Sisters Behind the Wings

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“I believe that art should not be separated from the human experience. Instead the human experience should have a hand in creating the art itself.” - Kelsey Montague

 

 

Bypassers pause on the streets of Detroit to check out an enormous pair of magenta and lime colored wings sprawing the black wall of 1050 Woodward Avenue. Denver-based artists, Kelsey and Courtney Montague, brave the frigid November air to put the final touches on their mural as a group of women wait to take their photo and hashtag their Instagrams with #WhatLiftsYou.

 

 

As the sisters finalize the mural, the WO crew reflects back on the whirlwind of a production. Our crew of four includes cinematographers, Cody Cochran and Dimitrius “D” Ramirez, and producers/directors, Ashley Carey and Hannah Ervin. After four days of production, 17 locations, and a completed mural, we wrap production for the brand anthem featuring the badass Montague sisters.

 

 

Rewind several months to Hannah’s first interaction with the sisters, wherein both parties knew they had to collaborate with one another, but weren’t sure how to make it happen. Knowing the sister’s mission statement to bring interactive art to the international community, Hannah pitched the idea of the sisters coming to Detroit to paint a mural. In return, WO would create a brand anthem which would ultimately serve to introduce the faces behind their internationally-renowned murals.

 

 

After gaining approval, Hannah brought Ashley on to help produce the shoot. They hopped on the phone with Kelsey and Courtney, and it was love at first call. Ashley and Hannah learned what the sisters were looking to experience in Detroit and what they wanted out of their brand anthem. From there, Ashley jumped into location scouting, booking sites, and building out a production schedule.

 

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As the shoot date quickly approached, pre-production came to a screeching halt when Ashley and Hannah were notified they did not have approval for the sisters to paint on the wall. Scrambling to get the wall permit sorted, they were given approval the day prior to the sisters arrival. STRESSFUL.

 

 

The Montagues arrived the following morning, where Ashley and Hannah met them bright and early to explore Eastern Market and Great Lakes Coffee. Cody and D met them there, and fiming was underway for the next four days with 15 locations to visit and a mural to paint.

 

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On our last day of production, the crew sat down with the sisters for an hour-long interview detailing their experience in Detroit. After five intense, long days of filming, it was great to know the sisters would leave with a positive impression of the city. They got to experience the Midwest’s hard-working spirit everywhere they went, and even went as far as saying, “Creating work in Detroit is a right of passage for street artists.”

 

 

Personally, Hannah and Ashley deeply appreciated and enjoyed collaborating with Kelsey and Courtney, as female collaboration is somewhat of a rarity in the film industry. Additionally, we have to give a shoutout to WO editor, Nikki Finn, for her phenomenal hard work on both the brand anthem and pitch videos. Womanhood reigns strong at Woodward Original.

 

 

This finalized brand anthem is accompanied by a pitch video WO’s currently creating for the sisters, which WO and the sisters will use to pitch to networks. The series will center around sisterhood, travel, and Kelsey’s art around the globe. Stay tuned to see this series take flight on a screen near you!

 

 

Thank you to Amy Poehler’s Smart Girls for sharing the brand anthem on their channels. Additionally, shoutout to Bedrock Detroit, Belle Isle, The Belt, Chickpea in the D, Eastern Market, Great Lakes Coffee, Green Dot Stables, Heidelberg Project, Johnny Noodle King, Punchbowl Social, Roasting Plant, Royce Detroit, Slow’s BBQ, Takoi, The M@dison, and 1 Woodward.

 

You can watch the video here.

 

 

Positivity in the Face of Adversity

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HAMOODY

        As we grow older, we tend to value things more. Our friends, family, colleagues, relationships, and even strangers that we spend time with. The cycle of life runs its course and along the way we hope to become wiser from our experiences. Through those experiences, both good and bad, we hope to grow. Sometimes we have to face adversity. Sometimes it is self-inflicted, other times, unfortunately, it's not.

 

 

        As storytellers, it is humbling to have the opportunity to dissect what a story means and figure out how those central figures and supporting characters can teach us so much. How their journeys are wholesome and how we, as audience members, can relate in some way. The filmmaking process itself can be humbling. The people we work with, the subjects we encounter, the locations we film at, there always seems to be room for growth and reflection. When Stevie Ansara, our producer, brought this particular project to the table, I knew we would grow a lot from it without even having started on the preliminary stages.

