October 14-20, 2004
The A/V Club
Meet the Philly artists putting sight to sound
Video: In the first video from her new album, Jilly from Philly appears attired in a sharp white suit while harried, briefcase-toting, watch-peeping businesspeople rush though a muted, gray-hued world. This is not the golden life, we learn, as Chris Robinson’s video cuts quickly to vividly colored images of Scott bicycling through the street, spending time with kids and old-heads, chilling on the beach, and always flashing her 10,000-megawatt smile. The video is a photo album in motion. "I’m living my life like it’s golden," goes the chorus, as the images depict in no uncertain terms, unsubtly even, what Scott believes makes up a gilded existence.
Notes: Although the videos from Scott’s smash debut -- "Getting in the Way" and "A Long Walk" -- were shot in her hometown Philly, "Golden" and the forthcoming "Whatever" were not. "Golden" was done over two days in July in Venice Beach, Calif., essentially for economic reasons, but also because Scott, who’d been long at work finishing the album and then touring to support it, "needed a beach. I’d definitely been on the grind."
For Scott, who’s becoming something of the Oprah of the neo-soul movement, there was nothing complicated in developing the concept. Speaking on the phone on a rare off day in Philly (she’d arrived the night before and was heading out for a post-presidential debate performance in Miami the next day), she discusses the process (though she is occasionally moved to distraction by the WB reality/life-transformation show Home Delivery: "They are so kind to people … [the show] is so warm").
"Spending time with your elders is very important, having fun with children, just playing around, your own solitude," she says of the cornerstones of a golden life. "Just riding my bike, that’s what I did on my time off … just the sun and the earth and sitting on the beach. For me, it reminds me that whatever problem I have, it is really small in comparison."
In fact, Scott’s favorite memories of the shoot include the bike-riding scenes of her in a yellow tracksuit jacket, and a montage where she and an elderly woman -- essentially a stand-in for her own grandmother who doesn’t take flights longer than two hours -- "have our hands on each others," revealing their wedding rings. "To me, that just felt like, OK, black marriages really do last, despite what’s thought," says Scott, who’s been married for three years herself.
Though the video’s premise is straightforward, getting her vision to match the product is never a simple process. "You never get exactly what you expect," Scott says. "Sometimes it’s closer than others. Sometimes it’s way off. … 'In The Way’ was way off. 'Golden,’ the first three drafts were way off."
Scott’s process involves watching a rough cut of the video, taking notes, then asking friends, her husband and/or her mother to take notes of their own. "Typically we’ll agree and then I’ll send it back to the director, who will either shoot more without me or use other footage from [the original shoot]," she explains.
Scott finds the video-making process rewarding, if not always fun. "It’s a very, very long day," she says. "It’s probably better to shoot [one video in] two days than to shoot for 17 or 18 hours [in one]. I shot two back-to-back -- 'A Long Walk’ and 'Getting in the Way’ on a Saturday and Sunday. That was awful. I had never known exhaustion like that." —Brian Howard
Song: I Dont Care
Video: A season in the life of The Roots. The video documents performances in Germany, France, New York and around the world. Still-life photos accompany the live footage. Meanwhile, Black Thought leads a lyrical journey through the emotional life of an MC.
Notes: Videos are usually an opportunity for artists to explore their imagination, painting an illusion of a world or life that only exists in their mind. But when Interscope/Geffen/A&M gave The Roots a shoestring budget for the third single off The Tipping Point, the band was forced to opt for simplicity.
They turned to B.Kyle, an Okayplayer staffer and the body behind the stage and studio footage. The initial idea was to present The Roots while in their element, he says. It shows their individual personalities and yet showcases them as part of a group. Viewers are to feel like they, too, are on this career journey and The Roots experience, vicariously through me and the camera.
