The Song, Proof, written and performed by Before Dawn:
We don’t watch much television, but the shows that we do watch we are pretty loyal to and perhaps they work their way into our subconscious and imaginations a bit. We happen to be big fans of Ghost Hunters of The Atlantic Paranormal Society (T.A.P.S) fame. This show in some way probably provided some inspiration for the song, “Proof”.
“Proof ” is a fantasy song about a ghost and a ghost hunter who are trying desperately to make contact with one another. The ghost is that of a crooner in the 1930′s and the “story” is told from his point of view. Many ghost hunters and fans of this once famous crooner have tried for years to make contact with his spirit in what was once his home. Many have come close or have some inconsequential evidence that his spirit is there, but none have any real “proof”. In our story, love ultimately helps someone make contact and it turns into an event that more or less changes the space/time continuum. Lofty, I know… The viewer is left with many questions and possibilities. Did the ghost hunter and ghost know each other in a past life? Is the ghost hunter dead now too? Has history been changed? Has she been kidnapped by a ghost in another dimension? WTF???
My original treatment was quite grandiose and required at least 5 shooting locations as well as tons of special effects. Basically I just wanted to get all of my ideas out on paper and not limit myself and then work from there… When we met with the film makers, Christine Carstairs and Robert Haynes they more or less told me that they respected my attention to detail and extreme ambitiousness but that I would probably need to hire Michael Jackson’s video team to get it done the way I envisioned it. Also that it would require way too many days of shooting and some kind of budget (I kind of knew this, but I really did not know how to fix it). They took my treatment and made it simple, realistic and a two location shoot. I didn’t think I would be happy about it when they revised it, but I really was and so was Rob. After reading the revision we only wanted to change one thing; that was that we wanted to include a scene with a flashlight response session – and Rob had the “know how” to make the special effect. After meeting and talking about this new treatment we were all really excited and eager to get to work!
Some of the costumes were established within the context of the song. There is a thunderstorm when the ghost hunters come into the house, so they are in rain gear… We did actually spray ourselves down with water though I am not sure that it reads in the video… As for the rest of my ghost hunting “look”, like I said, I am a huge fan of Ghost Hunters on SyFy, and I have a bit of a fan-girl-crush, on Kris Williams as well as similar facial structure, so I decided to use her for inspiration. Her look is pretty basic and close to my own everyday style, a tank top and jeans with very natural makeup and minimal jewelry, all of which I already had. I wasn’t trying to be her so much as use it as a jumping off point for what to wear etc.
For the 1930′s period clothing, I did some research on the era and consulted with my Costume Technician friend, Monica Gibson. I staked out some Etsy shops for a few days. I knew that I wanted a Deco look. I needed something reasonably priced that had a drop waist and that would look good with dress clips at the shoulders, a detail that I was kind of obsessed with. I finally found this dress and bought it. It fit all my criteria and bonus it was velvety and the right price!
I was going to buy dress clips too but in the end decided that I could make my own. I restructured some barrettes and hot glued some rhinestones on them and voila, dress clips. Using the dress clips turned a basic v-neck into a sweetheart neckline. Tres’ elegant! The clips also helped cinch the dress a bit which was helpful because it was just a tad big for me in the front. All of the jewelry that I am wearing is actually legit. It is 1930′s or 40′s costume jewelry that belonged to my Great Aunt, Erna. Same goes for my totally rad shoes; I am pretty sure she and I are the only people on either side of my family with these ridiculously tiny feet!
Rob already owned vintage tux pants from a play that we toured with a few years ago called La Putain Avec Les Fleurs. His vintage tux shirt was his grandfather, Joseph Cavelieri’s wedding shirt and actually buttons up the back. He did three different OXY cleaning sessions to remove the yellowing from age and get it back to white. The tux jacket and real bow tie was borrowed from the awesome costume stockpile of Monica Gibson. Rob would like to thank George Rauch for teaching him how to tie a bow tie when he played Adam Adam in Sarasota’s Banyan Theater Production of Rough Crossing.
Hair and Makeup:
These are some of the resources that we used:
Basically I gave Rob a short haircut and shortened the length of his sideburns. The Austin Chronicle once called him a “Clark Gable look-alike” in a review of a play he was in, so we decided to go with that for inspiration. He actually styled his own hair and did his own “ghost makeup”, which consisted of cover up, an ivory powder and a light coat black eyeliner.
My hair and makeup on the other hand took some prep time and was about a two hour process once I cut my hair and plucked my brows a few days prior. Plucking my brows kind of freaked me out. Very thin eyebrows was the style of the day and I am quite pleased with my generally thick brows, so I plucked with caution because I have heard eyebrow horror stories!
Most of the time was spent on my hair because I don’t own rollers and could not get the hang of pin curls. I made every single damn curl with a really tiny curling iron. I started by cutting 3 to 4 inches off of my hair since shorter cuts closer to bob length were mostly the style and my hair was really extra long. I did end up finding a few photos of starlets with longer hair at the time and tried to emulate their style… My hair does not like to hold a curl so I had to do: hairspray – curl – hairspray – blow dry – unravel – hairspray each lock. I knew I would need to recreate my look for a second day of shooting, so I made a “makup morgue” worksheet just like we had to do in my Theatrical Makeup class in college. It is basically a makeup plan of action that documents what products and colors you used and where on your face, you used them. Check it out! I guess I did get some useful information with my theater degree! Go Theater UCF!
Art Direction, Props, Set Construction and Lighting:
We did the photo shoot for the video and two days of filming all in the house we live in. We moved everything we could out of our living room, black wrapped every exterior light source and draped the furniture with white sheets as if it had not been lived in for many years. In addition to that I had two main pieces to construct a “Shrine” to the beloved and deceased crooner and a “Theater” that he used to perform in.
The Shrine was something that I could imagine very well. I took some cues from stuff I have seen in documentaries about graveyards in New Orleans. I wanted it to have depth and layers as though it had been there for many years and many different seekers of a connection with this spirit had sought him there. I wanted it to convey reverence, tragedy, hope and perhaps a bit of obsession. I wanted the color palate to be warm against the starkness of the black and white photos and the items on the shrine to be diverse. Most of the items on the shrine were found around my house and in my craft supplies. I bought the Saint candles and incense. Robert and Christine made the aged newspaper obituary by soaking it in coffee and baking it in the oven, and if you actually read it is kind of hilarious. They also added the touch of the flowers.
Once the lights went out and the candles were lit, the shrine really took on it’s own character and presence.
The theater scenes that we needed nearly caused production meltdown. It was a location that we originally felt would be easy to find, but holy cow did we run into a lot of obstacles!!! What we were looking for was a possibly vintage looking proscenium stage with a grand drape or “reds”. We would only need about two hours to get the shots we needed and we had all of our own lighting. This seems like a relatively simple request, in-fact most community theaters fit the bill. Here are the problems we ran into 1.) Most theater spaces in Austin who were responsive and open to helping us out were black boxes or the Scottish Rite Theater which while definitely vintage, does not have a grand drape. 2.) All of the community theaters we approached did not return emails or phone calls and pretty much blew us off. We even tried community theaters in surrounding towns, I was really hoping we could have worked something out with The Gaslight Baker Theater or Georgetown Palace Theater. 3.) The really cool stages, like The Paramount are IATSE houses and we really didn’t have a snowballs chance in hell… So, long story short, our second day of shooting had been delayed by three weeks and I was fed up, we all were. I decided to switch modes from looking for a location to designing my own set. Once I put my energy in that direction things started happening very quickly. I think we actually really love these sorts of challenges and projects.
I knew I had the sewing skills to make curtains and I knew I had the shopping skills to find bargains. I also knew that I probably already had some materials left over from other projects. We decided to use the garage/workshop to build our set because it has a higher ceiling than the rest of the house. We blacked out the window with black wrap and covered the walls that were going to be in the shots with the abundance of black sheets we seem to have acquired over the years – this really helped transform the room and gave Christine more available angles to shoot from. Rob was able to make a rudimentary stage from an old bed platform by reinforcing it in certain places so that it was strong enough to stand on, we covered it with a black bottom sheet just so that we wouldn’t have any exposed plywood if there were any wide shots.
With the curtains I had a very specific vision and I knew that it was important to work with layers and textures as well as different shades of the same color to create the illusion of depth and luxury in a small space. The background curtain is a vintage brocade bedspread that I have had for many years but it never really worked as a bedspread, so I put a casing in the top to make it a curtain. I really think it makes a lovely curtain and definitely gave our theater the vintage feel we were going for. For the exterior side panels of our grande drape I found individual heavy weight, light canceling, textured burgundy panels at Ross for $6 a piece. I bought 4 panels and figured that when the shoot was over I could use them as curtains in my office. Then I went to Goodwill and really lucked out by finding a red satin top sheet for $6 as well. I knew I could cut it in half and sew it into the front curtain to complete my grand drape. By using darker reds of a different texture for the outer curtain and a silky bright red for my center curtain I gave the stage more depth and achieved the look of a proscenium.
If you are wondering how the curtains are hanging, it is an old trick that my parents taught me; electrical conduit not only makes a sturdy and inexpensive curtain rod, but you can have it cut to any size you need. In our case, we just needed two of the longest pieces of conduit we could find at Home Depot. We used rope and screws to secure it to the height we wanted it to be. Every grand drape needs tassels! I found some giant tassels at Hobby Lobby on clearance for $4, the green in them also happens to match my background curtain perfectly. The rope on the tassels was not long enough, so we extended them with fishing line so that it would be invisible and they would be functional. The final touch was my cocktail table complete with little beaded votive lamp.
The lighting is what really pulled it all together and I knew exactly what it looked like and that it would make my little theater come alive. We used the same floor lights that had been built for the play La Putain Avec Les Fleurs. These lights may be homemade, but they cast the most beautiful warm glow! The other side lights that we used were also homemade from coffee tins screwed to homemade light stands, I believe these were created by Chris Gibson and Rob when we did the “Drowning” music video a few years ago. With this configuration we were able to use blue gels to get the look we wanted – we actually used those to get the daytime/nighttime look as well when we shot the ghost hunting scenes in the house and the windows were blacked out.
Check out this picture of what we were looking at from the stage…. I LOVE movie magic! I love designing and decorating sets! I love making something from nothing!
Special Effects by Rob Houle:
This effect was pretty simple. I drilled a hole in the screw off bottom of an old AA mag-lite flashlight. I used cardboard to insulate the spring contact from the battery which had a wire lead on either side. This allowed me to control the lamp remotely by shorting to other end of the two wires. I used very thin telephone wire so that it would not be noticed under the table cloth. The wire was so thin that I didn’t even have to cut holes in the table cloth to feed it through. It just went right through the weave of the cloth. In the scene where the light goes on in time with the music I was under the table shorting the wires to the beat.
As for the rocking chair. I tied monofilament to the leg of the chair and stuck a metal pin looped on one end into the floor. The loop was there to apply force in the most efficient direction for the movement of the chair. I ran the monofilament under the blacked out French door to remain out of sight. Instant “ghost chair”.
Cinematography notes by Christine Carstairs
One of the reasons I was so excited to shoot this video for Before Dawn was that I would have the chance to test out the video capabilities of a DSLR. The camera I used to shoot the music video for “Proof” was a Canon Rebel T2i.
For the night shots I used a Canon EF 50mm – F 1.8 lens, which is a great, cheap prime lens for low light situations. Added bonus, it’s only around $100! To create an image that was similar to film, I kept the depth of field shallow and shot at 24 fps.
For the lighter stage section of the video, I actually used the kit lens that comes with the camera (18-55mm).
