Camera: Arri Alexa Mini
Lens: Kowa 40mm Anamorphic
If there is one thing Logic likes for music videos, it's a one-take. Funny enough while writing this I'm realizing this is his first one-take. Even though both Under Pressure and Young Jesus were initially going to be one-takes, this is his first. I remember our first tech scout for Young Jesus and we drove past the War of the Worlds set and we knew one day, we were going to shoot there. If you've ever been to Universal Studios LA then you've seen this place. We had some ambitious goals for this video with a lot of moving parts. Just as any shoot, we had challenges we had to overcome.
Overview & Challenges:
- One continuous shot with no cuts
- Fight scene
- Chasing the sun with no lights or grip
- Steadicam on a chapman crane to fly 20ft in the air that no one had used before
- Constantly fighting the Universal Trams coming through set
Logic & I scouted this location right before he shot Everybody. The biggest obstacles were figuring out what we wanted to happen, the path, and how to finish the video. We loved that there was an ambulance that opened up and that there were already other props built into the set, it really let our minds wander with what we could do. We chatted a bit about it but wasn't sure if this production would actually happen.
Fast forward a few months later production was green lit for the video and Andy was brought on board to direct it so Logic could just focus on performing as he should. Andy, Alec, and I had a walk through on the location to find out where we wanted to put everything. I was informed we were going to lift the camera 10-20ft in the air at the end of the video. It was initially proposed for a condor crane which I knew wouldn't work for any camera movements. For anyone who doesn't know what that is, it's how G&E gets lights high up in the air, especially at night time. The problem is it's not meant to lift cameras smoothly and can be very jerky. I immediately knew we needed a Chapman crane with a walk off platform. We called Chapman and they recommended the 2 models, the Titan or Zeus. The titan is built onto a car and made more for location shoots while the Zeus is usually a stage crane. We ended up using the Zeus because of the cost and we needed its footprint to be as small as possible so we didn't see it in the background when we came around the corner.
No one we could find had ever operated one before so being the swiss army knife I am, I went to Chapman and learned how to use it myself. Though I'm not a grip I used to do G&E when I was coming up so this was up my alley. It was basic balancing and I got the hang of it in 15 minutes. On set day I taught my buddy Joe and put him in charge of it for the day.
Shoot day was upon us and the biggest worry I had was we had 0 lights and really no G&E besides our crane team. Our biggest challenge from my end was chasing the sun until it caused too many shadows and eventually disappearing from set all together. We got to set and started loading in with everyone. Our steadicam operator Dustin had brought his gravity one stabilizer for his steadicam in case we wanted to use it. It allows the camera to go high and low very easily with it always remaining level. We did a few walk throughs with Andy and realized we never really made big enough moves to justify it. It would also make basic operating a little more complicated to the point it wasn't worth it.
After a few rehearsals we had the timing of everything down. The biggest moment that I wanted to emphasize was when the car drives by. I didn't like when it just drove through the scene quickly, I thought it needed a beat where Logic should stop and the camera orbits around him showing the car. We weren't getting what I was thinking until take 6 where Dustin nailed it along with the speed of the car and it really made a difference. Everyone on set really loved that emphasized moment. After a few takes with Logic we really nailed what we were going for but this is where Andy's directing really came into play. Take 6 was most people's favorite and Logic was ready to say that was the take but Andy insisted on shooting more. He knew it could be even better and from a performance perspective he was right!
We started to battle the sun because it was causing camera and crew shadows on the set. There were a few great takes but one section where the whole crew casted a shadow on Logic or some of the extras. Throughout the day we had to let the Universal Studios backlot tour trams drive through the set. This wasn't a big deal until we got to the end of the day when we were chasing the sun. And then we had a big problem! We are only allowed to hold the trams for 5 minutes or so which is fine but one of the guards, without being told to, started holding trams for 15 minutes! So when we were about to shoot, we were told this and had to now let all the trams that had been waiting through. This killed probably 30 minutes of shooting time during critical sun time.
We knew when we came back they would be our last takes. Everyone was pumped and ready to go and this take was going flawless. The sun wasn't casting bad shadows but peaked through onto the set which gave us some gorgeous flares. But then, the gun got dropped during the fight scene. So we all quickly ran back before the trams came and we started again. Everything on this one was perfect, we all felt like this was the one, and then the ambulance cue never came. I yelled praying they would hear me and come out anyways but they didn't. So now two of our favorite takes were ruined. We had to now reset and wait for the trams to roll through. This was going to be our last take, it had to be. Everyone's energy was high and Logic was fully in the moment more than any other take. This is where Andy wanted him to be. We called action and everything moved perfectly and we got the shot.
The last section of getting on the crane was the hardest part. The crane team who had never done this before until this set had to seamlessly get Dustin our steadicam op onto the platform, clip him in, release the safety chains, and lift him up 20ft in the air within seconds or it would look awkward. Congrats to the team because the number one comment I got from all my friends was, how did you do that last section and where was the cut?
All of us went crazy watching the final playback because we knew we got what we wanted. The only downside was the sun was no longer flaring the lens or hitting the set at all which was a huge bummed for me. We knew it would be either take 6 or take 12.
That night I went home and pulled up take 6 & 12 and sent to Logic to review. We like to move fast. Some of my crew who came down from SF were staying at my house so we all watched the takes. Take 6 was perfect for the lighting if we wanted flares and some other moments but all of us agreed, the performance on take 12 was better than any other take. After that it went to VFX to remove the blue screen from the background, add a gunshot from the cop, and blood spray for when Logic hits Jim, our stunt guy.
After a week of that we went to Technicolor for final grading. I'm proud to say that Logic was so happy with my LUT I used that we really didn't change much. We isolated some red and blues in different sections to change the hue or saturation but everything was relatively in camera. This was my first time at technicolor and it was blast. We ended up exporting multiple copies of the cut with different levels of film grain to decide later which one we wanted.
This shoot was technically challenging but we had a fantastic team that made it almost seamless. With so many moving parts on the shoot it was very easy for timing to be off and for things to go wrong. Thankfully no one was hurt and we made something we are all proud of. Logic even said, it's his favorite music video he's ever done. I hope you enjoy it, as much as we did making it.
Nick Mahar is a Director of Photography based in Los Angeles & San Francisco.