I met Cellus Hamilton one hipster night in Brooklyn when I decided on a whim to do a live painting performance at a local venue. Cellus happened to be a performer, and approached me while I was painting to introduce himself. Just a few weeks later, we would be shooting our first video together that would go on to get featured on Rapzilla.com, Pigeons & Planes, and many more publications, racking up thousands of views and taking over the blogosphere in a matter of days.
This new video for Fire & Wood marks our second creative venture together, with a third music video right on the way. The most rewarding thing about working with musical artists is seeing how my efforts as a visual director can help their careers escalate. I love helping other people to succeed and bolstering other people!
With Fire & Wood, I wanted to use natural light to give each shot a very smooth, classical appearance, making each frame a painting. In order to make the costume elements more strange and mysterious, I felt that composed, tripod shots with only a few, if any, camera movements would bring the video cohesively together. Normally I like to opt for handheld videography, like we had in the Mojo video, because handheld provides a lot of freedom. When the camera is in your hands and free of heavy gear, you can get into position for a shot as soon as you see it, jumping into the action instead of having to wait to adjust and level a tripod or gimbal. It’s intuitive and fast– usually the go-to for run-and-gun shoots.
–But camera shake brings a raw, human element to video that wasn’t going to work for the more surreal feel of this project. Camera shake is for fight scenes and military battles, or to show that a character in a movie is feeling anxiety (camera shake shakes up the audience, see “mother!” by Darren Aronofsky or my short film FORGE). The characters in this video were meant to be classy, and collected, like mafioso or a gathering of sophisticated super-villains.
Also, I prefer to shoot a little bit under exposed if the mood is going to be more dramatic, so the video overall has dark tones which sets up a bigger contrast to the bright firelight.
Going in to the edit, I focused on blending frames together that would direct and surprise the viewers’ eyes. Using quick, hard cuts to replace and image of fire with opening eyes, fading smoke in and out of shots and later using shots as smoke to cloud and corrupt the audience’s view of each frame, as if they’re looking through fog. I wanted to make the edit a bit like a rollercoaster, where the viewer’s eye has to search for meaning and journey through the visuals and words– creating a visual poem to go with the lyrics.
People have said that each time they watch the video, they see something new. Some of the best shots I intentionally put up for just a split second just for that purpose. I think it’s great to make a video that people will want to see again, one that doesn’t get old after one viewing.
As a production designer, I also handle all the props and effects for any video I direct. Here are some tricks we implemented for this one–
- As the fire burnt through each piece of wood, the wood would curl. For shots where I wanted a more dramatic burn, I split the wood so that the fire would move through it and cause the piece to fan out as it burned, giving it more movement on screen to make it more visually interesting.
- I hand carved the candles, etching the words in with a needle, carving the surfaces so that each cylinders had added texture, then rubbing charcoal on them that embedded itself into the carvings. It was great to see how the wax melted into the charcoal, making it look like ink. With my background as a painter, I already knew that paint would immediately repel from the waxy surface, so using a dry medium was the only option.
And without further ado, here is the finished product!
Music video by Cellus Hamilton performing “Fire & Wood”
Director: Lee Milby
Producer: Sharan Kukreja
Assistant Director: Omid Malekan
Music Producer: Rozart
Special Thanks: Papa Juan Cigar Room (Harlem, NYC), Felix & Adam (Papa Juan Cigar Room), Lee Cruz, Raj Jaiswal, KSK Studios NYC, Yellow Beanie Productions
Cast: Luis Savery Leo Jimenez Simon Babba
Get Cellus Hamilton’s album “We Are & We Shall” here: smarturl.it/WeAreWeShall
© 2017 Cellus Hamilton