MAKING THE VIDEO | PAUL MCDONALD’S “SLOW RISING”
It was almost impossible to pick only one song from Paul’s Slow Rising EP. Every track is fantastic and proves Paul has a unique staying power as an artist. After a few weeks of phone calls and late-night dinners we landed on the title track, “Slow Rising”, for the first music video release. Lyrically it was a great opportunity to break from a performance and bring Paul’s transition in life, both personally and professionally, onto the screen with a story. With the track decided we set a shoot date and got right to work.
BUILDING THE TREATMENT | When it comes to directing music videos I like to work through my initial inspiration internally before sitting down and collaborating with an artist. I lock myself away for an hour and throw the track on repeat. I pace the room and toss around ideas out loud. And let’s be honest, they’re not all gems. After a few hours of this I usually have a pretty good jumping off point.
From there I start to flesh out a treatment PDF. It contains everything from personnel lists to moods boards to the general summary of the idea. Usually anywhere from 8-20 pages long it looks a little something like this:
That’s how things generally begin. If you’d rather watch instead of read you can skip to the bottom and check out the behind-the-scenes video from the day.
With everything down on paper I sent my initial treatment to Paul. Visually darker than my usual work I wasn’t sure how he’d react to the aesthetic. Guns, booze, murder, and revenge aren’t standard ingredients for a pop-rock music video. Fortunately we like the same things and he called me immediately with a resounding “yes!”. We talked through some subtle adjustments but the overall idea remained the same.
In short the idea was that Paul and his female lead would have committed some sort of heist. While celebrating their score she would betray and murder Paul only to be double-crossed by her new accomplice. The twist being that Paul hadn’t stayed dead and he would be the last thing she sees.
With an approved treatment I started to assemble the team. I have a go-to group of creatives I use as often as possible. Outside of my internal crew I reached out to my longtime collaborator Cory Reynolds with the treatment to see if he was interested. Instant yes. Bryce Drobny, a longtime friend and director of photography, contacted me after seeing a post alluding to the project on Instagram and got on board as well. I had my dream team.
PRE-PRODUCTION | Pre-production was straight forward. Since we were filming in my backyard (Colorado) it meant that most of the traditional logistics were already handled. Transportation, catering, and camera packages were all readily accessible. What we really needed were three locations; a run-down hotel room, a grave site, and a place for Paul to confront his betrayer. My set producer Joseph gathered up a few places he knew of locally and we spent a Saturday afternoon location scouting.
When we arrived at the first hotel on the list I knew we had it. The outdated architecture and off-putting mint green color was the perfect place to kick things off.
Next up was the location of the makeshift grave and the final confrontation. We needed something remote enough to avoid any outside traffic but close enough to not spend all of our valuable shoot time traveling. After about an hour we were driving down the highway and saw a series of large fields in the distance. Pulling onto a service road we came across the perfect location. Not only did we have a gravesite but less then 400 feet away was a side service road leading back to the highway. A perfect location for Paul to “exit” the video.
With locations finalized we began collecting all of the necessary props and supplies for the day of the shoot.
THE SHOOT | We arrive to the hotel at 7:30AM. With only one day to film a video that played out from midnight to sunset and then sunrise the following day, we had to be smart about where and when our time was spent. Looking back I’m not entirely sure how we pulled it off but that’s what happens when everyone on the team is brilliant at their job.
Principal filming began at the hotel. We blacked out all of the windows to achieve the look of night and spent a few hours set designing the light. You can read more about the technical details later on. The partying, booze, and murder were all shot before noon. In those scenes I wanted Paul’s character to be a bit reckless, almost uncontrollable. Cory, Bryce, and I all felt this would give a nice contrast to the pre and post-murdered Paul.
The hotel room scenes were incredibly easy to shoot. We had Paul and Brittany act out scenes and just let the camera roll. Our one complication was that the treatment required Paul to enter the hotel at night so we’d have to head to the secondary location and then come back to shoot our first scene of the video later.
After lunch we headed to the second location, arriving around 2PM. The trick now was that we would need to film the video almost backwards. It sounds much easier than it is when you take into consideration that all of us, from director to talent, are having to think about the narrative continuity while filming out of a logical order. Does Paul need to look dirty or clean? Does the blood spatter make sense still? Is the light feeling naturally progressive as our “time” goes one? One miscalculation meant the entire video was a bust. No pressure.
Up next was Paul confronting his double-crossing partner after being left for dead. This scene was designed not only to demonstrate a what-goes-around-comes-around philosophy but more importantly Paul’s rebirth into a man with unique clarity.
Originally we discussed having his dialogue with her be on camera but felt it was almost better to leave it intimate and open to interpretation.
Next up was Paul leaving his partner for dead and destroying the very thing that brought them to that moment. This was again another moment where I felt that leaving the content of this case unknown added the story. Whether it’s money, diamonds, or a human soul, defining it for the viewer takes away imagination. It really didn’t matter what was in the case. What was important was that for Paul it was never about what was in the case.
