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ECG Free Music Video Contest: 1 Year Later

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Jordan Nowlin directs from behind the scenes.

Jordan Nowlin directs The Hearsay's “Warning Signs.”

Behind the Scenes of “Warning Signs”

There’s nothing like the dog days of summer in the South. The sticky-sweet humid afternoons, the omnipresent rhythm of cicadas, the languishing roll of elongated days; it’s all a lovely (albeit sweaty) dream. In the midst of the revery, it’s natural to drift into reflection, to sail into contemplation of the past year.

While doing just that, something profound dawned on me: it has been over 1 year since we announced our ECG Free Music Video Contest. The initiative was unlike anything we had ever done as a company. It was a bold and blithely risky move on our part, but we here at Entertainment Creative Group relish a good challenge. In short, we were stoked.

After sifting through a ton of awesome applicants, we eventually landed on an endearing local group called The Hearsay. This quartet’s up-tempo music is as infectious as their personalities, and we couldn’t wait to get to work on the music video for their single “Warning Signs.”

Over the course of a few months, we worked with the band through every step of the music video-making process. This was a true script-to-screen project that was equal parts challenging and exciting. As the video’s director, I learned a ton; as a member of ECG, it was a fun-filled party.

This is the story of that party.

The Pre-Production Process

As soon as we announced that The Hearsay were our free music video contest winners, we jumped into action. The first step was to meet the band and gauge what they wanted out of the video. Aesthetically size them up, as it were.

From the moment that Ashton, Travis, Jeff, and Ryan walked into our office, I knew this project was going to be a blast. The easy-go-lucky, jovial personalities that shone through in their submission video weren’t an act: they were the real deal. Knowing that we were working with such awesome people only motivated me further. I knew we HAD to make this music video awesome for them.

Our meeting was super productive, and we all walked away with a few cool concepts rattling around in our heads. I could tell that the band was as excited as I was, which meant a lot to me as a director. Bringing a cool idea to life is worthless if it doesn’t mean anything to anyone.

With their notes running rampant through my brain, I created a music video treatment website. After the band reviewed the site, they landed on the concept that I low-key loved the most: a goofy, quasi-noir conceit, complete with a down-on-his-luck detective and a mysterious femme fatale.

All-in-all, I couldn’t have been happier. Now, it was on to the most fun part: actually shooting the video.

Perfecting Performance Shots

The Hearsay performs with light sandwiches.

The Hearsay performs with light sandwiches.

After our careful pre-production and planning, we decided that breaking the shoot into 2 days was the best way to capture everything we needed. Our first day was shot entirely at ECG’s studio, and man-oh-man did we ever get after it…

Like any music video, so much of the overall product hinges on the artist’s performance capabilities. It’s nigh on impossible for an artist with little to no stage presence to craft a fun music video. Luckily for us, The Hearsay know how to bring the energy no matter where they’re performing! We played “Warning Signs” more times than I care to remember—and sure, it took a few takes to get the band ramped up—but by the end of the day we were all rocking & rolling to the music.

However, I wanted to infuse the high energy performances with some thoughtful lighting techniques and camera moves. Since the narrative sections of the music video adhered to film noir conventions, I wanted our performance shots to look starkly different. Talking through my vision with our DP, Alexxiss Jackson, we settled on a creative way to curate this disparity.

The first difference is the most apparent: color. Lots & lots of color.

Though we shot our performance shots on ECG’s white cyc, it was imperative that we infuse these shots with lots of pops of color. Using the incredible power of Arri SkyPanels (something my buddy Collin covers way better than I), we made different “light sandwich” combos for our number of performance takes. The vibrancy of each color combination drives home the liveliness of the performance shots in contrast to the music video’s narrative shots.

The second difference was more subtle: camera movement.

In a case of form following function, camera moves in film noir are usually long, ponderous affairs. Lots of slow, purposeful pans or brooding static shots. The narrative section of “Warning Signs” was no different. Though we did implement some movement, it was always methodical and steadied.

Director of Photography Alexxiss Jackson, in action.

Director of Photography Alexxiss Jackson, in action.

That was not the case during our performance shots. Alexxiss roved all around the performance area, going full handheld for every take we did. The frenetic, “destabilized” camera look underscored the energy of the performances. Whereas our narrative shots were highly calculated, our performance shots were immediate and reactionary. Getting right up in there with the band kept things exciting, interesting, and stylistically distinct from our narrative section.

Navigating a Noir Narrative

The crux of the entire concept for “Warning Signs” was effectively telling a story filled with subverted film noir tropes. The femme fatale, the down-on-his-luck detective, the seedy back alleys: we needed all of these and more, just seen through a different lens than usual.

Film noir down-on-his-luck detective

Film noir down-on-his-luck detective.

Working in tandem with the band, our entire production staff put our heads together to come up with alternative approaches to these familiar concepts. The results teetered between absurd and outlandish. Pretending to snort a mound of Pixie Stix? Pouring squeezable juice bottles into shot glasses? It was ridiculous, and it was exactly what I wanted!

In order to fit everything into our tight production schedule, we broke our narrative shots into 2 sections. The tail end of the music video—the big kiss & dumpster shots, primarily—were shot on Day 1 at ECG. However, just about everything else was shot on Day 2 at Two Birds Taphouse in Marietta (an amazing location, I must add).

Warning Sign's kiss finale-in-action

Warning Sign's kiss finale-in-action.

There were some challenges in our way, though. For one, we needed everything at Two Birds to look like it happened at night, but in order to accommodate the management’s schedule we could only shoot during the day. Thank goodness for blackout curtains, is all I can say! But still, we had to think creatively about our schedule to keep the look of our shots consistent.

Moreover, I distinctly recall the chaos of getting our final shots for Day 2. We had VERY limited time in a back alley over by Two Birds, so we had to move swiftly. Our team was incredibly efficient, but blocking and practicing shots takes time. Add in the facts that it was f**king freezing AND some employees from a nearby store decided right then was the perfect time to throw away a bunch of old furniture, and things got dicey.

Regardless, we pushed through, and that scene ended up being one of my favorites in the entire music video. Just goes to show that persistence and patience pays off, people!

Flash Forward to the Big Reveal

After we all hugged and high-fived after picture wrap on the music video, it was on to post-production. As anyone in the production world will tell you, there’s a ton that goes into the post-production process. From video editing, to audio mixing, to color correction, it’s a story that deserves a blog post all of its own. As such, I’m going to save that tale for another day. But suffice it to say, our post-production team (especially the work done by Emily Payton & Jenn Lee) was exemplary!

Once we finished and mastered the music video for “Warning Signs,” we brought The Hearsay in to see the final product. Here’s how that went:

My heart glows every time I watch that video. Just thinking of how much our work meant to these super-talented musicians…it’s almost too much. That right there was reward enough for our experience.

The End Result

So how did everything turn out? After all the planning, the preparation, the partying?! I'm tempted to wax poetic about the joy of watching a plan come together, to blather on about the pleasure of working with exceedingly talented people. But I'll just let the final video speak for itself:

Were there things I'd do differently, given the chance? Absolutely. Are there parts of the video I'd like to rework? If you look at your old works and don't grimace at least a little, you're not learning enough. But in the end, the ECG Free Music Video Contest was a great success that yielded a fun music video, and gave our company 4 amazing new friends!

The ECG Free Music Video Contest was a great success. It yielded a fun music video and gave our company 4 amazing new friends. Take a look!

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