GUEST BLOG - The Making of Window Seats 'Local Superhero' and other stories
ATL gave the very first play of a demo of ‘Local Superhero’ in April 2008. Now almost four years later, it’s just made it onto MTV Rocks, Kerrang TV and BBC Big Screens UK wide. The good folk at ATL asked us to share a bit about making the DIY video and how we got it onto MTV with no label, manager, PR or money!
In the years that followed that first spin of the ‘Local Superhero’ demo, we’ve busied ourselves with various things including getting better at recording and producing videos. Last year we re-worked ‘Local Superhero’, giving it the production it deserves and took on one of the largest projects we’re ever likely to – the video for it!
Home recording has been a great thing for loads of bands and especially for us. Nobody has much money but we decided a long time ago that if we got some essential recording gear together, learned how to track properly with no time restraints, our records could stand up against anyone else’s.
Bands have been taking this approach to recording for a long time, and it seems as if the same thing has happened quite recently in the world of video production. Camera gear is increasingly affordable and computers are now of high enough spec to cope with HD editing. So it’s natural that more bands are jumping head-first into the world of video production.
We’ve been heavily involved in the making of our own videos since our first one ‘No Show’ which we shot in 2009. The most recent milestone of this unintended avenue of concentration for us has been ‘Local Superhero’. On average we have put a month or two into each of our videos, but we started the ball rolling on this one over a year ago, in January 2011, giving it a ten month production schedule. We wanted to see what was possible producing a zero-budget video locally. A bit like getting a home recorded track to sit alongside commercial releases, we wanted to see if we could make a video that could stand up to the stuff the big bands put out.
We planned and refined our ideas for the video many times and pitched the concept to Marty Stalker, who is one of the best and most prolific directors on the island. His debut music video for Black Bear Saloon remains our favourite locally produced video as it has stacks of ambition and a really good look. Marty saw our passion and the hard work we were willing to put in and jumped on board. He developed our script further and locked down the narrative. In the ten months of production that followed we got thirty-six people involved in the making of it. A collaborative effort, some people helped in small ways and some in massive ways. A lot of our time in pre-production was finding people to fill roles, finding people who were passionate, positive and shared the same vision for the video we did and bringing them all together.
Among everybody key to the video, we are lucky enough to count Ciaran at imakeanything.co.uk as a close friend. His life has always revolved around superhero and movie props, so it seemed natural for the video to revolve around his props. He’s worked on all our videos as far back as ‘No Show’, and can actually be seen in it – our main actor ironically pulled a no-show that day and Ciaran stepped in last minute! For ‘Local Superhero’ he had quite a few props already built, such as the arc reactors, proton pack, spiderman suit and batarangs. Revelling in the chance to make new props, he built new things from scratch for the video such as the spider webbing and light sabers. We had a lot of fun custom-fitting my Wolverine claws when we realised I’d have to be able to play guitar with them on!
Building the props took time, for instance the claws took three of us over a week to make. The distortion pedal that our Hulk crushes is actually a sprayed soup box, sprayed black with the ‘Rat’ logo painted on and then loaded up with all the knobs, jack input/outputs. Because we’d only be able to use them once, as they’d get crushed on every take, we made fifteen of them. This took a few days, and the shot is essential but just half-a-second. Little did we know that we would nail the shot in two takes and be left with 13 pristine cardboard replicas! All that time spent making individual props added up and was a large chunk of our pre-production time.
Casting took time too, and we were meeting with actors quite early in the pre-production. We confirmed our Hulk character about six months before shoot, because we needed him to grow out his beard to match Didsy’s! We made him a custom-fitted dreadlock wig using a Bob Marley costume wig with some of my own hair woven into it so it looked authentic. You get funny looks when you ask to take your hair home with you from the hairdressers!
We knew the shoot would take two days to complete in order to get the coverage we needed. As no comic book shop could close for two days, we decided early on that we would need to build a set. We arranged to get the use of an empty room for a week in July, setting up for Monday to Friday and shooting on the Saturday and Sunday.
