Posts filed under Field Notes

Using Music in Videos, an Interview with Filmmaker Jeremy Summer

Toro y Moi’s music video, “Ordinary Pleasure” — produced by Little Moving Pictures.

Little Moving Pictures creates and produces everything from commercial advertisement to film & TV. And everything they make sounds great too.

From the disco-inspired studio captured in the one million viewed music video they produced for Toro y Moi to the melancholic comedy about a young dad reeling from a broken marriage (How It’s Goin’ ) — Little Moving Pictures is taking off visually and musically. To find out more about what they’re up to and their approach for using music in videos, we caught up with studios’ co-founder Jeremy Summer.

Jeremy Summer and daughter California Summer on the set of  How It’s Goin’

Jeremy Summer and daughter California Summer on the set of How It’s Goin’

Marmoset: Hey Jeremy, can you tell us what drew you to produce How It's Goin'?

Summer: When people ask me why we make the music videos and short films we do at Little Moving Pictures, my simplest answer is that we do those things because we said we would.

Working at an agency, everyone always has these side hustle ideas but they rarely get executed—a pitch comes up or a big campaign or whatever—it’s hard to carve the time when you’re working for someone else, where as here we can come up with an idea and do it without asking anyone’s permission.

How It’s Goin’ actually started a few years ago on 4/20/2016—I asked one of our collaborators Noe Chavez to come to golden gate park on 4/20 and shoot some portraits—we made this thing and put it out the next day. I had an idea for setting a story inside of it, something we’d film guerrilla style with the built in production value of thousands of extras—my first idea was a catholic nun traveling from Europe who accidentally comes across the 4/20 gathering and has a transcendent experience.

But my friends 26 Aries (directors Irene Chin & Kurt Vincent) came back with the script for what eventually became How It’s Goin’ and had their friend Steve Talley (the lead actor) attached. It’s the first scripted narrative thing we’ve done—think of it as our student film. We just wanted to try to do something new and thought that the novelty of making a film inside an actual event could result in something unique.

M: At what point do you guys sit down to talk about music the films or videos you create?

Summer: Music is a big deal to us across all of our projects and over the years we’ve developed a lot of relationships both with music houses like Marmoset and with labels/licensing entities. Earlier cuts of How It’s Goin' had a lot of different things happening musically that are very different than the final cut.

On this one, it really all came together toward the end. We brought on our friend Anthony Ferraro to do the original score bits—he plays keys in Toro Y Moi, we had just done a music video together for their single “Ordinary Pleasure”—and he nailed it in three-four days between tours; we wanted some warm Fender Rhodes stuff that helped connect the scenes and carry the picture, we are so happy with what he did for us.

M: What are some of the bigger challenges for filmmakers when it comes to creating music for their film?

Summer: One of the biggest challenges was finding a great piece of authentic sounding reggae music. Our rough cut had a great dub track from Trojan Records and even though we have a connection to the folks that license for that label, our timeline and budget weren’t going to work.

We looked at some stock libraries and were extremely disappointed with the “reggae” options. We were so thrilled when looking through Marmoset’s roster to come across the Dwayne Ellis song—in addition to having the sound we were looking for, it also had lyrics that tied in nicely with what the character is going through in the film and it sounds authentically Jamaican/vintage which is what we were going for.

We were playing around with a bunch of ideas for the song that ends the film and runs over the credits and had been listening to a lot of SF bands—Girls, Kelley Stoltz and Sonny & The Sunsets and came across "Children of the Beehive” which has lyrics and a feeling that ties back to the film in such a special way it’s almost as though it was written into the script.

I think the music we ended up with is a huge part of the quality of the end product—without the score and especially the songs, I don’t think it would have gotten the attention that it’s getting (Vimeo Staff Pick!).

M: What's something that really sets Little Moving Pictures apart?

Summer: I think the volume and quality of stuff we’re doing outside of advertising is something that differentiates us — though of course we have lots of peers we admire who are doing something similar — and the kinds of teams we can spin up without having to have everyone on a “roster” or a contract.

