Universe Speak To Me

 

In collaboration with:

Model: Rachel Nguyen (thatschic.net)
Directed & Edited by: Weston James Palmer
Filmed by: Dylan Knight (dylanknight.com)
Lighting by: Paul Delmount (pauldelmontphotography.com)
Make Up: Hitomi Sasaki
Set Design: Paul Delmount, Alex Torres, Sara Decou (saradecou.com)
Music: Sharon Van Etten "Magic Chords" (sharonvanetten.com)
Switch Remix ft. Rye Rye & Missy Elliot (last.fm/music/Rye+Rye)
Dress by Kaarem (kaarem.com/home)

Sharon Van Etten inspired this piece back in 2012 when she sang at the Greek Theatre as an opener for Andrew Bird. Now if you know me well enough, I am Andrew Birds biggest fan. Anxiously waiting for him to come on stage, I was sitting there thinking to myself, I hope this opener band hurries up (get off the stage) Sidenote: And to all the opener bands, I learned my lesson very quick...Sharon Van Etten took me out of the Greek and straight into mental bliss. Love, loss and new beginnings were taking over my mind uncontrollably. I was into it....I mean really into it. Even the girl to the right of me (those types who won a ticket or have no idea why they are even there, desperately hoping the guy or girl they are with makes a move on them....or not) gave me the look of "how many drugs did you just do?" And with my mental powers I gave her the look back, "You should go to the snack bar, eat about 12 pretzels and never come back".... Then I continued to be present in Sharon's haunting lyrics about how "You're the reason why I'll move to the city...... you're why I'll need to leave"....... I couldn't get over those lines. And she sang it directed at her guitarist/base player (can't remember) like she was either going to marry him or crush him. She was killer and gave a whole new meaning to "band openers." Thanks Sharon. One day I would love to see you headline...

So the next day, trying to recover from an Andrew Bird (Put on an incredible show) hang over, I downloaded everything I could find of Sharon Van Etten. I was even more hooked. Like if someone stuck their finger inside your mouth, grabbed your cheek and drug you down the sidewalk...That hooked. Since then, I have listened to her music constantly, used her music for some photo sets and the short film you watched above.

"Magic Chords" is the name of the song and I remember the first time I listened to it in the car. I thought I heard all of her songs before, but then all of a sudden my car plays this song (yes, the car magically played it)....and the next thing you know I am taken right off the 405 (freeway in Los Angeles) dead stop traffic and into a dark place. I immediately painted a picture of a girl in the distance, in an open field of darkness. I was there, acting as a fly on the wall.....pacing back and forth, but in slow motion, watching her emotions unravel (Still driving my car). But what was beautiful about where the song was going, was that there was no answers or maybe ones you don't want to hear. "You got to lose. You got to lose. You got to lose sometime" ....At this time (Honk) I almost went off the road connecting with the song so strongly (Having lost about 14.1 million times over the last six months) This is when my mind epiphanies and realized Yes, Yes,....you do lose sometimes and you have to be ok with it! Let it out, don't hold it in.....Let it completely out........ And thats when in my day dream the tears of the girl started to come out. Uncontrollably.....to the point of getting rained on (like the rain is actually tears) To me she let out the sadness so much that her tears bathed and washed all the negativity away....Bringing her back to normality (Is that even a word....a "normal" state) 

I went on to play that song over and over again, eventually painting a picture into the film you see above. I love when feelings like this come over you. I am very thankful that Andrew Bird picked Sharon Van Etten to open that night and even more thankful her words and melodies were so strong, they actually became a short film.

 

Behind The Scences

It all started with an Idea from the Sharon Van Etten song “Magic Chords”…..Go watch “Universe Speak to Me” in the gallery and read an explanation where the idea came from.

The first thing that came to mind from the idea was rain. Lots and lots of rain….That should be easy right? We just go buy a rain machine or something…..Well next thing you know we are talking big money and big money is not what we wanted to spend on a purely artistic project. (Budget came from our pockets not a brand)…..So Paul Delmont stepped up out of nowhere and said….I’ll just build one. I started laughing and was like sure you will…..and he was like I am serious. Thats when it started to feel real. Ok cool…Paul is going to build the rain machine thats going to create lots and lots of rain for the shoot. Check.

 
 

Paul welding the rain machine

 

At the time I was talking to Rachel Nguyen about doing a short artistic piece so she seem to fit what was in my head. I really wanted a blonde asian (basically a unicorn) with a beautiful face that looked killer with her hair slicked back from all of that tons and tons of Rain that Paul was going to create ;) She said she was in, Check.