Setting up a shop from scratch is no easy task, not least when there’s no money available. In the weeks before we moved into the set we gathered up lots of shelving and furniture from our houses, all our childhood toys, and the borrowed treasures belonging to our most geeky friends. We travelled all over the country picking up bits of glass and furniture off Freecycle. Although The Stack comic book store had graciously loaned us boxes of comics, as well as the use of their shop front to use as our exterior, we had no appropriate shelving to put them on. So we broke apart our own bed frames at home and adapted them into shop fittings! Luckily, we have girlfriends and housemates who understand this behaviour, or are at least used to this kind of madness and accept the fact that they’re sleeping on the floor for a few weeks. We tied the bed frames together and attached planks that we collected from scavenged palettes. We built the shelves in the middle of the shop from more broken up palettes. Obtaining discarded palettes is a risky procedure any time of the year, but in a July in Belfast it involved some creativity!
Dozens of people worked hard for half a year to put preparations in place and finally when all the preparations were in place, we got the keys for the room on the Monday and began to set everything up. Lots of current and former retail wage slaves took great joy in using the tricks of the trade to set up a convincing-looking shop, but with a lot more satisfaction and pride. I was helping Didsy try his Hulk contacts in when I got a call to say my mother had taken ill. She had battled illness for years, and was being cared for full-time. Not sure if this would be a scare from which she would quickly recover, I travelled home to Fermanagh and all the guys kept working to our target shoot day of Saturday, setting up the room and organising everything. I was with my mother as she peacefully passed away in the early hours of Tuesday morning, surrounded by people who loved her. Devastated, I took my time at home to deal with the loss and took time to decide if I’d be emotionally solid enough to shoot the video or not. Everyone involved in the video kept working in my absence, willing and happy to postpone the shoot, but still prepared to go ahead with it if I felt up to it.
I made the decision on the Thursday to go ahead, as we had planned. I’m not sure if everyone understood, but going ahead with the video shoot was one of the best things to do at that time for me. After such a tragic loss, there was nothing more positive I could wish to come back to than this. I felt like everybody and everything was in place for the shoot to take place and that it was meant to be.
I came back at the end of the week just in time to pitch in for some last-minute setup. The guys had worked around the clock to make the set look perfect, make sure all the props looked great and the layout was spot on. I was astounded when I saw the set that had been put together. On the Saturday we began shooting as planned.
We did two full days, twelve straight hours each day. The buzz of positivity on the shoot was amazing, everybody who walked onto the set was immediately blown away by how good it looked. As we filmed, we were all like kids let loose in a toy shop. It’s every guy’s dream to play with light sabers, proton packs, wolverine claws and all the other props (read: big boys’ toys) that were in the video.
All of us threw ourselves into the shoot with an added zeal, absolutely wanting to hammer it for every take. When we wrapped on Sunday night it was unbelievable, we’d got every shot we’d planned and nothing went wrong, which is a very rare thing.
In the months that followed it was largely out of our hands as we were waiting on the edit and some effects. During this time we jumped in and did some VFX work ourselves. There was nobody to do the Wolverine claws or the fake shopfront on the opening shot. So, we jumped in, learnt some techniques in After Effects and took care of them.
When we had the final cut of the video in October we launched it online, did a bunch of gigs and began contacting everybody relevant to music videos that we could think of. As weird as it might seem, MTV were bottom of our list, purely because we didn’t think they’d bother with us, an unsigned band. We got a great local response to the video, throughout Ireland and a few places further afield. We got round to emailing MTV in December and thought nothing of it. At the start of the year they requested a broadcast copy off us, and began giving it play. In the same week BBC Big Screens made it their national ‘film of the week’. Kerrang TV were considering it and started showing it a fortnight after MTV Rocks started broadcasting it.
Now it’s out there, we’re doing as much as we can to get the word out about it. We’re also using it as an example to show the hard work we put into the band, and what we are achieving without a manager, label or plugger. We’re working on lots of material for a release down the line and we’ve two more videos currently in pre-production.
We’re also focusing on live dates this year. Last year was very concentrated on the video, this year we’re getting out there and ripping the songs out live for anyone that’ll listen. There’s a kind of cumulative passion that’s captured in a three and a half minute video/recording which a lot of hard work and time has gone into. There’s a different kind of passion that’s of-the-moment, when that same song is played live in a more raw and concentrated burst of energy. We’re confirming shows for later in the year, so keep an eye out for those!
The video, and lots of behind the scenes videos, can be seen at youtube.com/windowseatsofficial