I was at the right place at the right time, Cherry Lane, to be exact. I was there to see Dana Alexandra and Free Breakfast perform at the Box Lunch Revue. After a few brief telephone chats, I finally got to meet Justin Sprenkle there in Cherry Lane. He invited me to come to the Valencia Ballroom to check out the filming of a music video with Dana Alexandra the following week. At some point after the invitation, it occurred to me that it would be fun to write about the filming of a music video in York City. I was, after all, an MTV junkie back in the day. I watched music videos like it was my religion. Here’s the story of my little adventure in music video land:
Max Hess met Dana Alexandra about a year ago at First Capitol Dispensing Company in York City. He said “I saw a cute girl at the bar and then she got up and performed, and, Oh My God.”
One year later, Max approached Dana with his song “Decanter”. It took about 3 tries for her to actually take a look at the song. “When Max asked me to listen to his song, he bothered me like two or three times. It’s right up my alley”, she said. “I asked myself why I didn’t listen to it sooner.
Max is a self-taught musician and was a member of the Pop-Punk band Llewellyn. He said he was in the midst of some creative experimentation when “Decanter” evolved. He shared the song with some friends who commented that the opening piano sequence sounded a little like an accompaniment to a 1940’s silent film. From that point, he began to formulate a visual story to give three-dimensional life to his song.
“It’s a story of someone neglected.”, he said, “Like an old Marilyn Monroe film, the story starts out with her being stood up in the real world…but in her dream, she’s completely happy.”
Max had his heart set on filming the “Decanter” video at the Valencia Ballroom on North George Street. He attended his senior prom at the Valencia and chose to film the video there because of the classic look of the interior as well as the fantastic deal that the Valencia extended.
Enter Justin Sprenkle. “Justin and I go way back.”, said Max, “We used to fight over the same girl.” Justin went off to college to study film-making and landed an internship on the Conan O’Brien show. With Justin back in York after college, Max approached him about filming the “Decanter” music video.
I visited the set on Day One of filming. On the glass doors of the Valencia were signs demarking it as the set of a music video, a novel occurrence for York City. Max treated the early morning cast and crew to Dunkin Donuts and coffee. I found the star of the show, Ms. Dana Alexandra, in the basement dressing room. “I’m the damsel in distress; I’m waiting for this boy to show up.”, said Dana as make-up diva Hannah Conrad painted a perfect black line along her dramatic eye-lashes. “Decanter” would be Dana’s first experience with a full production music video.
In the weeks and days leading up to filming, Justin listened to “Decanter” over and over and over again to get a feel for the story behind the song and how to tell it in the video medium. Justin worked his magic in capturing the story. From behind the camera he coached Dana, sitting at the bar drinking as she waited for her fictional lover: “You’re drunk…you’re falling asleep…where is that guy?”.
Justin is the antithesis of the narcissistic Hollywood director barking orders and snapping out when something goes wrong on set. He hustles. He asks for what he needs. He directs and shoots the footage — all the while exuding a zen-like calm.
The ingenuity and resourcefulness of Justin and Max tied together all the behind the scenes elements of a professional production. Justin captured “dolly shots” of “Decanter” dancers using a rolling apparatus that he constructed from PVC piping and roller blade wheels he found in his garage. He also fashioned a “ring light” out of supplies he purchased at Lowe’s for $20.
Max drove all the way to Bel Air, Maryland to borrow the “Elvis Microphone” Dana would sing into. He coordinated the moving of the baby grand from the floor to the stage of the Valencia.
Near the end of filming on Day One, Justin said: I’m kind of like Charlie Brown. I don’t want to get too excited because that’s when bad things happen.” And a Charlie Brown-type he is. Justin is understated, soft-spoken, humble and kind to everyone on the set. Hands down, my favorite part of the filming of “Decanter” was watching Justin behind the camera. He would watch the play back of a shot while standing silently and motionless behind the camera. Then, a tiny, sheepish grin of satisfaction came over his face as he saw what the camera had captured.
Day two of filming was all about the energy, the talent that is Dana Alexandra. Her character is a pouty, circa 1940’s dame. She waits for her man and falls asleep. She waits: “I call my lover but I don’t receive an
answer.” She drinks: “So bottom’s up. The time’s a wastin’.” She frets: “It’s all I’ve got to keep the child in me from pacin’.” She’s out: “He’ll find me dreaming with a bottle tucked beneath me.” And in an instant she’s at the mic belting it out like the songstress she is.
Max, in his classic tuxedo, is the smiling piano man at the baby grand waving for the crowd to gather ‘round.
A crowd of crew and extras stood around the stage looking up at Dana with the heat of the ring lights in her face. She was aglow up there in front of the camera with red lips and tousled blonde curls. Before the first take, Justin to Dana: “So…lots of energy.” After the first take, he had to back peddle and ask her to restrict herself to upper body motion only, as her stage energy was causing the camera to shake during filming.
She’s a born performer, as anyone can see. In between shooting, Max played some Chopin on the baby grand while Dana took to the hardwood floor in her bare feet and practiced some classical dance. “This is every girls’ dream come true. I had a hairbrush in my hand this morning and now I’ve got lights in my face.”, she said.
Being on the set of the “Decanter” music video was a dream come true for me. Max’s vision, Dana’s glamor and Justin’s skill in capturing the story had me straight-up captivated for two days. It seemed like those two days of filming were over in minutes rather than hours. I was there to absorb the creativity of the talent tri-fecta that is Hess, Alexandra and Sprenkle.
Thanks to Max, Dana and Justin for welcoming me to the set and for charming my Creative Soul.
“Decanter”, the music video is slated for release at a public showing at Agape Healing Center on October 16, 2010. Watch for my cameo.
For more pictures by Matthew Davis, check out www.crocodiledog.com.