Next was camera. I love canon and all the Dslr’s now a days (changing the game for sure) ( But it’s still not film, not even close) ( Alexa your close, please just make it affordable) I can’t fucking believe Canon hasn’t got their shit together on this, I needed a camera that could shoot super slow motion that was accessible to someone like me who doesn’t have a money tree in my backyard. So, I went with Sony’s FS700. It can shoot up to 980 frames per second and for all you non filmers (sorry, cinematographers..director of photography what ever you like to be called), that means really really slow motion. So we rented one. Fuck I was excited when I had that thing in my hand....then I called the one and the only babe magnet Dylan Knight. He jumped on board right away and was pretty excited about trying out the Sony FS700 as well. 

The big day comes, a lot of us have spent a few days planning all the boring shit you don’t want to hear and we all head over to Paul’s. Now this was a trip….Paul lives in Altadena up in the hills and he has all these chickens running around with two pit bulls that look like they are going to rip your head off. They are nice pups. We all show up heavily anticipating this rain machine that Paul has made. I don’t know what to think. Im just praying to God it comes out good.

 
 

Getting eaten by two Pitbulls

 
 

Rachel chillin in the backyard

 

We pull up to his house and all I see is this contraption taking up the whole driveway…What a fucking cluster I’m thinking in my mind. He has two hoses hooked up and proceeds to turn them on with out even saying hi. He was a little more than excited about it. What can I say….he stoked me out. It worked…It fucking worked…..Pvc duck taped….holes, washer, screws….I don’t even know…it was perfect. 

Next best thing…..Ok, how the hell are we going to get this thing in the air? I am freaked out because now I am like Paul it looks cool and all, but where the fuck are we going to put it. He rambles off like five words basically showing he doesn’t even know. Im panicking at this point. He sees I’m panicking and proceeds to pick up his phone. He goes relax……I’m calling Alex….Alex is the shit and can do anything….I am like great. Please!!!

So we end up going into Paul’s Chicken infested back yard to setup and come to realize this location is not big enough….Fuck fuck fuck. We are fucked. (Readers, always plan your location first, rookie mistake……Too much going on and I blew it…..but got really lucky) I pear off in the bushes and notice the neighbors back yard. It’s wide open and perfect for what we want to do…..Only problem is…The neighbor is gone for the day….Shit….We can’t get ahold of her Paul??? Nah I don’t think so he responds. Were fucked is all I am thinking. But Paul goes we are setting up there anyways….I just start laughing uncontrollably because all I am thinking is the neighbor coming home and seeing her whole back yard looking like a movie set with Rain spraying everywhere (BTW this is before we had a drought)…..Perfect….where's the handcuffs.

So, don’t forget we still have a rain machine the size of car to get up in the air. Location is a check…I’m calm, until I think about the rain machine. Now remember Paul said he would take care of it….He knew a guy….Well this guy by the name of Alex Torres shows up. SPEECHLESS!!!! This guy shows up with his shirt off, baggy long cargo shorts, tattoos, and a vapor pen all wrapped up in climbing gear.…it was fucking priceless. That friend that knows a really weird friend that can get anything done (Alex, you are the fucking man and appreciate all your help)….This guy takes his climbing gear and ends up in four different trees before I even knew what happen. This mother fucker was on it. Ropes were coming out of his ass by the time he was done. We all helped him lift it and before you knew it (2 hours later, it was no joke ) This rain machine the size of a car was hanging in the middle of this lot by 4 different trees. It was awesome ……And you know I needed it perfect so we had to adjust 33 times before it was game on….so it’s up……Rachel is in Makeup with the young and talented makeup artist Hitomi Sasaki getting ready….all while listening to music that makes her want to cry her guts out…I’m serious…(Elliot Smith eat your heart out)

 
 

The "mystery" man Alex Torres

 
 

Alex and his ropes

 
 

On Set

 
 

Paul throwing ropes/ Alex in the trees

 
 

Rain Machine going up

 
 

The neighbors yard we took over

 
 

Hitomi in the art of makeup and hair

The sun starts to go down and the neighbors back yard who I am waiting to come home any second and kick us out looks insane….Its perfect, exactly what I wanted. As it goes on we start to shoot all the establishing shots…..Those were easy…. Rachel just needed to look pretty and think to herself she’s about to lose it at any moment. So with that being said, Dylan, Paul and I were getting the stock shots pretty quickly…..It went smooth….

