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video production company

The Corbins contacted our film production company after spending pretty much all of this past winter shredding and wailing out their new album in one of the best recording studios in Toronto. Steven Corbin, the group’s front-man and polymath musician-composer, told me he was hell-bent on getting a pristine presence yet thick and raw sound to come together in the final mix. He told me he wanted every riff, vocal line and drum fill to feel like the different organs (or groans?) of the same animal. Well, the dynamite audio quality and ferocious instrumentation run clearly and powerfully across the whole album. That’s what over a quarter-year in a pro production environment and an unwavering vision will get you.

If you’re not acquainted with this brand of post-punk-pop, you can check them out on Twitter: https://twitter.com/thecorbinsrock

Now that the tracks are laid he wants to move the band’s first project forward, get the music out there, expose The Corbins brand to the world. The album is technically self-produced, entirely due to his steely conviction and tenacity. But distribution is another gnarly beast altogether. So while he’s been shopping it around to record labels across North America, he’s also generating his own little promotional spots to gain his newborn band some attention and let it grow. That’s where our little old film production company here in Toronto comes in.

Calling Steven an old “client” does our whole relationship a pretty big disservice. It did in fact start as a professional relationship when we shot one of his masterful violin rock interpretations for the CBC (we were called Siren Rock Studios then):

But since then, we’ve become frequent collaborators and close friends. This is one of the best parts, to me anyway, about providing creative video services to all kinds of independent artists…your minds meet in the service of the ideas at first but, more often than not, they end up melding far beyond the function of making that end product itself. You bond creatively and move beyond the materially-driven and  sometimes restrictive concerns of the professional realm.

Ironically, the whole relationship often comes full circle. The best ideas end up getting made “professionally” but within the informal fun-for-the-sake-of-fun spirit of friendship. Please, don’t put your fingers all the way down your throat just yet. I’m only describing, in an admittedly roundabout rosey-glasses way, that my perspective of this particular “client” is clearly tainted favorably.  Likewise, his take on us is also slanted in the praiseworthy direction. So when he says we’re “the best video company in Toronto”, maybe it’s more of a loaded complement than an objective testimonial. Same deal when I say, “he’s the best violin virtuoso in Canada under 30”, and it’s as unconditionally doting as a brother’s praise. Still, all that creative trust and energy going into our collaborations makes every video production with him an experience we look forward to.

Homage Is Still Creative Video Services – But Is It Risky?

Okay, so why all this mushy preamble? Isn’t this blog supposed to gravitate around the travails and technicalities of my film production company? These posts are supposed to provide some first-hand knowledge about running a video production company…and so, let me get to the point.
As The Corbins are trying to get their debut album into the right hands, Steven has decided to have a little fun with his band’s completely new social media presence. He’s still evolving it but to start things off, he knew he wanted to develop something a little off-center that would appeal to one of the larger slices of his expected listener groups. In this case, the younger more rebellious female demographic. So we came up with a campaign motif to represent their ethos, only in theory of course…and all in good hyperbolic fun.
This is where the concept of Corbins Army came from. It’s based around the notion of a legion of young rebel fans marauding through the streets, doing punk-girl things, causing ruckus, etc – all in the name of the band’s unstated credo of unapologetic badassness. Some of them were to be original sketch-like spots and we decided others would be riffs on well-trodden zeitgeist-y stuff. The latter was obviously adopted for this particular video – a kind of silly all-girl take on the opening credit sequence to Tarantino’s cult masterpiece Reservoir Dogs. If you don’t know the original, you’re sorely missing out on some of the best “hard-boiled” dialogue in cinema ever written and a ton of insane performances from a deadly dream team cast. Here’s the credit sequence our short and sweet video production was riffing hard on:

First off, is it risky for a film production company to base even a short and deferential video around such a major song without acquiring the cripplingly expensive rights? Well, it is an important consideration. Not only because the legal fees alone could be lethal for our small-to-mid-size film production company. On top of that, the reputation as copyright thieves or worse did strike us a potential chink in the armor to avoid.
Although we teetered back and forth between being cautious and just “going for it”, the final choice to just paste the original song into the piece and let the chips fall where they may came out of an instinct that relatively small-time homage-based online video work is probably safe for the plundering. I’m not saying this is “advisable” to other film production companies out there as there are, hypothetical but still very concrete risks that could outweigh the obvious benefits.
The primary factor in the “go for it” reasoning was that the entire homage would be far weaker, if not altogether lost without the song. For me, that song is completely tethered to Tarantino’s opening sequence. I think the music is responsible for exactly half the power of that iconic moment, alongside the swaggering actors inside those gritty but gorgeous celluloid images.  We already went and greenlighted the entire video production, had it quite handsomely paid for and shot on location with all of the performers and technical personnel required. I’ll admit that we got our order of operations a little backward because it was only after we got into the editing room that we really had a think about whether the vignette would even work without the song. The creative consensus was yes, it’s integral. So since the whole video production was already paid for and getting chopped up on the operating table we pretty much had to make the executive decision to keep it in. Otherwise, we were tipping our hats to QT…without a brim to grab?
If the video went viral it might be a different story. Then, we’d be gaining in a definite and even quantifiable way from the massive clout of another artist’s work.  So, the irony is plain: like all film production companies, creating a truly viral video would be a grand slam, but one that would most likely be squandered right at the moment of success because we’d have to take it down. Sometimes other artists love the appropriation and even help spread the word through their social media to their fan base. With giant carnivorous music labels and film studios, however, a cease and desist letter is probably the mildest blowback you can expect in a case like this. In that event, we’re definitely planning to desist and would recommend this to any film production company finding themselves in the same dangerous waters. This video production hasn’t blossomed into a viral video just yet so it seems we’re in the clear.

Film Production Outdoors

This little video nugget was short enough to be a fairly straightforward half-day shoot. We just needed the girls decked out like the criminal hipsters from the original film, a slo-mo-capable camera and a grimy location where we wouldn’t bother too many people (and we wouldn’t be have to be bothered by release forms). We pulled together the costumes the week before from American Apparel and Sally Anne. I wouldn’t recommend American Apparel for a costume scout normally because it’s one of the priciest places to get hipster threads in Toronto. However, just try finding a bunch of black tams and leather skirts in late fall. The skirt shortage as the cold season approaches is understandable. But you’d think the wool hats would be in season at least. Somehow, not the case. We were handcuffed by the total lack of options for this one and ended up spending far more of the budget on costume than we’d allotted. That’s okay, with these things you just shift around a couple priorities and balance out your accounts and your expectations. We just skimped on the umbrellas for this rainy day shoot to make up for it. Actually, we’re not that cruel but one of our video production team’s project managers did forget this little detail that morning in the slew of other project considerations. This meant our cast and crew were forced to huddle up in the transport vehicles when they weren’t getting drizzled on. Honestly, they were really gracious about it all and hopefully you can’t see too many of the performers’ shivers and mascara streaks in the super slow-motion close-ups.
The upside to the stormy outdoor shoot was that almost no wanderers passed through our shots. It also looked extra stark and dreary. This was ideal since we couldn’t quite find a spot with the industrial wasteland vibes from the Reservoir Dogs opener. This was pretty close though – a century-old footbridge over train tracks in a hallowed out patch of undeveloped land. Lots of graffiti and general grit all around. We thank The Junction area on Toronto’s outskirts to thank for developing just a little less rabidly than everywhere else in this insatiably gentrifying city.
Otherwise, the technical aspects to this video production were rather simple. The girls would just have to walk through the locale in a pack and with tons of attitude. Shooting the group in profile and frontally was just a matter of spacing them out so everybody would be visible as the troop moved through the frame together. Some of the younger girls were a lot shorter so when they were approaching the lens straight on, we just had to be sure that they were either up front or completely to the side. That’s why the shortest girl with the lollipop is closest to the lens (she was maybe also the coolest so also believable as a leader) and the other young girl is flanking on the right.
One final note would be that when you’re doing longer takes with moving subjects you typically want to pay close attention to two crucial details: the shifting focus and the stability of the camera. In this case we didn’t have a focus puller handy and it was raining so we had to get the shots very quickly. The only reason why this was acceptable is due to our extremely high frame rate for the super slow-motion capture. At 960 frames per second, we knew that the portions of every shot that would get used would only span about a half-second to a second of real time. Therefore, if the camera operator wobbles slightly or the focus shifts from the primary subject we’re aiming at, it will almost certainly happen over a period of time longer than that. So long as we got at least one second (960 frames) in the sweet spot, then we’d have enough great footage to cut around. Again, this is obviously not ideal. Nothing can replace a great focus puller and a tripod…but when you’re battling the elements on a smaller video production, sometimes you can get away with intelligently cutting corners. We think it worked out pretty well in the end.