The filming of this video was one of the most rewarding experiences I've had as a filmmaker. It was pure, and a true collaboration between two artists. There was no budget - literally three thousand dollars. It was a new band's first video, for their first album. I was immediately drawn to the song, and the sincerity I sensed from Tim, the band's singer, over the phone.
I flew to New Jersey, and stayed on Tim's GF's pullout couch. They had 2 cats, which clawed at the sofa all night, making irritating scratching sounds. The sofa-bed was actually sloped downwards, so I had to wedge pillows under my body, and lie at angle, in order to sleep. This was incredibly nostalgic, and reminded me of when I used to crash at my friend's band's apartment, on an inflatable mattress on the unswept floor, breathing dust mites all night.
Anyways, I flew to New Jersey without a concept in mind. The deal was that I'd do the video, on the condition that I could do whatever I wanted, and that we'd build a story around the characters and location that presented themselves to us through location scouting and street casting. In the end, this video wasn't about what I wanted - it became a real collaboration between me and Tim. We spent 8 days together, night and day, building this thing.
We spent the first two days probing the streets of Jersey City, Elizabeth, Newark, Patterson, and all the other towns in between. We scouted strip clubs, boxing gyms, old factories, crack houses, and anything else that captured our interest. We explored NJ tirelessly, fueled by cheap food, coffee, and the thrill of exploration. A few decent ideas were starting to sprout, but nothing truly exciting.... By this time, we'd already spent 1/4 of our budget on the rental car, gas, and meals.
On day 3, as we drove through another despairing New Jersey town, we were talking about movies shot in the state, and got onto The Wrestler. We googled the filming locations, and decided to go check out the strip club. It was at that strip club, which wasn't licensed to serve alcohol, where the idea for this video was born.
We sipped on flat Pepsi's, stuffed dollar bills into a Russian stripper's thong, and tossed ideas back and forth - this is when the idea of ELVIS appeared. The original idea I pitched was an old black Elvis impersonator, in a relationship with a young white girl. Tim loved it, and we had the foundation of our video! Now all we had to do was find a black Elvis.
Later that night, we figured the video should be shot in Atlantic City. Neither of us had been there, and it was a place we were both drawn to. We booked a cheap hotel on Hotwire, and hit the road in the AM.
The city was everything we'd hoped it would be. It was a character in itself, and the perfect backdrop for our video.
We were having a hard time finding a black Elvis on the East Coast, so we began searching for other Elvis'. This is when we came across Gene's website. He was PERFECT. Just enough subtly in his inflections to capture the indie absurdity of our idea.
Now we needed the girl. We scoured the streets, but found no "girl-next-door" types in Atlantic City. The locals all seemed to have an edge, that didn't suit the role. So, I emailed my GF in Canada, and had her post some ads on Craiglist, from New York, to Philly, and up and down the Jersey Shore.
A torrent of headshots and resume's flooded my inbox! Lots of cute little red heads, blondes, brunettes. Everything we were hoping for... But then a wild card arrived. A voluptuous, curvy, Dominican chick in Philly. Isabel. This was a different slant on the video, but equally as unexpected, and perhaps even more interesting! We called her in for a quick audition at a Starbucks, and were sold the second we saw her crossing the street towards us. It was a typical grey bleak day, but she blazed towards us, in a florescent orange spandex dress - like the sun had snuck down to earth to play the slots for an afternoon in Atlantic City. The thought of building a story around her and Gene was just too much! We had our idea! God, or who ever pulls the strings of coincidence and happenstance, hooked us up LARGE!
We were set! The hard part was over! We found our cast, and now we just needed to tweak the story, and find our locations. Oh, and we had to do it with around fifteen hundred bucks.
I could go on and on, about all the other miracles that fell into place, but instead, I'll get down to broad strokes - we got a Red Epic camera package FOR FREE, our DP was able to sort out gear, and a one man crew, for cut rates, and we wrangled vehicles, transport, food, and all the other shit needed to film something for pennies on the dollar.
In the end, this is one of my favorite films I have ever directed. This experience was an important reminder of why I became a filmmaker, and inspired the approach I am taking with my upcoming feature film project. It was filmmaking at it's purest.