I Dont Care was chosen for a video because of its overwhelming popularity in Europe. This song has a train-like energy about it. In order to match that, I wanted a chaotic video that showed life as we know it in the studio, and on the stage. says ?uestlove. I hate the process of making videos, but I love documents and this is a long overdue document. —Deesha Dyer
Song: Deathbed (Na, Na, Na)
Video: A winking pastiche of Citizen Kane for the indie set, documenting the rise and fall of a rock star. The opening scene cleverly echoes Kane with a close-up of the dying man lip-synching the first line of IKEs snappy rock track. The band performs inside the infamous snow globe. (Eventually, a snowman begins dancing.) Other scenes from Orson Welles ballyhooed masterpiece that get parodied include the campaign rally speech, the breakfast table montage and the bedroom demolition. Sharp eyes will note such Philly-centric touches as a fake Inquirer and a bottle of Yuengling.
Notes: Director Glenn Mobley, a Philly burbs native and Temple grad currently working as a filmmaker in Los Angeles, heard the song on the radio while visiting here for the First Glance Film Festival in 2003. He tracked down the band by Googling the lyrics and successfully pitched his Kane concept to IKE leader John Faye. Honing in on the story of a man who achieves great fame but loses everything, I just kind of related that to the rock world.
Most of the video was filmed last May in a warehouse in Delaware, plus a day of shooting at the Grape Street Pub. (The Pontiac Grilles stage was also used for a background shot.) For the band, the filming was a comfortable experience. We exist in that snow globe and thats really all we have to do, laughs Faye. The real acting is outsourced, which I thought was a good thing.Michael Pelusi
Watch the video on the Bumper Sticker Wisdom DVD.
Framers: Chris McKenna directed a video for The Trouble With Sweeney;Upma Singh directed one for the defunct Maginot Line. Photo By: Michael T. Regan
Song: The City Let Me
Video: The Trouble With Sweeney pretends to play the song in a practice space in the Ministry of Information basement. Frontman (and CP contributor) Joey Sweeney lip-synchs into a microphone at various SEPTA El stops: Girard Avenue, City Hall stop (in front of the picture of the Dustin Hoffman-like pretzel vendor) and on the up escalator at Margaret-Orthodox. There are also shots of the band performing at the TLA, though not necessarily The City Let Me.
Notes: The song, to me, always felt pretty direct-address, very kind of public-service-announcement, says Sweeney, referring to its survey of life in Philly indie-rock. So it made some weird sense to me to have that announcement take place on SEPTA, since people are always telling you shit you dont wanna hear there. The stations used werent chosen haphazardly. We used Girard because growing up, that was my stop, he says. City Hall was where I got on lots of times after school in high school, while Margaret-Orthodox was director Chris McKennas boyhood stop. All of which is fitting for a song that betrays a lifelong relationship with Philly at its most mercurial.
As you might guess, a video shoot at subway stations was bound to receive a unique reaction from passersby. Add to that the fact that Sweeney had no playback of the song: I was just singing along with the music in my head, which definitely gave me the air of a crazy person. Especially with that mic stand and all. Pug-faced Fishtown girls kept getting off the El while this was happening, giving me looks like, Whats your problem, you weird faggot?
At City Hall, says McKenna, We actually had a couple little kids who wouldnt leave us alone at one point. They gave Joey a really hard time, but he kind of shrugged it off. Everything probably would have worked out a lot better if we had shot at the crack of dawn as opposed to sundown.
Shooting at Margaret-Orthodox proved to be relatively easy. [We] just went up and down [the escalator] about five times, McKenna says. While there, McKenna recognized the site of the old Club Pizzazz it used to be the place for punk rock shows in Northeast Philly and asked, Joey, did you ever go to a show there?
And almost without thinking about it, McKenna says now, he quotes his own lyrics from the song that we are shooting the video for: Never got into metal or hardcore, as if to say Come on dude, listen to the lyrics.Michael Pelusi
Watch the video on the bands Fishtown Briefcase EP or at www.thetroublewithsweeney.com/video/ttws_video2.htm.
Artist: Biggup and Elijah
Song: United We Stand
Video: Our hip-hop heroes wax poetic about unity over images of fireworks, flags, the Philly skyline and a certain Bell. The video ends with party scenes in a Southwest Philly bar and its oft-repeated chorus United we stand / Divided we fall / All for one, one for all.
