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.
As I said in an earlier post: get the best sound you can when filming, because you won’t have the money for ADR, and even if you do, your actors probably won’t be very good at it.
When editing, make sure to checker-board your sound tracks. It’ll make your life a lot easier when it comes time to mix. Don’t go nuts trying to clean up background sounds and such, because your mixer will most likely start over from scratch. Keep effects to the bare essentials, play with volume, fade in and out. That’s in. Unless you’re a ProTools genius. In that case you probably won’t need a mix. But since I’ve never met a filmmaker who really understood sound, I doubt that’s a possibility.
As for music. First off, if you don’t have the rights to a song, DO NOT USE IT. It makes you a douche. Plain and simple, it’s stealing. And no, on your micro budget film you are never getting the rights to that Rolling Stones classic. No, someone in their camp is not going to read your script and realize they have to give you their song. That is not going to happen. That song is going to cost you $25,000, or more. And on any low budget film, it’s not worth it. (Really, you should be making music videos instead.)
And if you think you can get away with the version recorded by your brother’s band. Wrong. You still need publishing rights. That’s right, you need both publishing rights (basically, from the person who wrote the song) and master sync rights (from the person who owns the actual recording, usually the record label) for every song in your film.
Now, let’s say someone from the Rolling Stones camp actually returns your call. They are probably going to offer you something called “Festival Rights.” Do not EVER buy festival rights for a song. It’s one of the biggest rip-off in the film business.
First off, you don’t need them. No festivals check on whether or not you have clearances for the songs in your film. No one is coming after you, as you made no money from the festival screening. However, personally, as a filmmaker who always gets the rights to everything in his films, it pisses me off when a filmmaker submits a film that can never be released because he’ll never get the rights. It’s lazy, bullshit, filmmaking. It’s makes you a piece of shit in my eyes. You’re a thief. And I’ll have no problem confronting you at a festival. Or calling you out on it on a panel. (Seriously, that would be like someone just copying your film and submitting it as theirs. Might piss you off right?)
Secondly, if you were stupid enough to buy festival rights, and then lucky enough to sell your film, pretty much whatever you sell your film for is going to be the asking price for those songs you never bothered acquiring all rights to. That’s right, all the money you just made is going to music rights.
Feel like an idiot? You should.
And you now why. There are so many truly amazing indie bands out there, in the same boat as we are. Independent artists just wanting to be heard. And one of them will have a song that’s perfect for your film. Many of them will. And they will be more than happy to sell you non-exclusive rights to it for something you can afford. A hundred bucks, and maybe a ¼ of one percent of backend. Be creative. It can work. And you’ll be helping a fellow indie artist.
Look at the soundtracks to either YOU ARE ALONE or FRIENDS (WITH BENEFITS) and you’ll hear over 30 gorgeous tracks from a variety of amazing bands from Crooked Fingers to Matthew Ryan, the Wrens, Sarge, Phosphorescent. Every one of them indie. In every case I negotiated with the artist. In every case it was something I could afford.
It’s something you can afford. Film within your means. Wanting a Rolling Stones song (and obviously I’m just using them as an example, but any major artist would charge similar fees, from Beyonce to the Shins, all the same) is the same as wanting to film a car crash on your $25K budget. It just make you look as if you haven’t a clue. Because, well, you don’t. (Correct, the Shins are not indie. I’m talking someone who releases their own music, on their own, or a very small label.)
You’re indie. Support indie. Don’t be a douche filmmaker.
The Archers of Loaf have reunited and are going on tour this summer. If you’ve never had the chance to see this band, sell your soul if you have to to see them live. Honestly, if you’re broke and have to choose between seeing a screening of Color Me Obsessed or the Archers play live, go see the Archers. (You can always rent CMO later.)
I still get goosebumps when I think about the first time I saw them. The 2003 CMJ fest in NYC. They were playing Tramps on 21st Street. The lights went down, and sound exploded from the stage, the crowd massive and sweaty, bouncing in unison. It took all of about 15 second to realize I had found the band I’d been looking for for over two years, someone to take the place of, and match the energy of my blessed Replacements. It was noise pop bliss, and I’m pretty sure tear came to my eyes that night. I’d found rock salavation. I had been saved.
I’ve seen the Archers countless times. They’ve never let me down. (Even when they were sick as dogs at the Iron Horse.) They were hands down the best rock band of the 90s. Just as ICKY METAL was the best album of that decade, and WEB IN FRONT its best song. Nothing and no one ever came close.
I fucking love this band! (Honestly, they’re my second favorite band of all time.)
Next up on that long day in Boston, Mike Gent of the Figgs, another big fan, who of course also backed Tommy Stinson on one of his solo tours. This was the first day interview where we realized we’d have a very pet friendly film on our hands, as I had to make the decision to allow pets (dogs mainly) to roam free, sit on sofas, etc. Or not. Well, anyone who knows me knows my decision.
