Full-body-painted aliens and rock bands: just your typical Saturday at ECG Productions. The Armory’s music video shoot was my first project with ECG Productions, and it did not disappoint. I showed up bright and early – I have an almost irrational fear of being late – and waited for the rest of the crew to arrive.
The crew arrived first, then the talent, and then the band. We got right to work; when you have three girls who need paint on 100% of their bodies, there is no time to waste. As a PA, I stayed busy gathering and preparing props, sorting through gels, tending to talent and making lunch arrangements. Once the shoot began, I was given the task of taking set stills, which I gladly accepted. I relished the privilege of having free-reign of the set, shamelessly taking pictures of whomever and whatever I wanted. While it may seem logical to focus on the talent, I couldn’t help but become transfixed with the crew. Their years of experience working together were on full display; they navigated the shoot like a well-oiled machine. While the day did not pass without its challenges, the team was well-adept at going with the flow and taking everything in stride.
I recently sat down with director Jay Sirotin to pick his brain about the shoot. Check out the video below, then read the interview for a behind-the-scenes look!
Lauren: Tell me about your history with The Armory.
Jay: We did The Armory’s music video in 2009 called, “Burn the City Down” for them. It was actually the first real music video for ECG Productions.
Lauren: Oh wow; that’s awesome that you’re still working together 5 years later! In your opinion, how important is the relationship between a director and the talent?
Jay: I think the relationship between director and talent is very important. It’s definitely got to be friendly and fun – especially on a music video – because music videos are meant to be fun. If you want to run a good music video production company, especially in Atlanta, you have to make it fun.
Lauren: Tell me about the concept for the most recent Armory video. Walk me through the creative process; where does it come from? Was it all you, or as it collaborative?
Jay: All of our ideas are collaborative, especially on the day of a shoot. I typically will come up with a standard concept. In this case, Jason Marraccini, our UPM and editor, had the idea for an alien abduction scene, so it was about how to tie it in. We originally wanted to do something dealing with aliens because [The Armory’s] cover has an alien and clouds and lightening on it. So that’s where it originally came from.
Then we sat down together. I wrote out the script and then we talked about it. Then we get on set; which is where things begin to take shape. A lot of the shots changed, and we decided to do a lot of pick-ups. There’s a shot in which one of the girls/aliens puts a probe in the singer’s arm and the veins come out; we didn’t have that one planned.
Then from there it took place in the edit. I think that’s where the biggest shift happened. Jason Marraccini did an amazing job on the edit. When Brandon Peterson, our editor and director of photography, got his hands on it and started adding the visual effects, it came to life. This was especially true with what he presented for the bed scene. He expanded the candles out. There were only about 30-40 candles around the bed, which he multiplied.
That’s his real life fiancé, by the way, his fiancé in the video. The idea is that she’s taken away from him. The aliens are symbolic of him being taken away from this woman he loves. We wanted him to have these fits in the bed when she flashes in and out. Then Brandon had the idea that we could increase the tension by having the camera twist. If you watch the video, the twisting gets faster and faster every time you see them. By the end, he’s frenetic, and the shots are moving and swirling around. It’s really a cool effect.
Lauren: What was the most challenging part of this shoot? Was it in pre-production or things that you encountered on the shoot day?
Jay: “They don’t call it a production for nothing.” It’s a production. Shoot days are insane. There are a lot of moving parts and it’s such a team effort. That’s why it’s always weird when I see directors who take full credit for anything. The vision is there, and it’s yours to manage, but if you don’t have the right creative people around you it will never be successful.
I think a lot of people are driven by ego as music video directors, and don’t focus on the people who are there. When you’re confronted with challenges, they can end up being some of the best things that happen – if you have the right people on your team. The problem-solving that takes place in response to challenging moments is what gets you to this place that is cool and different in a way that you weren’t planning.
Lauren: Were there examples of that in this shoot?
Jay: We knew we wanted to have that light hanging above their head. It was a really cool, intricately-designed light. In fact, you worked on it.
Lauren: Yes, I did!
Jay: The light was a really cool part of it that happened on the day of the shoot. The way that it played on his face added to the scene without being seen. I wanted it dark and not perfectly lit. It was lit by real things in the room. I wanted it to be practical. For the most part, we got that effect. That shoot really went off without a hitch. It was just really well planned.
Lauren: … the exploding bulb?
Jay: Oh yeah! There was a bulb that exploded over someone’s head. That was not good; safety first.
Lauren: Nobody was hurt in the making of this video! What was your favorite scene, kind of on the flip side?
Jay: My favorite scene on set is the one with the aliens. I was so glad when somebody said this: they referred to it as “Total Recall-looking,” which is exactly what was in my head. That, mixed with some of the Terry Gilliam movie I just watched called “The Zero Theorem.” He played with colors a lot.
When Brandon Peterson and I were doing the grade, we actually were trying to make it look more like VHS. Those shots had a different look to them than everything else. You can see the footage is kind of degraded, and it’s kind of grainy. So, we increased the film grain on it to make it look like it was shot with a lower resolution camera. Some of the whites kind of wash out a little bit to make it look a little scarier and sell some of the body paint effects.
Lauren: Looking back, is there anything you wish that you had done?
Jay: Wow, that’s a great question, because there’s always those things right after the shoot that I’m thinking “I should have done this!” but I can’t remember what they are now. Oh! I wish we would have had more time for the band exploding in and out of the scene. I wish I would have been smarter about the concept at that point. The idea was that the band comes in and their sexuality drives them. But it didn’t turn out that sexy in terms of what they were putting off.
I was going to have this force of energy kill the aliens, and then they die. I don’t know if it came across all the way, but the cool thing about music videos is you can do whatever the fuck you want. It doesn’t have to make sense.
Lauren: As long as it’s cool to look at and the song is good.
Jay: Yeah, is it cool to look at? Do you like the song?
Lauren: Yeah. People will watch it.
So there you have it: the secret to great music videos. If the song is good and it’s fun to look at (and shoot!), you’re golden, so enjoy it!
Click HERE to check out The Armory’s latest video for “If I Ever”.