My friend Jerry Ochoa is the violinist in a Houston modern instrumental ensemble called Two Star Symphony. They've been together over ten years, and they're an incredible group, playing dark, daring music composed by every member of the ensemble in a really unconventional method - written and arranged live as a group, with no sheet music. They've scored films from The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari to 2010's Psychic Experiment, and they've collaborated with ballet and modern dance companies, museums, universities, local parks and a puppet theatre over the years.
In December, they visited a haunted house in West Texas and fell in love with the space, and they knew they wanted to film their first music video there. Jerry - who has written, directed and edited several short films and one feature - conceived a story in days and ran it past the group, and they began an IndieGoGo campaign in February to fund the gear, costumes, effects (all practical!), and housing for the cast and crew for the shoot. Last night they premiered the video for their IndieGoGo contributors and fans, and today I'm sharing it with you guys!
They shot the music video, titled The Ninth Level, in three days in March, staying on location in an artist hostel adjacent to that creepy-ass house. Well, they allowed three days for the shoot, but ended up having to film the entire thing Sunday night, because both the generator and the backup generator failed on Friday (so they spent that time dressing the set), and Saturday they filmed the quartet performance but had to quit when a huge storm blew in, because this house has no roof! So Sunday, as the temperature dropped to 38 degrees, they filmed the whole story from 7pm to 7am.
Jerry wrote, directed, produced and edited it, with Two Star (Jerry on violin, Jo Bird on viola, Debra Brown on violin and Margaret LeJeune on cello) starring along with the teen actors (Samantha Steuwe, John Marc Roberson, Alana Holt and Rowland Sauls).
I'm clearly biased, as I've been friends with Jerry for over a decade and I've been a Two Star fan almost as long, but I just think this video is cool and creepy as hell. I love the concept and I think it's executed with some serious style. And what I love best about The Ninth Level is that the effects are all practical! For instance, the animation is hand-drawn by Sophia Vassilakidis, who also did the credits. Jerry talked to me a little about how he set up some of those scares:
One of the aspects that was most fun for us was coming up with practical fx for the video. We raised $5k for the budget, which was enough for lights, generators, food, etc., but didn't leave a lot for effects work, so we always knew the effects would need to be practical. And of course we'd want that anyway. Practical forever!
The flying books in the library room were done by looping dark sewing thread through the spines of the books, then setting them back loosely on the shelves,winding the threads back about 12 feet (out of the frame), then having a dozen people jerk two books each on my cue. The main challenge was not tangling all the threads, but it worked, it was cheap and it looks cool.
The chain room was rigged with 200 feet of chains with wax string running through them. The wax string led up past the chains and through eyehole loops we had screwed into the wood beams. The wax string could move back and forth smoothly through the eyeholes and were attached to wooden handles. 15 people handled one chain each from off-camera to achieve the mass movement.
The tree room was unique in that the tree sculpture already existed there. It was built years ago by persons unknown and left at the top of this abandoned building. We added more branches and artifacts around the room to enhance the overall scene, then tried to do a heightened moonlight lighting pattern to top it off. The tree blood was done by using three $3 siphon pumps from Home Depot. We attached those to jugs of tree blood (caro syrup & food coloring), then glued dirt and tree bark to the tubes themselves. We threaded those through the tree sculpture itself and they look just like branches that bleed.
The tree blood looks so amazingly gross, doesn't it?
So there you have it! Hope you dig the video, and you can read more about Two Star here.