The rock band Pearl Jam recently returned to its roots on the club scene to make a commercial designed to boost sales of the band's new album "Backspacer."
The band wanted images that captured the energy, intensity and interactions of its live performances. They turned to longtime friend and collaborator Cameron Crowe to direct the spot. Crowe brought in cinematographer Phedon Papamichael, ASC, whose recent feature credits include Walk the Line, 3:10 to Yuma, W., and The Pursuit of Happyness.
|Phedon Papamichael, ASC. Photo by Douglas Kirkland|
Crowe, Papamichael and his camera crew had studied a book of photographs of the band called "5x1: Pearl Jam Through the Eye of Lance Mercer," and planned to echo the immediacy of those images with their work.
About 300 clubgoers were gathered at the Showbox, an intimate rock venue in Seattle, Washington, without being told what they would see. Papamichael recruited three camera operators who were communicating via headsets.
"We wanted the energy to be real," Papamichael says. "First, we got the band in, and we shot some B-roll stuff behind the scenes. We shot them coming in the back door and sitting in the green room. There was essentially no lighting."
Papamichael used a range of film formats: Super 8, Super 16 and 35mm film. All the cameras were handheld with zoom lenses for flexibility.
In filming the band's musical performance, Papamichael depended on the film stocks' latitude to gracefully handle the extremes in contrast created by the theatrical onstage lighting.
"We had to be ready to document that energy when it happened," the cinematographer explains. "Our goal was to capture the essence of the song, 'The Fixer' in less than 30 seconds. We wanted to create the atmosphere of a small club, and make the audience feel like they are onstage interacting with the band, seeing those quick but meaningful glances and gestures between band members.
"I told the operators to get whatever seemed interesting," he adds. "It's best not to over-instruct in a situation like that. You can't really plan a shot list. We avoided the angles that you're usually restricted to in these live performance situations. The idea was band interaction as opposed to coverage."
The first take was done from behind the band, looking past the musicians to capture the excitement of the crowd. On subsequent takes, the operators moved freely on the stage in harmony with the performance and the music.
The small formats were chosen in part because they are lightweight and portable, but also because the format changes create a visually interesting final product, which was designed to have a documentary feel. The ARRI 235 35mm camera was loaded with KODAK VISION3 500T 5219 film. The ARRI 416 Super 16 cameras were loaded with KODAK VISION3 500T 7219 film. Pro8mm in Burbank provided the same VISION3 emulsion in Super 8 format, and also handled the processing and scanning to HD of the smaller gauge material. The Super 16 and 35mm footage was transferred to HD format at FotoKem.
Crowe edited a 30-second spot from the footage. Some of the images will also end up in a documentary he is making about the band. A full edit of the song may also play at Target stores on high-definition screens.
"To capture that intensity, we had to stick to our plan and be tuned in to what the musicians were feeling onstage," Papamichael recalls. "We wanted the audience to feel like a band member, and to capture the feeling of a performance in a small venue. When Cameron and the band members saw the footage, their reaction was, 'That rocks!'"