Making a Music Video

I was standing on the roof of the Chaffey warehouse in downtown Los Angeles. A devastating El Nino storm had passed through the city the day before, but today it was nothing but a beautifully clear, breezy day. Dave Snow pointed out a platform constructed over the edge of the six-story building, telling me that's where they had a stuntman take a leap --Tom Cruise's stuntman, dressed up to look like Miles.

The sunshine was brilliant, but McG's crew held up silver reflectors to make the light even more intense. Band members Miles Zuniga, Tony Scalzo, and Joey Shuffield squinted, preparing for the moment, the call of "Playback ... action!"

They made up their minds And they started packing ... But where were they going without ever knowing the way?

Fastball was taking four days to shoot the video for their single "The Way" from their sophomore CD, "All the Pain Money Can Buy." The song was hot enough on radio stations to prompt Hollywood Records, Fastball's label, to order a video shoot ASAP for this band from Austin, Texas.

When I first arrived at the warehouse, a 1900's monolith of brick and cement, director McG already had shot the stuntman's six-story drop from the rooftop. They had taken down the safety airbag and were shooting a sequence where vocalist and guitarist Miles lies on the top of a station wagon, strumming his guitar.

"We have a sequence where Miles is being chased across the rooftop," explained Dave Snow, a creative director from Hollywood Records, sent by the label to keep an eye on the look and feel of the video. "He jumps and we catch him on the back of the car, still playing." Explaining how a music video gets started, Dave said the record label first recognizes that a song is gaining in popularity from how much radio air time it is getting. From there, they set a budget and start looking for a director for the production, accepting "treatments" or written descriptions of what the director plans for the video. After picking a proposal that the band likes and the label approves of, they can begin production of the video.

McG yelled "Cut" and the crew immediately began to take apart their camera setup. The clip they just filmed took a mere three takes and probably will last onscreen for about 20 seconds. A crew member scooped up a life-size mannequin ... "Put clothes on that dummy!" someone shouted. "We used the mannequin to film Miles 'landing' on top of the station wagon," explained Dave. "We're not sure MTV will let us use that sequence." When I asked why, Dave said that MTV is much more conservative than people realize. Apparently, the Music Television station has restrictions on depictions of drinking, violence, smoking, etc. for all its music videos.

Although they had submitted the treatment to MTV for approval, there was no way to predict how their censors would react to the visual result. So McG and Fastball also came up with an alternative scenario, where Miles throws his guitar off of the roof and then an editor would cut to Miles catching the instrument on the car. "Not as much visual impact, but ... " Dave shrugged.

While the crew broke down the set to move to the rooftop, I had a few minutes to hang with the musical stars of this production, who had retreated into the comfort of their trailer. When I entered the trailer with Fastball's publicist, Sharrin Summers, the guys had already put down their instruments and picked up pens, signing huge stacks of CD covers. "You touring in a trailer like this?" asked Sharrin.

"Hell no," said Tony, "we're touring in a van half this size -- you kidding?"

Relaxed, joking around, I sat with Miles, Tony (bass, vocals), and Joey (drums), and caught a glimpse of how sudden fame has affected this trio.

"Famous? We're not famous," scoffed Tony, by far the most garrulous and outspoken of the group. He, along with Miles, writes the songs and penned "The Way," which was based on a newspaper article he read for inspiration. "Fame is where you walk down the street and people mob you," said Tony. "We're not there yet."

As Tony and Sharrin conferred about Fastball's schedule for the rest of the week (Tony, adorable in his eyeglasses, writing down each detail -- "Interview at what time? Party where?"), a tired Miles lounged shotgun. "Sharrin?" Miles asked, "is the driver going to know where we're goin'?"

"Yep," replied Sharrin.

"Then I don't need to know ... Hey wait, when are we going to rehearse?!"

A little later, Miles shared his opinion about fame, saying that they had to go to on all the interviews and performances and such because it was the band's obligation to help sell records.

"It's always been about the music," he was quick to emphasize, but he compares a successful band to selling shoes. The shoes have to be good to begin with, but working to sell them is part of the process.

"Young musicians don't realize how much work it all is," agreed Sharrin. "Getting on the radio is just the first step."

Within the hour, the roof set was ready to go and we all rode an ancient freight elevator to the windswept scene up top. McG, whose credits include the music videos for Sublime's "Santeria," Sugar Ray's "Fly," Smash Mouth's "Walking on the Sun," as well as videos for KORN and Cypress Hill, is definitely a director to watch. Wearing a white windbreaker and monitoring the video playback monitor for every shot, McG was totally engrossed in his work. I didn't dare interrupt him.

Miles, Tony, and Joey hit their marks each time (and yes, they are lip synching to a recorded playback). Between takes, the makeup crew would dab at the musicians and McG would talk to his cameramen about their positioning. It's a testament to the song "The Way" that with each take, the crew could still groove with the tune. After filming an overall look at the band (and tolerating clouds passing over the sun during takes), McG worked on close-ups of the artists before breaking for lunch. "Go Tony!" he encouraged.

After this setup, Miles' chase scene would be filmed and then the crew would move to a different location to finish the video. After a few days of post-production when McG would edit and sound would be mixed for the video, it would be ready to go into MTV's rotation. And none too soon. Fastball looks like a band on its way to the top -- if only they could find a minute to rehearse!

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