Camera: RED Dragon 6k Wide Screen at 6:1 compression Rating the camera at 800 ISO
Lens: Leica Summicron-Cs
Editing: Adobe Premiere Pro in 5k
Color: Davinci Resolve
I remember the first time i heard Young Jesus, Logic and I were sitting in his studio and he couldn't wait to update me on the album. He played this song and I immediately got all the feels I did when i listened to all the music i grew up with in the 90s. Then I heard big lenbo do his verse and I knew it would be an album favorite! That week he told me his idea for the music video which was complicated to understand so I didn't fully get what was happening.
Months later we were collaborating on the trailer for the album and he told me again about the concept for Young Jesus. Originally he wanted it to be a one-take music video where they were constantly switching characters within a very short period of time. At first we were also going to go from outside to inside to outside to inside a car, down the street, then to the final standoff. Not only are one-takes difficult on their own, now you are wanting to have the 2 main characters become multiple characters without it being on a motion control rig and obviously not having a crazy budget. The other thing about one-takes is how do you keep them interesting? I love Two Chainz's Birthday Song but hated Wiz Khalifa's We Dem Boyz. We Dem Boyz was mainly disappointing because it was like, "this is a dope one-take and......they are cutting like crazy because they couldn't pull it off." Very disappointing.
Anyways, we talked about it some more and ended up changing it to a busta rhymes style video. Lots of crazy colors and camera tricks to make it fun and wild like a lot of videos were back then. I knew we'd probably have to sit on it for a little bit. After we finished the trailer Logic and I were talking about how we both envisioned the space set to be all white, more futuristic looking than the one we shot on. We didn't have the time or money to spend on building our own set for this but I knew the important part was getting the same feeling and emotion out of the trailer. The trailer, to me, was making the statement of, "I'm coming out with a new album, it has to do with space, and it's FUCKING AMAZING" I also wanted to set a new standard for Logic's video content and I want to think my team and I did. So to my point of the trailer, even though we didn't get to build the spaceship set we wanted, the emotion and feeling we did capture was still exactly what we wanted. That brings us back to Young Jesus. After talking about the concept more I pushed for doing the same concept he originally had except not as a one-take. This would not only make it much more cost effective, it would allow us to really make every second count. After thinking about it we realized what we realized on the trailer. The trailer set wasn't exactly what we wanted but it gave us the same feeling so Young Jesus could be the same by shooting in sections instead of a one-take as long, as we got the same feeling from it.
I still didn't think I was going to shoot it for him because he was looking at other people to direct and I knew they would already have their DPs. After we had this conversation I left to go home but before I got home I get a call from Logic. He seems super excited but I had no clue what about. He said, "I have good news and bad news." So asked him, "What's the good news?" He says, "I'm directing Young Jesus, you're shooting it." I lit up with excitement because I was finally getting the chance to shoot one of his videos which is how we connected in the first place. I laughed and asked, "What's the bad news?" He said back, "Don't fuck this up." Even before that moment I knew I would murder this video. I've shot national and world wide commercials for HUGE brands and I've been shooting music videos since I was 13. My team and I have been working on big campaigns together so I knew as a group we could team up with Logic and murder this.
Pre-production took about a month on and off. Logic and I were meeting constantly, working the story, timing every second out, planning out complicated shots. I really wanted to stuff in as many shots where we see two of the same character at the same time when it made sense. The two that are in the video, Lenny in the cafe and Lenny as a cop, are techniques I taught myself when I was 14 learning to shoot green screen and rotoscoping. That was also a time where Youtube didn't exist and books didn't really help that much. For this project, we teamed up with some amazing department heads and I had many conversations about clothing, look, color, and everything else so everyone was on the same page. Finally, we locked in Universal Studios backlot. As a kid I remember doing the normal tour over and over again but doing the VIP tour with my dad and sister gave me the chills. Now years later when I'm still only 24 I get to shoot on the lot AND it's a project I'm in charge with!? I think most crew got excited when we did our opening shot of Lenny and to the right of camera you had the trams passing by like a normal day.
For the production I immediately hired my producer Scott Wickman and Patrick Lunderberg to assistant direct. Logic needed the support from a well oiled and talented machine and us three were going to be just that. We of course had all the regulars for the rest of the crew and thankfully had budget for many more new faces.
The shoot was 2 days long. Day 1 being at Universal and day 2 at a cafe in Beverly Hills. Day 1 was completely organized kaos and everyone brought it 110%. We shot probably about 80% of the entire video on day one which came out to about 38 shots which normally you do maybe 15-20 a day. Thankfully my gaffer Steve and I planned a simple lighting setup for every shot and timed out where the sun would be throughout the day. Lucky for us, the sun happen to put sections of the street in shade in the order the story progressed so we could shoot the entire project linear. We started with Lenny coming out of the restaurant and really killing it. With people that aren't used to being on camera all the time, people often get nervous but after 1 rehearsal he just turned it on. His facial expressions and energy were beautiful executed. It was also Logic's first time to both act and direct and he was perfect at it too. There was a moment when Logic was sitting in the cop car with our producer Scott whiled we we waited on Lenny, and Logic began to make himself cry. Making yourself cry is hard enough but to do it in front of a whole crew is incredibly difficult. Then right after Lenny comes in and kills it again with his panicked pimp shot.
Next we moved on to the car rigs where we drove up and down the lot in the cop car multiple times. When we finished that we moved to the cops racing in and setting up a barricade meanwhile our G&E department moved the car rigs to the stolen pimp car. I think i've had cameos when I used to direct or small projects where you need extra people but this was the first time I was actually written on the call sheet as a character. It was a lot of fun pretending to be a cop with Bobby, Rhetorik, and 6. We all looked like we were from Reno 911, just needed to cut the pants into short shorts.
Finally we shot the second car and then the arrest sequence. You can definitely tell the lighting dramatically changes but it also works because this is supposed to happen over a decent period of time. So the robbery ends up happening sometime near sunset and the arrest happens around the end of sunset. When we shot it everything was a lot darker but we worked with out awesome colorist Carver to really bring up the last few shots and blend the others so it was a more gradual transition.
Day 2 went very well in the kitchen scene and we end up doing a much shorter day.
Lastly we have post production which is editing, color, and vfx. Chaz, who did the edits for most of the Sage the Gemini music videos, iamsu, and many others, gets the edit done in about a day or two. I think we ended up only going through 4 changes in the edit. These stages though were critical for adding little things like showing all the cops on screen at the same time or having the split screen with Lenny and Logic. In the editing process there is a take of the opening shot that Logic loved the most but we messed up on timing and you end up seeing off the universal backlot. It was huge eye sore and ruined the shot for me. Luckily we were able to get our friend Ali to kill it on the VFX side and replace and composite more city. Last was color which was done by my friend Carver. It only really took us a little time and we had a look dialed in with color and grain.
The entire project start to finish was about 2 months on and off. There was a lot of battles fought for little things but in the end, I think everything turned out great. Logic and Lenny both did a tremendous job at acting and I know Logic became a lot more confident in his directing skills. I really have to thank my entire team on this one because without them, none of this would have gotten done as well as it did.
The best part of the shoot was our foreman at Universal who has been in the film industry for about 35 years, came up to our producer and said,"You know what the difference between a big hollywood production and you guys?" "What?" asked Scott. "Nothing." It shows that we are doing something right and It's nice to know that I get to do it with my friends and family.
Nick Mahar is a Director of Photography based in Los Angeles & San Francisco.