We also have a focus on post-production that I think might be a bit unique even amongst full service production companies, the editor is essentially a creative director on our projects from the moment we get a brief, not just there when we edit.

Little Moving Pictures’ mascot, Beatrix

Little Moving Pictures’ mascot, Beatrix

Because we’re so small (three of us full-time) and our over head is so low as a result, we get to be selective about the projects we take on so most of the work we’re doing is stuff we’re genuinely happy to be doing whether its for brands or for fun—either the budget is there and we can treat our crews properly/pay promptly and put on a good show for our clients or the creative is something that we’re excited enough about that we can rally the troops and make it happen regardless of budget.

Our hope is that eventually the passion projects and branded content will start to intersect more- feature length documentaries for brands, music videos that are sponsored, that sort of thing.

Also, my dog Beatrix. No one else has a Beatrix.

M: Your studios create everything from music videos to ad campaigns — what's the type of creative project that you're always excited to dig into?

Summer: We’re so lucky to do a blend of work for brands and work for ourselves. Aside from paying the bills (thanks brands!), working on commercials and branded content has helped us develop relationships with the directors we collaborate with and also the crew community and folks who are instrumental post production partners—colorists, sound mixers, music houses etc.

We leverage those relationships when it comes time to do the music videos and short films— people are down to lend their craft for little to no money on those things because we keep them busy and treat them well when we’re working for brands. Doing the music videos and short films is almost a gift to ourselves. It becomes material we can use to market Little Moving Pictures but in a lot of ways, we do art simply for the sake of doing it—and to learn and grow from the experience.

We love making commercials (especially when the budgets/timelines are reasonable), but there’s nothing like getting all our friends together to make some art.

Read more on Little Moving Pictures and watch Vimeo Staff Pick short film, How It’s Goin’ by clicking here. Then head over here to check out more of their films.

Journal Takeover: Jamie Goes to Pickathon

Marmoset Pickathon 2.JPG

Last week we introduced our sponsorship and anticipation for Pickathon Festival. As we set up our tents and camping gear on Pendarvis farm, we nestled into our home for the next few days. It's an unforgettable experience to many who were in attendance and a journey best described from a first-person perspective from a long time admirer of Pickathon (and other festivals). And so, we asked Jamie McMullen, one of Marmoset's Music Licensing Coordinator to capture her experience in her own words.

In this special edition of this journal takeover, Jamie guides us through her story with music and her arrival at what festivals like Pickathon mean to her. Read below to discover more:

Jamie McMullen, Music Licensing Coordinator

Jamie McMullen, Music Licensing Coordinator

I remember my early adolescence in Providence, Rhode Island. I would have sleepovers at my friend’s house on the east side of town. We would walk across the city and pay $5 on a Friday night to see live music at either Lupo's Heartbreak Hotel (the Westminster St. location) or the non-profit artist residency, AS220, that still stands strong today. I remember attending the free summer concerts that Brown University's radio station, WBRU, put on each year at India Point Park.

My love for music has been strong since I could walk and this was the first experience of seeing it in my community. In front of me. Experiencing live music at this age was so crucially important to me and has helped shape who I am as a musician, music lover and the chosen career path I am on today.

It does not go unnoticed to me that Pickathon brings this experience to children, adolescents and adults of all ages. Unfortunately, Portland has lost a handful of all ages venues and DIY spaces (shout out to The Artistery!) due to the inevitable gentrification of the city the last handful of years. I am relieved to know that Pickathon is here to stay and gives an opportunity to help shape our youth’s love for music. And It is here to revive every adult's love for music as well — including myself.

Pickathon Marmoset 1.JPG

If you aren't young already, you will feel young again when at Pickathon. When there, you find yourself charged up with an infinite amount of energy to catch as many music sets as possible, to take in the experience with the people around you. It's a time to feel inspired and recharged spiritually over and over again. I even overheard people calling it "Tenderfest".

For one small weekend, the worry and hardships I all too often carry around, disappear into the woods. People really do come together for the sake of music, nature and humanity’s bond — 20-year-old hipsters, families with tiny babies and children, and couples in their 70s are all in attendance. Almost every artist I saw perform mentioned how incredible the opportunity was to play at this magic festival.

