Case Study: Making ‘Habit’ Cole Grifter’s Music Video

“The crowd fell silent,” said lead singer Brandon Fry, reliving the night with a smile that beamed across his whole face.  “Then they erupted in applause!”

No doubt about it, the video and CD release party for Cole Grifter’s latest album was a huge success.  The house was packed and the mood ecstatic.  Before they went on, the band teased the audience with the new music video.  At first, people were quiet, watching intently.  But before the first chorus everyone was cheering.

After watching the video, director Colin Minihan said of it, “a well directed, well cut music video from an up and coming director to watch out for.” Colin Minihan won the2009 MuchMusic Award and has directed videos for Papa Roach, State of Shock, Social Code and many others.

“I think the big shock came because no one expected the video to look as good as it did,” said first time music video Director Christopher Ruffell, “we had almost no budget and the bulk of the crew came from the band itself.”  With a keen eye for the shot and a finger on the pulse of the latest technology, Ruffell has proved great video doesn’t have to blow the budget.  “We could have spent fifty grand with someone else and it wouldn’t have turned out as nice.” noted Guitarist Michael Worth.

Karl Schoepp, the Director of Photography (DP), held nothing back, “I think I speak for everyone.  We were all blown away at how good the video turned out.”  Juno-award winning producer Mark Makoway, formerly of the Canadian rock band Moist, cut to the chase, “very impressive.”

The Song

'Habit' Music Video - Cole Grifter Band GH1 60PRuffell chose the grittiest song by Cole Grifter for his music video debut.  The story revolves around a woman’s beginning addiction to drugs and her projected future of devastating effects.  Ruffell has shot footage for various documentary projects on the issue of homelessness, life on the streets and addiction. “In Victoria, it’s something everyone’s seen.  We wanted to be that stark reminder that these people are real.”

In Habit, Ruffell saw an opportunity to challenge his own comfort level.  ‘Dark’ was a literal theme throughout the production, including the entire video being shot at night. “I most often work with the daylight in video, just enhancing the shots with additional day-light balanced lights.  However, given the chance to shake it up with a dark story, I just had to break that mold.”

The Crew

'Habit' Music Video - Cole Grifter Band GH1 60PThe bulk of the crew consisted of a few volunteers—some trusted independent film makers and the band themselves.  Guitarist Paul Michael Worth, assisting in production and always active in the film community, was a life saver on more than one occasion.  When the lead actor pulled out at the last minute, panic ensued.   Worth made some quick calls and found a replacement.  With only hours to spare, Sharman Ellis-Toddington pulled through and saved the day!

Having only a few hands could sometimes be challenging.  “There were many times I wish we had more crew,” lamented Schoepp after moving heavy generators and gear into remote and forested locations at night.  Drummer Alex Campbell offered his own spin, “it can be hard to appreciate the amount of work that goes into creating film–not many people understand the degree of persistence and talent required to create a quality video.” Bassist Aidan Logans finished with “It was a huge effort, but working with talented people makes it almost painless.”

Shooting in the Dark

'Habit' Music Video - Cole Grifter Band GH1 60PShooting low budget projects at night can be a challenge and flawed imagery is often the result. Camera limitations can lead to artifacting where the dark areas show a lot of gain.  Also, most camera’s inability to see as well as the human eye can sometimes mean the camera operator won’t even know what he’s looking at!   With only a few lights, Ruffell avoided these problems with the use of  incredibly fast Nikon prime lenses.

When asked to describe the experience of shooting at night, DP Karl Schoepp gushed, “it was Great! I didn’t have to fight with any daylight, so I was able to be a lot more creative with the lighting. It was difficult to have enough light for many of the scenes however, because of the size of the shots and the limited power of the lights we had with us. Thanks again to the Nikkor 50mm F1.4 lens! I don’t think many of the shots would have been exposed without these fast lenses.”

Lighting & Decoration

'Habit' Music Video - Cole Grifter Band GH1 60P“The original plan was to have the band in a forest with clear house-hold large bulbs floating eerily around them,” reminisced Ruffell.  “Schoepp suggested running the lights off a control board so we could switch them on and off during the shoot.”

“I lit rock concerts before I got into film,” explained Schoepp.  “Many concerts are lit this way, so I thought I’d try it out.”

Ruffell, who also operated the camera on the Habit shoot, went on to describe how the unique light flares were created, “I placed the camera with the 50mm lens right up against one of the hanging lights.What you see is nice out-of-focus areas/bokeh, but created with pure light! I can’t recall of every having seen anything like it.”  Schoepp described the other types of flares in the lens “I thought it would be a nice touch to point the lights at the lens like JJ Abrams did in Star Trek.  I wasn’t expecting the lens flares to be so big! On the GH-1 monitor, we didn’t really see the flares much at all. In post, our minds were absolutely blown by how good the flares looked.” Both Director and DP noted that all lens flares are entirely one-hundred percent in camera, and are not in computer generated!

Creating the Look

'Habit' Music Video - Cole Grifter Band GH1 60PRuffell wanted to keep the colouring process simple.  “Compared to most stylized videos I’ve worked on, this really had the least amount of post production.  The blues were upped in the beach-fire scene to enhance the moonlight, but the orange flicker from the fire was real.”

The concept and implementation were standard, but not complex.  “The original footage served us very well,” said Ruffell. He nodded as he continued, “As has been echoed repeatedly, given the budget, it turned out better than we expected. We’re all proud of what we’ve created.”

Aclara Promotions is a video production company located in Victoria, BC. It specialises in promotional and educational videos for organizations of all types. Please contact Aclara Promotions to discuss how they can help create a video for you.
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