Mike has this great old black pooch that kept jumping up onto the couch, chewing its Kong, coming over to the camera. Basically being a dog. He would be the first of many such canine cameos in CMO. And I truly believe they add a more human dimension to the film.
Mike told this great story about always searching for a copy of ALL SHOOK DOWN on vinyl. (It was never originally released on vinyl in the states.) Well, when in England on tour he found a copy. He was so excited he actually opened the album on the plane ride home, just to look at the record and insert. He found it a little strange that while there were grooves for six tunes on side one, there were only grooves for five tunes on side two. And ASD had thirteen tracks in all. When he got home he quickly discovered why. While side one was the first six songs of The Replacements’ last album, side two was inside a Kenny Rogers/Dolly Parton album. A mistake from the factory where the vinyl was pressed.
It’s been a long time, but I have good reason: COLOR ME OBSESSED, my feature-length documentary on The Replacements. Over the next many months I will try to take a look at the film, my process, my motivation, etc and so forth. I’ll begin by trying to answer the question I’ve thus far asked 139 times: Why The Replacements?
I could say something simple and to the point, that they are the greatest rock band of all time. That their music is timeless. Their rock purity unmatched. But it’s more than that. The Replacements transcend simple greatness. They are the cure for my cancer. (They’ve cured my cancer many times over.) They’ve kept love alive. They’ve re-invented my life. They walk on water, feed the multitudes with a single loaf of bread, and cry tears of blood. They are my religion. Jesus Christ didn’t write Here Comes A Regular. He didn’t play the guitar solo on Color Me Impressed. And he certainly didn’t sing If Only You Were Lonely. It’s the Replacements who gave my life clearer meaning, who gave me something in which to believe. So, yes, when the opportunity arose to make a film about the band, I jumped. It was like being born again.
A top ten list of sorts.Not from either field which I call home (films, novels) but from my truest passion, music.The best albums of 2008, in unequivocal order.Don’t argue, you know my tastes, you know where I stand, just open your Amazon account and order those not in your collection.It’ll be the best hundred bucks you’ve spent in a long while.
#1 – Delta Spirit – “Ode to Sunshine” – Hands down the one masterpiece of 2008, the best cd by the best new band.Eleven tracks that evoke all things good in rock n roll from the Replacements to the Beatles, yet manage to sound original at the same time. Start with “People C’mon” or “Children,” but really there isn’t a weak or false beat on this cd.Fucking amazing!
#2 – Paul Westerberg – “49” – a glorious mess, one never ending 43-plus minute track comprised of PW’s best work since “Stereo/Mono.”Songs, clips, covers, noise, it’s a stream of unconsciousness from the greatest songwriter of our time.Not for everyone, because most people won’t get it or have the patience, but if you do the rewards are never ending.
#3 – The Rural Alberta Advantage – “Hometowns” – I gave this album a shot because of a review that simply read “In the aeroplane over Alberta.”And while not in the same league of the most perfect piece of art ever created (yes, you read that right), “Hometowns” is an instant indie noise-pop classic, loose strumming, twangs, all off-kilter and remarkably catchy.Download “Edmonton” and you’ll be sold.
#4 – Bon Iver – “For Emma, Forever Ago” – Nine hauntingly beautiful tracks that bring to mind Nick Drake or perhaps very early Elliott Smith.As fragile as a teenager’s heart, Justin Vernon (who essentially IS Bon Iver) has a voice that you will never forget.Listen to the album’s final track “Re: Stacks,” a better song has not been released this year.
#5 – Langhorne Slim – “Langhorne Slim” – Another voice unlike no other, Langhorne Slim yelps and croons as if he were having way too much fun playing these songs. He picks his guitar like the 80-year-old blind man who invented the blues.There’s a lot to like here, especially “Hummingbird,” one of the greatest songs ever written about having no choice but to move on from a relationship that just couldn’t work no matter how hard either partner tried. It’s heartbreakingly real and so sadly beautiful. You’ll want to give Langhorne a hug.
#6 – Santogold – “Santogold” – This year’s M.I.A., poppy, bordering on the danceable, and usually nothing I would ever listen to if it weren’t so damn infectious.Download “Lights Out” and see if it doesn’t remind you of the greatest 80s pop cd you never heard,
#7 – The Gaslight Anthem – “The 59 Sound” – if Bruce Springsteen and Paul Westerberg had a kid, this Jersey band would be it. Great, anthem-like rock n roll.Start with the title track and you won’t let go.And don’t let the crap emo bands they tour with turn you off.These guys are the real thing.(They should be touring with Wilco.)