 

 

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STEVIE

        The request came in with a story about a mother and daughter, Teaqua Jacobs and Jada Smoot. Both of them struggling with Neurofibromatosis (NF), a set of complex genetic disorders that affects almost every organ system, causing tumors to form in the brain, spinal cord, and nerves. They were both affected by the disorder in dramatically different ways. If that wasn't compelling enough, their address looked eerily familiar. When I dug in a bit deeper, it turned out this mother-daughter duo lived in my hometown just blocks away from where I grew up in Redford, MI. WO Director Hamoody Jaafar and I explored further and learned that Jada went to my old middle school. From our very first interaction with Jada Smoot and Teaqua Jacobs, we connected.

 

 

        Jada is a sixth grader at Pierce middle school and she is currently battling NF. Jada was born with NF but it wasn't until she was about three years old that the tumors started showing on her neck and throat. Jada’s mother Teaqua was also born with NF. She didn't know she had it until she was 10 years old and although she has a tumor on her face, it is drastically less obvious than Jada’s. As we learned more about their family's history with NF we discovered that Teaqua’s father also had NF – three generations living and coping with the same disorder. In regards to Jada, the family has decided not to pursue surgery. Removing a tumor located on her face is complicated. Jada’s doctors feared removing it would do more harm than good – a difficult decision to make for any family in that type of situation.

 

 

        On the shoot day, I was able to break away from the group briefly and spend about an hour walking around the school alone. It was so nostalgic, even therapeutic in a weird way. Middle school was the place I really came into my own, and was definitely the time in my life where I was discovering my love for the arts. All of my senses were activated. From the smell of the cafeteria to the school bell ringing, it brought me right back to being 12 years old again as I walked the same halls Jada walks everyday.

 

 

        As I thought about it, who would look at Jada and I and think we have anything in common? Probably no one. While producing, I was learning more and more about how much we actually did have in common. We walked the same streets to school, we had the same teachers, we like the same music ... Well, most of the same music ;) I saw a lot of myself in her.

 

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        Jada and Teaqua are some of the most optimistic people we have ever met and they have figured out a way to live their best lives despite the NF disorder. They have created a way to motivate and uplift one another. They are going to live with NF to the best of their ability and live life to the fullest.

 

 

HAMOODY

        We feel so honored to have met Jada and Teaqua. They embody what it means to embrace positivity in the face of adversity. They humbled us, educated us, made us laugh, made us cry, and most importantly, made us better people. They are inspiring in countless ways.

 

 

        As filmmakers, it's imperative to be genuine and honest in our approach. When we do that, we open ourselves up to so many more possibilities. Not only as creatives but as human beings. Jada and Teaqua's story of dealing with an incurable diagnosis like Neurofibromatosis is absolutely amazing. To be in the presence of such positive energy is a privilege. It reminds you to never take life for granted. The ability to laugh, smile, and play, can be lost in the weeds of 'likes' and smartphones these days. This situation put things into perspective for us; reminding us how lucky we are to be in the position we are in and even luckier to have met and spent time with Jada and Teaqua.

 

 

Michigan Lottery’s “Give Thanks in an Instant” – A Beautiful Balance

“Anthony, we received an agency call… the client is The Michigan Lottery… and they want a 30 second spot done for the holidays.”

 

Although this might not seem like the most creative project to finish out the year, our job is to take those seemingly mundane projects and produce compelling content.

 

In the marketing and advertising world there is often straightforward content with one linear goal – a call to action to drive sales.

 

Coming from the world of freelance filmmaking, I got into this industry to tell stories and drive emotion.

 

There is certainly a struggle between balancing these two worlds.

 

The Michigan Lottery was not requesting a typical run-of-the-mill project. Their initiative was to thank people who work hard on the holidays – when most of us are spending time with friends and family.

 

A BALANCE!

 

Simons-Michelson-Zieve (SMZ) saw our website and knew we were a production company that produced high-quality work. When they saw the documentary-style short about an NBA player, spearheaded by one of our directors Hamoody Jaafar, they knew we were the ones. They loved that we had passionate in-house directors that were comfortable on camera, and loved that our production team could be nimble while capturing quality images.

 

We got the creative brief and jumped on a conference call.

 

SMZ aimed to tell a thoughtful story by giving a genuine surprise to people that truly deserved it. They wanted us to carefully select the recipients, be tight-lipped about the surprise, and get personal with our nominees. This was storytelling!

 

Hamoody came on board to see the project through, not only as the Director, but also as on-screen talent. Jamie Hackney stepped in to run logistics as associate producer, which proved to be a tremendous asset.

 

We went out and found real people with real stories that were truly deserving. This was our biggest challenge – meeting all of these wonderful people, assessing their presence on camera, all the while being sure to not give away our intent.

