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Old April 23rd, 2011, 07:46 PM   #1
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Social Distortion: "Machine Gun Blues"

The latest music video I shot was released Thursday; we screened it for 700 diehard Social D fans at a premiere in Hollywood (it garnered a thunderous reception, but I think that crowd would have reacted the same if we had shown a video of Mike Ness reading the phone book). We shot at Union Station in downtown LA and the Disney ranch in Newhall, CA. As described in the song, it's a period ditty with Ness and the band playing 30's era gangsters.

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Old April 23rd, 2011, 09:35 PM   #2
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Re: Social Distortion: "Machine Gun Blues"

Wow... bet that had a bit of a budget.... nice job on this period piece. Watched it once through, didn't catch any inconsistencies off the bat.
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Old April 23rd, 2011, 09:42 PM   #3
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Re: Social Distortion: "Machine Gun Blues"

Budget was far lower than it looks. Like FAR lower. I laughed when I read the treatment and was told how much we had to make it. Lots of favors and sleight of hand. I can tell you that we shot it in two days and it should have been twice that.
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Old April 24th, 2011, 03:54 PM   #4
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Re: Social Distortion: "Machine Gun Blues"

Based on some other feedback, I want to address the budget again. I think a lot of readers here might think "well, must be nice to have so many toys and resources" but the reality was that this was a massively ambitious shoot, arguably too ambitious.

This video was approved with a figure that would have been appropriate for a one day shoot with a small-ish crew, a single location and a basic concept. We stretched that amount to cover a two day shoot with two large locations, stunts, effects/weapons, period wardrobe and yes, a certain amount of toys like Technocrane and Steadicam.

The director, Jeremy Alter, has a strong producing background and he is somehow able to "convince" everyone from crew to rental houses to locations to come in at pennies on the dollar, every time. I thought this one was going to be impossible to achieve and it damn near was. On my end, the sheer number of setups to tell this story (twice as long as the standard music video!) was a brain-twister. How to fit it all in within two days? I broke the treatment down to the most efficient shot list I could but it was still over 60 setups a day.

One thing that saved me was that the "bank" location at Union Station had great light all day long due to large windows up and down two sides, so I made the call that we would shoot available light for the main body of the work there, which saved a significant amount of production time. The opening scene at the shoeshine was much smaller in scope so I decided that we should shoot it once the sun went down in a redressed corner of the main room. Took all of 4 units to recreate the daylight look of the rest of the piece.

But that came on the heels of an intense day of busting out one setup after another. The Technocrane was invaluable in giving us the opportunity to get the lens wherever we needed it without fuss, and make moves from subtle to large in the process (all of the small push-ins were on the crane, we didn't do any Steadicam in the main part of the bank). The Technocrane is, of course, an amazing tool and we were fortunate to have one on this budget--once again, testimony to Jeremy's perserverance!! Gotta love it when your crane is worth 40x as much as your camera.

Having two camera bodies full-time was invaluable; these were both 1DMKIV's and we also had a third roaming 5D getting reaction shots of the extras. Speaking of which, these were a combination of "living historians" who already owned the wardrobe and came pre-styled, and ardent fans of the band who were told that they could be in the video if they came with the right look. So: 50 extras in period clothing, all for free...

The second day we got off to a slow start as we had to block the shootout with the crew standing around, something that I had wanted to avoid but circumstances forced this. We then had something like five hours to shoot the many pieces of the shootout. Complicating this was the length of time to reset the ammo in the guns. There are certain things you simply cannot rush; stunts and weapons are amongst those. While we were using "non-guns" in the Union Station location, which flash and spit smoke and which required the muzzle flash to be added in post, for the exteriors we were shooting blanks and we had quite a few jams.

As the sun dropped, I decided that we needed to split into three separate units to burn through the final pieces of the puzzle.Having the 1DMKIV's proved invaluable here as there are several shots in the video taken well after sunset as the light inexorably faded. One of these was wide open at 5000 ASA and hardly anything was visible on the monitor--I thought it was unusable but it ended up in the piece (the first shot of the sepia section at the very end, booming down from the bodies in the field to the back of the boy's head). A lot of boost in post and de-noising and adding the "old-timey" effect resulted in an almost ghostly luminance, somehow reminiscent of a old photograph from the era, but nothing I would ever want to attempt to recreate!