#8 – Coldplay – “Viva La Vida” – This is not your grandfather’s Coldplay.First off they suddenly discovered guitars, and then they discovered how to rock.None of the wimpy ballad crap, the last four songs (starting with the title track) are as strong as any you’ll hear on almost any cd this year (except for perhaps the first three on this list).If you’ve never liked Coldplay (I detest their other cds), now is the time to give them a shot.
And that’s my list.Only 8 cds…there are certainly a few worthy of honorable mentions: Matthew Ryan’s “Matthew Ryan vs. Silver State,” Nada Surf’s “Lucky,’’ Crooked Fingers’ “Forfeit/Fortune,” and Mudcrutch’s self-titled cd.But overall it was a ridiculously disappointing year, when even the usual culprits (Lucinda Williams, Ryan Adams, Conor Oberst, The Hold Steady) bored me to tears.
I will give Ryan Adams kudos for the tune “Magick,” which proved the boy knows how to rock, I just wish he’d stop whining and stop writing the same song over and over again (really the new cd sounds like bad outtakes from last year’s far superior “Easy Tiger”).Ryan it’s okay to sound like the Replacements, it’s what you do best.
As for the worst cd of the year.Wow, this is so easy; I don’t even have to think about it.It’s a cd that epitomizes all that is bad about rock music and the self-proclaimed messiah critics on the web.Gutless, sounding like a group of 8-year-olds with child-sized instruments trying to play rock n roll, the album in question is the self-titled debut from Vampire Weekend.Wimpy, wimpy, wimpy.Really, if you like Vampire Weekend put out an A.P.B. on your balls, because they have seriously gone missing.
That’s it for me.I can only hope for a better 2009, though I’m ending on a Springsteen high.Not the Boss, but my new pup.(See photo below).He was one of the wild packs of hounds menacing the streets of Tennessee.We got him through Paws4Rescue.org.Everything about this organization is top notch and professional. (And if you’ve been reading this blog you know the issues I’ve had with other so-called rescue groups.)Well, these guys are the real thing.Donate, get your next pup from them, and/or recommend them to a friend: www.Paws4Rescue.org.
In the mean time, and while you’re surfing the web, check out the updated site for our new movie FRIENDS (WITH BENEFITS): www.FWBmovie.com
Now I close with another top ten list, written by one of my closest friends, Matt Bialer.I finished my list without seeing his, and visa-versa.I present his now, unedited, and knowing there’ll be plenty to argue about:
Top 10 CD from Matthew Bialer
No order: titus andronicus: the Airing of Grievances. I’ll say. One big drunken, sloppy Jersey fuck you to all. If you like beer and more beer, great songs, the Clash, Pogues, Bruce, Mekons….
The Gaslight Anthem: the ’59 Sound. Great anthemic rock that is like Bruce meets the Clash. It is what rock n roll is all about. Has balls and evokes a lot of rock n roll iconic shit.
Land of Talk: Some are Lakes. I love Liz Powell’s voice and songs. Just great stuff. Kind of evokes girl grunge, I suppose.
Delta Spirit: Great record. And no Gorman, it’s not Replacements derived. It’s like Arcade Fire meets the Zombies.
Frightened Rabbit: the Midnight Organ Fight. Great Scot Pop. If you like Orange Juice, teenage Fanclub, the Twilight Sad.
Tapes ‘n Tapes: Walk it Off. Fuck everyone who dissed this sophmore effort. Fuck you all. I like it and I still play it. And it’s better than most of Pitchfork’s top ten including Fleet Foxes, No Age and Deerhunter (some great songs but a little filler there, ey?)
Guns n Roses: Chinese Democracy. Because I like bands with “n” in the middle and because Axl Rose on a bad day (day? Bad 15 years, I guess) can still kick a lot of bands asses that critics swoon over.
A.A. Bondy: American Hearts. Kind of in the same spirit of Deertick. Mellow. Acoustic. But tough. The singer was the main dude from Verbena. Really good.
Birdmonster: From the Mountain to the Sea. Another great record that Pitchfork really shit on. Well I think this record is superb. For fans of Wilco, Dylan, great roots rock. I love this record.
Overpraised records: Vampire Weekend. I admit to tapping my foot a bit but not a great band. Also, they are like the second coming of Haircut One Hundred down to the preppy sweaters. And where are Haircut One Hundred now?? Exactly. And Haircut were better and even had more balls (gumball sized, as opposed to none).
Fleet Foxes: something fey and pretty here but I don’t get the critics going nuts over them. A few good songs but not terribly exciting to me.
No Age: I like some of this but anyone who plays this over and over and over again has to be suspected of brain damage. I wish they had more “songs” here but there is talent.
TV On the Radio: don’t get them. And what is this horseshit that they “speak for the times”. Yeah, for the times bumming around in a cafe in Williamsburg.
I wanted to like the new Hold Steady because I like them but this new one is weak to me, despite a few good songs.
The Walkmen. The guy is like Englebert Humperdink fronting a wedding band on only its “rock out” numbers.