Here it is! It’s a music video for a song based on my latest book The Thing I Didn’t Know I Didn’t Know (Russel Middlebrook at age 23).
It’s basically the story of Russel and Felicks’ first date (chapter eight in the book). Check it out:
How in the world did this music video come about?
Last summer my partner Michael Jensen and I were brainstorming ideas to promote the upcoming release of my new book, The Thing I Didn’t Know I Didn’t Know. I’m not a big fan of book trailers (too much stock footage, and nobody watches them anyway).
Michael suggested, “Why not do a music video?”
I loved this idea! I didn’t know of any author doing anything like this ever before. But more than that, I loved the idea of being able to do something for the fans of my books and this character, Russel Middlebrook — to give them something fresh and different that they might hopefully enjoy (for free!).
I pitched the idea to my musician friend Brett Every. He’s Australian, but he currently lives in New York, and I’ve long been a big, big fan. The agreement was that he write and produce the song, and I would write and produce the video. Hopefully, it would serve both our fanbases.
He loved the idea too. So he read the book and soon wrote a terrific song based on the book and the character of Russel. I think he perfectly captures Russel: his hope and fear, his neurotic tendencies, his intelligence, and ultimately his wary optimism.
Once I had the song, I realized: I told Brett I’d produce a music video. I’d never done anything like that before! What had I gotten myself into? I started to panic.
Who made the video?
Realizing I’d made a commitment to Brett (and he’d delivered his end of the bargain!), I started asking everyone I know: “Do you know any local filmmakers?” I didn’t have much of a budget, but I started compiling a list of names. I talked to a lot of people, and finally decided to go with an up-and-coming filmmaker named Jeremy Ward (also an extremely nice guy).
I had a pretty clear idea for the video — that it would tell the story of Russel’s date with Felicks (the events of chapter eight in the book). In the book, they go to the Crab Pot Restaurant, and I had a feeling a dinner there would make a great visual for the video. More and more, I was thinking of the project as less of a “music video” and more of a “short film,” telling the sweet, romantic story of these two guys on a date.
Together, Jeremy and I hashed out the rest of the video, and I wrote up an actual script.
(And for the record? Just because there’s no dialogue, everything still needed to be written out. The actors had to know what to do, and the crew needed to know what to film, right?)
How did you get the Crab Pot to go along with it?
I called them up! I explained my idea for the video, and they liked it too. In fact, the owners of the Crab Pot also own the Seattle Great Wheel ferris wheel and the Pier 57 merry-go-round, and they suggested I use those locations too. (I’d been planning on using those locations anyway, but I hadn’t expected it to be so easy.)
So now I had a director, a script, and a location. Meanwhile, Jeremy was assembling his film crew (which included the great Seattle cinematographer Tylor Jones).
Wait. Didn’t I need actors or something?
Who are those great actors?
When I was telling my friends about this project, everyone in the theater said the same thing: “You’re paying your actors? You won’t have any problem at all getting people!”
Sure enough, when we put out the casting notices, we did get a lot of headshots and resumes.
But almost everyone was wrong for one reason or another. If they looked right, then they weren’t available on the right days
Then Seattle actor/model Hans Iverson walked into the audition room. Right away, I thought, “He could be Russel at age twenty-three!”
Then he started auditioning, and I realized, “And he can act!”
We offered him the part right then and there.
In the book, Felicks is Indian-American. Why isn’t he in the video?
I really, really, really tried. Part of the reason why I include non-white characters in my books is because I believe in the “cause” of diversity (but mostly because it’s simply more realistic and interesting).
But in spite of my persistent efforts, there wasn’t anyone non-white who was remotely right for the part (or available on the day we were shooting). Then another actor dropped out, and before I knew it, it was two days before the shoot, and we still hadn’t cast Felicks.
WTF? Now we had to reschedule — two weeks before Christmas!?
Finally, I called up a Seattle actor I’d met recently, Randall Brammer. He wasn’t how the character is described in the book, and he hadn’t been able to make the auditions, but I knew for a fact he was a terrific actor. So I said, “Um, I know you said you weren’t available, but…?”
