Video Chats: David M. Helman on 'Fromdatomb$' by Joey BADA$$

Posted by Doug Klinger on November 5, 2012 in Interviews

Staff Post

David M. Helman

At the beginning of this year, Joey BADA$$ and David M. Helman both individually caught our attention with great videos that seemed to have come out of nowhere. We started keeping up on David’s work when his music video for Blu “Doin' Nothin'” was staff picked by Vimeo, and we first saw Joey in his Coodie & Chike directed “Survival Tactics” video. When we found out David directed Joey’s latest video “Fromdatomb$,” we reached out to him to talk about working with Joey, the videos 90s style, and lost basketballs. 

Doug: How did you get involved with the project? 

David: I saw the first video Joey released with Creative Control for "Survival Tactics" and like everybody else who saw it - I was impressed with how lyrically gifted this 17 year old MC was. But what also caught my attention was how well he performed to the camera. Joey possesses this screen presence and charisma that I have a hard time describing but it definitely got me to re-watch that "Survival Tactics" video over and over. I looked up Joey's management's contact info off his Twitter page to see if they would be interested in collaborating. It was kind of a long shot because I'm based in LA and why would they fly me out to do a video if they have Coodie and Chike down the street? But I contacted Joey's manager and he introduced me to Chike. He took a risk and vouched for me to do a visual for 1999. They sent me some tracks and I wrote out a treatment on Tomb$ and another track for another Pro Era artist that didn't happen.

Doug: You said Chike vouched for you, do you know what he based that on? Did you show him some work, or was he already familiar with you?

David: Chike wasn't familiar with my previous work so I showed him most of the videos I had done in the past and even some of my college short films. He must have been impressed enough to send it over to Joey who liked the DOINNOTHIN video I had done for Blu / Flying Lotus and wanted to do something similar. But I had just recently done another video for Schoolboy Q utilizing basically the same style of mixing live action with RUFFMERCY's animation.. so I was pretty hesitant to return to it for a third time in a row. That's when I came up with the concept for Tomb$ and Chike had my back and really helped sell the idea to Joey and his management.

David M. Helman

DP Trevor Wineman sitting across the street from the BTS team from Jay Z's blog, which was twice the size of the actual video crew. 

Doug: The video has this VHS feel to it, what inspired you to go in that direction with the effects?

David: Joey is clearly influenced by the 90's boom bap style so when I was digging around for ideas, I started looking back on old Wu Tang videos on Youtube. So I'd say I was inspired by the nostalgia I felt when watching those VHS recorded videos that somebody uploaded to the internet. But I really didn't want this to just be a novelty / nostalgia piece... because the hip hop community constantly gets in heated arguments that today's rappers don't compare to 90's golden era hip hop. I'm not sure that's true and Joey's proof of that - so I wanted to make sure there were modern elements still incorporated in this video. That's where I chose to keep it widescreen and how we ultimately came up with rotoscoping Joey & Chuck.

Doug: How did you achieve those effects? Was it done in post, or did you actually incorporate some older equipment?

David: I knew I didn't want to try to achieve this analog look by using AE plugins. It just looks shitty. So I called up a VFX artist/friend of mine from film school and he figured out a roundabout way of getting it onto a tape and digitally capture it back into the computer. We used a capture card that connected to a VCR to record the HD video onto a VHS tape. Then took that same VHS and re-captured it back into the computer. The footage comes back in 4x3 so we simply stretched it out to match the 16x9 HD frame. In AE we put the the HD and VHS layers on top of each other. Then we rotoscoped/masked out the HD footage with the analog layer exposed underneath and feathered it to make it seem as seamless as possible... there are definitely a few glitches in there though.

Joey Badass

Joey is a man of his word. 

Doug: Were you guys also trying to recreate some of the classic camera setups and looks from that era? Like Joey sitting on the basketball hoop, and the really low angle shot of Joey and Chuck rapping into the camera. Were you trying to recreate images of that time period with shots like that?

David: Absolutely. My cinematographer, Trevor Wineman, and I designed the way Tomb$ was shot around old Gang Starr, Tribe Called Quest, and De La Soul videos. Which was 90% locations and 10% filming performances on a wide angle lens. But there are a few scenes that we specifically wanted that weren't inspired by older videos but we knew they wouldn't feel out of place. Joey on the hoop was actually improvised because the initial idea was to see the Pro's playing at the courts but somehow CJ lost the basketball on the way to location. We were all standing around on the court and Joey started claiming he could pull himself up onto the hoop... so we let him.

Doug: And in those performance portions, are you directing the performance much, or are you just letting Joey and the rest of the Pro Era guys just do their thing in fromt of the camera?

David: With these kind of on-location / no permit videos it's really kind of hectic because my crew is only myself and Trevor. So half the time is spent trying to get everybody together and on the same page. Especially when Joey and Chuck had the whole Pro Era crew with them. They would get really distracted (as any group of teenagers would) and just start messing around or wander off... making hip hop videos has made me a pretty patient dude. But when we started rolling Joey and Chuck would snap into focus and I was really happy with their performances. Most of my direction during filming was ensuring that we kept Joey and Chuck around their marks and keeping them in the foreground while the rest of the Pro Era crew were kept at a distance so I would have to do less rotoscoping.

David M. Helman

Chike scouting in Brooklyn. 

Doug: What about the locations you use, are you doing a lot of scouting before you shoot a video like this?

David: Joey definitely had some input on what scenes he wanted, he especially wanted a collection of night scenes which seemed impossible at the time because we were shooting on RED without permits and didn't have any available power for lights. Luckily we found a camera rental place on the day of the shoot that rented out LED light panels that run off battery which made all of the night scenes possible.

Doug: As far as logistically how production works out, are you basically just going out with the camera and getting what you need? Or is there some more set up involved?

David: Well, we really only had a day to prep this video because we flew in on a Thursday night and shot on Saturday and flew back Sunday morning. Leaving us with just Friday... which is barely enough time to do much of anything. But luckily I could call Chike prior to flying out and run ideas past in in terms of executing the shoot on the tight schedule. He had made a list of possible locations so when we got there Trevor and I spent all day Friday moving around Brooklyn with Chike looking at these spots and we came up with a game plan that night. Hopefully on the next video I'll get an extra day or two of prep... but I doubt it. 

david m. helman, fromdatombs, joey badass, pro era, video chats

Doug Klinger is the co-founder/content director of IMVDb and watches more music videos than anyone on earth. You can find him on twitter at @doug_klinger.

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