Band: Bells Bells Bells (Philadephia, PA); Song: “Housekeeping By the Lake”
Director: Andrew Bateman
Andrew Bateman is a filmmaker currently finishing up his MFA in film at Temple University in Philadelphia. Prior to that he received a Masters Degree in American Studies at the University of New Mexico and was a longtime resident of Albuquerque.
I talked with him about making “Housekeeping By the Lake,” improvisational music video production, and the relationship between documentaries and music videos.
SLIV: Concerning “Housekeeping By the Lake,” what was the creative process like? Tell me about any pre-production.
AB: Amandah, the singer– she’s my housemate’s sister– she knew I was in film school and said “hey, will you make a video for us?” almost three years ago. And I said, “sure, sure” because I felt like I should be nice and all. I just came into town. I’ll do it. So we just started shooting one of their live performances, but that wasn’t looking good. We started over.
With Housekeeping by the Lake there was no pre-production, it was all improvisational. The first shots that we shot, we thought, lets go to the Pine Barrens because its really pretty there. So Amandah, Kevin and I went, the rest of the band didn’t really want to go or couldn’t, I don’t know. It was just the three of us. I think I told Amandah to wear a dress. Kevin asked if he should bring his “green mask” and I’m like “sure.” With me its like, whatever you want to do. I’ll have them represent themselves the way they want to be represented.
We show up there, start walking around, and so we say “oh, that’s a pretty shot. Lets do that.” I had listened to the song a bunch to have the mood in my mind and understand what the song feels like visually, I guess, to me, but then using whatever we find. Amandah talked about walking down the road, “Alright, just walk down the road, Amandah,” “Kevin, pop up into the screen.” We did this just because it might look cool. And that’s all we did until I saw the shadows on the brick wall. “Hmmm, I thought. That’s beautiful, go lay down there, Amandah.” “Now, dance and I’ll shoot the shadows.” And then by the water, where its going really fast, I just saw the reflection on the water and I thought, “wow, that looks beautiful, just stand there!” so we did that a bunch and if you look closely you can actually see me in these shots.
SLIV: This is crazy because the video looks, to me, like its very planned. It looks like its almost storyboarded.
AB: No…. In the meantime Kevin and Amandah had moved to this new house. I’d been doing these profile pieces on friends and so in my mind I’m thinking this part of the video is going to be portraits of Kevin and Amandah– they’re married– so I was coming in with that approach, that they’re in a relationship and that the song is all about domesticity and housekeeping. As I got to know them, I got to know their personalities better. Kevin’s all into paganism, nature, and kind of like, weird, kooky things and Amandah is someone who, publicly, likes to get all dressed up, she’s got a fashion sense about her. So they move into this really beautiful house–
SLIV: Is that the one we see in the video?
AB: Yeah. They move into this house and I think its perfect, we have to shoot the video over here. They have this huge table with all the candle lights so we got the whole band to come. Beforehand, I thought it would be fun if they all had masks, we had masks earlier, right? So everyone shows up and no one has any masks! We scrounge for stuff at the house, whatever they had. This is where we begin to see where the video might be going and we start talking about how we need a little girl. The concept came way after we started shooting.
SLIV: But you guys are having a dialog about this the whole time, right? “This would be neat; lets try that” Everyone’s welcome to suggest something?
AB: Mmmm, well, more or less. At the house, we asked them all to dress up but dress how you want to dress. I tell them a little and they take it from there. Some of it was just luck. Like the green that Kevin was wearing and when the little girl put on the green dress too. Her mom brought different colored dresses and I said use the green but I forgot that the green was a kind of motif so I got lucky in that regard.
SLIV: There’s just two locations?
SLIV: Serendipitous locations, too.
AB Yeah, but the Pine Barrens are really important to Kevin and Amandah.
SLIV: Where are they?
AB: They’re in New Jersey and not too far from where Amandah grew up. Kevin was born in the Pine Barrens as well. They’re a really weird place, what I’ve heard, like the New Jersey Devil is supposed to live there. There’s all kinds of folklore about it. So it was important to them and they picked that location.
SLIV: So you shot all of this but it looks like most of the video is “produced” in post-production. It seems like that’s where the narrative was really constructed.
AB: I started editing it after the first shoot to get a sense of what goes where. We had these big blocks of time to fill. “We need the band, that’ll fill up some,” but a story was starting to emerge so I thought we need the little girl, someone who looks like Amandah. That’s Amandah’s niece, actually.
SLIV: When you got the little girl to come out, was it specifically to create the multiple generations doing the exact same thing, tea party turns into dinner party…?
