes. I love it. Breaks my heart. It’s beautiful Please tell them I love it. Thank you for thinking to do this.”
His appreciation was appreciated.
Matt stripped down a beautiful song, and allowed us to do the same to the original video. But this video is unadorned in other ways as well: void of ego, attitudes, rude people (unlike most of the rest of my past few weeks, hell, unlike most of the world we live in). It was just four people working together, all doing what they need to do, having fun doing it, turning a beautiful song in a visual work of art.
Thank you to Chloe, Charlotte, and Carina, my brilliant cohorts on this project. Thank you to Dean and Shellye for again letting us invade their home. Thank you to Matt Ryan and American Songwriter for the blind trust.
And here it is: American Songwriter Magazine
Sometimes things just come together perfectly.