As Paul sets the contents on fire and pulls her accomplice from the drivers seat to sit down there’s a subtle lead-in to “So Bad”, the next single off the record. This was something I had envisioned from the very start. I’ve always loved leaving stories somewhat open-ended. It lets the viewer imagine what lies beyond one particular moment. With ‘Slow Rising’ being such a dark and violent awakening it felt right to have it end with a sexier rock n’ roll vibe. Paul’s character has been through hell and came out on the other end battered but standing.
With the ending wrapped our sun was beginning to set. Now came the hardest and most stressful part of the day.
There’s roughly 20 minutes from a solid golden sunset to pitch black and we were already a few minutes into sunset. In that 20 minute period we need to shoot Paul’s body being driven to the grave site, the grave being “dug”, getting buried, and then rising from the dead “the next morning”.
We had dug the hole earlier in the day and quickly setup Paul’s resurrection. We knocked out three incredibly fast takes and were done in a matter of five minutes. We were able to catch the perfect balance of light to achieve the look of dawn while allowing a seamless transition to the confrontation scene.
With a resurrected Paul we moved on to scenes of his partner burying him. This had to occur in the midnight hours just before sunrise for the sake of continuity. To keep things realistic we put Paul in the ground and actually covered him in dirt…again.
With the sun now set we moved on to Paul being moved from trunk to grave. To accomplish this Joseph once again re-dug the grave while we wrapped Paul in plastic and shoved him in the trunk of a car. It was probably unnecessary as him in the trunk didn’t make the final cut but it was fun nonetheless.
From there we picked up a driving shot and some safety b-roll of the location. Cory, Bryce, and I ran over the shot list and I called a wrap on the location. All that was left was our opening shot.
We arrived back at the hotel and got right into it. While definitely the easiest shot of the day it was one of the most important. It would be the first thing you see and full of details to set the tone of the video. The motel, the wardrobe, the briefcase, the gun in the belt, it says everything without saying a word.
A handful of takes in the bank and I called an official wrap. We all breathed a sigh of relief and pride at what came to life in less than fourteen hours.
Earlier in this post I mentioned that we would get into technical details a bit later on. To do so I had Bryce work up a quick synopsis of the day from his point of view as director of photography. From McGyvering Dasani labels into gels to color balances and LUT’s, it’s all here:
Bryce Drobny, Director Of Photography | I was sitting in the airport scrolling through Instagram when I saw a post by Sean that showed the beginnings of a treatment for a Paul McDonald video. Sean and I have collaborated together for years and I knew I wanted in. A quick ‘I’m in’ comment and two minutes later I get a call from Sean.
During pre-production calls our main discussions revolved around mood, feel, and visual references/examples we both loved. We knew we wanted a handheld, fly-on-the-wall feel to everything but without straying into documentary-esque territory. We would talk through lighting and blocking but avoided confining ourselves to a strict storyboard or framing. This gave us the chance to embrace inspiration on set and made things feel more organic. I trust Sean and I have worked with him enough to know that with this specific concept we didn’t need to micromanage a plan for things to come together exactly how we wanted.
Shooting was a stressful blast. We had so much to capture in a single day and if I’m being honest I was questioning our ability to get it all shot. Before we began shooting, looking over what we needed to cover, I started to wonder if we shouldn’t have planned just a little bit more. Luckily Sean and the entire production crew kept us on track and everything went perfectly. Our plan to avoid over-planning really made something special.
We shot on the RED Scarlet in 4k widescreen and used Canon EF glass. I created an in-camera LUT, which was temporarily applied to the raw footage. Essentially we shifted everything green and added contrast. I could take this look off in post-production since we were shooting in RAW, but it gave us a realistic look on set that was fairly close to what we wanted to see in the final export. Since we were using heavily colored light, especially in the hotel scene, it was incredibly helpful to see what things would look like with the LUT applied.
Lighting was pretty simple. We used the hotels practical lights which had the nastiest yellow lamp heads on them. The bathroom had a primary red light in it when we showed up…hmm. I wanted to add some contrasting cooler colors on our characters and also further in the background to add some depth. To accomplish that we hung up some daylight balanced flexible LED panels on the ceiling and in a back closet. They were showing up blue because we were splitting the camera color temp between daylight and tungsten to make the practical look as yellow/orange as possible. However it still wasn’t blue enough. To make the LED panels more stronger we needed to gel them. I couldn’t find a gel that worked so I thought to take the plastic wrap off of a few Dasani water bottles. We taped 4-6 of these labels onto the face of the LED panels and it gave us a perfect blue/green fluorescent feel.
Once light was set we then added haze to diffuse and give some depth in such a small space. The haze also gave a look that felt dirty; like someone had been smoking in the room all night. The only other scene where lights were used was the grave-digging scene. All I did was put some red gel on the LED panels directly next to the taillights of the car to enhance the motivated light and bring them up a bit to play on our characters. Everything else in the video was naturally lit.
Working with Sean, Cory, Marshall, and everyone else involved is always a pleasure. There is a certain ‘chemistry’ on set that is hard to find and reminds why I love what I do. I’m always looking forward to the next one.
Last but certainly not least, here’s a behind-the-scenes look on set of the “Slow Rising” music video shoot. I have to give a big thank you to everyone involved. Always an honor to create with this team of talented individuals and I look forward to many, many more.