On August 6, 2014, Danny Faragher and son Bryan, along with Shervin Ahdout, and Alex Echevaria shot video footage for ‘Too Much Pressure’, a song featured on the soon to be released album – ‘Dancing with the Moment’. Here are Danny’s impressions of the experience.
I woke up earlier than I’d planned. Had I even slept? I lay in bed while my mind scrolled through the day’s agenda. It was Sunday, the one day that I allow myself the luxury of sleeping in, and my body was tired. It would have been wise to try to catch a few more winks, but I had a video to shoot, and my brain was just too active. I could feel the clock ticking. I swung my legs off the bed and rose to my feet. Owe! I felt a pain. Glancing down, I was shocked to see that the little toe on my right foot was purplish in color and swollen as a sausage. The night before, In my haste to get things ready, I had stubbed it badly, perhaps even dislocating it. Canceling the shoot, however, was out of the question. It had been difficult enough to set a window of time that worked for everyone involved, and we’d already rescheduled twice. I’d just have to bite the bullet and deal with it.
After a shave, shower, coffee, and breakfast – I learned long ago not to jump into the day on an empty stomach – I dashed off to pick up my son, Bryan. He and I had been creative partners for the last seven years, working together in the studio on my now completed album, Dancing with the Moment. The two of us had already shot a couple of videos for two of the original songs – The Sad Man, and Song in the Night. Now we were focusing on Too Much Pressure, a funky tune with a soulful vocal and a message in the lyric. We both felt that the track was an important one and wanted to create a video that captured its excitement. We’d brainstormed and come up with a bold idea. As I had played most of the instruments on the recording, Bryan thought it would be cool to have me visually make up the band by combining individual shots into a composite. We could also feature close-ups of each character. To assure a professional look, we’d approached a videographer friend of his, Shervin Ahdout. who had a lot of experience both as a cameraman, and as a lighting tech. Shervin’s input had already been invaluable, and the three of us had mapped out a basic course to follow. Also coming to the shoot to offer his help was Alec Echevaria, a piano student of mine. Alec, too, was a videographer, and had, along with Bryan, had a hand in the writing of the song, so it was fitting that he be involved.
Upon arriving back at my place, Bryan and I began loading the truck, checking off each item on the list: musical instruments, amps ,mic and stand, props, costumes, hats, etc. It was a lot of stuff, and a lot of things to keep track of. I always have a nagging feeling that I’m forgetting something. it was a good thing the location was nearby. For our film site I had chosen the concert room at West Valley Music Center in West Hills, where I teach music five days a week. The owner, Jeff Gold, was more than cool. When I’d asked him if I could rent the space, he’d waved me off, saying – ‘Nah, Don’t worry about it. I don’t need anything for it. Knock yourself out!’
The store is in a little strip mall that lies at the foot of a wooded hill. Just beyond is the kick off point for a hiking trail that winds into the Santa Monica Mountains. The August sky above was unusually dark, and as we unloaded the gear, a few big drops began to fall to the asphalt . Although it would shower off and on throughout the day, luckily for us the threatened downpour was never to materialize.
After a few minutes, Shervin arrived with camera and lighting equipment. He and my son greeted one another as they always had – ‘homey to ‘homey’ – with a ritual that included bumping fists. ‘Hey, Bryan.’ he said.
Looking respectfully my way, he extended a hand. ‘Hello, Mr. Faragher.’ he said, addressing me with an old world courtesy and formality. Shervin and Bryan had met as sixth graders not long after the former’s family had emigrated from Iran. Shervin is intelligent, soft spoken, and to the point. When he speaks, it’s because he has something definite to say. I respected his opinion and had a lot of confidence in his ability.
A few minutes later Alec pulled up. The young man, in his mid twenties had been studying with me since he was about seventeen. He’s smart, talented, and artistically curious. I admire him. I introduced him to Shervin, and the two of them were soon conversing in film speak. This was a relief. One never knows if two people are going to or hit it off or rub the wrong way.
There was a lot to do before we could begin. Dozens of rental instruments, a few pieces of furniture, and a wall of hanging pictures had to be removed before we could open a space to set up. The fact that there was so much grunt work to do was a good thing. Keeping busy helped to calm my pre-performance jitters, and keep my mind clear of doubting, and second guessing.
I was to play eight different characters, and that meant eight complete and separate costumes , including shoes and hats. My wife, Jeanne Harriott, is a professional set costumer. When I’d run my ideas past her she had given her stamp of approval. ‘Sounds like you’ve got it under control.’ she’d said, This did wonders for my confidence. I’d always loved wearing costumes (After a third grade Thanksgiving play, I was loath to stop wearing my Pilgrim attire), so it was going to be fun. At the same time, I knew that the process had to be quick and smooth. Having observed Jeannie working on projects, I knew how important it was to be organized. She’d gotten me a clothes rack, which I set up in the office. It would help immensely.
As for make-up, I couldn’t afford a professional, so I was on my own. I’d learned the basics of applying make-up when I was acting in a theater production, so I wasn’t completely at sea. If I had it to do over again, however, I would be sure to bring a good sized magnifying mirror with built in lighting. As it was, I had only a little traveling kit shaving mirror, and the light in the room was far too dim to see properly. I told myself I’d just have to do my best, and pray I didn’t come out looking like Bozo.
Meanwhile, Shervin and Alec were setting up for the first shot -an intro scene which occurs before the song kicks off. This was chosen not for chronological reasons, but because they wanted to take advantage of the sunlight coming through the blinds. In this scene I am dressed as a janitor sweeping the floor dressed in coveralls – an older man forced by circumstance to take on menial work. Bryan is playing a roadie who is busy winding a cable. He accidentally bumps the table and causes a drum machine to begin playing a funky groove. The two characters look at each other for a moment, then smile and start moving to the beat until the track kicks in. We are then transported to a parallel world in which the janitor becomes each member of the band, and the roadie turns into a D.J. creating the drum and percussion tracks. At the end of the song the carriage turns back into a pumpkin and the two characters return to their chores. We were going to shoot both the intro and the outro.
Bryan and I both spent long stretches of time standing in place as Shervin and Alec tweaked the lighting and camera angle of each shot.
‘Now you know why there are stand-ins.’ Shervin remarked. ‘If you were big stars, you’d be back in your trailers with your groupies.’
We all laughed. It brought to mind the old adage about the experience of shooting a film – Hurry up and wait! Indeed we did a lot of standing and waiting as Shervin and Alec did the hurrying. Ultimately, though, in between those tedious periods would come the moment of truth - the instant when the clapper snaps, ‘Speeding!’ is shouted, and one has to summon the actor inside. This rapid tandem from left brain to right brain can come as a shock to the uninitiated. It’s suddenness can leave a person feeling like the proverbial deer in the headlights. It took a few times to begin to feel comfortable.
‘This time I’d like you to wait two beats before you react.’ Shervin directed.
Ah, yes… react naturally, as you would in life. Such a simple thing, but so difficult to achieve. Just as in music or any other art, you don’t think about what you’re doing, you just do it. We did multiple takes on a number of shots – Bryan and I together, the two of us separately, long shots, close-ups, over the shoulder, etc. - until we reached the point where Shervin felt he had the right footage in the can.
After this experience, the four of us were exhausted and hungry. Time for lunch break. I looked at the clock. God, had it really taken that long? We hadn’t even started to film the actual song sequences yet. This was going to be a race against the clock. I could feel the time beating with each throb of my toe.
After a lunch of foot long sandwiches, we were ready to roll, starting with the lead singer. I changed into a nice shirt with vertical strips and black jeans. Simple but slick.. My toe smarted a bit when I crammed my right foot into the pointed shoe.
About a week prior I had bought a high quality camera with the intention of using it on the shoot. A lot of time could be saved by shooting with two cameras simultaneously. Shervin removed it from the box, inserted a battery and a card. and attached it to the shoulder mount. When he turned on the camera, however, it refused to go into video mode. He handed it to Alec, who gave it a college try, but It was no dice. The camera stubbornly refused to cooperate..
‘Mr. Murphy makes his entrance.’ Shervin said, referring to Murphy’s Law. ‘Were’ going to have to continue without it.’
My heart sank. I knew that the stationary camera could not be moved until every character was shot, otherwise a composite would not work. That meant we would have to film all the characters in the full body shot, then remove the camera from the sticks to film the close ups. I would have to put on and take off each costume twice, more than doubling the time.
While we were processing this unwanted detour, Bryan suddenly announced – ‘ I got it to work!
‘Wow, no kidding? How did you do it?’
‘I just kept trying things. Shutting it off and restarting.’
‘Bryan saves the day!’ I shouted.
I felt a sudden rush of elation. I was ready to sing. ‘Okay,’ I exclaimed. ‘ Let’s do it!’
We ran through the song.
‘I’m just getting warmed up. I said. ‘ Let’s run it again.
On the second take I began to settle into my element, grabbing the mic for effect, gesturing , and most importantly, feeling and believing the words I was singing…
Too much. Too much pressure
All around, all around ,
All around, all around…
Now the rich and greedy keep goin’ to town
While the rest of us – just movin’ on down
Empty pockets and empty dreams
Where’s my chance to make the scene?
When we got to the section where the harmonica solos, I started moving my feet. Dancing for me has always meant liberation and expression. Now, some folks may believe that men of a certain age shouldn’t dance, they should play golf. But all my life I’ve loved to move, and I’m not ready to stop, yet. Just give me fifteen minutes, and a four by four area of hardwood floor where I can kick off my shoes and slide my feet, and I’m in seventh heaven.
As I came out of the break down and into the last verse, I braved a pivot spin and pulled it off. Lord, I was feeling good, truly dancing with the moment, and I let myself really get down as the piano took over.
‘Those J.B. moves are great’ Alec said, ‘but it would be cool to see you come out from behind the mic stand so we can get a better view of your feet.’
‘Okay,’ I agreed. ‘Let’s take another one from the breakdown.’
I jumped into the shot. By the end I felt as if I’d sprinted a 440. Tired, but energized. The lead was by far the most important shot. It was satisfying to know I had a good performance in the can. I was just starting to hit my stride, and wished I could do another half dozen takes, but I knew that time was flying by and we had to press on. Over the next five hours or so we filmed another eight characters: the harmonica player, Bryan’s ultra cool DJ, the guitarist, bassist, pianist, trombonist, sax player, and cornetist.
By the time we’d filmed the last shot (me with silver cornet, wearing my Peppermint Trolley band jacket), packed the equipment, and returned objects to their place, we were into the wee hours. We’d worked a fourteen hour day. I knew that the next day I would be useless, a zombie, and that I would have to deal with the injured toe. Right then I just wanted to savor the moment. The four of us hugged. We had worked well as a team. For me it had been a demanding but gratifying experience. Now it would be up to Bryan to work his magic in the editing room. I had every confidence in his ability to do just that.