This whole project began as an elusive, greased pig, wild goose chase.
My day job is at a community television station here in Bloomington. As a part of the regular programming, we often pipe in a satellite feed of the Classic Arts Showcase - a non-profit video service that shares recordings of "the world's greatest performances". It's packed with all kinds of beautiful and weird stuff, mostly in the opera, classical music, and ballet genres. On one occasion a few years ago, I happened by the TV in our lobby and caught just a few moments of this gorgeous, hypnotizing video of an endless line of piano keys scrolling by the bottom of the screen while a line of individuals played the piano as it passed them by (the volume was turned down, so I didn't catch the tune). I loved the small bit that I saw, but had very little information to go on in tracking it down. I asked around at work, but none of my co-workers were familiar with the piece. I tried googlin' a bunch of boneheaded things like "classical music piano scrolling by" and other dumb word combinations, but nothing promising turned up. After a while I started to doubt that I'd actually seen it at all. Then, one afternoon I was standing at our reception desk watching the tube for moment, when the mysterious video returned! I interrupted the conversation I was having with Addison Rogers, and turned up the volume. To my surprise, it was a piece of music I was actually familiar with (which, when it comes to classical music, isn't many)...Frederic Chopin's "Funeral March".
The video was also even more engaging than I remembered. It's a stunning, rhythmic, composite of hundreds of shots and actions lain on top of one another with a very tangible narrative, and it is beautiful. Thankfully, at the end of the piece, some information was flashed on the screen about the music and the creators of the video. I quickly snatched my phone from my pocket and took a quick, blurry photo of the credits.
Zbigniew Rybczynski. That's the guy who made it (and I still don't know how to pronounce his first name). As I later learned, he's been responsible for all kinds of incredible music videos (classical, pop, and otherwise). As it turns out, this particular video that I'd fallen in love with is just one section of an hour-long, 1990 masterpiece called, "Orkiestra", or in my native language, English, "The Orchestra". It's an award winning compilation of famous classical music works set to surreal and tripped out video and was a pioneering work in both high definition AND chroma key (green/blue screen) technology. Incredible.
The more I learned about "The Orchestra", the more I loved this "Funeral March" section. I started wondering hardcore how it was made. After talking to Zac about it for a while and dissecting how we thought it was made, Zac uncovered this informative and captivating behind-the-scenes documentary:
The deeper we got into this thing, the more we wanted to try our hand at recreating this kind of environment - using 2016/17's modern and affordable technology to make our own version. Could we make a proper tribute to this stunning masterwork using the limited resources, time, and shoestring-to-nonexistent budget we had at our disposal. NO, WE CAN NOT, BUT LET'S TRY!
So, we set to work. I don't think I've ever planned for something so much in my life. My style is typically to set gears in motion, then to see what happens (and to be happy with whatever I get...). Not the case with this thing. Zac made me draw storyboards, time things out specifically to the music, shoot test footage, be patient, and write a prop list (he also built some props). It took many, many months. Stupid. We would get excited about it, spend all of our energy and time on one element, then have to put it on the shelf to return to at a later date while life went on around us. I suppose that's how lots of people generally do things, but not me.
We also wanted to tailor the thematic elements of this concept to our own song and our own ideas. So, we started from scratch, making lists of items and actions that had to do with - not only the diegetic elements of the music - but also with luck, and superstition, and the literal words of the song.
In the end, after all of this testing, planning and organizing, we shot for just three days. One evening, after work, Zac and I traveled with our storyboards and a camera to the West Baden Springs Hotel to shoot the background footage (with kind permission and assistance from the hotel staff). We chose it not only because it is a gorgeous and historical location (slightly matching the stateliness of Zbig's original), but also referring to the lyrics in "the Lucky One" about being "in the lobby of a hotel suite...". Zac, who is a thorough and meticulous craftsman, after many attempts and a few lens options, shot the entire scene in one long take.
Day 2 of shooting took place in a studio in Bloomington. We rigged up a rickety and makeshift green screen, had carefully timed out our camera moves, actions and prop placement and everything else was left to chance. It was bonkers, and took us about 7 uninterrupted hours (you can actually see our costuming get nuttier and nuttier as we rapidly lose our cool nearing the end of the video). I would be remiss if I didn't mention the major assistance and invaluable help we had from music video ace Eric Ayotte during this day of shooting. Eric agreed to "help out a bit"...my pitch to him...and ended up kindly spending the entire day with us and helping us work out some critical solutions to timing and visual problems. What a guy!
Day 3 was actually just an evening where we shot the van scenes with Jared in the intermittent rain (you can see the wet raindrops on the van windows in the second shot). It wasn't a hard shot to get, but finding the right location in our hometown to answer to the original video was the trickiest part. We tried a few different spots, but bad angles, dense traffic, a car accident/police lights and passersby kept thwarting us wherever we went. We finally found the right location in perhaps Bloomington's most iconic building, Indiana University's Assembly Hall. Believe it or not, for whatever reason, the parking lot was basically empty that night and no one was around. It was another stroke of "luck", I guess.
Now, at this point is where things leave my hands and my brain and I sink into an eternal amber of gratitude to Zac Canale. Once all of the shooting was complete, Zac took the footage back to his laboratory and began the tedious, arduous, painstaking task of editing this monster. If you know anything about video editing/production, you can probably see right away what an annoying drag of hundreds of keyed, masked and timed clips this thing is. If you're not, I can't adequately express the amount of time and detail Zac had to pour into this video. Its staggering. At one point during the process, when we were beginning to consider release dates for the video, I asked Zac - as gently as possible - how much more time he felt he needed to complete the video. Mind you, this is after weeks of work. He kindly and un-ironically replied, "it's almost done! Very close. Probably just one more solid editing block of 8-hours will do it.". True insanity.
So, needless to say, I'm very and eternally grateful to Zac for the many hours (days) he poured into this thing, to Eric for the assistance, to David, Aaron, Ben, Jared, and Kurt for participating in this thing despite having no idea what they were actually getting into, and to Community Access Television Services and the West Baden Springs Hotel for letting us invade their space for a little while to get this work done. Also, to anyone who lent us props (many people!) and costuming for this video. THANKS, EVERYONE!
And if, by some small chance, Zbigniew Rybczynski ever sees this thing or reads these words, thanks a lot for your vision and inspiration. I have become such a big fan and student of your ideas. I hope you take our feeble attempt at homage to your work as a compliment and find some pleasure in it.
Someday I'd like to make a pop-up-video style recut of our video pointing out all of the easter eggs and trivial information packed inside it (like the fake moon Zac made, and the playing cards we used that were also used as props in an actual Beyonce music video, etc.), but for now, have fun looking closely!