 

We decided to tell everyone we were filming a documentary on “working through the holidays.” We explained that we would come back if we were able to make the documentary happen.  This worked well as everyone we surprised forgot about our previous conversation and mentally wrote it off. We showed up and surprised them with a gift from Michigan Lottery, ultimately resulting in a genuine reaction.

 

At the end of production we captured not only a great surprise, but candid interviews with each recipient. We worked with SMZ and Michigan Lottery to deliver several great edits that everyone was happy with. We even have another project with SMZ in the works.   

 

Maintaining a balance between emotional storytelling and corporate sales is a beautiful thing. We don’t always get those opportunities, but we’re extremely grateful when we do.

7 Startup Videos That Nailed It

There are a lot of startup videos out there.  Video marketing has been recognized as one of the most powerful ways to get the word out about a company or product.  But not all content is created equal – some knock your socks off; most … don’t.  

 

In this post, we’ll explore a few of our favorite startup videos from around the web and why we love them.  These aren’t all explainer videos, demos, brand anthems or testimonials.  Rather, these pieces are as varied and innovative as the startups that made them.

 

Google’s first commercial came after the company’s founders vowed that it would be a cold day in hell before they'd make a TV commercial.  Welp, hell froze over during the 2010 Super Bowl when Google aired Parisian Love. It effortlessly shows the product while telling a heartwarming story.  This piece is phenomenal because it shows both what Google does and how real people use it.  It’s amazing the story a few questions can tell.

 

 

Charismatic, humorous, off-the-wall. This take on the informative product video sticks in your mind and provides a glimpse into Dollar Shave Club’s culture.  It pioneered the form of wacky explainer videos.

This is the video that every young, zany startup wants to copy – DON’T.  It’s a great form but it has been played out.  What was genuine for them is probably not authentic for your brand.  Authenticity is vital when creating any content.

 

 

Castle's animated explainer video is a great example of creating a hero narrative around the problem your company is solving.  The animation is quirky, engaging, and informative and the narrator succinctly lays out Castle’s value proposition from problem to solution.

 

 

This epic, homegrown, Cincinnati music video from our friends at Rhinegeist is a digression from the pieces above but shows a totally different tactic for creating a video.  Their culture is on display more than the product and they are unabashedly goofy.  This piece is creative, fun, and just puts a smile on your face.

 

 

With opening product shots reminiscent of the Apple campaigns that CMRA is meant to augment, this piece by Sandwich Video is a beautiful example of a product debut.  We love that they create romance with their product – think the Parisian Love ad by Google earlier in this blog.  On top of that, they are naming themselves as the next innovation in a line of camera and communication technologies that have captured great, human moments through b-roll of past cameras and events.  Everything is thought out and clean in this piece with a narrative and style that understands and illustrates how CMRA fits into both the present and past.

 

 

We love this StockX explainer – not just because we made it – but for a lot of the same reasons as the Castle piece.  It helps that celebrities like Wale, Foamer Simpson, and Hasan Minhaj were on board to help, but the key elements – clear statement of the problem being solved, explanation of how it works, quirky aesthetic supported by graphics – were still in place to get the message across.  

 

We can say from firsthand experience it takes a lot of work and careful thought to make these pieces shine. But if your product and culture are awesome, they are a great way to showcase both who you are and what you do.

Movement: Exploring a Dream

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Crew

Creative Producers: Davis Nixon, Chent Steinbrink, David Tappan

Director: Hamoody Jaafar

Editor: Davis Nixon

Director of Photography: David Tappan

 

A conflict raged in my head as we poured over the request: Event Coverage of the 2016 Movement Festival

 

What?

Event coverage = boring

Movement = world famous dance festival in the heart of Detroit

 

I wasn’t sure how to approach this. I knew I wanted it to be different; at least as abstract and mind-bending as the festival itself. Jon Braue and I decided we wanted to go big on this one - to develop a piece that would speak to the history and impact such a notorious event.

I approached Hamoody Jaafar, one of our directors, asking him to develop a concept. He worked over the next few days, and one night while we were in the color room we had our first breakthrough. Late at night, let’s say 10pm or so, I’m on the color panel with Dave working on one of his projects, Moody is sitting behind us working on the Movement concept. We’re in the depths of soundcloud, looking for inspiration for the piece when this song comes on:

 

It was too perfect. It felt like Movement was speaking to us through the speakers:

 

ALL sounds are music. Everything is Music. So there is no escaping the Music. The first sound in the whole cosmos was Music. The first sound when the creator created this planet was Music and the final sound when the creator decides to get rid of all this negativity - which is coming soon, that sound is music. And the first sound of the “new”… will be… music.

