“It’s humbling, but you must be willing to ask for help.”
Lights Film School caught up with NYC-based director-producer Lauren Brady to discuss her latest music video, “Your Direction”, an Official Selection of 14 festivals and counting.
Lauren’s career has taken her from features to shorts to corporate content and more, formerly as Head of Production for the New York office of Lonelyleap, a documentary commercial production company, and currently as a freelancer.
Let’s spend a few minutes with “Your Direction”, about undying love (and zombies):
Hello, Lauren! Thanks for discussing your filmmaking with us here at Lights.
I’m psyched to learn about “Your Direction”, but first, let’s set the stage with some background. How did you find your way into filmmaking?
Yes, my Father was actually the one who first got me into film. He was really into technology and had purchased a couple prosumer cameras.
At age 13, I took one of them to England on a class trip, brought a ton of footage back home to Colorado, and taught myself to edit on Adobe Premiere. I shot small videos all through high school and eventually applied to NYU to study film. Been making movies ever since!
How did “Your Direction” come about? I’m curious to know the project’s origin.
Specifically, how did you and the indie band, The Boy Dahlia, come into contact and agree on a collaboration? What inspired the concept, how did you develop it, and how involved was the band in that process? When the vision was cast, what were your next steps, and how long were you in pre-production?
The Boy Dahlia actually comprises my little brother Ben and his girlfriend Ali. The first time I heard their single “Your Direction”, I knew we had to bring it to life in a video.
It took about a year to conceptualize and get off the ground because they both live in San Francisco and I in New York, and also because it’s generally tough to prioritize passion projects. We talked about it for probably about a year before we finally pulled the trigger and bought their plane tickets to come to NY and film.
There’s a lot of production value packed into these four-and-a-half minutes, Lauren. I’m especially impressed by the makeup and production design. Who was responsible for each department, and how did they interface with you as the director?
My team was exceptional. Truly.
In terms of the creative team, our Production Designer is Emmeline Wilks-Dupoise. She was the PD on both of the features I produced and is my go-to for any project I’m directing or producing. Our HMU was my dear friend (and roommate) Joshua Vargas. We’ve been friends since freshman year at NYU when we bonded over our affinity of Danny Elfman. Our DP was Mingjue Hu, one of my best friends. He shot my thesis film in Istanbul and we’ve been in the trenches so many times I trust him with my life. Our Costume Designer was the fabulous Julie Klobusicky who designed my first feature and is one of the most tasteful, intuitive designers I know.
Testament to the power of working with a team you trust!
If you don’t mind my asking, what was the project’s budget? More often than not, indie filmmakers must navigate considerable financial constraints; how did you work within these constraints to create such a convincing Walking Dead-esque world?
$15k, and it should have cost $50k. Beg, borrow, and free!
It’s humbling, but you must be willing to ask for help. This was a very barebones project. Free location, skeleton crew, three-day shoot. I pulled a lot of favors to bring it to life. Our biggest costs were insurance, production vehicles, costumes, gear rental, and food.
By my count, “Your Direction” involves four locations: outdoors, indoors, the basement, the attic. How did you find and lock these locations?
We shot at Fort Totten in Queens. It’s a NYC Park and thus free to shoot there.
I remembered the house from a student film I’d worked on at NYU, and reached out to see if it was still available for filming. We paid the required $300 fee for the Mayor’s Office permit and also donated to the park. It’s a brilliant location because you can completely transform the space. You just have to paint it back to white afterwards.
What camera(s) did you use, and what additional gear – camera stabilizers, lights, etc. – did you have on hand? Specifically, how did you create the moody, high contrast aesthetic in the basement and attic? More generally, how many production days did you have? What did a standard production day look like? When it was all said and done, how many hours of footage did you shoot?
We shot on the Alexa. We had a tripod, two poles on stands to function as a “slider” and a very minimal lighting package. Oh! And a fog machines to create the soft texture of the space. 3 day shoot. 12-hour days.
Golly – I couldn’t tell you how many hours of footage we shot. But we shot a lot. I always overshoot on music videos with fast editing/different vignettes. I also keep the camera rolling when the talent has stopped performing. Those are many times the best moments.
Interesting! I’d love to hear about the editing experience, Lauren. Did you have storyboards to guide you, or was the process much more fluid and experimental? Whatever the case, you found your way to some engaging intercutting! What software did you use to bring it all together?
I edited it myself on Adobe Premiere Pro.
We had a much more ambitious treatment going into production, but had to completely revise the night before because NY was hit with a polar vortex and the band’s flight was cancelled coming in from SF. There was a whole subplot with a zombie hunter and a chase sequence outside, but since we lost a day of filming I had to simplify.
I think it made for a stronger piece, though, because I had to filter it down to the most important elements.
Going into the edit I kept a mental map of the different vignettes and how they progressed. I wanted to explore this feeling of never-ending monotony. What is life for someone who’s lost their true love?
I especially love the languid, dreamlike shots of husband and wife in the photograph, first glimpsed at 00:44. How did you create this effect? It casts such a hypnotic spell!
We set up a fake old-timey backdrop and filmed the duo singing through the whole song on the Alexa. We immediately emailed a still frame of that footage to our colorist who put the aged effect on it and emailed a high-res image back within the hour. We printed that image and put it in a frame for the vanity shot (which was scheduled for that very afternoon). That took a bit of planning and coordination…
To get the languid feel we shot in slow motion. The band thus had to sing everything in double speed for the timing to work out. We created a sped up version of the song for them to lip sync to – a la “Alvin and the Chipmunks.”
Haha. Well, it worked! The music video is a strange medium – it needs to stand on its own as well as promote a band’s music. Were there ever any creative differences between you as director and the band as the client? If so, how did you solve them? Regardless, what was it like working with musicians on set? How, if at all, did the experience differ from working with trained actors?
My brother and I developed this idea together. When working with bands, I always ask what their brand is, what image/tone they want to get across, what the song means to them. And try to translate that to screen.
We all agreed that there needed to be a supernatural element to the video. Zombies worked because it’s a love story and to cross over into the undead world means no going back; making the ultimate sacrifice. We didn’t run into any creative differences. It was a very smooth and fun collaboration. They put a lot of trust in me, which I am very grateful for.
Both of them are actually trained actors, so I lucked out there.
Finally, I’d love to hear about your experience of the festival circuit. Applying to film festivals can be a costly process, so how did you pick your selects? More generally, what’s the future for “Your Direction”? Any ideas for your next project?
When I made my NYU thesis film, Merhaba, I made the mistake of only going after the top festivals. I didn’t apply to any of the smaller or niche festivals, and thus missed out on a lot of opportunities to share my work.
This time around I was determined to get eyes on the piece so I sent it out like mad. Yes, it can be costly and is time consuming to keep track of all the deadlines/deliverables, but I used Film Freeway and also created a spreadsheet to make sure to keep track of deadlines. Not the most exciting part of the process, but so important to try to promote your piece after all the hard work filming it!
I’m currently writing my first feature. It’s a modern day horror film about a little girl who’s held captive in a southern plantation, and must solve a series of puzzles to escape.
Sounds exciting! Thanks for taking us behind-the-scenes, Lauren. We’re excited to see what you come up with next.
For more from Lauren, head on over to her website.
Michael Koehler, with
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