A few clients of mine soon became friends this weekend. Five of us girls spent an entire day and night running around like teenagers — it felt so freeing. Together, we explored the psychedelic installations hanging from the trees and the light show that was displayed over the white canopy of sails that decorated the sky at night. I felt the Mali group, Tinariwen, put me in a trance with their hypnotic rhythms. I was captivated by The Weather Station's Tamara Lindeman, as I related to the stories in her songs. I laughed a lot. And you bet I cried my eyes out when Phosphorescent played "Song for Zula" to a congregation of people in the forest.

There were many more perfect moments in between the ones I mentioned, but I will keep them to myself. My soul needed a weekend such as this — it needed camping, being surrounded by music and other souls who were equally filled to the brim with all of the good vibes. Hopefully next year, you can join me in this memorable kind of journey at Pickathon. 

Posted on August 14, 2018 and filed under Field Notes, Community, Marmoset, Music, Shows.

Field Notes: An Interview with Jay and John of Match Frame Creative


"Finding the right things and the right approach to telling the stories to grab people — it really does affect everything." - John Pottenger

Co-founders of Match Frame Creative, Jay Irwin and John Pottenger, have spent the last four years as the yin to each other’s yang, working with clients to craft unique and genuine messages to their corporate videos.

But when the chance to work on the new documentary series, The Kindergarten came along, the two took the chance to step away from their norm to try something different, and despite their hesitation to jump into such a challenging undertaking — tackling a large subject that has landed them with more than 70 hours of footage to sift through — they found a new passion project. The Kindergarten, sees the two working to tell a story about the origin of Kindergarten as invented by Friedrich Froebel, and where the education system is at now. 

Intrigued by the trailer to their new series — set to an driving, imaginative soundtrack by Marmoset artist, Keen Collective — we chatted with Jay and John about what they look for when putting music to picture, how to hone in on one message when storytelling, and their best piece of advice to their younger selves.

Can you tell me a little bit about the upcoming documentary, The Kindergarten?

Jay: We primarily focus on corporate work here at Match Frame, but one day a friend of ours came in the door and he did this pitch for us. He wanted to make a Kickstarter video to make a pitch video to raise more money to do a film, which would hopefully raise more money to do a series.

It's been two and a half years now since that encounter and it hasn't ever ceased to blow our minds about how far-reaching it is, how impactful it is and how deep it goes — the story just keeps getting bigger. We just keep uncovering more and more. We've become addicted and in love with the topic. What started off being like, "Well, this guy might be crazy, but we'll give it a shot."

That's awesome. It sounds like there's a lot there, and that's really cool to find a story that unfurls in front of you as you dig deeper. What was the biggest challenge in filming a film like this?

John: The biggest challenge for us is figuring out how to tell the story, because it really goes in so many directions. It touches the women's movement, it touches modern art, it touches, of course, every aspect of education, today's problems with education, from assessment to management to funding, teaching training — all kinds of things that are happening today that are not good. Politics, it just scatters everywhere. It's just like, "Where do you start? How do you do this story justice?" It's been extremely challenging. Some people know who Frank Lloyd Wright is, famous American architect.

Some people don't know who that is, but they're passionate about mathematics or crystallography or they're passionate about the women's movement. Pick one of those angles; you maybe isolate just one specific audience. Finding the right things and the right approach to telling the stories to grab as many people, it really does affect everything.

On the reverse side, what would you say is the most valuable thing that you've learned so far?

Jay: John and I both have kids, so obviously this became something deeply personal to us, not to mention our own schooling experience and all of that. It's just having the blinders taken off and understanding why education is what it is today and also giving a glimpse into what education could easily offer that it's not offering. Thinking about how that would make a difference in my life and knowing how it could make a difference in my daughters' lives. It's just a powerful thing.

Do you, after all of this research and filming and everything you've done, see a solution to the system?

John: There's just so many factors, but if you can understand where we came from and how we got to where we are today, then I think that informs your specific circumstances and you can guide things in your circumstance, if that makes sense.

