By Modupe Thompson, Intern at ECG Productions
“I know how you feel. I know what it’s like to base your
value of self worth off the views of others.
What it’s like to sit and stare for hours at your own reflection,
taking note of every imperfection.”
These are the opening lines for “Beauty,” a poem written by Atlanta based recording artist 16OS. In his poem, 16 uses rhythm and prose to tackle the tough subject of body image, giving listeners a first-hand look at what life is like when you don’t fit society’s standard of beauty. The work displays an artistry with words that few artists have yet to master, and it is with this same artistry that ECG Productions’ Jason Sirotin and Brandon Peterson created a spectacular visual accompaniment for 16’s video. Contrasting black and white shots, breaks in the 4th wall, and the use of mirrors all contributed to the creativity of “Beauty’s” video, and I recently got the opportunity to sit down with Jay and Brandon to find out how it was made.
“Beauty” is a really powerful piece, what was your reaction when you first heard the poem?
Jay: 16 performed “Beauty” for me live about a year and a half ago.
Brandon: In your office.
Jay: Yeah, in my office. Were you there?
Brandon: Mn-hmm (affirmative)
Jay: We were both just like- (speechless).
Brandon: I was impressed that he had memorized them like that.
Brandon: That’s the cool thing about 16– all his shit is memorized, and he has so many lyrics. There’s just so much in his mind.
Jay: And he uses big-ass words
Brandon: that are hard to get out, but he can do it in one take.
Jay: without messing up.
Jay: When I heard “Beauty” I thought, “I can relate to it.”
Brandon: Everybody looks in the mirror and criticizes themselves.
Jay: Everybody looks in the mirror and feels shitty about themselves sometimes. So I really liked it and thought, “God, this is one of those things that people pass around,” especially now with so much content about body image out in the atmosphere.
Brandon: It’s a good positive message.
Jay: Yeah, it was just beautiful.
Who came up with the video?
Jay: We came up with the concept of it. The only thing 16 said was, “I’m going to take my shirt off,” and so once he said that, we were like, “Okay, we can make this really cool.” Brandon and I had the idea of doing it in the mirror, we didn’t know how we were going to do it though.
Brandon: I wanted the mirror shot so that you could get the two perspectives. Because in one shot it’s almost like you are the mirror. 16 is looking into the camera, and in the other angle, the eye line is off because he’s looking at himself in the mirror. It’s also interesting if you cut back and forth, you see the different eye lines. Kind of makes it a little bit more dynamic, but it’s good. Then you’ve also got the black and the white.
Brandon: My favorite shot in that is just the close up where 16 is just looking into the lens, you see the sincerity. He’s a good performer. For us it seems very special, he’s performed that dozens of times, but he’s still able to give it that energy that it needs in order to really portray that poem.
Is there symbolism to be found in the video?
Brandon: I wasn’t actually thinking about the symbolism of the shots that much. I was just thinking if you’re going to have this poem, it’s three minutes and just in terms of keeping people’s attention spans, you want four shots at least and at least two different looks that are very different. Otherwise it’s going to get old pretty fast.
Jay: 16, he’s good at holding your attention, but I think that helps a little bit instead of just having one wide shot. It’s nice to have the cut. Brandon has a really great eye for close-ups, his close-ups are some of my favorite ever. Brandon knows how to shoot a close-up perfectly and light it perfectly so that you are completely engaged with the subject. 16’s eyes are just, he has really pretty eyes, and they play really well to the camera, and there is nothing but humbleness. This is a guy who goes out on stage, but he’s so intellectual, he’s just awesome.
Brandon: He’s an interesting performer, he’ll do a rap song and then he’ll do a poem. I’ve seen him perform live at this one show he headlined. I was impressed by him. He’s not a big-time artist right now, but he really does have a following. People who have seen him really like him, so I think he can grow from there. And the fact that he is a good live performer that plays with a live band helps. He’s really more of a musician than just a hip-hop artist who’s just going to play some karaoke track.
Where was it filmed?
Brandon: Right back here in the studio. This is kind of interesting, one set up has very unflattering lighting, the one that’s just a black background. The white scene is very flattering lighting, so there is some juxtaposition there. I guess people could interpret it like you get to see a more beautiful side of 16, Harrison, and you also see him at his worst, which is sort of a perception when you first meet somebody. You might not think they’re that attractive, but they grow on you.
Is this work similar to the work you guys usually do? Or is it maybe a little different?
Jay: We do everything, we’re video mercenaries.
Brandon: I don’t like to use that term.
Brandon: If you’re a mercenary, you’ll do it, which we will. We will do it, but we also try to interject some of our artistry into it.
Jay: Oh yeah, we won’t do a project that we don’t want to do, but we will do all sorts of different projects because the more you work, the better you get at your craft, no matter what it is.
Brandon: There’s always that chance to interject-
Jay: Creativity and do something different.
Brandon: Even though you might get a job which seems really shitty, and some people take that shitty job and make shit, and that’s when you’re a mercenary. We take a shitty job and we make it good, so that’s why I like to think we’re not mercenaries.
Jay: We’re mercenaries with character. We don’t want to put out anything that sucks, whether it be a corporate video or anything, but we’ve always loved doing art. If an art project presents itself, that’s why we got into this business, because we want to make art. You have to do things to create art. You have to do jobs that suck.
Brandon: It’s still a business.
Jay: The goal is create great art, and eventually people will pay you a lot of money to create great art, but you have to earn that and it doesn’t happen overnight. It takes forever.
Brandon: We’re still trying to earn that.
Jay: I’ve been doing this for almost 20 years now. I started when I was 13 and I’m 38, and we’re just now getting to the point where we can make the decisions that we want to make, and we’ve done it our own way without other people telling us how to do it. If you take every project seriously, you will eventually be successful. If you dump on projects because they’re ‘below you’, you’re going to fail. You have to do a lot of shit for free, we still do shit for free that we want to do, or we make investments. These videos, we did them for free because we love the art of it, and we think that it will elevate our brand and give us new opportunities to do other things.
Brandon: It gives us a chance to play. This is one example where we’re not getting paid, so we get a little bit more freedom. A lot of the time people think, “I’m paying for this”, we might suggest, “Let’s go down this route,” “No, I’m paying for it, you’re going to do it this way”. That happens sometimes.
Jay: We told him our deal was that we would have the rights to do whatever we wanted with the videos if we did them for free, and so it wouldn’t be his official video, but it would be a video that exists out there. It’s all in. It’s important to know, we did Three’s Company in the morning, and then at night we shot “Beauty.”
Brandon: We did both videos in one day.
Jay: We actually did three shoots in one day. We did the music video, then we went over and did interviews for a TV show we were making.
Brandon: at Bacon Fest.
Jay: at Bacon Fest, and then we came back here and did the poetry video all in one day. Anybody who says, “I don’t have time for that,” fuck you. Make time. And you can put that in the fucking article.
I came into the interview thinking I’d learn simply about the making of “Beauty,” only to leave with plenty of wisdom for the career path ahead of me. More exciting projects are taking place at the studio of these creative “mercenaries,” so if you’d like to check out this video and more, please click here.