Making of Air Traffic Controller “Brightest Moon”

For those who have tried their hand at producing, directing and/or shooting music videos… you know the difficulties involved. Unless the band is already “sold out” and has boatloads of cash, you will usually be working on a very low budget – or in my case – no budget. So how did my friend, singer/songwriter Dave Munro and I brainstorm the official new “Brightest Moon” video for his band Air Traffic Controller (ATC) with no money and limited crew?


ATC BTS photo by Max Esposito

I’ve done a few other videos for ATC in the past and enjoyed working on them. So when Dave came to me with his ideas about this video and asked me to be D/P on it, I jumped at the opportunity. I saw some interesting challenges with this concept that I had not yet encountered, so I was more than willing to tackle it.

Dave’s original vision was to walk through a cemetery or park at night in one long smooth move with no edits. It’s been done before by other artists but what made this particularly unique was that fact that it would be shot at night… and he wanted to place a string quartet along the path to be revealed one by one as their instrument is heard in the song. Right away I envisioned a Steadycam or Glidecam and some portable battery operated lights to be handheld and following along with the artists out of camera frame.

I researched renting a Steadicam or Glidecam rig for the shoot, but suddenly had an idea to tweet to my twitter followers that I was looking to “borrow” one for a pro bono music video shoot for a friend. To my surprise I got a direct message from @chrisloughran, an amazing local filmmaker who shoots for Improv Asylum in Boston. He not only offered the use of his Glidecam 4000…. he insisted on lending a hand as well. You might want to check out some of his work here:

Next was the lighting situation. I needed to find cheap portable lights that could hold a charge for a few hours out in the cold New England weather. My friend and colleague at WBZ TV Noah Brookoff just happened to pick up some portable LED work lights at Home Depot. These babies are weatherproof, super bright, super cool with 180 LEDs and can go cordless for 4 hours. And here’s the best part. They’re 56K for that moon effect I was looking to create. Things were falling into place.

Now all I needed was a crew that would work for pizza… and a location for the shoot. So I put out the call on facebook and twitter. I was amazed at how many friends stepped to the plate, including some new friends I had made on twitter, like @EspoOriginals Max Esposito, another talented young filmmaker who came out to shoot a “behind the scenes” video for this blog. His work can be seen here:

Finally… three words. Location. Location. Location. I needed a well-lit area with plenty of streetlight to augment my portable Husky LEDs. And you know what? The location was staring me in the face for over 20 years! Every day I go to work. Right across from WBZ TV is a huge lot with a running path along the Charles River. Done!

With all the pieces in place, it was time to plan the shoot out. Here’s what we came up with:

The Plan

We shoot with a Canon T2i at 60 fps. One smooth take with no edits. Dave Munro lip-syncs the lyrics to his tune, which is played back at double speed on a boom box as he strolls down this path while I backpedal with the Glidecam. Difficult to do, since he’s trying to lip-sync his own voice in a high speed “Alvin and the Chipmunks” sound and I’m just about running backwards.

String musicians Kiara Ana Perico, Wendy Mittelstat and Merrick Nelson are then strategically placed along the path on their duct taped marks to be revealed as each of their instruments is heard in the song. So we painstakingly walked the path at different speeds with my stopwatch marking the placement of each musician until we had perfect timing.

Later in post production this one long video clip with no edits is first converted for FCP editing in Mpeg Streamclip. Then it’s conformed from 60 fps down to 30 fps in Cinema Tools to produce exact half speed slow motion and synced up to the normal speed song in the FCP timeline (tip: always make a copy of the original video clip first since Cinema Tools conforms the original file). This produces the look of singing in slow motion. Pretty cool.

The Results Weren’t Easy

The first night we all gathered for the shoot we had problems with the boom box playback of the CD. We switched to a MacBook for audio playback but it was not loud enough for Dave to hear the lyrics correctly since they were playing back at double speed. After a few takes the musicians were freezing and we were frustrated with the technical difficulties with the audio playback so we rescheduled the shoot for another night.

On the reshoot we got it right. We still had the duct tape marks on the path for the musicians and we started run throughs rather quickly. In no time we were ready for some actual takes. We also slowed down Dave’s pace and my backpedal speed. Thank God because my hamstrings were sore as all hell from the previous backpedaling at double speed.

Jim Akimchuk, my tech whiz kid, was my eyes behind my head; gripping me by the Glidecam vest while using a small Litepanels micro light to fill one side of Dave’s face as Bill Lawler Jr. and Dan Buckley assisted on audio and watched my other side. Meanwhile Chris Loughran, Cameron Robbins, a photog buddy from NECN in Boston, and Mike Callahan, from Black Tie Video, manned the Husky portable LED work lights creating a 56K moonlight effect backlighting Dave and the musicians as we all gleefully glided down the path.

We did twelve takes and played them back to make sure we had at least one good one. I also made some cutaway shots of Dave’s feet, trees passing by and close-ups of the musicians… just for insurance. Thanks to everyone involved for making this shoot successful.

Pizza time!

Geek Alert Info:

Camera: Canon T2i with Tamron 17-50mm f2.8 lens, 60 fps, ISO 1600, f2.8

Glidecam 4000 with a Manfrotto 486RC2 Ballhead

Husky Work Lights

Here’s the Final Video

Behind the Scenes Video by Max Esposito

Here’s the BTS from the first shoot by my friend Michael Murie @notesonvideo

Air Traffic Controller has been getting airplay on The River 92.5

Hear more from Air Traffic Controller


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