Yeah, there's not one system or one option or one field that we could tap that would fix everything, but I think if people can embrace the greater topic and have the conversation around it all, then I think we'll be able to come up with solutions for a kid.

Awesome. Shifting gears, you mentioned that you make a lot of more corporate videos with Match Frame Creative and you help communicate and shape messages. What are some important things that people should know when approaching making corporate videos for a business?

John: I think it's so easy, especially in corporate work, to lose that core message and get lost in trying to manage the project or just getting it done or making it look a certain way or things like that, that you forget what that source message is.

That would be the key thing that I would say, is always go back to that source. Another way of recapping that: we say often, "What is the one-sentence takeaway that we want people to have when they watch this video?"


What do you usually look for when picking the music to go along with one of your projects? How do you know when the song is the right fit?

John: For me, it's the emotional appropriateness of the piece.

Jay: Yeah. Music is usually one of the big characters of the entire piece, so it's like casting. What are the major characters to your entire story?

John: It's the emotional parallel that you need to move the content forward. You can put a lot of stuff out there, but sometimes it drives the creativity. If we have a real creative idea, we need to now find music to match that, and sometimes it's the other way: sometimes we'll stumble across a song that inspires an idea that shapes our creative. Sometimes it's fun to approach it with our expectations and sometimes we come to it with an open mind and see if something can surprise us.

What makes a film or a commercial or a short great for you? Are there certain qualities that make it better in your eyes?

Jay: I'd say for me, personally, there's a whole bunch of factors. The experience, going through the entire experience with the client — was it a great experience? Were we able to really help them out in a significant way through the experience?

John: For me, what makes a good video is one that you can tell the person thought about the story and then successfully executed that. You can tell when the story is not there. It falls down, sometimes several times throughout the process.

If you were to meet your younger self, what advice would you give to yourself, maybe when you were just starting off filmmaking?

Jay: Oh man, I would definitely tell myself not to worry so much. If I would've had any idea that I would get paid to have as much fun as we get to have, I think life would've been a lot less stressful.

John: For me, it would be try and not do everything, but try to find fewer things and do them well instead of doing a lot of things sort of okay. Just pick one thing that you're really good at, focus in on that. If you know your focus and you know your goal, then stay with that. That's what I've taught myself.

Posted on October 6, 2017 and filed under Field Notes.

Finding True Stories That Feel Like Fiction: An Interview with Riley Hooper


Riley Hooper likes finding real stories that feel like fiction. From talking with the world’s oldest mime, to a 90-year-old downhill skier or a blind swimmer with a fear of water — just to start — Hooper’s documentary work possesses an earnest charm and authenticity that leaves us grinning at our desks whenever she premieres a new project.

This style of observational filmmaking has been a long time coming for Hooper. Growing up making stop motion videos and playing around with cameras, she says she was always interested in filmmaking. After college she decided to pursue it as a career, and took an internship with Maysles Films in New York City. 

The rest has been history — quirky, inspiring, fascinating history caught on film and shared with the masses through places like The New Yorker, National Geographic, BANFF Mountain Film Festival, Hot Docs and Vimeo Staff Picks.

Blown away by her most recent short documentary, “Why Not Now: Vivian Stancil”, we caught up with Hooper to gain some insight into how she finds her stories, her collaboration with friend and composer,  Zubin Hensler and her gemstone collection.

What makes a film great to you? Is there a certain quality or a certain group of qualities that kind of set something apart from others?

In terms of the documentary, I love when it feels like fiction. It's kind of funny because I love documentary and I'm not as much of a fiction fan — but then, I like documentaries that feel like fiction. Just a story that you couldn't have made up. A story that is that much more interesting because it's real. And also I love documentaries that are story-driven and hybrid style and beautifully shot and just kind of feel more like a fiction film. 

Ultimately what's important to me is that a film has a lot of heart behind it. I love it when you know that the filmmaker behind the film cared about their subjects or put a lot of heart and compassion into the making of the film.