 
 

Dylan talking light with Paul

 
 

On set

 
 

Dylan checking focus with Rachel

 

Now it was the fun part…..We only have one camera hahahahaah…..this means how do we get different angles of Rachel getting wet so the edit wouldn’t look boring. Because once she’s wet, done, it’s over, her make up, clothing hair everything fucking done. Or was it. There was only one way to do it…..and that was to film a couple different takes from different angles with her dry and then wet…….Now you probably already know what that means…..She has to get wet more than once…..And 3 times it was…..It was horrible!!!!! The water was freezing and so was that day because we shot in the winter……Just because I was a good sport, I stepped in twice to test the rain for the shots first fully clothed….Even I was chattering….Lets just say Rachel participated in the ALS challenge three times in a row. So, that means you can nominate 9 people!!! By the time we did it three times, Hitomi, wanted to kill us….new make up, hair and dry clothes every take and all she had was one hair dryer….Thank you Hitomi!!!

 
 

No more makeup and hair

 

Now lets talk a little bit more about Rachel…..This was really difficult…….Hey, Rachel stand under that freezing cold rain water and as the water comes down, cry uncontrollably while we get all different angels of it with our 1 FUCKING Camera (Sony, Canon, Red, Alexia, please sponsor us, we won’t let you down) She was miserably cold…..I mean shaking cold…ice cold. Her lips were chattering so fast it was making my heart beat faster. Even watch one of the close up shots in the short…Remember that camera was shooting 980 fps (Super Slow Motion) and you can still see her lips moving fast. She was a trooper. As you can see she cried not only out of misery she created in her head, but just hating every second of what we put her through…..Sorry Raych it was worth it though! Maybe…Hope so… :)

 
 

One more time

 

Let’s talk about Paul….AKA the technician. I asked for a shot in the air looking down on Rachel…..We all started laughing….Yeah lets take the $20,000 camera that we rented from Sammy’s and put it up in the air in the rain…….And then we said why not? So we did it… Only problem was we didn’t have a Gosh damn ladder to put the camera up in the air and we were running out of time…..Now the anxiety was coming on strong. It’s like 2:00AM, Neighbor is still not home (thinking she is coming at any second with the cops), All the other neighbors are probably calling the cops because the lights we were using were so bright….and every time we adjusted the rain we had to yell to 2 people running the hoses so that the water would flow evenly to try to mimic rain ( Another cluster fuck that took 1 hr to solve) So I start freaking….How are we going to get up in the air…Home depot is closed and it was too far anyways and we have nothing to climb up because this thing is suspend 20 feet in the air in the middle of this lot. So Paul goes 'give me twenty'….I’m like for what…He goes 'come with me'…..lol the mother fucker builds a ladder out of wood in like 15 minutes and we were up and running. It was another priceless moment…Even the girls were getting a little flustered ;)

 
 

Dylan watching Paul drill the tripod onto the rain machine | Paul double checking to make sure the camera is secure

 

Now we are back…trying to take Sammy’s $20,000 camera and drilling it into the rain machine. I was just closing my eyes putting major trust in the team…..Because thats what it is about…trusting your team!!. Paul finally got it secure and we tested it a few times…..the rain kinda got the camera wet, but it's the best bet we got…….But heres the new problem as if there was already enough problems…..the damn Sony remote couldn’t reach that far with the signal to get the camera to record (ladder can't be in the shot)…..everyones crying at this point because we are so tired. We are running on empty. And even worse I forgot to mention is that we could only run the water and record one shot!!!!! Why???? because We couldn’t afford to allow Rachel to get wet one more time and expect to dry her off again…..So we had to nail this shot….What happened next was pier faith…luck…..I don’t even know. Paul was up on the rain machine….the thing was about to break….he still couldn’t see if the camera was recording or not…because the recording light was on the opposite end facing up into the sky…..Complete cluster….And better yet…you ready for the kicker…The Sony FS700 only shoots slow motion for 7 seconds!!!!!!! (Really Sony) Come on!!!! Everything was not on our side. So here I am standing under the rain machine next to Rachel pointing the remote up at the camera hoping that the signal picks up so that we can record for only 7 seconds and hope that the two hoses turn on evenly to create the perfect rain….It was fucking crazy!!! We all crossed are fingers yelled to turn on the water and I hit that button at least 15 times before it finally started recording at the perfect time right before the water hit Rachel and everyones deep breathes were let out as the camera ran out of the 7 seconds. We secured the shot and Rachel just sat there getting soaked while we let the rain keep going because we were too exhausted to turn it off…. OK Rachel you can stop freezing your ass off now. Heres a towel.

 
 

Ender

 

It came together. It can always be better, but we are happy and proud we all put the effort in to make something special and hopefully deliver a solid message to everyone that sometime you just have to lose and you got to be ok with it….But this time we won…What a great feeling.

Time for the next.

P.S. I would love to hear your comments and any recommendations on how to make the behind the scenes stories better :) 

P.S.S A link to Universe Speak to Me if you have not seen it already.