Authenticity is Key to John Mayer Music Video

Published on website: June 29, 2012
Categories: 35mm , Focus On Film
John Mayer in "Shadow Days"
(L-R) Director Phil Andelman and cinematographer Jim Frohna at sunrise at Monument Valley.
John Mayer in "Shadow Days"
(L-R) Cinematographer Jim Frohna and 1st AC Fabio LaDeluca check out the environs for shooting John Mayer’s music video, "Shadow Days"
1st AC Fabio LaDeluca, with the camera, and the crew of the "Shadow Days" music video shoot
2nd AC Gretchen Hatz sets up a shot for the John Mayer music video, "Shadow Days"
The crew captures John Mayer soaking up the landscape.

Philip Andelman directs music videos for an elite roster of clients including Ryan Adams, Jonas Brothers, Silversun Pickups, The Kills, Beyonce, Jay Z and Ludacris, to name a few. His most recent project took him on the road with John Mayer, who was looking for a more authentic feeling for his latest video, created for the song Shadow Days from his recently released Born and Raised album.

“John never thought that the traditional music video – with the stylists and the hot girls – was truly him,” says Andelman. “He feels that those clips are contrived, and especially with this album, he was trying to do something more organic and natural.”

Mayer’s recent purchase of property in the Montana wilderness inspired the concept, and Andelman’s approach was as carefree as the mountainous backwoods of the state. “We decided to just jump in the car, go on a road trip, and shoot in interesting situations we found along the way,” he explains. “We wanted to create something as sincere and straightforward as the music itself.”

The production had predestined end points to each day at a hotel that was booked in advance so they wouldn't be stranded, but everything between the time they woke up and the time they arrived at the hotel was open to their whims. They started in Los Angeles and headed to Wyoming through Arizona, Utah, and Idaho. For the most part, the production team drove through the middle part of the day, shooting at dawn and dusk at famous spots like Monument Valley and at obscure, unknown places that caught their eyes.

Of course, there was a little more to it than that. Cinematographer Jim Frohna and his team brought along a camera car, and packed equipment into five heavy-duty backpacks to maximize portability. They brought two ARRI 435 camera bodies, a tripod and a hi-hat. They also used old Panavision anamorphic lenses, relying on a few from the E Series, one Primo, and a couple from the C Series.

They made the decision to bring no lights – not one. “It was a practical decision,” Andelman adds. “We didn't want to be bogged down with more gear, and I wanted a maximum amount of flexibility. I love working within certain restraints. I knew in advance that the most interesting moments we’d get would be at sunrise and sunset, and that we wouldn't want to use artificial light for this, so lights were cut from the onset.”

Andelman also had specific reasons for choosing Kodak (VISION2 Expression 5229) 35mm film.  “Digital is so expendable,” he says. “With music videos, you’re always trying to create iconic images. I see a good music video as one solid still image after another. Nowadays everyone has a flip cam and a blog. But when you shoot that way, you’re not thinking about composition. It’s disposable. When you shoot film, it’s more like working with large format photography – you’ve really got to think about that shot.”

Film allowed Andelman to keep things simple while capturing poetic imagery. “With digital, it takes so much to make the image look great. You can’t have anything too bright or it blows out. If it’s too black, there’s no information there. It’s limiting. You can spend a lot of time and money trying to re-create the soft, gorgeous look that you get effortlessly, intrinsically with film. You get a creaminess, richness and warmth without overthinking things. As a result, film can be most cost-effective.”

Andelman started out as a still photographer because his hero, Stanley Kubrick, began that way. By age 16, he was interning for Annie Leibovitz. He earned a bachelor’s in Fine Art at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, and did some work as a cinematographer before his success in the directing arena. He feels his strongest relationship, both on the set and off, is with the cinematographer.

“I always tell younger people who ask for advice that the experience on the set is the most valuable,” he says.

Andelman recently directed a clip for Taylor Swift where he shot anamorphic 35mm negative, printed the images, and then telecined from the print. “That technique gives you an incredible feeling of film grain, texture and richness,” he says. “Just for fun, I asked the people at the post house what it would take to get this look using an all-digital workflow. They were at a loss. They said it would take a huge amount of work, but even then it would not feel as organic and natural.”

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