Notes: Germantowns Elijah Spiritoso and West Phillys Biggup (Waleed Hakim-X Watson) directed their own video and got some sharp editing work out of pal Christopher Sylvia. Why make a video? We wanted to bring the song to life, says Elijah. The more senses you can stimulate, the greater the impact.
Even more importantly, its an effective way to expand on the songs theme. The video starts out with a lot of shots of just Biggup and me, which shows the Muslim/Jew/black/white unity, he says.
That said, B&E tried to find equilibrium between the political message and the fun stuff. The balance was achieved by making the beginning of the video strictly serious, with a lot of stock footage symbolism. The editing in the beginning is slow, which has more of a dramatic feel. In contrast, the editing in the end is faster, with more shots of Biggup and me with groups of people. As a result, the energy is higher, and the mood is more festive.
Elijah claims United We Stand is already bringing people together to watch the video. Since we only just started distributing the video for airplay, I would say only a few hundred thousand. We expect this total to reach the millions by the end of this year.Patrick Rapa
Watch the video at www.bandeinc.com.
Artist: Maginot Line
Song: Theme Song
Video: Lots of black and white concert footage intercut with shots of the band at play. Maginot Line was a smart, shouty D.C. punk band who asked Philadelphias Upma Singh to make a video out of the bands final appearances, an exclamation point at the end of the bands story.
Notes: The video counters intense, energetic images of the band on stage with colorful scenes of the band smiling and messing around. The triple spit take was my idea, says Singh of the scene wherein drummer Mark Stalzer makes like a lawn sprinkler at his bandmates. It was one of those things where it was probably around 3 a.m., and I was thinking, what else can I do to add variety?
The idea to do this video didnt come until well after the last shows, says Stalzer. Hed been accumulating footage of the band for the two months before the final show, when it was well known that the end was near. Singh went down to D.C. to record Maginot Lines last shows because it was a good test for her new Super 8 camera. Theme Song, says Singh, happens to be their shortest and the only one that would fit on a single Super 8 cartridge of film.Patrick Rapa
Watch the video at www.maginotline.com/mp3/theme.mov.
Video: Candidly shot at Cue Records, Crimson Moon Coffee & Tea House, the Kindred couples home and other various Philadelphia locations, the video and song is an autobiographical journey through the couples musical relationship, and, more importantly, their life partnership. Stars is a testimony on the love Aja and Fatin Dantzler have for each other and their family, even when times get trying.
Notes: Sometimes you watch an artist wax on about love in a video and youre just not buying it. This is not one of those times. For those who are unfamiliar with Kindred: They are a real-life couple, and parents of three.
They released Stars this past summer. We fleshed out a story that coincided directly with the content of the song, says Cam Zonfrilli, producer. The scenes follow a sweet courtship between Aja and Fatin with shots of them moving into a home. The hardest challenge was hiding Ajas six-month pregnancy, says Zonfrilli. Just like Kindred, the video is for those who are in love or hold the hope that it truly does exist. Aw, how sweet!
Stars which took about a month to complete climbed the charts to No. 7 on VH1 Soul. Deesha Dyer
Watch the video at www.parlayfilms.com.
Song: Banned In Libya
Video: This limited DVD is like a Hollertronix party: bold mixing (The Cure vs. Juvenile, bhangra beats vs. clipped breaks) and a pop pastiche of comic books, cult cartoons and corroded B-movie clips. Grainy 8 mm shots of the Tastykake factory, SEPTA buses and a bustling schoolyard lovingly capture Philadelphias grit and gumption.
Notes: Florida-born Wes Gully was a Temple film student before he began throwing Hollertronix parties as Diplo. He even shot a post-earthquake documentary in western India, alongside a professor.
My music got serious as I started doing films, Gully says. Id shoot 16 mm [videos] without any audio, then build a song structure out of it.
This meeting of mediums works extraordinarily well toward the close of the Libya clip. Here we see Gullys quintessential Philadelphia film project, shot with a fisheye lens and set to 1970s funk. The tribute is more than fitting.
