More than a year ago my friends John, Andy, Wade, and Becky discussed getting me to work with them on a promo video for their 80s tribute band Denim Arcade (denimarcade.com). In early 2018 they secured studio time to record a medley of 4 songs representing the range of styles they play.
Here’s the video. Scroll down for my “making of” notes.
The (seemingly simple) concept for the video was to give bar owners the feel of a live Denim Arcade show. But my edit was hamstrung by the fragmentary nature of footage collection.
Over the course of the year I had been going to DA shows to capture footage to marry to the studio track. I learned (the hard way) that this was absolutely impossible. Every one of their live performances was different in some way!!
In any given show they might play a target song at a faster tempo – your adrenaline can really get flowing when you’re playing in front of a live audience!
At another show a singer might change the phrasing of their lyrics. Then there were the times I would miss footage because I was geographically on the wrong end of the stage at the wrong time with my camera. There was only one of me and since they only played each song once during each show it meant missed shots.
Meanwhile, back in the “edit booth”, it was impossible to maintain synchronization between my footage of their live performances and their pre-recorded track. At best I might find 2 or 3 seconds of any given sequence when the lips and the master audio would match up.
At this rate, it was going to take me 2 years to complete the project.
Time for Playback
I knew the solution to the problem the entire time, in the movie business you never try to map live performances to canned audio, you just do playback.
Doing “playback” meant that we would need to have the band lip-sync and pretend to play their instruments as they listened to their own pre-recorded track played over a loudspeaker.
Happily, Becky had access to a terrific theatrical stage and Wade brought along a collapsible light tree that added visual animation.
Together, the band and I spent an hour or two capturing complete sequences of all four performers playing each of the four songs, from a variety of angles. From that point forward the project was down to interspersing the live footage with the staged footage.
It didn’t take long to get some really great looking stuff, but there was something about the beginning of the video that was bugging me.
The rapid keyboard swipe (called a ‘glissando’) that Becky makes in the lead-off song ‘Girls Just Want to Have Fun’ felt kind of abrupt. Like, it was all up in your face for no reason at all – like a slam cut missing the first half of the transition.
So, what did that first half want to be?
Go Camp or Go Home
Some of my favorite 80s videos had people like David Lee Roth doing super campy lead-in sequences, and I felt we could shoot something along those same lines to help leverage the “spacey” characterizations of the band drawn by talented animator Lucas Ryan.
I whipped up a simple one page script and met the band at their rehearsal space. In less than an hour we we’d gotten everything we needed. This was probably my favorite part of the entire project because it took the band members away from their instruments for a few moments and we got to explore their characters and play with camera moves.
In the final version of the script I had named the characters Becky Brighteyes, Andy Kaboom (given time for another revision I’d have renamed him Stixx), Wade Zappstarr, and my personal favorite: Johnny Karate.
I don’t know if the band will ever use those names or come up with some of their own, but that last one seemed to be a hit all the way around!
There’s a throwaway line in the script “Meanwhile, at the Denim Arcade secret headquarters). In my mind it was originally going to be a space station like you’d see in an old serial or a vintage episode of Doctor Who. I suggested naming it the ‘Denim Arcadia’, not recalling that was what they already called their fan group on Facebook – which was perfect.
The more I thought about it the more it seemed fitting to do the old “spaceship shaped like a guitar” trick, and being the founder of Cardboard*Con I had quick access to cardboard!! Over the course of two nights I sat and glued this “guitar ship” together while binge-watching shows on Netflix.
My Favorite Bits
My favorite parts of this Denim Arcade demo reel include the gonzo camera move I caught of Wade in the intro, the moment the robot falls off of the drums (that was totally an accident, and Andy’s reaction is genuine).
There are several moments in Becky’s performance of Girls Just Want to Have Fun that are especially cute – the guys in the band are quick to admit that she is their secret weapon.
I love that I caught footage of mild-mannered John rocking out to a sexy young blonde groupie at the front of the stage. And I was delighted when I realized that I’d captured a couple locked in a ferocious make-out session during Home Sweet Home. It’s about 58 seconds into the video – look in the lower right frame.
The spaceship turned out SO GREAT!! It really does look like something from BBC’s special effects department circa 1983 – it gives Doctor Who and Blake’s 7 a run for their money!! Funny how far some black cloth, a clamp-on light and a guitar-shaped spaceship can take you!
This was a fun project to do for some friends and I’m very glad that it is over. Next time I’d like to try something narrative, with real actors, a real camera, and very few pop-culture connections.
Until then, I hope to see you at a Denim Arcade show!!