Friday, December 10, 2010

Lights, Camera, ROBOT!!!

This is one of the test pictures we took while setting up the shot. I like to call it "Pay no attention to the deer-in-headlights about to sing a robot love song -- at least not until she puts it up on YouTube for the world to see..."

The audio and video turned out pretty clean for something we shot so quick and (dare I say) dirty. Here are the gory details behind the most recent of the Ballads to the Buffy Big Bads.

Andre had mentioned he wanted to do something cinematically interesting for the backdrop than before. We had shot Wherefore Art Thou Juliet in his girlfriend's apartment in West LA. Ooh, Mr. Mayor, we did at his workplace in Long Beach. They were well shot and well lit -- certainly above and beyond anything I could've accomplished with my dinky Canon PowerShot in the confines of my bedroom -- but now it was time to upgrade. He said he had a connection with the owner of a club in Culver City and we should try shooting the next one there. So that's what we did.

Before I talk about the actual shoot, a word about the costume and character. I was really at a loss for what to do with this piece, right up until a few hours before we shot. After two rounds of homemade fan T-shirts with hand-picked quotes, I decided to go more in the direction of embodying the persona of the person who sang the song. Ooh, Mr. Mayor was in my mind very clearly Marilyn Monroe. But If I Were a Robot: who was the singer there? Somebody geeky and melancholy, sure, but how would they look? What would they wear? I played with a couple of ideas -- Robert Palmer girls, Rachael from Blade Runner. Both seemed too esoteric. I could the Borg since I reference Seven of Nine, but then we would get into Trekkie territory. I actually thought about asking Adam Busch when I saw him on set (see previous entry), but it seemed a little too fan girl. Also, I'd have to explain the whole concept to him, and I'd much rather he be surprised. But where did that leave me? Geek girl who wants to be a robot to impress a boy… Of course-- she'd dress like a robot! A Facebook survey confirmed that tinfoil would do the job. I met with my photographer friend Carl Mahoney earlier that afternoon, who helped me scheme up some ideas for sexy tinfoil garb. Unfortunately, Andre informed me that the tinfoil would create lens flares and thus be cinematically unkind.

I was due to meet Andre at 4 PM in Culver City. It was 2 PM, and still no costume. I was seriously worried. Despite the time crunch, I took a jaunt over to Fallas Paredes, this awesome Mexican outlet clothing store a couple of blocks from my house. It's pretty hit-or-miss. Sometimes they have nothing but weirdly cut tops that make you look preggers, and sometimes it's a treasure trove. Most of my beloved bikinis have been purchased there for no more than $4. That day, I lucked out. I found a grey dress with silver studs at the shoulders that gave the perfect suggestion of "robot." Across the street at the discount store, I found some shimmery eyeshadow and the silver-colored jewelry you see around my neck. With my $13 worth of makeshift robot garb, I went home and dolled myself up. I really had no idea whether it was going to work, but 20 minutes, half a bottle of hairspray, and at trowel full of silver eyeshadow later, I looked in the mirror and said, "Jumpin' Jiminy: I look like a robot!" And off to Culver City I went.

I pulled up to the sparsely populated business-warehouse hybrid of a neighborhood where Andre instructed me to go. There was an animal hospital and a few small art galleries. No nightclub to be found. André met me outside and showed me into the hole-in-the-wall venue which was actually super cool and artsy on the inside. A few people were moving equipment and checking the sound. It was a very strange environment in which to bear my fan girl soul. Every other video had been recorded in a controlled environment with 0-2 other people around. Furthermore, we could do as many takes as we wanted because there were no space issues or time constraints. Here, it was a totally different story. "How am I ever going to get in my happy space?" I thought. It's hard enough to sing vampire love songs to an audience of one, let alone in the solitude of your own bedroom -- and now I have to do it in front of all these strangers who have no context for the content of the piece!

On the upside, the setting was gorgeous. Every angle of the club looked totally different so in terms of backdrops, the possibilities were limitless. We decided on the one you see in the video because we liked the Asian feel of the paper umbrellas. That, in combination with the metallic look of the DJ turntables -- which are mostly blurred -- gave it a kind of Blade Runnerfeel. The umbrellas and turntables were on a raised stage, which meant that in order to get the desired frame, we had to stand both me and the tripod on platform-type pedestals. Andre set up his 1K soft, and we shot.

The actual shoot time was extremely short. As I said, everybody at the club had to hold their work on our behalf. The first take was, as expected, a little awkward. Actually, it was more than a little awkward, given that it was the first time Andre was hearing the song, it was my first performance in front of an audience, AND that audience happened to include a 10-year-old boy (hence the dirty part). It's not like I was saying anything too blatantly vulgar, but at the same time the whole song was centered around the idea of me wanting to be someone's "sex machine." I spent most of the take trying my best not to giggle nervously. (I think Andre did too.) The second take felt a little better, but still not completely there. The third take actually felt pretty good. Normally, it would've taken me a little longer to warm up, but I knew I didn't have an infinite amount of time and takes so I really made it count. Number 3 was the last one I was going to get, at least without being a major imposition to the nice people working at the club. I gave it my all, and that was that. Andre sounded significantly pleased so I put my hopeless perfectionist in check and trusted his judgment.

We dumped all the files onto my laptop at the club. The video looked great, but we couldn't listen to the audio playback since by this time they were blasting house music so loud, we couldn't hear ourselves think. All we could do was hope that it worked. And it did. I actually spent very little time in postproduction with this one. I didn't color correct the video because it looked pretty awesome on its own. The mixing on the audio levels was minimal, and I didn't even splice any of the takes together to make sure I got the prettiest sound. Looking back, there are a few notes that are slightly off (if I were on American Idol, Randy might say my performance was "a little pitchy", but hey -- I'd much rather be singing original Buffy love songs anyway, so there!). Overall, though, I'm pretty darn happy with it -- especially for something we got in three takes.

Come to think of it, I've really got a knack for this robot thing. Maybe I should consider a new career path. Or would it be a way of life??? You tell me…

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