Birth.Movies.Exclusive.: See The Music Video For The Wheel Workers’ “Whole Other World”

The practical spaceship design on this is the coolest.

I've shared a couple of my friend Jerry Ochoa's beautiful and creepy music videos with you guys: Two Star Symphony's "The Ninth Level" and Glass The Sky’s “Touch” were both well-received by the BMD audience, so it seemed like a no-brainer to share his latest, a sci-fi odyssey for The Wheel Workers' "Whole Other World."

Here's Jerry on the making of this gorgeous, haunting video:

Here is the new music video I directed and edited for “Whole Other World” by The Wheel Workers! This is the fifth project I’ve completed with essentially the same crew and with each new project, I’ve tried to come up with ideas that allow us to practice techniques and styles we’ve not yet attempted. My last few projects have focused on different aspects of horror so I wanted to take a step in a new direction.

Steven Higginbotham from The Wheel Workers approached me with their soon-to-be-released album. He had a mid four-figure budget and offered to let me choose the song for a music video. I listened to the album and immediately fell for Whole Other World. The track has a spacey, melodic vibe, an interesting structure and a message that comes through clearly. Here’s Steven’s description of the song:

“The song Whole Other World is actually one of the older songs on the record.  It was written over ten years ago and reflects my frustration with how the Iraq War began and the media system that enabled that catastrophe.  The war was so obviously a terrible idea to those who were paying attention, but the post 9/11 media landscape silenced dissent and allowed the Bush Administration to confuse and scare the American people into supporting an illegal war based on lies.  The media's role should have been to expose the lies, but instead they enabled them or were too busy covering celebrity gossip.  I found the whole thing profoundly depressing and sickening.  But in the lyrics I express the hope that we might make a little more of an effort to see through the charade and "open a whole other world.’”

So it’s a cool, spacey song with disillusioned political lyrics and an undercurrent of anger. The goal became: what story do we tell that pays homage to these lyrics while expanding on them in a visually interesting way?

The idea I came up with centered on a character in a spaceship narrating the song while we see glimpses of his life back on earth and the growing disillusionment that drove him into space. Steven is a real-life teacher, so we decided to adapt that for his character in the video. A disillusioned schoolteacher worked perfectly with the song lyrics and also allowed us to take advantage of Steve’s school as a shooting location.

As with all indie efforts, stretching dollars was a huge priority. By using the resources already available to us, we were able to create scenes that would normally cost a lot more. The classroom and parking lot locations were free, and the extras for both setups volunteered in exchange for credit and catering. We were able to build a spaceship interior relatively cheaply by renting a warehouse art space as our set, then using lightweight wood for the frame and translucent plastic panels for the walls of the capsule. We rigged a lightbulb behind each panel to create an even glow and used an old video projector to display an interface image on the spaceship wall panel, which we also shot through for Steven’s primary capsule angle.

The outdoor scenes were all shot under natural light on Galveston Island’s far west end, in and around Galveston Island State Park. NASA offers all their photography, animations and footage for public domain use (!), so I used all of the above within the video, most noticeably with the gorgeous animated space fly-through in the center of the timeline. The news footage is actually taken from an earlier music video The Wheel Workers created from news and stock footage and the TV watching sequence was filmed in my own apartment.

My videos tend to be traditional in their narrative structure - as close to short films as music videos - so we shoot specifically for the edit, not a lot of general coverage. For Whole Other World, I wanted to try shooting much more coverage and “finding the story” in the edit. To that end, we shot Steven doing non-vocal and vocal performances for every location and setup. Because I didn’t yet know the specifics of the edit or story structure, we shot the whole song through every take. We shot every cutaway we could think of and tried to catch a range of emotions for each set of lyrics. With full coverage for both versions, I ended up with six hours of footage to edit into a sub-5 minute video.

That sounds like a lot (and it is!) but it’s amazing how quickly the edit narrows your options. The main choice I made in the editing process was that while Space Steven narrates lyrics across the entire video, none of the earth characters would be aware of the song during the first verse. They would start to detect it in the second verse and by the third verse, all the earth characters would be responding to/reciting the lyrics across all the scenes. Once that pattern was established, I only needed to edit with footage that matched the pattern for each verse and chorus. That cut out almost everything. From there, it was just a straight performance-based edit.

All that coverage can also pay off in unexpected ways. I initially intended to showcase more exterior spaceship footage with an emphasis on forced perspective and optical effects, but a freak summer flood destroyed our capsule interior set and we had to reroute funds and crew time to rebuilding it. We ended up with an even better interior but much simpler exterior model, one I didn’t want to use more than necessary. Thanks to the amount of coverage, I had the option to shift focus in the edit to the other sets and performances.

Here’s a valuable lesson we learned: traffic jams are tough as hell to shoot. Even the worst traffic jam usually has at least one lane moving, and it’s always visible because you need a wide angle lens to see the traffic at all. Cars appear further apart once you’re shooting them, too. People don’t actually drive bumper-to-bumper and gaps between cars look a lot wider up close.

It took three days and three locations to get the traffic shots in the video. Day one had Steven driving through real rush hour traffic following our camera truck. Day two took place in the parking lot of Steven’s high school with two dozen cars creating a mostly static traffic jam to film Steven’s car exit and walking shots. Day three involved just three cars arranged around Steven’s Saturn while we got slider shots and 85mm close ups. Between all three dates of shooting, I was able to get enough footage to fill out the video, but even then I leaned heavily on my colorist Ryan Nguyen to help create visual coherence between the shots.

We shot the video in 4k on a Blackmagic Production Camera and set of Rokinon prime lenses that my coproducer Sophia Vassilakidis owns. This saved us a fortune in rental fees and availability issues. Though outputting to 1080, the extra resolution allowed me to reframe and add zooms and other camera motions during the edit. In the end, as usual, the biggest expenses were crew salaries and catering, this time joined by the extra time and materials required to rebuild the space capsule set after the flood.

This was the most ambitious music video production my crew and I have yet attempted. It took nearly two months from start to finish and involved a lot of new challenges. I can’t thank The Wheel Workers enough for trusting me to direct or my crew for hanging tough throughout the shoot.

I’m always motivated by the knowledge that these projects will exist and have our names on them as long as there’s an internet. No one watching will know or care how tired we were while shooting, or sunburned, or what was going on in our personal lives. All that matters is we make the best video we can and I know that with Whole Other World, we did. I hope you enjoy it!

And check out some great behind-the-scenes photos by producer Sophia Vassilakidis below: