When composer Andrew Edwards approached me in the spring to direct and shoot a music video for a track off his upcoming album, “The Center of the Sky” – an orchestral concept album inspired by the difficult time spent in southern Illinois during his mother’s final battle with Stage IV cancer – I was incredibly honored and humbled by the request and leapt at the opportunity; he and I have collaborated on numerous commercial and non-profit projects over the years, but this was an opportunity to do something uniquely creative with someone I truly admire.
Drew called it the “reverse-engineered film festival.” Ten different directors – all of whom had worked with him previously – were given tracks off the album. In his words, “When I am working on a film, the narrative is the touchstone, and the music is fungible – adapting to the immovable story. What would happen if the music became the touchstone, and the filmmaker had to adapt the picture to fit the immovable music?” Without lyrics to drive the imagery, his hope was for each director to interpret each musical symphony in their own way. The requirements were very minimal: focus loosely on themes of science fiction, the environment, and social justice; and, to Drew, “reflect the idea of an ultimately optimistic future.” Each director was given a super-small stipend, and we were set loose!
My concept for the track, “Endless Frozen Dawn,” centered around the idea of an alien being (played by my longtime collaborator Cole Simon) coming to Earth and taking human form so as to search for something he’s lost, and in the process being affected and transformed by the forest and cityscape with which he interacts on his journey. Within that framework, I envisioned a kind of Terrence Malick-esque approach to the visuals: handheld, ethereal, anamorphic (to place it in the sci-fi realm), as though the camera was guiding him, and he the camera in turn. What would Earth look like to someone who’s never breathed oxygen or seen trees or street lamps? How would colored lights affect that being’s vision? How would concrete feel on their hands? How does water flow? The song brought all these strange visuals out that were all rooted in very simple elements.
With Cole as our sole cast member and only a few other people on the crew – myself, production designer Kaitlin Creadon, makeup artist Stacey Herbert, and camera assistant/grip Karson Kent – we filmed the video over two short, scattered weekend days. Saturday was our day at a forest preserve north of the city, and Sunday we captured sunrise on the lake and spent time downtown at night, with a brief interlude at the butterfly haven at the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum. A small crew meant limited resources, but also the ability to move freely and follow bursts of inspiration as they unfolded; while we charted a path around the forest preserve and around Chicago, we were always looking for little touches to accent our alien’s journey without simply turning it into a tourism video.
I shot the video on my Panasonic GH5 package with the SLR Magic anamorphic lens kit (a 35mm, a 50mm, and a 70mm, plus a set of Hoya diopters), which has a 2x squeeze onto the GH5’s 4:3 sensor that results in a 2.66:1 ultra-widescreen image. Shooting entirely in 4K/60p – so we could conform to slow-motion later – allowed me to control the pace more freely in the edit, and gave each shot a kind of fantastical drift, as though we were experiencing this relatively normal city through the eyes of someone who had never seen anything like it before. A small A-lite and a bit of bounce provided our only non-natural light sources; the rest involved finding places and times of day where the lighting hit just right!
In a way, this video was my love letter to Chicago, but also a sort of cautionary tale about the transience of it all. Aside from the specific visual effects work done by Ryan Taylor, I wanted to find visuals that were almost strictly emotionally driven, not always bound by continuity or narrative coherence, while still getting a very basic story across for the viewer. Drew’s music served as the catalyst for all of that and then some; hopefully, this video feels like a perfect melding of his creative brain and mine, and however people interpret the visuals and the story, hopefully, they’re moved in some way to look at the world around them a little differently after watching.
The video for “Endless Frozen Dawn” will debut in summer 2019, along with the rest of the reverse-engineered film festival, via composer Andrew Edwards’s social media channels. Find him at www.bluepolicebox.com and find director John Klein at www.johnkleinfilm.com.
All behind the scenes stills by Kaitlin Creadon (www.tembomp.com).
John Klein (www.windycitycamera.com) is a director, cinematographer, and producer in Chicago. His directorial work includes the award-winning short horror film, “Cry It Out,” and the feature films, “Happily After” and “Chrysalis”, and he’s lensed projects of all shapes and sizes, from the micro-budget web series, “Young Couple” to the Lifetime movie, “Nightlights”. He also teaches film production at DePaul University and Flashpoint Chicago.