Brainstorming a Pitch
I discovered Kaleo's 2016 album A/B a couple months ago and I've been listening to it frequently ever since. The eighth song, Vor í Vaglaskógi, is the only one in the band's native language, Icelandic, but it's somehow also one of the most emotionally comprehensible to an English speaker like myself. I don't need to know what the words mean to imagine a romantic and touching moment. The ending feels bittersweet to me.
The title means "Spring in Vaglaskogur," an Icelandic forest. The song actually dates back to the 1960s, when it was a love poem that, locally, became a popular song. Kaleo's rendition of it is half the original tempo.
There are a lot of English translations of the lyrics, all of them a bit different. I included a couple below, although I've found a half a dozen more versions since. The subtitles in the official video are identical to the top right translation, so I'll be using that.
The first video is the aforementioned official English translation with a montage of landscape and portrait shots from Iceland. The second video is an older music video created back in 2013 when Kaleo first released the song. I think the differences between the two are very interesting. The former mostly disregards the narrative of the lyrics while the latter takes the song more literally.
Anyone who knows me is well-aware that I love forests because I miss the Pacific Northwest and desperately want to return to the region. I love the feeling of the air and the appearance of the landscape. Massachusetts's forests are a better substitute than Kentucky's, out of the places I've lived since leaving the Northwest. When I listen to Vor í Vaglaskógi, that yearning to return to a place that feels like home comes to mind.
I'm going to take a somewhat creative interpretation of the song based on a couple of lyrics and the overall tone. A forest will be serving as the primary setting for the narrative, with b-roll of other smaller story beats at other locations. It will be about a couple that is in love but has been forcefully driven apart by distance. One of them comes to visit the other, and during that period, they go together to a forest setting where they have history. Unfortunately, in a touching and tragic ending, the visit comes to an end and they are driven apart again.
Stylistically, I want to use slow motion to enhance the drama and emotion. Even shooting 30 FPS and conforming it to 24 FPS in post will create a subtle but touching effect. Some moments may also be recorded in 60 or 120 FPS. The song has a vintage feel to it at times, and I may use digital assets like film grain and other analog imperfections to reflect that. I love telephoto lenses, medium close-ups, shallow DoF and bokeh so I will be shooting a number of shots in that way. One other technique I was considering, but ultimately did not use by the time the writing was completed, is a transparency effect to visualize memories. I used this effect previously in a short called "Ghost Runner," although it would have been more difficult to do here because I wanted an opaque actor to interact with a transparent one (or, at least, to be in close proximity).
One consideration is whether or not to stabilize the camera or to use a more handheld or shoulder rig aesthetic. Currently my plan is to give the memory segments a more ethereal feel with steady-cam shots when possible. Meanwhile, a shakier handheld style is fitting for the two characters when the distance separating them is being emphasized. The world is unstable and something needs to be done about it. I think the contrast of styles might help differentiate the environments.
To make the project more manageable, I've trimmed the song from 4:40 to 3:06. This change has the added benefit of improving the pacing of the video, since it would otherwise suffer from a bloated middle act that doesn't advance the plot in any way. Most of my narrative ideas were for the beginning and end of the song. There didn't need to be a bridge between them other than the instrumental section of the song.
Two lovers, separated by distance, briefly reconvene in the wilderness that feels like home.
We begin with Lyra (20) savoring a brief moment of peace in a park before it's all ruined by the discordant noises of the city.
The song begins.
Lyra enters an urban apartment with a Valentines gift, which includes a card from Talia. She looks to a collection of pictures on the wall -- images of herself and another girl (Talia) together in a suburban setting, clearly in love. There's also from forest landscape shots. She looks longingly at the pictures.
A montage begins of Lyra's life in the city with semi-transparent slow-motion footage of Talia and the wilderness overlaid. These are her hopes and desires.
Lyra calls Talia (20) and announces that she will be coming to visit, news that excites both of them.
