On the ninth episode of (Out of) Office Hours, Chris is joined by the Co-Director/Choreographer and Producer, Erin Murray and Victoria Fayad, of Thao & the Get Down Stay Down’s remote music video for “Phenom.” When shelter-in-place was ordered in California, they completely pivoted their production process to produce an outstanding one-shot creative masterpiece. Hear them dive into all the details of how they pulled this off in one week and much more. Here’s a recap of what went down and some helpful links for you to dig deeper!
Before getting our special guests on the horn, Chris wanted to share a little story about his experience remotely shooting a new product launch video for Wistia’s Resumable Video feature. The video stars our Co-Founder, Brendan Schwartz, and his baby Gael. Over a Zoom call, Chris directed Brendan’s wife Julianna to shoot the video. Shooting with a toddler seemed like a great idea on paper, but it was actually pretty darn tricky. From framing up the shot to navigating camera settings and getting pickup shots to directing lines, Chris gave a behind-the-scenes look at how they reached “toddler success” for our newest product launch video.
During a “Video of the Week” segment a while back, Chris shared a clip of Thao & the Get Down Stay Down’s music video for “Phenom.” If you haven’t seen it yet, we encourage everyone to watch the whole thing! Not only do we think their team won for quarantine creativity, but all of YouTube also agrees. And here to talk about how this whirlwind of a project came to be are Erin and Victoria, the Co-Director/Choreographer and Producer dynamic duo who are behind a bunch of different music videos. Let’s get into it, shall we?
To set the stage, Chris explained how they were deep in pre-production for an entirely different music video when the shelter-in-place order came in. So what happened next?
Erin said Victoria was on the phone call when the video got postponed for their original concept, but she had a feeling it was never going to happen — and she was right. About a week later, Thao’s manager called her up and said, “We really want to get a video up for this song and we should do something on Zoom.” Erin wasn’t 100% sure about the idea initially because of the angry nature of the song and was afraid that doing something in Zoom would come out too “cute.” However, she thought about it for 45 minutes and that’s all it took for her to say, “We can do this. I’m on board.”
“She thought about it for 45 minutes and that’s all it took for her to say, ’We can do this. I’m on board.'”
When it came to casting, Victoria explained how Erin was able to re-cast the whole thing through her tight-knit and broad dancer network. However, there were some requirements. The talent needed to have a laptop that was working as well as a decent internet connection. They did a couple of “tech scout auditions” to test everyone’s connection and make sure their camera was okay.
In terms of considering people’s living space to make sure it aligned with the video’s creative brief, Erin wanted it to feel like people were in their house on a Zoom call. Erin, her Co-Director Jeremy, and Victoria liked the setup most people naturally went to during rehearsal, but a few of their walls were a bit too beautiful. On the day of the shoot, they asked some dancers if they didn’t mind showing them another part of their house. They were great sports about giving them quick house tours, and the same went for wardrobe adjustments. The talent gladly reached into their closets to find more options for them.
As the choreographer, Erin had two and a half days to choreograph a routine for the first rehearsal with everyone. That period of time was a blur to her because she spent most of it in front of her webcam trying things out — it’s safe to say she’d never choreographed something like this before. Once she recorded herself doing every part of the dance, she then stuck everything into Adobe Premiere in a grid format to test out what was going to make sense.
During the actual rehearsal, there were 12 people on the Zoom call in total, and Erin, Victoria, and Jeremy called in with no video. It was a tedious process because it’s not intuitive for dancers to learn choreography through a video call.
To make sure the video lined up as desired, Jeremy figured out how everyone should join the call in a certain order. Jeremy, Erin, and Victoria all had the correct perspective in Zoom, but as for the dancers, only one person might’ve had the correct view.
So, what was the full timeline of this project from when they got the new brief to when the video was shipped? Victoria said from start to finish it was exactly a week. She said they got the green light on a Wednesday and then they all got in a Zoom call to brainstorm and ask Erin what she thought. For the first time, they also met Jeremy who’s remote in Canada and who handled a lot of the technical stuff. They got acquainted very quickly. As Erin mentioned, she spent two and a half days locked in her room with her laptop, choreographing the whole thing.
On Saturday, they had a single five-hour rehearsal. And on Sunday, they had a full eight-hour shoot day. Two hours into Sunday they were still rehearsing and tweaking with feedback from the label and artist so they had to re-teach and adjust certain things. When they finished the shoot day, they had one day for post and notes, and another day to polish everything up before shipping. Needless to say, it was a whirlwind. For Victoria, it was definitely the fastest project she’s ever been a part of.
Chris wanted to hear how they were able to technically pull off impressive synchronization with nine dancers. Erin gave credit to the great dancers, which helped a lot, but explained there were some things they discovered after the first rehearsal that they needed to change. First, they slowed the song down 70%. After rehearsing in regular time, they agreed things weren’t working as they were trying to fit a lot into a small window with internet connections all over the place. So they had the idea to slow the song down 70% and speed it up in post.
Secondly, Erin recorded herself over the slowed-down track saying the counts and also queuing specific movements. There was one track she made for all of the dancers who were on the perimeter, and another track specifically for Thao.
Looking at the final cut, Victoria personally loved the “body-builder” moment because it was so gratifying to finally see it work. She said it took them a great deal to get it right, and it required the perfect amount of movement to make it real.
For Erin, her favorite moment was what she called “the falling dominoes.” There’s this cannon of the dancers falling and then they all cover their lens, and it’s just very visually satisfying to her. It was also one of the first parts of the choreography that made her feel confident about pulling everything off. She said it was the first thing she sent everyone for feedback to calm everyone down.
From this extremely unique music video, Erin and Victoria learned so much about creativity under these constraints. Erin shared how she thinks it’s really easy for artists to confuse what’s trendy and what everyone’s doing as what’s good. So she believes this is the perfect time to challenge that bias. Additionally, this project really hit home the fact that it’s not your gear or your machines that make a film great — it’s you and the people on your team. You can make something that resonates with people that’s not expensive, and it may not be the most conventionally beautiful thing, but it’s about the idea more than the beautiful or trendy image.
“You can make something that resonates with people that’s not expensive, and it may not be the most conventionally beautiful thing, but it’s about the idea more than the beautiful or trendy image.”
For other creatives out there, Victoria wanted to say if you aren’t feeling inspired right now, it’s totally okay. You should take care of yourselves first and foremost as we go through a global pandemic that hasn’t happened in many of our lifetimes. If you’re feeling inspired, go for it! But if not, it’s totally cool. We’re going to get through this.
Chris also answered a couple of questions from the audience on this episode of (Out of) Office Hours. Scrub to these timestamps to hear his responses:
31:38 — How do I get better audio in a large warehouse-type office?
33:02 — Do I need a UTAP or another HDMI capture device to use my laptop as a monitor like you do in your video? Or can I just connect the HDMI right into the computer to achieve the same result?
That about wraps up this episode recap! Enjoying the topics we’re covering? We want to know how we can be genuinely helpful moving forward. Let us know what challenges you’re struggling with when it comes to video lately by hitting up Chris on Twitter @crlvideo or emailing him at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also reach out to Wistia directly on Twitter @wistia. We hope to hear from you soon! See you next time.