From Retrace EP released by Ghostly International, July 2019.
Vimeo Staff Pick
Shot in Seattle, February - March 2019.
I was thrilled when Lusine reached out to me for another collaboration following the success of Just A Cloud. I was visiting Iceland for the first time when I received the track in April 2018. Over the next couple of months, Lusine and I went back and forth on ideas before arriving at this one. Key selling points for us were: bold, graphic color scheme, garage hacking, and a future conception of VR. I loved the idea of an obsessed computer nerd debugging her VR environment.
After we landed on this concept, the first person I thought of to play the girl was Alina Lee. We'd worked together before and were eager to collaborate again. The rest of the crew - built up over the past three film projects, including Jeremy Lundborg (DP), Katherine Dawson (Hair & Makeup), and Alex Borton (technical guru) - came together quickly, and we shifted into problem-solving mode. Producer Jackie An suggested we use Alan Sutherland, a local butoh dancer, who matched the storyboard Cult Leader storyboards almost exactly. We had our two leads ready to go.
There were in-depth discussions on the look and feel of the cult and its leader. During one late pre-production meeting, the idea of referencing Aum Shinrikyo came up. Aum is famous for carrying out the deadly sarin gas attacks on the Tokyo subway system in 1995. Weirdly enough its former leader, Shoko Asahara, was executed in July 2018, as we were kicking off pre-production on this video. For the Cult Leader's mask, I cold emailed Hiroto Ikeuchi, an incredible cyberpunk artist and kitbasher who I'd run across on Tumblr. When he immediately responded with interest, I felt a huge weight off. I knew Mr. Ikeuchi would deliver something very special.
As Alex Borton - the genius who designed and built the lighting rig for Just A Cloud - started working on the lights for the cult's VR masks and the girl's headband and Frank Arana pieced together a "render rig" for the girl's VR environment, referencing the look of a cryptocurrency mining system.
Lucky me, I took a trip to Tokyo that fall. Hiroto Ikeuchi invited me to a photo shoot in Shinjuku where we hashed out the particulars of the Cult Leader mask. Hanging out with his team, alongside models dressed in wearable cyberpunk art; going to sleep in tiny Airbnbs where we shuttered the windows against late-night crooning drunks at 3:00 a.m.; steeping ourselves in one of the largest urban sprawls in the world - the trip echoed the spirit of the video in every way.
It was early 2019 and we were ready to shoot the video. Plane tickets were booked for the out-of-towners, everyone else had blocked their schedules and signed their contracts. We had the girl's apartment set built in my garage, and studio time booked at a local sound stage (Victory Studios) for the VR scenes. Then Snowmaggedon hit Seattle. Mid-way through the first day at Victory Studios, a concerned crew member pointed me to the conditions outside. The snowflakes were big, thick, and traffic was already building up. If you've ever lived in Seattle through a rare major snow, you know the city is simply not equipped to deal. There is no huge fleet of snowplows and road salters coming to the rescue. No - Seattle plows major roads then just rides it out, knowing that within a week or so it'll melt off in the rain.
I made the call and sent everyone home before the roads got too bad. Alina, Jeremy and I shot the apartment scenes in my garage the next day. We could hear our neighbors playing and sledding in feet of snow just outside. Alina barely made her flight out the next day before another wave of snow hit. Jeremy ended up stranded in Seattle for the next three days.
We regrouped and reset. Victory Studios graciously let us re-book the lost day for free, which we scheduled in March 2019. I picked out the bonsai the girl would use to debug her VR environment at the Pacific Bonsai Museum. Side note: if you enjoy bonsai aesthetics at all and you're in the Pacific Northwest, you must visit this museum.
The last shoot day finally arrived. Despite huge setbacks in February, the snow actually turned that first day into a practice run. The result, when we gathered at the sound stage in March, was an improvement to every detail of the shoot: camera moves were smoother, costuming and lighting looked better, and the extras were better rehearsed. In short, the rescheduled shoot went off without a hitch, and thanks to the hard work of the entire cast and crew, I had some great material to work with in post-production.
Not Alone has such a strong emotional progression that editing was a breeze. I had the rough cut assembled less than a week after the last day of shooting. Then Aaron Sjogren - who I've worked with since film school - and I got to work on color and effects. Aaron came up with the glitch effects: the girl's hands, the bonsai, and the apartment once it's being taken over by the Cult Leader. I handled color, compositing, rotoscoping, and screen replacements for the monitors in the girl's apartment.
You can compare the final product with the storyboards below, which were drawn August-September 2018.