How do you find the stories that you tell? Is there a moment when you know, “this is the story that I'm going to do my next piece on?”

That moment is just this feeling of excitement to either meet or learn about or research this really interesting person who you're like, “I can't even believe this story is real or this person is real.” For example, when I discovered the 90 year old that I made a film about, that was through a Vimeo support email during my days of working at Vimeo. And so, we just went back and forth — I was helping him delete videos off his account, but then I started looking at all of his videos and I saw that he was 90 and skis and shot these amazing videos and had this really vibrant life. I still remember feeling so excited watching every single video in his Vimeo account. Just being like, “I need to use these videos in something and I need to make something about this guy, because he's amazing.”

What is something you learned during your most recent project that you worked on?

The one about Vivian? That was the biggest production that I've been a part of, because up until recently I've just made films all on my own. Maybe with a few other people, but usually it's just a one-woman operation. But lately, for the branded content that I've been doing, I work with a producer, and a DP, and a gaffer, and a sound person. And so that's been just a natural learning curve, of learning to expand my production and collaborate with a team. 

For the piece on Vivian we assembled an all female crew, so that was interesting. Not so much in that it was different for me, because I haven't work on big movie sets before, but all of the women that I worked with were like, "This is so refreshing, to work with an all female crew." Because certain dynamics in a mostly male crew — they just weren't present on our set. And that was really cool to learn from them — what their experience has been like, and how this is different. I think because there's such an imbalance between men and women in the industry still, it's really cool as a director, or a producer, to be able to create that work environment for women in the industry.


Is that something that you noticed changing within the industry?

I think so. I mean, I think that there's definitely a lot more attention lately being put on this gender imbalance in filmmaking and there are more opportunities for women — or just more people paying attention to it — which is definitely the first step. By no means is the issue fixed, but I think that just calling attention to it is the first step. If feels like there's a real acknowledgement of the problem and that's important. 

When you select music to go with your film, do you have a guiding principle or something that you're looking for out of the music? What is that process usually like for you in picking a song to go with it?

Usually, one just feels right. It'll match up with what someone's saying or you layer it with the footage and suddenly you're like, “Oh, this is it.” And there's no way of knowing until you pair them together. But lately — for the last two projects — I've worked with a friend who's an amazing musician, his name is Zubin Hensler.

He has done custom scores for me for the mime film [“The World’s Oldest Mime”] and for "Why Not Now." The process has been really amazing, because I know nothing about music, so it was cool to really collaborate. When we talk about the score I end up using really weird words or making funny sounds because I don't have a musician's vocabulary, but it works. For the film on Vivian I told him I wanted underwater gospel music. And, he was like, "Oh, yeah, totally." I was like, "I don't even know what that means, but I love that you do." So, weird things like that happen. I sort of muster up what I can to convey an idea or a feeling or a sound and he runs with it. 

What’s the strangest thing you would find on your desk or in your workspace?

I have a good collection of gemstones from when I worked at Vimeo, because my boss there was really into gemstones. He would get them for us sometimes, and my going away present was this gem stone heart that everyone on the team blessed with their good energy, or something like that. I've got a nice collection to keep the creative juices flowing.

What is your favorite part about being a filmmaker?

I love that I can use film as an excuse to meet interesting people or go cool places or just learn about something that I'm interested in. I love people and I love meeting new people and that's why I'm a documentary filmmaker, but I'm not naturally the type of person who just goes up to anyone and starts a conversation. So, it's filmmaking that gives me agency to be able to do that. I love when someone comes and starts a conversation with me. I'll totally engage with them, but I'm not the type of person who would just talk to the person sitting next to me on the airplane. But if I had to make a film about the people I sit next to on airplanes, then I would feel totally fine and confident in doing that. So filmmaking definitely gives me a sense of agency and confidence and an excuse to pursue things I'm interested in. 



Posted on September 7, 2017 and filed under Field Notes.

Keeping Things Simple: An Interview with Rupert Walker and Brandon Semenuk

Photos by: Toby Cowley and Ian Collins

Photos by: Toby Cowley and Ian Collins

Field Notes: Filmmakers Brandon Semenuk and Rupert Walker of Revel Co. 