The rest of the video concerns itself with pop-culture references. Much of this has to do with System D-128 (www.stemspot.com), a fellow Floridian and co-director of the DVD. System has the sort of video collection pop-culture geeks dream of, everything from rare Born To Be A Patriot propaganda tapes to second-generation 1970s commercials. Hes primarily the source of the videos nostalgic appeal.
What we do with Hollertronix is what he does with videos, Gully says. Not corny art shit, but real street collages, mixtape style.
Philly gives you an opportunity to absorb your surroundings, System says of his work here. By just looking at a broken-down house, you get the feeling something happened here. It gives you inspiration, as opposed to some place thats sugarcoated and shit. In Florida, all of these people want to flash their stuff, like, Check out my Ferrari, look at my girl with the bikini on. Here theres a lot of history. Andrew Parks
Watch the video at www.turntablelab.com and Diplo shows.
Artist: Man Man
Song: 10 lb. Moustache
Video: Singer/synth-player Honus Honus pedals down an empty Northern Liberties street. Trumpeter/marimbist Steven Dufala beats him up and steals his bike. Percussionist Tiberius Lyn interrupts his stroll with backup singer Marlee Darling to chase Dufala, but he fails to apprehend him and is left for dead. Darling busts a move straight out of Godards Band of Outsiders. Its in black and white, of course. Widescreen. With faux-existential surtitles.
Notes: Leave the French Quarter to those Rittenhouse poseurs; To Man Man and director Adam Carrigan, nothing says Nouvelle Vague like Sixth and Girard. We were going for that post-WWII European look, and since we were limiting our shots to several very long takes we didnt want to be bothered by traffic or human beings wearing outrageous human clothes while driving outrageous human cars, says Honus, who sports a weighty mustache of his own. Those long takes arent just artistic; ultimately, they saved time.
We started at like 3 p.m. and finished by 6 or 7, Carrigan says. Near the end we were losing light, but I was going for a video with as few cuts as possible, so we knew we had enough by the time the sun went down. After three hours of editing, 10 lb. Moustache was good to go.
Honus says the process was surprisingly easy, but he paid a price for le réalisme. The multiple falls off the bike were a little painful, he says. Carrigan has his own vehicular complaint: The worst thing was the exhaust from the van we were shooting out of kept drifting in and making me kind of loopy. But aside from the surtitles, theres nothing loopy about the video. Compared with its clattery, moody soundtrack off Man in a Blue Turban with a Face (Ace Fu) its positively playful. The cyclists slapstick scenes are tres amusant, but Darlings dance, synched to the song, provides the emotional payoff. M.J. Fine
Watch the video at www.wearemanman.com.
Song: 24 Turned 25
Video: A day in Denison Witmers life. His journey takes him to the Green Line Café at 43rd and Baltimore, the Spring Garden El stop, Rittenhouse Square, Broad and Chestnut streets, and Steve Yutzy-Burkeys studio in Northern Liberties. You know its Philly because it ends at a house party.
Notes: Director Andy Bruntel was shooting for something a bit surreal. That accounts for the floating guitar and wigging-out bedroom in the videos first scene and a set of self-playing drums at the studio.
But the nearly nonexistent budget wouldnt cover much computer trickery, and that suits Witmers understated style just fine. Life can be fairly repetitious and mundane at times, he says. Its often riddled with mystic things if you are patient and open to seeing them. Theres plenty to be happy and hopeful about. Like the citys vibrant colors, depicted beautifully here.
The director is more critical of his first video. I think it feels very unfinished, which I know some find charming, Bruntel says, but I cant help but imagine what it would have ended up like if I had followed through with my original concept.