The performance in the barn was the most heavily lit-- a lot of small units on the floor half-lighting the musicians and picking out details in the barn, plus two 10K's on dolly track outside the walls of the building firing the moving shafts of light. This was something I came up with to give the performance footage a more stylized look than the rest of the footage. The decision to further treat this with the old-movie look came from the band.
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Old April 24th, 2011, 04:35 PM   #5
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Re: Social Distortion: "Machine Gun Blues"

Charles:

I didn't want you to think this post was unappreciated. Thanks for the mini seminar.

The nice thing about this type of information is it makes me realize everyone has to shoot and improvise to fit their own budget. I am usually shooting "no" or ultra low budget stuff, and the story is always the same... squeezing what you can out of what you are given.
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Old April 24th, 2011, 07:36 PM   #6
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Re: Social Distortion: "Machine Gun Blues"

Exactly so, Chris, and that was the thrust of why I posted to it here on DVI. I do a fair number of jobs where I have the budget to achieve what is needed with comfort; a full contingent of union crew and gear and time to do it right, within reason (there's always chasing the sun issues and unknown variables of course). But I still do plenty of other gigs where I am operating in "flop-sweat" mode all day, trying to get it all done and well, and improvising like a madman without the proper tools. All of the years of doing this have informed my ability to think outside the box and have a big bag of options, shortcuts and cheats that I can pull from to (hopefully) solve issues quickly and efficiently when they pop up.
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Old April 30th, 2011, 07:28 AM   #7
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Re: Social Distortion: "Machine Gun Blues"

Thanks for sharing that Charles. Great information.

Doing more with less is the flavor of the day everywhere I look.
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Old August 4th, 2011, 04:26 PM   #8
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Re: Social Distortion: "Machine Gun Blues"

Charles, PLEASE allow me to offer a VERY sincere THANK YOU for your selfless contribution to what I consider to be an INCREDIBLY cool homage to one of my all time favourite (and influential from a musical standpoint...) bands!

I always wanted to see what "the band" could do with a real budget - turns out there WASN'T a real budget BUT there is a "big budget" look to this piece that I as a true fan appreciate more than words can say!

Next year at NAB DVI HQ, I owe you a couple of drinks! Or dinner.
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Old August 5th, 2011, 06:17 PM   #9
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Re: Social Distortion: "Machine Gun Blues"

excellent work.
boy i wanna know the number on this.
just pulled a 3 day job asking all types of favors on a wild romp thru NY city streets.
miss the big budget days of music videos
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Old August 5th, 2011, 09:45 PM   #10
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Re: Social Distortion: "Machine Gun Blues"

Well, I revealed the budget in another thread so might as well here. Under $25K was what I was told.
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Old August 10th, 2011, 07:35 AM   #11
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Re: Social Distortion: "Machine Gun Blues"

Thanks for sharing that information - I can see getting that done for $25k - but most people in the industry would see that as at least $100k with a great producer. I loved it. looks like it was fun to lens and work on. amazing work as per usual Charles.

One style point - i didnt grok why they used old film filter on certain segments of the performance - kind pulled me out a bit since we already established it was in the old days, unless there was some additional thematic that this was found footage, it kinda robbed good footage of its full impact with a contrite over used filter.
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Old August 10th, 2011, 11:49 AM   #12
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Re: Social Distortion: "Machine Gun Blues"

There's always that concern (well-founded) when we pull off something like this that it will contribute to the devaluation going on in the industry. I myself have yet to see a dime for either labor or gear rental on this one, it will eventually get made up on a larger job down the road.

I agree with you on the old-timey effect. Unnecessary and all-but-corny. It (Magic Bullet preset, and MUCH heavier than even seen here) was slapped on during the rough cut phase and the band loved it. During color correction I lobbied to trim it back as much as possible, but enough remained to be noticeable. As noted above, it did save us on a shot or two that was captured virtually in the dark at end of day.
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Old August 14th, 2011, 03:16 AM   #13
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Re: Social Distortion: "Machine Gun Blues"

Unbelievable effort Charles, loved it. Thanks, not only for sharing the clip, but for the story behind the story.

The machine gun tracks across the body panels came up well........ but please tell me they didn't really put a bullet through that windscreen !
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Old August 14th, 2011, 03:18 AM   #14
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Re: Social Distortion: "Machine Gun Blues"

Oh no. All bullet holes CGI. Same with blood spray. No time on set for squibs.
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