Video Chats: Jason Baum on 'Concrete Wall' by Zee Avi
Posted by Doug Klinger on December 18, 2012 in Interviews
Jason Baum spent most of the past year producing music videos for awesome directors like Hiro Murai, Isaiah Seret, and Saman Keshavarz. Some of that time, however, was also spent hanging out with Zee Avi, and coming up with the concept for her Concrete Wall music video, which Jason both produced and directed. We talked to Jason about the challenges of the dual role of director and producer, the joys of motion control, and making concrete out of wallpaper. (All photos by Vanessa Black)
Doug: You spend most of your time producing videos. How did you end up directing this piece?
Jason: Well I guess that long before I was producing videos, I was just like every other guy/gal out of film school wanting to be a director. While I love feature filmmaking, I have a genuine passion for music videos and over the course of my eight years of being in the industry, I've currently found myself at the point where I am a pretty busy producer with a lot of talented friends. It's a circle of friends that consistently come to each other's aid to help create high concept underfunded projects. So this was just another one of many favors for each other. Although, it never really feels like a favor between us, as we truly want everyone to be able to execute these projects that they are passionate about.
But, to answer your real question, over those eight years, I've known Zee for four of them and after many emails begging to do something with her, we were finally able to get her label to let us do a video together. There was no real specific reason for the delay. She was touring, and we were tossing around some alternate, more achievable/cheaper ideas. But, we just stuck with the original and put the pressure on myself as a producer to make it happen when we couldn't really afford it on paper.
Doug: Do you think your experience as a producer affected your approach as a director?
Jason: If anything, my experience as a producer had a negative effect on me as a director! I don't really recommend that anyone try directing and producing anything with a limited budget all by themselves. It's really hard to be creative when you're weighing financial and logistical challenges, which makes every decision particularly more agonizing than normal. Nonetheless, I guess I have a hard time trusting someone to do a role that I do well so I did both on this video. I would say that the good part of being a producer and being very experienced with providing production value at a limited budget is that I knew what was realistic to accomplish. It's hard for most directors to comprehend what one can get for their budget level, so I knew how to design a pitch that could push the feasibility boundaries just enough to make it impressive or challenging, but not too much where I would drive everyone insane... other than myself.
Doug: How did you achieve the duplication effects? Were there any lookalikes, or was it all CG?
Jason: The duplication was done via a motion control rig. It's a fairly popular technique in commercials, and some music videos. You've seen it a million times, sometimes more obvious than othersOutkast "Hey Ya!," that David Fincher HP commercial, etc. The rig we used is called the Milo which was courtesy of Camera Control in Santa Monica. It's basically a giant robot contraption that does a camera move exactly the same for an infinite amount of times. So think of it as a layered image: you have the first layer which is normally the centered "hero" Zee. Then we would take her off the platform and replay that exact camera move with her in a new position. Multiply that times about 10-12 layers a shot, and add in the fact that I did some takes in slow motion and add 100 degree weather in a non air conditioned warehouse and you get chaos, aka our shooting day. There also may or may not have been a body double to help us get through our day. Then my editor, Arianna, had to sort through all those takes and do temp layers in Final Cut so we could imagine it all for the final edit. Coyote Post then came in and had the laborious job of making it look seamless via rotoscoping. It was a very technical and very grueling process from conception to execution, but it was the only real way to get the desired effect.
Doug: In addition to the effects, this video also features a very strong performance from Zee Avi, she's very captivating throughout. Did she come ready with that ability, or did you have to work with her to achieve that?
Jason: I would say it's a little bit of both. I think Zee intuitively knew where she wanted to take this video as there are some backstory elements to the conception of the song that might not come across to listeners. However, I think it was also helped by the fact that we frequently hung out for about a year from when I came up with the concept until the shoot, so we'd always talk about it and discuss her live performances of the song. Eventually when it came to shooting, there were so many technical considerations to deal with that I was relieved that she pretty much could handle the heavy lifting for the performance on her own. And at the end of it all, we had become even closer as friends so she felt really safe to go there with me.
Doug: Were her dance moves throughout the video choreographed or preplanned? Or was there room for improvisation with that?
Jason: I would also say that there's a combination of circumstances here. It was never supposed to be distinctly choreographed. There was to be dancing and movement, but not something where Zee would really have to rehearse. So I just broke down the song and gave her my ideas on how her geography in the space would evolve from beginning to end. She then contributed her thoughts to that which I adapted my breakdown to. I then had Ryan Heffington come in as a favor to just give some ideas. That essentially informed our approach to the shoot. But, by the time it came to shooting, a lot of the ideas had to be condensed as there just wasn't enough time due to the complicated amount of retakes that we needed to do for every shot. So we streamlined it on the fly, and then even in the edit, some ideas had to be removed because it wasn't quite translating.
Doug: And that set you guys are using, it seems so authentic. Did I read somewhere that it was wallpaper? Where do you find wallpaper that looks like a wall?
Jason: It is indeed a built set with concrete wallpaper. Once I came up with the idea, I was struggling to find a space that felt right. Many people suggested parking lots, but I wanted a smooth floor with no painted lines or columns. It really needed to be a nice lobby or a museum, and I just didn't have any luck finding it in reality. I was even looking outside of LA in NY and London. I eventually gave up on finding something that fit my vision, so I then set out on doing it as a build. I had come across a website when I was pulling images for the treatment and there was this company called, funny enough, Concrete Wall, and they specialized in concrete photo real wallpaper. Once the video was green lit, I contacted Tom Haga who runs the company and he was very excited to be involved and shipped us our rolls from Norway! His company is now called Tom Haga Surfaces just for the record. I am really happy that it fools most people since I don't have that same suspension of disbelief. But, I think I am more excited that someone hasn't yet emailed me a photo of an amazing location in LA that I could've done this in without the headache. As that was my real worry-- that I just hadn't asked enough or the right people to save me from so many months of stress. I am really happy with how the space came out! It's practically exactly how I saw it in my head when I heard my first boom cha clak clak!
concrete wall, jason baum, video chats, zee avi
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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