AB: Yeah, that was shot last and by that time we knew what we wanted to get from her, more or less. We still had to improvise though. When she showed up I just looked around the house for things for her to do and– I’ve never been a little girl, so I don’t know what to do!– so I asked the girl what do you do? What’s a tea party like? The girl was really cool, really awesome. We’d turn it into a game. Like when she was supposed to find the dress, I’d take the dress that she wanted and hide it towards the bottom so she had to dig through the box. It looks natural on camera versus “here it is, right on the top.”
SLIV: The whole video looks beautiful. Did you have to do anything with color in post production?
AB Yeah, since we shot on different days, the room would be different colors. You can kind of see it, the reds are different colors. It might be too subtle but when Amandah’s on the bench I desaturated all of those colors but when she’s in her “dream world” I brought up, really saturated all of the colors to create a difference between these two worlds.
SLIV: I call it the “shadow arm dance” that goes over the solo, it happens around the 2:20 mark. The way I understand this, you had no idea that it was eventually going to go over the solo.
AB: No no no, it just looked cool.
SLIV: I think it really works in that spot. I’m not really into… I don’t know, I’m not a dancer type, but it’s mesmerizing. You use it again, really briefly, later over a drum fill where you do a visual delay like effect and the arms multiply. Its really well done.
SLIV: Then there’s a series of blurry shots where people are looking over the water. Is that two projections?
AB: No, that’s what I was talking about earlier, that’s just water. That’s just the reflection off the water.
SLIV: There’s no processing on that?
AB: No, none. Not even any color correction. I just saw it and thought, that’s beautiful. That’s the one where you can see me in it.
SLIV: We’re so used to things being done by computers, changing images up, Photoshopping, that it amazes me when a shot like that is done naturally… what’s that called?…
AB: “In camera” effects? There’s no outside lighting in any of the shots I did. Its all natural lighting and thats part of the improvisational way of doing it. No lighting setups at all. You use whatever’s there.
SLIV: Was the band ok with this kind of approach to video making?
AB: Yeah, well, they didn’t know it was going to be like this. They just wanted a video done for free! (laughter from both of us). They didn’t know how it would look but it came out better than they expected. I really like it and they really like it so it all worked out.
SLIV: What kind of attitude do you have to have in this kind of environment? I suspect “loose.”
AB: Its like working on a documentary, its the same approach, its all improvised and all intuition. Follow your intuition while shooting. That’s the main thing I learned in school which is basically to trust my intuition while shooting and being confident with the camera. Some of the shots are not the most ideal because I didn’t have a tool with me, but I think, “oh, in the next video this is what I’ll need” but still be loose with it. Have the right tools but get it done with what you have.
SLIV: But there’s skill involved, too? Right? If a band wanted to just make a video by themselves, what does a “trained” videographer bring that a person off the street probably doesn’t have?
AB: An appreciation for light. Basically. That’s a big thing. Depth of field is another and that was a challenge with the camera I was using. The (Canon) Vixia, is not a really great camera because you don’t have a lot of control over it and then trying to make it simulate a camera like the (Canon) 7D or Rebel, you can’t get the depth of field the same way, the background blurred out. You have to place the camera closer to things and the background further away. But appreciation for light is the main thing. Having the right shots in coverage is also important, having lots of extra shots in different angles, wide shot, close up,
SLIV: So thinking like an editor.
SLIV: When did you get started in video work?
AB: In 1999. I wasn’t very good. I was editing wedding videos in my brother’s post house. He hired me when I was still in college and I said, “shouldn’t you hire someone who has experience?” and he said “I need to train whoever I hire and I’d rather work with you than somebody else.” We did industrials, wedding videos, and a couple of features. I started as an editor’s assistant and then my friends and I went out and did that WTO documentary. So that was the first documentary I did. We went up there without knowing anything, as well, but there, in that project, I learned to trust my intuition. That video (WTO) come out fairly successful. There’s been over 2000 views of it now on YouTube. Its exciting.
SLIV: You focus mostly on documentary work, how does music video fit in with documentaries?
AB: So the thing about documentary work is that its really done under uncontrolled situations and you have to notice and read the light that’s in the room and try to make it as expressive as possible. So, this music video is the same principle. Putting yourself in the same uncontrolled situation. I guess a directorial decision I did make was when we went out to do the first shoot in the Pine Barrens, I requested we go out during the day when the light would be nice. In general, though, music videos, the way I do them, are still uncontrolled.
The two (music videos and documentaries) are different also. With a music video, its nice, because you have the freedom to do what you want, you’re not beholden to sound, which is nice, but you can make really weird leaps that people will connect somehow.
SLIV: What are you working on next?
AB: I’m finishing up my thesis which is a feature length documentary on Roy from Albuquerque, who is a cantankerous collector. And then hopefully, when I get back to Albuquerque in September or October it would be great to work on a music video with you and The Parkinsons. We’ll shoot it in a day!
SLIV: Thanks. I look forward to it.