I was going to write a fun and simple #TipTuesday post about maximizing production value with free locations, focusing on one of my favorite places, the Brighton Beach/Coney Island beach and boardwalk. But as I began to write, I could not help but reflect on recent events and how they have colored my view of the projects I recently shot there. It’s funny not only how a single setting can take on extremely different connotations depending on how you use it, but how the resulting work can actually look and sound different to you when viewed in different contexts. A lot of work looks, sounds, feels different to me now than it did just a week and a half ago.
Let’s head back to the beach and my history of shooting for a minute. A private slogan of mine has long been “when in doubt, go to Coney Island”–whether for a shoot or a break or both. It’s usually a good idea both emotionally and aesthetically. About two years ago, Yessica Curiel Montoya and I shot half of my “Joan of Arc” segment for the anthology Bring Us Your Women on the Coney Island beach. Years ago, I shot a bunch of footage to be projected during The Shondes set at their Hartzveytik event there, as well as on the boardwalk and Deno’s Wonderwheel Park. I’ve worked on friends’ shoots around that area. And, most recently, I directed not one but two 4MileCircus productions which were largely shot there.
Post-election, it’s impossible for me to view these two recent projects (or the others mentioned above, really) without placing a dystopian lens between me and them. These look almost like last gasps of innocence, to me–one a pure burst of uncomplicated joy, the other a safe exploration of anxiety and supernatural (rather than real-life) nightmares.
“Everything Good” is the first single off The Shondes’ latest album, Brighton (Go buy it wherever you buy music. Please. Go. It’s good. I’ll be here when you get back). It’s a love song, a happy song, a song full of joy and wonder, a very adult ode to being with the right person at the right time. The song is so positive that I honestly had a difficult time conceptualizing a video for it that didn’t contrast the sweetness of the song with some sort of bleak visual. You know, highlighting through contrast? Right?
Luckily Brighton Beach, where half The Shondes currently make their homes, was within our virtually nonexistent budget AND visually inspiring AF. By the time we shot, Louisa, the singer/bassist and my sister, was a few months pregnant with a baby who now will horribly be born into a country that has installed a neo-fascist at the helm. This is not what I wanted for them. The whole song has taken on a new layer of meaning for me. I am even more grateful than I was before to have this snapshot of a time just a few months ago that now feels so far away.
Mare, a horror short, was shot not long after, and not far from the “Everything Good” locations, but worlds away in tone and look. Rather than the lush blues and saturated contrast of the day closing by the water, the golds of the boardwalk as the sun sets on a pretty, easy summer day, Mare features an overly-bright beach scene, the harsh sun bleaching the frame and exposing your fears, leaving nowhere to which one can escape or seek cover.
I can’t help but feel like Mare was emotionally psychic in a way I don’t think Sean or I intended when we were writing and planning it. We wanted to do a moody horror short. Sean wanted to act. I wanted to direct something that was not a music video or for-hire thing, something in the horror realm that was “creepy, not campy” and did not center dialogue. We planned to shoot on the beach before we’d even talked about “Everything Good”. We liked flipping the relaxing setting into something more sinister. We liked the idea of shooting something scary in the aggressive light rather than darkness and shadows.
The beach and ocean deftly support such range of tone and emotion. I am continually grateful for this awe-inspiring natural creative inspiration.
After watching Trump’s victory speech around 3am on November 9th, I stepped out of my sister’s Brighton Beach apartment and heard a distant roar: it was the ocean. Dramatic as I felt even making the observation, to me, it sounded angry.