"It's just finding the right track that brings out the right mood, and then also matches the pace of the riding and the location of the terrain."  Brandon Semenuk  

Filmmakers Brandon Semenuk and Rupert Walker like to push their creative boundaries. Semenuk has spent much of his life building a reputation as one of the world’s most acclaimed and inventive professional mountain bikers. Meanwhile, Walker, a friend and self-taught filmmaker, has been collaborating with Semenuk to capture profiles in the moments away from the competitions and the camera flashes — the stuff that happens off of known trails and in new places. Together, the two Vancouver B.C.-based filmmakers founded Revel Co., a production company that allows them to showcase not only Semenuk's incredible riding, but the work they want to make on their own terms. 

Blown away by their recent film, Simplicity, we caught up with the two friends to learn more about their unique filmmaking style and making tricks look easy (we know they aren’t).

Marmoset: Can you guys tell us a bit about yourselves and kind of how you got into making the films you're making today?

Rupert Walker: Basically, I was working a video editing job in California, and I didn't like my job, and me Brandon had been working on a video together while I was employed to this company. Pretty much, we decided to start our own company. I quit my job, and we have been working together ever since.

Brandon Semenuk: I was also in a similar situation at the time. I was working with some other production companies, but I didn't really have as much creative control over my content as I had hoped. Me and Rupert had been working together to try to express ourselves creatively.

You mentioned this company that you started together, Revel Co. Can you tell us a bit about it, and the kinds of videos you make. What's your goal with it?

RW: Yeah. Revel Co...basically, we do a handful of commercial work, but most of the stuff that we do is focused around showcasing Brandon's riding. Brandon's on top of the game. He's such a talented and creative mountain biker, and so we're taking these unique and outlandish concepts that usually wouldn't be applied to mountain biking and applying it to Brandon's skill and then developing these really interesting and visually appealing mountain biking videos that really no one else is making.

You're talking about this unique way of showcasing riding, but it seems like the music also plays a big part in your videos. Can you talk a little bit about your process of choosing music to go along with the films?

RW: The thing about trying to find music for that is there always tends to be a pacing to the movement. I think it's just trying to find the right song that has the right pacing to match the riding, and then also just trying to make sure that we basically capture the mood, showcase the mood the best way possible. Brandon, do you want to touch on anything? You found that song for the last video, and it totally changed the video, you know?

BS: Yeah, for sure. Every video has to have a certain flow. Then obviously there's an energy to the riding. If the riding is really aggressive, you kind of want something that's hitting hard, and if the riding is more flowy, you can have more of a mellow track that makes it look more dreamy. Like Rupert said, it's just finding the right track that brings out the right mood, and then also matches the pace of the riding, the location of the terrain. Once we get it all on the timeline, you kind of start to see that flow, and then you can start looking for, "Okay, I think this is going to be more an upbeat song, or something slower, or something electronic," and then you get a better idea once you start seeing the footage altogether. Most of the time, music's a really, really big part of what we're building out in the end, and the right songs really bring it to life.

What's something you learned when filming Simplicity?

RW: One thing we learned is that sometimes it's better to just keep things simple -- you don't need to overcomplicate stuff. The only thing about Simplicity that Brandon wanted to do is basically just do the most stylish and simple trick, but make them look perfect -- that's "simple" in Brandon's terms, right? In terms of the riding, it was just about being simple. The film itself is black and white. There was this whole simple vibe to it, but at the end of the day, it turned out...we didn't try to over-complicate it, and it turned out really good, we think.

BS:  Even the locations were like a single jump and a field, not a lot of distractions, all that kind of stuff. It's easy to clutter shots sometimes to try to make them look more exciting. But just to take that really "simplicity" approach to the whole video, I think, was something we learned. Just making things look neat, nice and visually appealing.

Cool. What would you say was the biggest challenge of filming Simplicity?

RW: I think we were in New Zealand filming that and we live in Canada. So just our timeline was kind of tight, and we were only there for a certain amount of time, so we really had to make sure we got everything with the time we were there. That's was the difficult part of us.

