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Directing Postmodern Jukebox’s Don’t Stop Believin’ in ‘one take’

If you are of a certain age, or maybe have an affinity for ‘80s rock, you are familiar with Journey’s hit, Don’t Stop Believin’. Well, the band Postmodern Jukebox has put a contemporary spin on the song, and it’s amazing. The band called on KRC’s Abraham Roofeh to direct their new video, which evokes a Broadway musical. Produced by Robert Kennedy, the piece is a nod to Postmodern Jukebox’s tradition of locked-off, one-take videos and moves from static to dynamic in a stylishly playful, choreographed journey.

We reached out to director Roofeh, who is also an editor and co-founder of KRC, to find out more.

How did the project get started?
Their manager reached out to my partners and said that they were floating around the idea of doing a real music video, and they asked us to come up with a concept.

Abe Roofah on set.

What inspired your concept?
The original version of the song inspired the concept for the video. Telling the story of individuals wanting to be more than what they currently are. To do that, I literally wrote the treatment as a four-page script with the multiple characters. I wanted to be able to start the video so it looked and felt just like a regular Postmodern Jukebox video. So the idea of giving it an old-Hollywood look at the start and then revealing that it’s a cocktail party, and you’re now in the world of the servers, gave us a vehicle to tap into the multiple layers that fit PMJ’s classic video style as well as embodying the theme of the song itself.

When you are watching the video it is so seamless… then you realize what exacting choreography was involved! What was the process like?
A huge benefit to working with such a unique group as Postmodern Jukebox is that they have access to some of the most incredibly talented musicians and dancers that they tour with regularly. That meant I had the good fortune to work with dancers who also choreograph their own routines. And since we had a very short window to execute the video within, working with these specific dancers allowed us to achieve a routine in a very efficient way. We did a scout early on of the location, which helped logistically to get a sense of the space and the movement. Then my editor hat came on with identifying potential and natural cut points if needed. The day before the prelight, I had all the principals come in and we walked through the space with my DP — so together we choreographed a routine that worked for them, the space and the camera, so everything would flow smoothly and in sync.

Why the one take? How did you move the camera? Dolly? Human?
I decided to do it in one take for a couple of reasons. With the concept of a dinner party combined with the space we had access to, flying around the space and seeing it all unfold in real-time just made more sense than to stop and start the action. The director/editor devil and angel on my shoulders would also be like “you should bake in some potential cut points, ya know, just in case…” and then after the walk through we just got so excited and were like f-that, we’re going straight through.

We shot on the Blackmagic Ursa Mini Pro with a PL mount and a Zeiss Uncoated super speed 18mm lens. I wanted a cinematic old-Hollywood look and feel, so we intentionally lit it warm to accentuate all the warm red wood tones throughout the house. I love the look and feel of what the Ursa Mini Pro delivers. The size and weight of the camera was perfect for the Movi as well.

How many times did they shoot it to get it right?
We did a total of 17 takes, 14 of which were full five-minute takes. Since I had two different sets of dancers flipping, I made sure to cut before we got up to them if there was something within the take that I didn’t like. Three times I cut early on. We did a couple of takes, and then we would talk about it and really hone in on what needed to be tweaked, then we did it again and shared playback with everyone which then got everyone super excited. They were able to see exactly what needed to be done, where to go and why. Psychologically, it made everyone feel accountable and really tightened everything up to work as a team to really nail it. It was so exciting as we got closer and closer to the perfect take. And when we did, everyone felt super-accomplished. It was certainly one of the best sets and productions I’ve had.

Walk us through the post process on something like this, which seems to be largely in-camera.
We were actually laughing about it on set. Because once the shoot was over, so was the edit. And as an editor, that was awesome! But overall for post production, yes, everything was done in-camera. I had my VFX guy, James Pina, remove some lighting fixtures that made it into a shot and some gaff tape that was visible. For color grading, I did it myself building a look through Red Giant’s Magic Bullet Suite within Adobe Premiere Pro CC.

The video has over half a million views — what is the fan or band feedback so far?
Both fan and band feedback has been through the roof. Fans love the new direction the band took their video in, and so many were blown away when the camera moved since they weren’t expecting that. It’s been great to see. The YouTube comments are hilarious, too.

What inspired you to become a director/editor, and what advantage does this dual role bring?
Back in the day, I used make skate videos of myself and my friends. We were sponsored by a couple of companies, and I immediately gravitated toward shooting the videos and editing them from one VCR to another, which sucked. But I learned a lot and continued that onto NLEs. Ever since then, I’ve enjoyed being able to see a project through from start to finish. The advantages are that one informs the other. I know exactly what I need in order to make something work because I can start editing in my head from the beginning and while on set.

Being a director/editor, one definitely informs the other throughout the process — from start to finish — and it’s always helpful. It’s like having multiple perspectives. They’re great to have because they may spark a creative idea or way to problem solve or troubleshoot something early on or while you’re in thick of it, which can be very helpful. Sometimes it’s like having an editor on set. For prepro we had a good amount of lead time, which allowed me to really think everything through. But still, like any production, everything came down to the wire because the music wasn’t even close to being done yet. They hadn’t recorded the full track. I got everything piecemeal.

About a week and half out I had just the piano, then a couple days later I had half the vocals. I think it was just before my flight that I got the full track with all the vocals and the instruments. We did a walk through with principals, then a prelight the day before, which allowed me to adjust to the final track. Then, the day of, I see this lovely violinist walking around, and I’m thinking to myself, “I don’t recall ever hearing a violin anywhere.” Then Scott (Bradlee, PMJ’s composer) comes to me and is like, “Oh yeah I’m gonna drop in a little violin.” It just had me laughing. Scott’s a true artist. He just hears the music and is tweaking up to the last second. Luckily, I have a super laid-back demeanor and I’m able to make it all work.

Is there a downside to doing both?
The downside is if you’re doing one but not doing the other. The goal for me is to just be directing all the time, and when that day comes, awesome. But I think there will always be some projects that I’d just be itching to cut because I do find editing to be fun and rewarding.

It seems like your company works in a lot of areas. How do you describe what you do in a way that sets you apart?
What makes KRC unique is that not only can we ideate and execute on creative to provide a client with great content, but collectively we can also provide the ability to amplify the content. That is done through our relationships with all major broadcasters, influencers, streaming and social platforms, as well as the deep-seeded data to support it. Through our extensive music contacts, KRC provides an agency-style approach by also offering custom-tailored music strategies to match clients with the perfect artist for a brand campaign.

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