 

In that moment we discovered the story we wanted to tell: people’s connection to the music, and how music connects people to each other.

Moody wrote up the concept, telling the story of the festival from the early morning as people are waking up, to the peak of the festival itself.

We pitched it, got approved, and moved into pre-production. We decided to tell the story using a motif of match/glitch cuts. We really wanted to let people forget about the film and fall into the flow of the piece:

 

For the camera, the ARRI Alexa Mini was an obvious choice. Though pricey, we wanted to do this thing right. We needed extreme low-light capabilities, with a clean, soft highlight rolloff to counteract the stage lights. We needed a zoom lens that would provide a clean image at a decent price, so we went with the Angenieux 28-76mm.

Since the ARRI with the lens is extremely heavy, and knowing the crazy hours we’d have to work, we decided to rent an EZ Rig, which was a lifesaver throughout the shoot.

The investment on the camera and glass completely paid off. Using entirely natural light, we achieved some of the most stunning images we’ve ever shot:

 

The shoot itself was a blur. We took shifts, usually in pairs, filming nearly every hour of the weekend. Sleep, film, switch, repeat. We lived and breathed the festival. Our initial shots weren’t great, they looked contrived and out of place - we weren’t yet in sync with the festival. As we immersed ourselves however, this drastically changed. Spending every waking minute surrounded by people hypnotized by the festival, being inches away from people on stage so entranced by their own music, it was unforgettable. And let’s not forget when RZA made eye contact with us.

We all had a vision going into the festival, but honestly had no idea what to expect. Throughout the weekend we captured so many moments, and shot a lot of footage. Our first selects sequence looked like this:

 

Yeah that’s 3 hours of selects.

 

Thus began post production - an extremely long ~ 1 year process of late nights and dozens of trashed sequences.

Chent pulled selects, and divided them into several categories:

  • Establishing shots
  • Water/Liquid
  • People/Movement
  • Looking into Camera
  • Smoke
  • Reflections
  • DJs
  • Lights
  • Hair
  • Birds

The footage was so good. Hundreds of people packed together, each person in their own head space.

Just look at this shot:

 

I feel like I could study it for hours. Every single person is having their own unique experience.

I think people call it sonder.

My first assembly cuts followed the treatment closely, and things were going smoothly. The plan was to structure it based off Moody’s treatment using the selects as a reference. The amount of footage was overwhelming, but I was working through it with the help of the crew. I created a primitive version of the intro and glitch scenes that exists in the final version, and progress was steady. However, an unexpected evolution of the project was occurring.

Something wasn’t working right. It felt incohesive, disingenuous, and worst of all, unauthentic to what we’d just lived and witnessed. We’d underestimated the power of the festival. It sucks you in, pulling you into what feels like a dream, where time doesn’t exist.

Just you and the music.

We were stuck. And frustrated. Weeks went by with no real progress, and waning inspiration.

In addition, I was getting pulled into other projects with tighter deadlines, and Movement really fell off the radar.

Fast forward to late December, right around Christmas time. I was driving home one night, listening to Spotify discover weekly, I hear this:

 

Sudden inspiration. I listened to the Alan Watts voice over about 150 times, and connected it so strongly to Movement. It was that adventure of dreams described in such a perfect way; speaking to the feeling of getting lost in the daze of Movement, and depicting the subjective nature of the mind.

Some people think of Movement as a weekend where a bunch of people get high and party, but the reality is so different. It’s an event that shows the nature of people in the purest form; uninhibited, authentic, intertwined with art and the rest of humanity.

I got back to work, pushing ‘abstract’ as far as I could. Heavy sound design in pieces like Watchtower of Turkey were heavily inspirational in creating a feeling of transportation. My main goal was to allow people to experience Movement through this piece, if only for a few minutes.

It’s hard to explain this stage in the editing process: The Breakthough.

This part feels like magic for me. After hours or days or weeks or months grinding through a project, suddenly I reach this state of flow where the cuts are obvious and it no longer feels like work. This was the point in time that I made this:

I knocked out the rest of the cut relatively quickly, ending up around 6 minutes in length. I switched the song to Icry by Godblesscomputers, our original envisioned track, which started working with the new form of the edit and voice-over.

 

This abstraction was difficult, and my best friend during the entire process was experimentation. No idea was off limits. For hours I tried different combinations of transfer layers, shot combinations, and glitch effects until I reached the point where I was satisfied.

Dozens of terrible, cheesy ideas scrapped, dozens of great ideas that didn’t fit the structure, but eventually I got to where I wanted to be.

