Creating the Music Video "Go"
Emma Kanter and I studied Film and Media Studies at UC Santa Barbara and I couldn't be more proud of the films and video productions she is making today. Last year, Emma teamed up with Anna Wise, a grammy winning music artist, to direct and edit her music videos. Emma tells us about her process of directing and editing Anna's song "Go." Before you read, you should definitely watch the music video first:
Gal: Tell us about how you and Anna developed the “Go” music video story & concept.
Emma: When Anna was preparing to release her debut EP, The Feminine Act I, she was possessed by an idea to shoot a video for each song on the EP that represented a different archetype of femininity. Anna grew up in the church, and had been grappling with the different boxes women were supposed to fit in from a young age. So now that her debut solo album was coming out, and it was a distinctively feminist body of work, she wanted videos that expanded on the topics her songs were about. In the Fall of 2015 she pitched me the idea of doing a series of videos where she would play these different characters: The Witch, The Bride, The Business Bitch, The Slut, and the Nun. As a filmmaker when a collaborator comes to you with such a visually and tonally rich idea...it’s magical. We hadn’t worked together before, but we leapt off a creative cliff hand in hand and grew wings. Anna collaborates with incredibly talented musicians all the time, but I think it was the first time either of us had found a video collaborator that jived so well.
We immediately planned a cross country road trip that December and drove from Los Angeles to New York shooting in New Orleans, Nashville, and West Virginia. The road trip videos had zero budget other than some thrift store costuming finds. I shot them on my DSLR or a borrowed camera. No equipment other than a camera and a tripod. Our friend Vashni shot stills and DJed. We had a concept in mind for our Nashville shoot, where we shot Anna portraying The Bride for her song Precious Possession, but the video we made for Girl, Mother, Crone was 100% improvised in New Orleans after a heavy night of boozing and Jazz and Po Boys. We woke up late, I did Anna’s makeup, she threw on an amazing dress she found thrifting the day before and we drove to a cemetery. We shot for maybe an hour and a half and went home that night and I edited together a rough assembly on our friends desktop while Anna cooked us dinner. I am very found of those first collaborations and it just made sense for us to challenge ourselves with the next one. We wanted to raise the stakes and throw some money behind our creative vision.
So the framework of Go was really built while we were improvising these other videos. When you have no budget you start to daydream about the day when you will have a budget. We wanted to shoot the video for the Nun in a real church, so right then that meant we were committing to something bigger in scale than our DIY approach.
Gal: What story were you trying to tell with "Go"? Why did you choose to tell is visually within a church setting?
Emma: When conceiving the Nun video Anna knew she wanted to expose the duality of the Christian church, that there could exist a completely patriarchal structure: everyone is praying to a man, his disciples were men and there’s never been a female leader in the church; things have changed slightly, but no one can argue that the patriarchy still runs deep. Somewhere in that river of men, there are the nuns, who could be interpreted as the ultimate victims of the patriarchy - devoting their lives to a patriarchal system that will never view them as equal - however, Anna simultaneously saw the Nun as this incredibly empowered symbol. She disavows their influence on her worldly existence entirely. She’s self-sufficient, she can make her own cheese, or wine, or grow her own weed (look it up) and all she needs is the help of her sisters. Little deployments of feminist armies are scattered throughout the world living these utterly kickass, sustainable, mindful lifestyles that people only dream about depicting on their heavily curated Instagrams. So Anna had me thinking about Nuns, and she really wanted the Nuns to be dancing and celebrating, and then we naturally thought of Sister Act and the end of Madonna’s ‘Like A Prayer’ Video and all of the sudden we had an aesthetic. Late 1970s, early 1980s grainy, gritty, warm, saturated colors. And the narrative was born from a desire to do something we hadn’t done before. We’d done avant-garde and creepy with “Girl, Mother, Crone” and sensual and symbolic with “Precious Possession”, and both without a budget, so we wanted to do something bigger, something more lush, and something funny. We wanted to show Nuns rebelling against the patriarchy and discovering their own power, and in the process enlightening an entire congregation. Anna wanted to be in a full nun habit, which is so bold and hilarious, and does not lend itself to something sexy or mainstream, but rather something inherently comedic.
