On the Set of Delly Everyday's "Hometown" Music Video
Like nearly nearly all my stories, this one starts with a message from a long time friend, an invitation to a film production. Apparently my knack for capturing the moments behind the scenes has made me an asset on set, after all don't they say "pics or it didn't happen". When a local artist reaches out to collaborate on a video for his upcoming song paying homage to where he grew up, you know its gonna be something special.
In this case that artist was Delly Everyday, an American Hip Hop artist looking to tell his origin story, of how he grew up surrounded by poverty in the Phoenix's south side, just off of Phoenix's iconic Central Ave. By the time I had come aboard the train had been set in motion with a pre production meeting already in the books, and arrangements made it seemed as though everything would go to plan, but as the world spun, things would unravel, and adaption become an hourly occurrence.
That car you see there, hard parked in the middle of Phoenix's warehouse district, yeah that was supposed to be a brand new McLaren, realistically we would've take anything with a six digit price tag. As you can deduce, the McLaren didn't show, we found out about 30 minutes before the shoot.
So in this very spot downtown, right on the edge of heroin row, a crew of three step out of the comfort of our cars A/C and into the street to freestyle. We would come to the realization very quickly that most of the days plans wouldn't be going to plan. From the beginning the creative direction of this video was going to follow that successful hip hop video algorithm, you get the car, check, you get the girls, check, you get the insane club scene where the champagne finds its way on to the girls while dollar bills shower down like a hurricane, the very definition of ball out. For some reason as we stood on that street corner, we began to realize, just how wrong it would be to shoot that video, Delly was an up and coming artist, telling the story of his come up, how his homies stuck with him. Yeah it would be fun to shoot a baller video, but we needed to tell the visual story to the words he scripted in those 16 bars.
We still needed a car though, something that still was gangster, but wouldn't break the bank. Luckily I had just the right car sitting in my driveway. Yes I Shamelessly volunteered my own 1990 BMW E34 535i as the video car, with faded paint, and tinted out windows it fit the aesthetic or the torn up warehouse district. The BMW badges made a statement without losing the idea of a humble come up. We hit the HOV lane back to my house to pick up my car and make it back on set in time start rolling at golden hour.
Our crew of three was being joined by a lucky lady however, and her name was Scarlett. Thats right we would be shooting 4K on a RED Scarlett-X, flanked by a Sony A7SII for camera B. I must admit this was our first music video and my first time being on set with a RED, so the mood was rather exciting yet tense. During pre-production we had rigged up the camera just how we wanted it, as Pelican cases were pulled from the trunk John began to re-enact the setup we had chosen. Brandon dialed in his Sony, as we waiting for our Talent, Delly to arrive. Each minute brought the sun closer to the horizon, slowly filling our giant overcast soft box of a sky.
Delly rolled up shortly, exiting his uber wearing the signature Phoenix Sun's purple and orange, we made our greetings, then did a quick walk through of what we hoped to shoot. A music video essential is a sound system, that way the artist can mouth the words on video to later be accompanied by the final studio audio. We plugged in and tested the volume, the sound bounced between the brick wall of the warehouses, reverberating down the street. Walking out into the street we setup for the first shot, and as the RED started rolling, I pulled my camera up to my eye and began shooting.
It wasn't until we had a few takes under our belts that we broke out the smoke bombs, a series of morning phone calls had sourced us some orange and purple smoke bombs for atmospheric effect. Pulled from their unsuspecting plastic bag, we didn't even bother to read the instructions, before we popped the tops off and slipped our fingers in around the pins. "Camera Speed", was shouted in the backdrop as I pulled one pin after the other, releasing a ploom of smoke from the top of each canister. The air began to fill with colored smoke matching Delly's outfit as I spaced them out behind the car, placing the last one down and running out of frame as to maximize our shoot time. It was almost euphoric the way the smoke wrapped around the scene, obscuring the cameras view every so often, only to reveal the next line of lyrics.
By the time the smoke had cleared we already had our sights on the next shot, a profile shot walking down the street, shot from the back window of a moving car, it would be the last thing we would capture at this location, because packing up all our equipment and heading deeper into the city to attempt a parking garage scene. I say attempt, because you never know whether you will run into security or not in a parking garage for some reason these empty concrete structures often have more security then your local bank, for reasons I will never understand. The sun finally tucked under the horizon line as we pulled out.
Its just on the other side of that intersection, as we pushed through dimly lit street downtown, greeted by the welcoming "Public Parking" sign. Pulling the ticket from the stand, the gate lifted rapidly and we were off, a so called race to the top, where we wouldn't be bothered. After weaving around floors we finally summited the structure, revealing no lights and a dark wide open slab of concrete, we'll make it work I said. With the crew car parked running, we flipped on the brights, to get as much light as possible. The Home Depot insulation boards came in handy to kick a little bit of light back.
