UPDATED 2012-04-05: Added production notes for both music video and the song. EDIT 2: Fixed typo, the lens was a Rokkor lens not a Rokinon.
First of all, my long-time collaborator and good friend Joanna St. Claire just released a new single called “Prayer of Light” in time for Easter. Here is the iTunes link to preview and buy!
Second, I not only worked on the music (orchestration, engineering, creative consulting) but also directed the music video.
Here is the YouTube link (watch in 1080P if you can).
I will be putting up a production article soon (hopefully before Easter) that will not only talk about the technical side of the video production but also a bit of the history of the video and the song itself. Stay tuned!
Update: Here is the Vimeo. Joanna does not use a Plus account so it is 1280, unlike the YouTube (but compression quality may be better).
Okay, did you watch it and/or listen to it yet? Time to find out what went into it.
“Prayer of Light” had a special life, both as a song and as a video. Joanna St. Claire (my long-time friend and collaborator of the last half-decade) wrote this song and performed it with her husband, Donlon Ward (who played guitar on the recording). That part was a live recording engineered by my mentor Rob Woo that somehow never got a release.
Well after all of us finished Joanna’s album “Stream” in 2010, the next year was filled with session work, singles and collaborations spanning the globe (from India to Italy, from Sweden to France, etc.) and it seemed like our plans to revisit the back catalog were always getting pushed further “back”. But with Easter approaching, the time was right to dust off this little gem.
Since the original recording was done live, with the vocal and guitar mixed together, we couldn’t go in with the meticulous approach we used on “Stream”. So instead we supplemented by re-orchestrating the string arrangement that had been planned for the original release (that never happened).
But this is a photography blog, so you are probably wondering where the music video comes into all this. Well, during one of our shoots for the music videos promoting the upcoming HD re-issue of “Stream” we came across this beautiful sunset. It was the end of the shooting day and all we had left free to record, was a Canon HV30 camcorder and a light tripod. With no storyboards and nothing but enthusiasm (and a Canon WD-H43 wide-angle adapter for some shots and an ND for others) we set about trying to capture this beautiful sunset in a short addition to the shoot (about an hour or an hour and a half), not being entirely sure what we would do with it (yet!)
When the “Prayer of Light” release window approached, we revisited that footage and realized how perfectly it married to the music. Still missing that extra “something”, I fell back on my usual trick: reading Joanna’s mind. No kidding, I walked in the very next day having shot a cutaway of the exact flower she had, had in mind the night before but never told me about. I showed her how well we could make the GH2 footage (shot with a Rokkor 58mm f/1.4MD mount lens and a Fotodiox adapter) mix with the earlier HV30 footage using custom color grading with Magic Bullet Looks (incidentally, no presets were touched in the making of this video).
This time, we planned our shooting schedule ahead in a lot more detail, writing down we wanted (and with me putting together a storyboard mentally if not on paper). Since we still had a lot of other commitments to juggle, the second shoot was pretty much as short as the first. All three shoots (including the cutaway) came in under 3 hours combined. This was not only a zero-budget shoot, but a “zero-time” one as well. If you look at the thousands of hours that went into making “Stream” you get a sense for how unusual this is for Joanna’s and my collaborations together.
The GH2 shoot was a mixture of 50P and 24P footage. Joanna liked the softer look of the Rokkor 58mm f/1.4 when shooting wide open, especially the glow (that you would normally try to avoid if you weren’t using it for effect). When asked to describe the look she called it “tangerine cream” when viewing it against the sunset. All footage was shot using the Driftwood Sedna AQ1 C setting, which is my current favorite for close-ups (alongside the Q20 C variant). It was great to get such use out of a patch that I had been lucky enough to help test.
The current practice is to often shoot music video lip-sync at 30 frames per second and play it back at 24 frames per second (with the music synced). Since essentially any non-singing parts were already in heavy slow-motion and the shots we got of Joanna singing were so cinematic to start with, we opted to do a straight 24 fps record instead for all those parts (in 24H mode for any GH2 users still interested). All of the singing shots were done with the GH2. So were all of the flower shots, but these were 1) recorded in the fabulous 1280×720 50P SH mode offered in the patch (with bitrates approach 100mpbs) and the 2) generally slowed down using either pixel motion software or standard interpolation. All the non-singing/non-flower shots came from the earlier HV30 shoots.
The project was edited with a combination of Sony Vegas, VirtualDub, AVISynth and MVTools 2. The slow-mo preset is available by request.
So, with a lot more time to edit than to shoot, this project that had been simple to shoot (1 person and 1 camera shooting one actor each shoot for a total of less than 3 hours) really came to life. Joanna’s sensitivity is both visual and auditory in nature, and she has a very strong intuitive sense for whether things are “working” or not. This makes my work a lot of fun, because it is appreciated and intricate, but can also be fairly time-consuming and exacting. Luckily, making this video seem “effortless” happened fairly quickly so that we could get back to making music again.
Joanna says her favorite part of it was working in nature – she loves being out in the natural kingdom, where she draws so much inspiration from the beauty and natural majesty of the landscape, skies and light.
I may update this article later but this has already exceeded my “thousand words or less” on the topic. Let me know what you think about the video, the music and the combination of HV30 and GH2 footage (as well as the possibilities fueled by creative limitations and a very “compact” shooting schedule).