Magazine article American Cinematographer

Short Takes: Touring the World for Death Cab for Cutie

Magazine article American Cinematographer

Short Takes: Touring the World for Death Cab for Cutie

Article excerpt

Director Aaron Stewart-Ahn became good friends with the members of the indie rock band Death Cab for Cutie after years of documenting their live performances. This led to an opportunity to direct a music video for Death Cab's "Stable Song" in 2006, and on the strength of that job, Stewart-Ahn landed another of the band's videos, "I Will Possess Your Heart."

The concept for "I Will Possess Your Heart" is twofold. In one scenario, we follow a young woman as she embarks on a solo journey from New York to Tokyo, stopping at many places in between. In the other scenario, the band performs the song in a frozen cave actually an industrial cold-storage unit in Los Angeles. "The idea is that the band is performing in an incredibly cold environment while this woman is traveling around the world, moving toward progressively warmer climes," says the director. "The farther she gets from the song's obsessive protagonist, the more her world opens up, and the less reliable his memories of her become."

It was clear Stewart-Ahn could not direct both the travelogue and the band, given the group's hectic schedule, so he had to come up with a way to capture the performance aspect of the video. His first choice was director/cinematographer Shawn Kirn. "I feel Shawn is simply the best shooter working in music videos," he says. "His lighting and camera moves are gorgeous without overpowering his subjects, and I imagined his work in my head when I wrote the treatment."

He and Kim have not yet met in person, and despite the distance between them - Stewart-Ahn is based in New York and Kim in Los Angeles they sustained a clear line of communication throughout the production. Early on, they established some unifying visual motifs, including colors, patterns of light and lens flares.

As Kim began location scouting, Stewart-Ahn flew to Europe with the actress, a production coordinator and a producer, taking only a couple of camcorders and an Apple MacBook Pro. Their first stops were London and Paris. "I wanted to capture the texture of solo travel," says the director. "The goal was absolute realism; nothing was staged."

That meant being inconspicuous, which isn't exactly synonymous with making a music video. Stewart-Ahn chose to capture most of the trip at 24pn using Panasonic's AG-HVX200 "P2" camera. "I captured to P2 cards, having put them through their paces while shooting behind-the-scenes material for the feature Be Kind Rewind. I took six cards, which always seemed to be enough in a given day; I was shooting 48 fps constantly. I chose the HVX because of the image quality in ratio to the cameras size and profile. One thing I learned on this shoot was to always slightly underexpose; as often as possible, I exposed for skies. It's a very compressed format, and although we didn't do much in the grade, we could see [that compression], especially in highlights or blown-out skies when we tried to pull information from it."

He also used a 1080i-capable Canon HV30, a consumer-grade HDV "palmcorder," for an even lower profile. "It worked out well for this project because no matter what situation we were in, I wanted us to look like tourists," he explains. The ruse appeared to work wherever they went. From lighting prayer candles at the Notre Dame cathedral to touring Angkor Wat in Cambodia, the team rarely ran afoul of local authorities or camerawary citizens. "In the cellphone-camera age, nobody seems to mind cameras being everywhere," muses the director.

The crew spent much of their two-week jaunt traveling from one location to the next. Tunisia doubled for Africa and the Middle East. …

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