SCC film students get abstract with Portugal. The Man
Published: Sunday, November 20, 2011
Updated: Tuesday, November 22, 2011 11:11
Film students at Scottsdale Community College are bringing to light the creative forces of music and cinema through the hippest of art forms: the music video. The program's recent partnership with Atlantic Records and Portugal. The Man, allowed students to work on an alternative video for the band's single "So American."
It may seem strange – 33 students at a community college in Scottsdale recording a music video for a band signed to a major label. One student suggested the opportunity came from instructor Chris Jensen's hard work and persistence. And it may also have come from a bit of trust established when SCC filmed Portugal. The Man's "AKA M80 the Wolf" video, which is a less abstract piece than "So American" and was featured prominently on Fuse.tv.
Jensen has worked at SCC since 1990, about a decade after the film program opened. The college implemented a music video course about six years later and appointed Jensen, who had never shot a music video before but had extensive experience with commercials, to head the class. Jensen has since brought in artists such as Ember, No More Pain and Sarah Darling, whose videos were featured on Country Music Television.
Understandably, the music video elective is a popular course among students on the film studies track.
John Gourley, vocalist for Portugal. The Man, reached out to Jensen in fall 2010 with ideas for a music video. Jensen didn't learn the name of the song until January 2011 and said he and the crew didn't hear "So American" until halfway through the first day of shooting because In the Mountain in the Cloud wasn't scheduled for release until July. The video is scheduled for release in November, a month after the official video for the track was released. The other "So American" video captures bandmates and friends enjoying a day at the beach, a backyard kickback and a house show. The SCC version is a little too complicated to put to paper.
The production was almost entirely student-run with a number of more experienced mentors and a hired key grip. There were two student directors, Elissa Eve and Matthew Robert Walker, and the video was edited in part by Shanice Johnson, who Jensen credits for the departure of a story-based presentation of the video into something more abstract.
A few limitations made filming "So American" challenging to work on, Jensen said. The video didn't follow a storyline and Gourley's wildly creative ideas were equally challenging and fun. Jensen added later that the lead singer's response to inquires to explain images or ideas were often answered with, ‘It will look like it means something but it doesn't always mean something.'
"I believe the entire piece is to be interpreted however you want to interpret it," Jensen said. "It was never to look like it was totally realistic. It was always to look like it had an '80s sensibility from the special effects to the way the make-up looked...[Gourley] said ‘If it looks a little fake, but it looks a little real, that's what I'm looking for.' […] It's less of a story and is more about seeing images and trying to figure out what the images mean and if they mean anything. And that might be what John Gourley was trying to do all along is to show images that may or may not mean anything but get people talking."
There were four characters played by the band members and three settings in the film, ranging from a Play-Doh grinding butcher with ankle-high puppies running around to an albino "king" in an egg chair to a milk pit filled with attentively skimmed powdered milk.
Art and construction teams were searching for props and planning the sets for months in advance. The music video, shot in March, was filmed during a few 12-hour days in three locations: Tempe by the railroad tracks on the lake, at Scottsdale Community College and video production company Lizard Land's facilities in Mesa.
The video is funded by student fees and reciprocity from the band, according to Jensen. PTM members bought their own plane tickets, insurance and put on a free performance for the students when SCC filmed "AKA M80 the Wolf." SCC doesn't have the kind of budget a major production studio would have but the college is doing its best, Jensen said.
"What we're trying to do for the students is give them a professional opportunity," he said. "We're trying to get their feet wet in a production that is sometimes away from the campus and there's a lot of difficult dynamics that are a part of those productions so they aren't naive when they go out into the real world. We like them to be mentally tough and we like them to be skilled."
This sentiment isn't lost of former SCC film student Lauren Hood.
"I'm a huge advocate for the film program at Scottsdale Community. It's very hands-on and all the teachers are very helpful. […] It's one of a kind," said Hood, 30, who recently moved to Los Angeles. Hood was the first assistant director for the "So American" video, meaning she handled scheduling through pre-production and was the directors' right-hand-woman on-set.
Hood, who developed her passion for film at SCC three-and-a-half years ago after exploring her prior interests in the music business as a vocalist, said her experiences at SCC were the best thing that could have happened to her and opened up options in a profession she loves.