Fortunately for me, Randall is often cast as “fresh-faced”/Boy Next Door-type characters (duh!). But here I was giving him a chance to play a more roguish, and slightly more dangerous type of character. He liked the challenge.
Plus, he saw my pain. To my great relief, Randall said yes.
Was the shoot fun?
It was … and it wasn’t. It was extremely interesting to see my and Brett’s “vision” brought to life (and in ways, it was so much more interesting than what I had envisioned in my head).
But at the same time, there were so many things I was learning on the fly. I’d seen “call-sheets” before — but I’d never written one. And we only had eight hours to shoot the entire video, in two different locations (one of which was the insanely busy Seattle waterfront). Would that be enough time? What is there was a traffic jam? What if the owners of the Crab Pot suddenly changed their minds?
I had all these people depending on me — Brett, Jeremy, Tyler, Randall, Hans. They weren’t getting paid nearly what they’re worth, and I desperately didn’t want them to feel like I’d wasted their time. Over and over again, I had said to everyone involved, “This is going to be a quality production — something you can be proud to have been part of!”
Basically, they’d all put their faith in me and my crazy, stupid vision, and I didn’t want to disappoint them.
Were you pleased with how it went?
Anyone who’s ever been involved with film production knows two things: (1) no matter how much you plan, some things always go wrong, and (2) being open to “possibility” at the time of the shoot sometimes means things will happen that are even better than what you expected.
It was raining the day of the shoot — torrentially. This was Seattle in December, so I wasn’t that surprised. We immediately moved all the outdoor shots inside. But there were certain shots that had to be done outside, so we juggled the schedule and waited for the rain to stop.
In the end, it all worked out. In fact, the fact it was raining so hard meant we had most locations almost entirely to ourselves.
Plus, one of my favorite shots in the entire video, the last scene with the lights of the Great Wheel reflecting off the water on the sidewalk, happened because the rain, which had been pouring, let up at exactly right moment.
Is that you I see in the video?
Um, yeah. I make a cameo as the waiter. Originally, I was going to appear in three different roles, always lurking in the background — a handyman, the waiter, and a spectator outside. But I’m such a crappy actor that it looked like I was a creepy guy stalking these two guys on their date.
Incidentally, I also really wanted Brett to be in the video. He’s based in New York, and he wasn’t able to fly out for the shoot, but we did shoot some footage of him singing there. Unfortunately, it just didn’t match with the rest of the video, so we ended up not being able to use it.
Anyway, despite my own limitations as an actor, my favorite part of the shoot was watching the other actual actors.
Over and over again, Hans and Randall surprised and delighted me. The centerpiece of the whole video (IMHO) is the dinner at the Crab Pot — eating seafood with their hands. I knew exactly what I wanted it to be: fun, silly, awkward, funny, and a little sexy.
With all the different angles, the scene probably took an hour to film. Over and over again, Hans and Randall surprised me with their acting choices, making me smile, making me laugh, making me swoon. (Hans had never eaten shellfish before. Good thing he didn’t have an allergy!)
Then there’s Randall’s close encounter with the crab leg. I knew from the start that this would be part of the scene — this was a date, after all — and I knew it’s what everyone would remember about the scene. It just couldn’t go too far over-the-top or it would be stupid — and besides, this is a PG video. (Plus, Jeremy wanted to be able to show the thing to his parents!) Randall got it exactly right.
My other favorite scene is the one inside the car of the Seattle Great Wheel. Russel looks at Felicks, who’s looking away. Then Russel looks away, and Felicks looks over at him. Arrrrgg! They break my heart. But this is all part of the tension, their not quite connecting, all leading up to that great final kiss.
Then there’s the scene on the merry-go-round. It’s twenty seconds of film, but it meant ten different rides on the damn thing. Can you imagine what it feels like to ride a merry-go-round ten times in a row? I think we’re all still a little dizzy.
Are you going to do other music videos for your books?
I’d love to! I love the way this one turned out, and I ultimately had a blast making it. But it really depends on whether or not it sells enough extra copies to justify the time and the expense.
So if you liked the video, please share it with your friends — tweet it, post it, and “like” it!
And a special thinks to Tyler, Hans, Randall, and especially Brett Every and Jeremy Ward, who worked so hard and were so great to work with.