With one trick still up our sleeve for the night, we cracked open some road flare, there wasn't an emergency in sight, but they would make for a great fill light, with the red contrasting of the cities blue backdrop. Placing three around Delly's feet, the clock had now started, we didn't know if this would draw the attention of any security or not so we started rolling in hopes of having enough time to get the shots we wanted.
As the flares burned their last few molecules of potassium nitrate, we wrapped, thankfully being untouched by the hand of private security, a clean get away in my book. We said our good byes and congratulated each other on a good shoot, we'd rendezvous tomorrow for day two of the shoot, centered around the south Phoenix block party at the house Delly grew up in. For now it was time to dumb the memory cards, charge the batteries, and get some sleep.
High noon, and I found myself outside in the glaring heat, loading my BMW onto my cousins trailer. The boys had been wanting to do a trailer rig for sometime now, way back when we shot the Memory Broker in February, today was the day we were going to cross it off our bucket list. An old Hollywood trick of towing a car on a trailer, rigged with camera to make it look like your talent was driving down the road, but with less danger then having them actually drive and act. We would fill the car up with Delly and his friends and have them cruise through the neighborhood while vibin to the song. But that wouldn't happen till later for the time being we needed to get this old girl on the trailer.
Driving down Central Avenue, we would turn left down a small side street to come upon Delly's house, tucked away amongst thousands of other ones. The friends had already started to gather in the front yard, and the DJ was setting up to spin some records. We needed to rig the car for our two cameras, a process none of us had really done before, so there was quite the learning curve.
The large suction cups didn't want to hold on the old paint of the BMW, so we found remedy in duct tape, its amazing how much handy that stuff is. Through an arraignment of clamps, tow straps and magic arms we placed the 3/4 off the drivers side, allowing us to film inside the car as well as through the open side window. The RED would be posted up directly infront of the car, poised on a tripod ratchet strapped down to the trailer. The 70-200mm L lens got filtered up with both polarizers and ND filters to allow it to pier through the front windshield. This entire setup took us about 30 minutes, the whole time sweating as though we were in a club houses sauna.
Ready to roll, we packed the car with Delly and a few of his close friends, a call out over the walking talking started the party rolling. Down the neighborhood street we began to get a feel for managing the camera while on a trailer, finding little pockets of the perfect light down each street. Block after block we rolled through the quite neighborhood blaring "Hometown" from the speaker posted in the bed of the pickup. We cause enough of a stir to rile some neighborhood kids who gave chase on their scooters, hoping for a chance to be in the background of a music video. After a few passes down the same streets we liked what we were capturing, but was it enough wow factor, Delly had popped out of the sunroof and sat on the roof of the car for a few takes. As we debated on whether to return home to setup for the next shots, we thought, why don't we just go out onto Central and roll for a few blocks, you know get some other cars going by us. Something that would surely be frowned upon by any form of law enforcement, but fuck it, we didn't spend this entire time setting up this rig to get mediocre shots, if we were gonna do it, it was gonna be big. We climbed back onto the trailer and pulled out onto 6 lanes of traffic, praying that we would get a few block without any trouble or cops.
Out on the road, we became a rolling show for the drivers passing, they either lit up with a smile or pulled out their phones to catch us on snapchat, there were occasionally the fun stoppers whose faces looked like disappointed parents. In the cameras though the real magic was happening, as we had live traffic rolling the background, palms trees flanking the car as we drove block after block. It worked and a few short minutes or what seemed like forever, we pulled off Central and back onto the small side street, bound for the house. High of the rush of having cars pass just feet away, we went into the next scene hyped.
The whole squad posted outside the house, centered around Delly, each member waiting for their little moment to add some of their own flare to his video. The sun was setting and pushing off a orange hue over the scene, that we then bounced back onto the group with the insulation reflectors. The music started and we rolled the cameras.
A few feet over we our next scene, with a game of dominos going in the backdrop, we centered up on a Maserati that we didn't even know was going to be there. Family, friends and good times was the vibe, everyone got their time in front of the camera even the kids. After all these are the people who have been with Delly since day one, and are the ones who make his hometown what it is. Brandon ran the RED on this one, with the Canon 16-35mm L hanging off the front, bouncing between high and low shots with the beat, not a moment was missed. As our light slipped away on the second day, the atmosphere around the shoot became more comfortable, we had captured a lot of content, everyone began to congregate in the street with a football, a game of 500 was in order for a days hard work. We kept the camera rolling though, cause more often then not these are the most human moments, when our guard is down and we don't know we are being filmed. We gambled on catching a few moments of Delly interacting with his friends possibly even ones that could make it into the video. We wrapped a little after 7:00pm, no light left to feed our cameras, just as we did the day before we broke down the cameras and packed up with ideas of how we would cut together shots starting to brew in our minds. A quick sweep via iphone flashlights let us know we hadn't left anything behind, as we pulled away from the house, tired, sweaty and ready for some food.