Kings of Leon “Walls”
Prep on most music videos is limited and usually revolves around tech scouts and logistics. Prep on “Walls” was more concept driven overall than anything else. We knew we wanted to start in as wide of a shot as possible showing as much of the set and studio as we could. We also knew from that shot we were going to move the camera into a close up and then “extract” Caleb from the set and into the real world. Some of this is easier said than done. Initially we discussed using a techno crane or a cable cam rig, however, the shot become more involved and needed something more flexible with a longer “travel” capability.
We discussed steadicam but needed the movement to be exact and precise and repeatable. We ended up testing placing a fisher 11 dolly on a western dolly, per our Key Grip’s suggestion, we deflated its big wheels minimizing the bumps in the studio floor. Once we saw an initial test with the desired speed we knew this was how we were going to move the camera.
From my early conversations it was important that we establish a world in which Caleb is in and within that world there are alternate realities at play. I think initially we had more of a analog science fiction element we were planning on playing with, but once we got the set built and moved the camera we knew that the stripped down version would be just enough. The song is powerful enough without “trying” too hard.
Another one of the big decisions aside from camera platform was lenses. Casey knew from the beginning we’d need a zoom lens to take us the rest of the way from this extreme wide to the extreme close up. Once we figured out the camera platform we began testing different ranges of focal lengths, we looked at both an Optimo 24-290mm and a vintage Cooke Varotal 20-100m. There was an initial conversation about whether to shoot anamorphic or spherical as we both tend to lean towards anamorphic however the anamorphic zooms we had available to us were too limiting in their focal lengths. We also discovered after several test runs that we weren’t using nearly as much of the “zoom” as we thought we would have to as we could get the camera pretty close, almost to minimum focus on Caleb. This opened up the question of shooting on a spherical prime and doing our zoom digitally. People were a little apprehensive but once we shot several tests and sent them to post within an hour we could watch our actual zoom and our digital zoom side by side and we were sold that the clarity and resolution of a prime lens was the way to go. We decided on a 25mm Master Prime.
Most things had to be worked out in advance for this single take video to be a success. We had an entire day on the stage in which we rehearsed and figure out exactly what we would need in terms of set design and grip and lighting.
When it came time for the shoot day, grip and electric had a pretty substantial pre-call as they would be starting from scratch rigging the entire studio to be able to shoot more or less 360. It was pretty satisfying and of course a little nerve racking to watch as it all slowly came together.
When I step on set I always just want to start shooting, waste nothing of the day, but with a studio setup like this you have to be patient and let it all unfold around you and just hope you made the right decisions on unit placement and trust the crew you’ve hired. Not only did we hang about 40 units but they were also programmed into the dimmer board so we could have complete control over lighting cues, needless to say it was a busy morning.
One of the more challenging tasks in designing the lighting was figuring out what single source to use that would work in the wide shot as well as his extreme close up. We started with a 800 jol-eko but swapped it out for an M18 to create more of a column of light, perhaps hinting at a bit of sci-fi, we then placed various combinations of diffusion over the opening to the set as we still wanted to have the hard shadow on the wall but have the light wrap around him as well. We ended up using double hampshire, I don't think there has been a situation in the past where I have called for double Hampshire but sure enough double “hampster” it was.
Technical Specs: Alexa Mini, ProRes 444 4K UHD, 24fps + Master Primes
Now when it came time to put these three shots together, I have to hand it to the crew, it was a complete effort on everyones part. From matching camera position, dolly position and to even Caleb having to match his movements and expressions perfectly. We would do several takes of the first third of the song and figure out which take they liked, essentially print that take. From there we would grab the last frame of that shot and have to begin our new setup exactly to the previous frame, so far as in exactly where Caleb’s eyes were pointing to the creases in his shirt. We used the overlay feature on the Small HD 502 and 702s to match it precisely. Every time we did the take of the next part of the song we’d have to “line up” again and match everything, this was the same for the third part of the sequence where we move from studio to process trailer.
People tend to think that we did a majority of this performance on green screen or at least the end when we are on the highway but rest assured we were definitely on the highway with Caleb and us all harnessed down as the sun dropped below the horizon.
You can see below the finished video and frames are very much inline with the concept art and previs that was done. We had an amazing time bringing this concept to reality and could not have done it without the hard work of the crew, thank you to Jeff Gordon (Gaffer), Bob Hill (Key Grip), and Kip McDonald (1st AC)