Talia wanders aimlessly through a park with tall grasses on all sides. She looks up as a plane flies almost directly overhead, about to land.
Lyra arrives and they are reunited.
They walk through a suburban area and enter a forest. There's a montage of landscape shots interspersed with snippets of them hiking, interacting, and taking a couple pictures to commemorate the day. Their bond is still strong.
As the song nears its climax they climb to the peak of a rocky hilltop and Lyra races ahead to take in the view. She enjoys the peaceful atmosphere in the bright sunlight. Talia approaches and hugs her. They kiss as the song reaches a climax.
But then the song rushes into a heartbreaking resolution and there's a quick montage of Lyra packing up and saying farewell.
For this project, more of my inspiration comes from the locations (several of which I've filmed at before) than another movie or music video.
These images inspired a couple shots in my shot list.
Script (as of 2.10.19)
Shot List (Final version -- crossed out items were scrapped on set)
There were a number of schedule conflicts and re-schedulings during production, which forced me to scatter the filming over the course of a week in small pieces.
Dailies (Day 1 -- 2.10.19)
Production & Post Production
I enjoy editing and so I was very comfortable with the idea of shooting more than I thought I would need and figuring out how it goes together in post. That approach was also necessitated with my unfamiliarity with creating music videos. I was reluctant to commit to any one approach so I tried to cover all of my bases and approach the task from a direction I was familiar with. That ended up being the run-and-gun style of a 48 hour film, since that's been the format in which I've had to approach new genres and techniques in the past. That worked well with our scattered schedule, resulting in a series of vignettes. I edited each scene, or at least started making selects, after every shooting day. Once I started seeing footage assembled, particularly the marsh scene on the first day, I became much more confident that I was going in the right direction.
Since this is a music video and I had ended up shooting several of the scenes more like a traditional narrative film, I decided to embrace throwing the continuity out the window while I was editing. Also, because I had edited some of the footage during production I already had about two thirds of the rough cut and some of the color correction done when we wrapped a day before the due date. I finished the rough cut in an hour or two and viewed it with a fresher perspective a couple hours later. I was pleased with the way that it had come together and only made some minor tweaks before coloring the footage.
I enjoy color correction and grading almost as much as editing. I didn't do as much for this project as I usually do (in fact, many of the urban and apartment shots are mostly untouched Cine4 footage since I didn't want those locations to look too good). Most of the color correction was boosting the contrast and saturation and making minor adjustments to the white balance, often in a warmer direction. Since the climactic clifftop scene was shot in 40 minutes there wasn't time to modify the natural sunlight and I ended up with some ugly shadows on the actresses' faces. That was fixed with a couple masks that raised the shadows and lowered the highlights. Another minor adjustment was Talia's gloves -- they were originally a bright, magenta pink. They were by far the most saturated object in the film and rather distracting. I desaturated them throughout the film, although I didn't have the time to fine-tune the effect. The longest shot to color was the plane flying overhead in the marsh, since we finally got the take used in the film about half-an-hour after sunset. The sky was a very deep and dark blue. Once I brightened and desaturated that then the actress had purple fringing in her hair and the color of the plane's lights was wrong. I fixed both of those things to the point that they were passable and moved on.
I received a great deal of feedback on my fine cut and, to be honest, it wasn't what I was expecting. Ultimately I think the criticism I received gave me a dose of reality that I needed.
The gist of the feedback was:
I think the final cut would've turned out much better if I had been able to film a brief montage of Lyra and Talia together just before they go to the forest together. Unfortunately, due to the schedules of my actors, I was unable to re-shoot anything. I wish I hadn't scrapped the cuddling shots during production -- those would have solved a couple of the problems.
I decided to fix as much as I could by re-editing it. The main difference is that the song was further trimmed, thus improving the pace of the beginning and making the reunion of Lyra and Talia appear to happen sooner. I also made a couple other minor tweaks throughout, including expanding the memories sequence to develop more history between the characters and cutting off the last shot before it dragged on too long. I also warmed up the color palette in some scenes.