BS: Yeah. I had a friend in New Zealand build a lot of that track. So we were showing up to a bunch of jumps and mountain bike trail I hadn't even seen. We were showing up and going into shooting it right away, hoping that it works, and we've only got a handful of days, and we're dealing with wind and rain and all that stuff. Yeah, just emphasize being halfway across the world trying to make that go smoothly.

What is something others would be surprised to know about you?

RW: Actually, this goes along with the video concept of Simplicity, but when we film, the gear and our set up that we like to use, it's actually very simple, we roll with a small kit. We don't roll with a bunch of huge cameras and boxes and boxes of gear. We're actually a really kind of small production. I think that sometimes people don't really understand that when they see some of our videos in the end. Yeah, that's one thing that I would say. That probably would apply to both of us, eh, Brandon?

BS: Yeah, I think so. We like to keep it tight.

What is something that inspires you?

BS: I mean, a lot of things for me. Obviously I look at a lot of other sports, action sports, in particular. That inspires me, as far as my riding. But then in a creative sense, pretty much anything I see that is visually appealing, that makes you think, or just seeing people go out and just trying to be different and do something fresh, that alone is really inspiring to me. I think that's a lot of motivation for me, just trying to keep pushing my creative outlets, too.

RW: Yeah. You can apply that also to me, as well.

Great. Last question here. What is the best piece of advice you've ever been given?

RW: The best piece of advice I've ever been given is to not take any.

Posted on August 10, 2017 and filed under Field Notes.

Making Things Click: An Interview with Producer, Casey Nolan

Field Notes: Casey Nolan, Producer and Videographer

“At the end of the day, both sides -- commercial and film -- are important because they feed each other in a cycle.”

Music’s ability to “click” with a project can make it or break it. Producer Casey Nolan knows this from years of experience as both a freelance filmmaker and producer at Portland-based integrated marketing agency, R/West, where he has worked on projects with brands such as DeMarini, Tonkin and Sorel. While the goal of commercial production is often different than that of film, music can be just as important to the story’s narrative due to shorter lengths and production times -- and at the end of the day, it can set one brand apart from another. Nolan’s recent work with DeMarini is a great example of this, and we were fortunate enough to collaborate with the seasoned producer on a series of vignettes, featuring songs that help capture the intense, gritty vibe the sports equipment company aims for.

We chatted with Nolan about the value of working with a team, how commercial productions differs from film, and the strangest job he’s ever worked on.

Marmoset: How did you get started in production work? Did you always see yourself working in the creative industry?

Casey Nolan: A very roundabout way. I had a friend who was a photographer in LA and he wanted to start a production company. At the time, I was working at an architecture firm here in Portland and had no real training or experience in video production. I’d say I was a photo enthusiast at the time. I have always enjoyed photography; in college I was the guy who brought a film camera out to the bars and parties every weekend and then had the film developed a few days later. I have shoeboxes full of ridiculous photos from those pre-Facebook days. That eventually evolved into travel photography -- I documented a 6-month trip through Europe and Asia, which caught the eye of my photographer friend in LA.

Despite having no video shooting or editing skills, he was convinced that I had a good eye and could transfer everything over to video. So I quit my job at the architecture firm and the two of us bought an RV and started traveling around the country doing photo and video shoots together. It was trial by fire for the first year, but eventually we got into a groove and did some decent work. After 3 years of that we both wanted to return to our respective homes. I came back to Portland and started doing freelance video work and building a new network in the agency and production worlds.

How has your approach to commercial production evolved over the years?

I wish I had some documentation of that first year -- I was just lucky to hit the record button at the right time. But I practiced constantly, reviewed the work regularly and had it critiqued by people who knew what they were talking about. I read books, watched tutorials, spent countless late nights learning how to edit. Eventually everything started to click. Comparing that shit show to where I am today is comical. I’ve been fortunate to work with a lot of talented people at R/West, and many of my friends work in production at agencies or as freelancers. Just working with a team changes the game for the better. I’m able to focus more on shooting because I can trust my colleagues to do their jobs.  