We brainstormed this narrative with a skeezy, snake-oil salesmen traveling preacher and one day I went to Anna’s house and pitched a lyric by lyric breakdown of how we could tell this story...in a two day shoot...with a small budget...and using mostly friends and family as extras and crew. We knew it was ambitious, but once Anna’s friend Damien Lemon agreed to play the Preacher, we knew we had comedy gold waiting to be mined. And we found the perfect church. The first and only church we scouted was First Unitarian Congregational Society in Brooklyn Heights. It’s a beautiful old building with stained-glass windows, built in 1833 and when we arrived there was a #BlackLivesMatter banner out front, and inside we were greeted by an enormous peace sign and a LGBTQ Pride flag hanging behind the pulpit. It felt like the church chose us.
Gal: Tell me about the pre-production process? Did you storyboard out each line of the music video? Or did you just have a story-arc and then find the best places for each story/scene in the editing room?
Emma: We made a very extensive treatment, which included a bunch of reference stills and videos, a wardrobe mood board, location pictures, and the rough narrative written in prose. I also made a storyboard for each line of the music video, but we weren’t married to anything in the editing room. It was a huge help in cutting together the rough assembly and getting all the pieces in place, but with music video editing it is all about montage in my opinion. Adding flashes of past scenes, or teasing scenes that you haven’t yet shown, returning to powerful tableaus, edits on the beat, lingering on special shots, finding the right compositions and the perfect timing that inject all the power into the piece. That’s where Anna excels as an editor. She can comb footage for hours and find the most in unison arm movement or the most comical face an extra is making. She found this millisecond clip where Damien (The Preacher) wipes the sweat off his brow and it’s so small, but comically genius and sells his character that much more.
Gal: How did you raise the funding to produce the video?
Emma: Anna and her music partner Dane funded the music video entirely independently. This was exciting because we had complete creative freedom and control, and weren’t beholden to anyone, but also nerve-wracking because it’s a big personal investment and we wanted to do our vision justice with a budget that was a fraction of what music videos funded by major labels spend.
Gal: What did camera did you shoot on? Why did you choose it?
Emma: We shot on the Sony A7S because we didn’t want to spend the majority of our budget on a camera package, and we could only afford minimal lighting for a huge church. Our DP, Aric Jacobson, was amazing and basically said, “I can light this, even with your tiny G&E package and only three people to help me, but if you want all these shots in the church in 10 hours we have to shoot on two cameras.” The A7S meant we could be quick and both our DP and our Camera 1st AC owned the camera. We’re very happy with the results. Especially with the color our colorist, Natacha Ikoli, was able to pull out of the raw footage.
Gal: What system did you edit on? What editing challenges did you face and how did you overcome it?
Emma: Anna and I edit on Premiere. Editing was so fun! I love editing with Anna so the first challenge was just getting us in the same room since she was on tour. The second major challenge is finishing. You want to tweak forever, to find the perfect cut for every beat. “Do we cut on the synth or the snare?” “Should his arms be up or at his sides?” “Maybe we need two more frames of her air guitar?” So it’s probably not surprising that the final challenge was getting the proper EDL to our colorist.
Gal: Now that it has been released, are there any further plans for distributing the music video other than YouTube?
Emma: Yes we’d love to get it on MTV and Apple Music!
Gal: Do you have any forthcoming or current projects we should keep an eye out for? Any future plans for productions?
Emma: Anna and I are prepping for two music videos for her follow-up EP: The Feminine, Act II We’re incorporating some of the characters we’ve established in Act I, but being more experimental and playing with the medium of music video even more.
Gal: What advice would you give to people wanting to produce, direct and edit their first music video?
Emma: Start small. Work with people who creatively energize you. Just start by sharing what inspires you. For months before shooting anything Anna and I had a constant stream of texts, emails, instagram/tumblr/random internet posts, and fits of excited screaming/laughing. By the time the cameras were rolling we had a creative shorthand and everything just poured out of us.
Gal: What filmmakers do you follow for inspiration?
Emma: Some visual powerhouse ladies I really admired in 2016: @samcannon, @reedmorano , @nataliekingston, @miss_ashcon, @yonilappin , @grimes, and @saintrecords. Some filmmakers that inspire me overall: Barry Jenkins, Brit Marling & Zal Batmangli, Ava Duvernay, Josephine Decker, Lucrecia Martel,Kelly Reichardt, Lynne Ramsay, Harmony Korine, Asghar Farhadi, Shane Carruth, and Miranda July.
Gal: How can people connect with you and find you?
Website: (coming soon) emmakanter.com