The final scene, befitting the lyrics, was a coincidence of timing. The shoot was limited to a few days during the Lancaster-bred, Los Angeles-based directors Christmas break, and their visit to Yutzy-Burkeys place fell on New Years Eve. We spontaneously decided to include footage of the New Years party that was going on at his house that evening, Witmer says. That scene was probably the realest of all, adds Bruntel, who went on to direct Rilo Kileys Its a Hit. Conveying the ambivalence of being alone and trying to connect with friends, 24 Turned 25 is a worthy companion to Witmers lovely (and lovingly packaged) Philadelphia Songs, recently re-released.M.J. Fine
Watch the video at www.badtasterecords.se or on the re-released Philadelphia Songs enhanced CD.
Artist: Baby Blak
Song: Starvin Artist
Video: Within the historic, desolate confines of Holmesburg State Penitentiary, Baby Blak lyrically outlines his struggle with everyday living and pursuit of fame as an MC. Back-and-forth shots illustrate Blak in various rundown rooms and dilapidated cells throughout the prison while he expresses memories of coming up from West Philly to be a recognizable name worldwide in underground hip-hop.
Notes: Deciding to shoot a video on the coldest days of winter at an abandoned location made of concrete may not have been the smartest idea, but that only gave things a chilling effect that fit the mood. Originally opposed to filming in a place with a negative vibe, Blak eventually trusted in the vision Parlay Films had in mind.
Holmesburg is a strangely beautiful place. It was definitely our intention to accentuate this beauty in spite of the dilapidation, says producer Jon Buch.
I wanted to express the struggle of a starving artist. People have a misconception that everything is all good, and Im where I want to be. The album was just a stepping stone, Baby Blak says. He counts this, his fourth video to date, as his favorite, which he in part credits to having a professional, organized production crew. Huddled around propane heaters to avoid frostbite for two days was harsh, but the final product is satisfying. Blak concludes, This video was a blessing. I dont take anything in vain. Deesha Dyer
Watch the video at www.parlayfilms.com.
Video: Frontman Joe Melchiorre (who looks like a cross between Matt Pond and Adam Yauch) keeps his head front and center, singing and holding up props. When the lyrics come to the word phone, he holds one up to his ear. Its three minutes of that, but his performance is so sharp and selfless, this never gets tired. Since the bulk of the video is one long shot, its fun to see what hell grab next and whether hell crack a smile.
Notes: Melchiorre, who shot the whole thing alone with an old Sony Handycam DV recorder sitting on a desk in his bedroom, pulled it off in just three takes. The first take was interrupted by the pizza delivery man ringing my doorbell. The second take I grabbed a shoe when I was supposed to grab a hat.
What made him decide to do a video? Boredom and desperation. That and some folks like to watch more than listen, he says. I had a choice: Look for a job or make a video.
It wasnt Melchiorres first experience with the music-video format I was in a Josh Wink video a few years back, a friend of mine was directing. I look quite handsome in a hazmat suit nor was it his last. You can see the him and the rest of The Persona in the forthcoming video for Sick of Dancing. Patrick Rapa
Watch the video at www.thepersona.com/obsession.mpg.
Artist: Bitter, bitter weeks
Video: The dark, stark mood of the song is brought to life with lonely images of singer/songwriter Brian McTear emerging from pitch blackness to sing under a harsh overhead light. Meanwhile, a pale patchwork of city images, shot from a moving car, roots the lyrics in a ghostly version of the everyday.
Notes: It was the first attempt at a music video for younger brother Ryan McTear, who just moved back to the Philly area after working out in Los Angeles for a film restoration company (I got to do Citizen Kane, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Doctor Zhivago and a few other classics.).
I liked singing into a mic that was clearly not intended for vocals, says Brian. Thats my little recording engineer joke. Its an AKG D112 which is made for kick drums. Not only that, but I am singing into the wrong side of the microphone.
The part of the video I was most happy with was the Super 8 effect we managed to achieve with some of the clips, says Ryan. One of the videos most memorable shots uses this flickering effect: a drive-by shot of a man in colonial garb smoking and walking down the street.
My dream is to do a music video for the entire first side of my next record, like [R.E.M.] did for the album Reckoning, says Brian. There is really no viable outlet for a video, I suppose. Its just lots of fun.Patrick Rapa
Watch the video at www.bitterbitterweeks.com.
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