I opened slow; hypnotic, abstract shots, ambient music, and the transient voice-over to build up the tone. I cut sparingly, and when I did I tried to make each one impactful.

 

The glitch montage was meant to emulate the feeling of falling asleep and into a dream. I’ve always loved the randomness produced by the mind, and used sound design to ramp up the pacing until the climax of the eye close shot:

 

Once we’re in the dream my main goal was just to show off how incredible Movement is.

Seeing empty Hart Plaza a few days before the event, and then being back when it is packed is incredible. Innovative, eclectic, bizarre music playing everywhere, everyone lost in themselves.

We decided to end on a long, slow take of a spinning record, symbolizing the power of music.

 

The power to hypnotize, to inspire, and to show people that the only difference between dreams and reality is perspective.

Flint Communities First Story

“The Flint Project”, that is what we first referred to it as. Not because it lacked validity, but because of the mystery surrounding the direction of the project.

Being from the Detroit area I had heard of Flint of course, mainly because I am a hoops fan and the “Flint Stones” were huge when I was growing up. I was approached by our project manager Nick, who basically said, “Yo, we have an opportunity to do a piece for a non-profit in Flint. What do you think?” My ignorance immediately kicked in, and I thought, well, ok it’s probably about the water crisis, right? To which he responded, “No. It’s not actually. It’s deeper than that.”

Communities First, Inc. has taken on the challenge to flip Flint’s narrative upside down in times of great difficulty. The automotive industry was decimated, the population was cut in half. When there was a glimmer of hope for real estate and job growth, the water crisis hit and brought any momentum the community had gained to a screeching halt. However, when there are young leaders in the community who refuse to accept the cards they’ve been dealt radical change is always possible. CEO and co-founder Glenn Wilson said it best, “Some people might call me crazy. I guess I’m crazy for progress, crazy to see change happen.”

 

 

I decided to be brutally honest with our approach, so as to challenge the audience's perception of Flint. CFI co-founders Glenn and Essence Wilson also took us on what they call “The Real Flint Tour”, a 5-6 mile drive outlining the history of Flint and its distinctly known neighborhoods. Rather than creating a stereotypical, corporate brand video for Communities First, I completely immersed myself in the lives of the Flint citizens. I had lunch at Torch Bar several times, probably more times than would be considered healthy, but I really can’t say enough about their burgers. I chatted with locals who fished in the Flint River, which initially I thought was crazy. When I asked why they would fish these waters they told me “We do it for fun, we don’t eat em’ no more. We know brothas that do though, they don’t give a (insert explicative word here).” They told me they had already been drinking it for a few years without knowing, “So what’s the difference anyway?” That really put things into perspective for me.

 

 

Having that shift in perspective and communal understanding, production began. Our crew was a team of incredibly passionate professionals that are the best in their craft, which is something that truly cannot be beat. It was freezing cold most days and when we were in need of clear sunny skies, we were unexpectedly hit with snow. Our Producer Stevie Ansara led the way with the utmost class and charisma. He recommended embracing the weather to challenge ourselves creatively. The opening scene ended up being a slow motion shot at 100FPS utilizing the snow to our advantage, which was not initially planned for. Director of Photography Tommy Daguanno is quite arguably one of the most talented up and coming DPs within the entire Midwest region, if not the country. During production we shot with the ARRI Alexa Mini and super speed lenses by Zeiss. Tommy also used some additional hard edge ND filters to help maintain consistency with the soft, somber tone throughout. This was our third consecutive project together. We generally take a deep dive into the script beforehand and Tommy will send over a look book to make sure that what I see in my head matches our plan going in. He is extremely passionate and technical in his approach, which I can deeply relate to and appreciate.

 

 

Glenn and Essence of CFI are incredible people. Flint’s narrative is widely known, both nationally and internationally, due to the publicity surrounding the water crisis. However when we sat with the Wilsons, they wanted to make sure we did not make that the focal point of the story, which spoke volumes to their character.

In gaining an understanding of the community we were ultimately able to create a cinematic, passion-piece that was honest, authentic, and remarkably genuine. When creating content we try to push ourselves to be different, to explore avenues that are outside of the norm. Molding the experiences and emotions we attained for Flint into a beautiful and compelling story – that's what I’m proudest of about this project. To quote Glenn once more, “Where people see dirt, I see diamonds.” Diamonds are certainly on the horizon in Flint, MI. I cannot wait to look back in 5 years and say we were able to capture the initial phases of the movement in this historic and beautiful American city.

To view the Flint Communities First Story, click here.