What’s the strangest job you’ve ever worked on? Why?

I helped shoot a video series for Jägermeister in 2012 that was focused on a random and very interesting group of musicians. Jäger sponsored the tours of Mickey Avalon, Hed PE and Mushroomhead and wanted videos created that had bits of interviews with the band and footage from the shows. We got amazing access with each band -- from backstage hangouts to interviews on the tour buses, and all-venue access at each show.

I especially remember Mickey Avalon’s interview being so incoherent that we walked away having no idea if we’d be able to cut an edit from his ramblings. If you aren’t familiar with Mushroomhead, look them up and imagine a couple of skinny pacifists trying to interview them in their tour bus. It was incredible. Apparently, Jagermeister didn’t do much research on the bands they sponsored; in the end, they pulled the plug on the videos after they were shot and edited because the bands were too extreme to represent the brand.

How do you feel working on commercial projects differs from film?

There is a different creative goal. Commercial projects have clients, which are great because they pay the bills and help fund all the gear, but they have a very different definition of “creativity.” More often than not, what a client wants and what either I want or a director wants doesn’t match up. When I’m making a short film with my core group of production friends -- the only limit is our imagination and our collective goals. We make films to stoke that creative fire and for the love of making a visual and audio experience for the viewer -- we aren’t trying to sell a product. At the end of the day, both sides -- commercial and film -- are important because they feed each other in a cycle.

Often times in film, music is used to elevate specific scenes/moments that aid to the overall storyline. How do you feel this differs for commercial production?

That still applies in commercial production -- sometimes it’s relied on even more to help aid the storyline, because the running times are so much shorter. We have to use every tool at our disposal to get the story across to the viewer and music can really help drive home a concept or change in the narrative. However, many times we have to rely on one specific song for a commercial project -- especially if the final running time is less than 2 or 3 minutes. That makes the song especially important, as it sets the tone and vibe of the entire edit. I’ve had projects that were headed into a dead end until we found that perfect song that made everything click.

Can you speak to your recent work with DeMarini a bit do you know when you found the perfect song for the spot? Why do you think it worked so well?

This particular DeMarini video relied on the perfect song more than any previous videos for this client. In the past, we’ve always used VO to tell a story, so music needed to be that perfect balance between getting the viewer pumped up, but not distracting to the VO. For this "Fastpitch Can’t Stop" video, the director wanted to switch gears and not use VO, so we knew that the song had to be really fun and hyped up, but also still have the overall DeMarini “gritty” vibe that fits the brand really well. Additionally, songs with some lyrics were okay since they wouldn’t compete with the VO at all. When Marmoset sent over the Chic Antik song, we knew it was going to work well immediately. The dirty bass really helps drive the edit -- it has the gritty vibe we look for with most of the DeMarini songs, and the funky vocals help mix it up to keep it interesting. It was actually one of the quickest first rounds of editing I’ve done for this client because the song was just working so damn well.  

With this project in mind, how do you feel the music of choice adhered to the overall brand? Did you have a general understanding of the direction you wanted to take the music when filming?

This song was a great fit with the overall brand. We try to give DeMarini a hardcore image to help differentiate them in the category, so the choice of music, and the footage, graphics and edit, all help support that. This song makes me want to work out -- and pair that with the clips of the talent running in the rain and working out in the gym by themselves really helps create a hardcore story for the viewer. For this particular video, we did have this song picked out ahead of time based on a music search we did with Marmoset. Our director gave some examples of songs that he liked and a general motivational story for the edit, and as usual, we got a bunch of great song selects from your team to make our music search easier. This song immediately stood out as the winner -- though usually it’s not so clear cut of a choice.

When briefing clients on an upcoming project, do you usually ask about their music preference or do you wait until you have music paired to picture to share?

I almost always wait and put in music that I think works best before sharing with the client. The way I see it, we are the professionals -- we were hired for a reason. So I’ll do what I think is best. More often than not, the client is happy with the music on the first round. 

Posted on July 18, 2017 and filed under Field Notes.