Lighting on the night section of the video was provided by a single floodlight that you can get at a hardware store. Rob Houle made it into a workable light by placing it on a stand and putting a large coffee can around it, making the light directional. In front of the light I added a sheet for diffusion and a blue gel. To further diffuse the light, I actually turned the light away from the actors and bounced the light off the back wall and ceiling, flooding the room with an even, but subtle blue light.
Because there was only one light, I had to get creative. I always had Rob stand closer to the source of light, to make him glow in comparison to the rest of the cast. By also having him angle his head downward while singing, it created some amazing dark shadows on his face, giving him a much eerier appearance then if he had just been singing straight at the camera.
To keep the night section of the video from looking flat, I added additional sources of light. I had everyone in the video carry flashlights and shine them around the set. Adding candles to the shrine and having Kate light them also added a warm orange glow, which was a great contrast to the cool blues.
We had more lights available for the stage section of the video. Rob and Kate had some great footlights that they had left over from a show they had done previously, which they added to the fantastic stage they created. We brought the floodlight over and used it as a spotlight to add more light to the stage.
For the night portion of the video, I went hand held. The T2i is really light, so it’s important to weigh it down to avoid really shaky shots. The improvised “steadicam” I used basically consisted of a long metal bar with weights attached at the bottom, while the camera screwed into the top. It was great because it helped to smooth out the shot, but it had drawbacks as well.
The biggest drawback to the system was that it lacked a quick release. So in order to remove the camera, you had to unscrew it. Which takes time. To keep moving quickly, I kept the camera attached for most of the shoot, which meant I couldn’t put it down without risking damage to the T2i. So while blocking shots, directing the band and adjusting the lights, I was usually stuck with a camera in one hand. By the end of the day, my arms ached! On the plus side I was able to set up a lot of shots in a short amount of time – 47 setups in just over 6 hours.
To create an additional distinction between the dark ghost hunting scenes and the lighter stage set up, I put the camera on a tripod to shoot the stage, creating a smoother look.
-Christine Carstairs – Director/Cinematographer
Editing Notes by Robert James Haynes
I love film editing. Arguably, it’s the most important step in the process, in which everyone’s hard work truly comes together into a final product that is always surprising and often exceeds the sum of it’s parts.
“Proof” was no exception. Whether it was Christine’s crisp direction and gorgeous cinematography, Kate’s jaw dropping set design, or Rob’s ingenious practical special effects – everyone brought something to the table that added dollar signs to the production value and made editing a true joy.
Rather than focus on the entire editing process (which took approximately 50 hours), I’ll just highlight a couple of spots that might pique your interest.
First off, it was decided early on that telling the story was essential in making the video work. The song itself has such a strong narrative that we felt we’d be doing it a disservice not to do the very same. Having said that, we also felt it important to be slightly ambiguous and allow the audience to draw their own conclusions on what they just witnessed. Upon listening to early reactions and hearing numerous theories that vary wildly, I can safely say that goal was achieved.
Secondly, I wanted to make the shrine a character. With the big reveal at the end, it couldn’t just be any set piece, it had to feel like a living, breathing human character – an extension of the ghostly crooner- that was constantly reminding you of it’s presence. Ultimately, it’s up to the audience to decide if that particular goal was achieved.
Lastly, I wanted to touch on tone. Christine, did a great job hinting at a mildly sinister tone at the beginning, and as more light came into the room, and our two main characters made a connection, the tone lightened accordingly while never taking itself too seriously. One of my biggest joys in the editing room was seeing that tone personified in a very earnest, but novice ghost hunter played by Anthony Garcia. Whether, it was wearing a bright yellow rain slicker with giant headphones, wielding an odd home made synthesizer turned ‘ghost gun’, or using an ancient Polaroid camera strapped around his neck; Anthony was game for anything. He breathed quirky life into what other actors would have viewed as a tiny throwaway character.
In conclusion, they say the best editing is the kind you don’t notice. So, if you say to me, ‘Wow, the editing in this was phenomenal!’, then I have failed. But, however, if you sit back and say, ‘Wow, what a great story!’ or ‘I love this! Where can I buy this song?’ then I can call that a success.
Final Cost: $78.00