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Making The Shondes’ True North Music Video

Waaaaay back in spring of 2016 4Milecircus began collaborating on a pair of music video for their upcoming LP, Brighton, which was due for release in the fall. The album was still in process but singer/bassist Louisa was pregnant, everyone was busy AF and the band wanted to get footage in the can ASAP. The band had decided to work with publicity firm Team Clermont to promote the album, in large part so Louisa could concentrate on, you know, having a baby, and they wanted Clermont to have some videos. Based on rough mixes we decided that we would initially make videos for the songs “Everything Good” and “True North” and developed concepts that would allow us shoot everything for both videos back to back over a single weekend.

“Everything Good” is a joyous love song and the video had a simple concept — stylized performance footage of the band performing in front of a white backdrop decorated with colorful flowers juxtaposed against the band hanging out and lipsynching/playing music on the Brighton Beach boardwalk beach, a favorite shooting location for 4MC (see also Mare and Nicole’s segment of Bring Us Your Women) that also happens to be near where half the band lives.

Nicole and Jeanette shooting on Brighton Beach in 2016

For “True North” we eventually came up with something a bit more unusual. The song is about continuing to struggle for justice as you get older, your ideals have taken a beating, and you’re not the vim and vigor filled righteous youth on fire you once were, and we wanted to create a visual that developed these themes. (As this was before the 2016 presidential election, we didn’t know how prescient the song actually was and just how widely its themes would resonate.) The song explicitly references the Jewish Passover holiday (band members Louisa Solomon and Elijah Oberman are both Jewish and Jewish music and themes have played a large role in the band’s music–“Shonde” is a Yiddish word meaning “shame” or “disgrace”) in the chorus with the lyrics “When we say ‘next year in Jerusalem’/We say every day is revolution” (You can read more about that lyric’s meaning here). We decided to continue to reference this holiday celebrating collective struggle and liberation in the video. We decided that on the same day that we shot footage for “Everything Good” on Brighton Beach, we would go to Louisa’s nearby apartment and shoot some footage of her lipsynching the song, as well as of the band sitting down together at a seder — the Passover ritual in which the story of the Exodus is recounted, songs are sung, much wine (or grape juice) is drunk, and eventually a feast is consumed. Given that Nicole and Louisa are sisters and have a real Seder together every year, it all felt quite familiar and familial. We even used real Manischewitz and their childhood family Seder plate. We decided to get additional footage of the band performing the song the next day (when we would also be getting band performance footage of “Everything Good”)in a different room at the same rehearsal studio, to cut together with the apartment/Seder footage.

Shooting "True North" in Louisa's old apartment
Shooting “True North” in Louisa’s old apartment

We still thought we might need an additional component for “True North”. The band was concerned that their intentions be clear regarding the chorus lyrics — that their sentiment was not nationalist or Zionist but a counter to such ideologies, meant to reclaim the original, biblical meaning of “next year in Jerusalem” from which the Passover refrain comes from more recent geopolitics concerning the state of Israel. As long-time activists for the rights of Palestinians, they wanted to make absolutely sure the video clarified rather than obscured any confusion as to what they meant by those lyrics. They also wanted to be sure that the song’s political message would be interpreted as broader than the struggle for Palestinian liberation, as that was certainly not the only pressing issue that inspired it. We played around with the idea of introducing various types of text on screen, but ultimately tabled a decision until after “Everything Good”, the first single and video, were released.

Our frequent collaborator Jeanette Sears (DP of Small Talk, Beneath the Black Moon, Mare and It’s Normal, as well as several other Shondes videos) agreed to shoot and Sean let his arm be twisted into ADing. For the Brighton Beach shoot, Nicole’s partner Shawn came along as a PA (you can see Sean and Shawn in one Boardwalk shot of “Everything Good”) and for the studio/performance shoot Christina Raia was kind enough to lend a hand. Both shoots were relatively fun and smooth, with most production issues popping up in the “Everything Good” rather than “True North” segments.

Nicole has a concern at the studio
Jeanette and Nicole shooting band performance footage

After shooting wrapped, Nicole started editing together a cut of “Everything Good”, which was released on schedule in summer 2016 and premiered on Bitch shortly before the album’s release. Then things began to get a little…interesting.

First, the band’s relationship with Team Clermont fell apart after the publicity firm’s co-founder sent some inappropriate Facebook messages to Eli. The band brought the problematic behavior to the attention of others at the company, who fortunately took it seriously. In some respects unfortunately, this transgression ended up being the straw that broke the camel’s back for much of Team Clermont’s staff, who ultimately quit the company in response (the whole situation is recounted in this article). This left The Shondes halfway through a publicity contract with no team able to fulfill it. Louisa, who had historically handled the bulk of band press, was about to give birth to her first child and was not eager to attempt to pull a promotional campaign rabbit out of a hat on no notice. While the band did their best taking over publicity at the last minute, the original album rollout plan was effectively derailed.

BTS of “Everything Good”

We all still wanted to complete “True North”, even if it ended up getting released later than originally intended. Louisa, Eli and Nicole continued to discuss the third component and revisited an early idea of the band’s that Nicole had once been wary of — reaching out to family, fans and friends for crowdsourced footage that would make the song’s politics more explicit. The concept was that we’d ask people to shoot footage of themselves holding up a sign bearing the message of their choice, preceded by the words “We Say” in reference to the chorus lyrics, broadening the perspective of the messaging beyond the band. Given that we were now post-2016 election, we figured a lot of people probably had things they wanted to say.

We were right, but the process of collecting that footage was long. Nicole and the band put together a call for submissions that was sent out over the band’s mailing list and shared on social media. While we got a robust response, there were endless, legitimate reasons why people who were excited to contribute ended up unable to make the original deadline. It soon became apparent that a Passover 2017 release was not realistic, and it was unclear when a good time to release it might be. Nicole soon also began work on another Shondes-related video project which began taking her editing-time priority (don’t want to say too much about it yet but keep an eye out for that, it’s been in the can for awhile and will be coming out soon!) as crowdsourced footage continued to slowly trickle in. Eventually we did another wave of crowdsourcing asks and Nicole was able to complete a cut of “True North” which was pretty similar to the one eventually released, but with about half the sign footage. Despite everyone feeling that the video was on the right track, no one was fully happy with the results. We needed more people holding more signs to create the desired impact, and there were a bunch of relevant issues close to the band’s heart that were not represented. No one really had the capacity at the time to solve this problem, so Nicole (and Sean)and the band prioritized completing the other project in their limited available time, planning to return to “True North” in the near future. 

Shooting our "Seder"
The band sitting down for our “Seder”

It wasn’t until early fall 2018 that Nicole and the band finally established a clear plan to complete the video. Louisa’s kid was now nearly two years old, various things had shifted and settled and she had more ability to help with outreach. We created a timeline on which Louisa and Eli would make one final push for crowdsourced footage that Nicole would receive in time to complete the video in advance of Passover 2019, so we could hopefully find an appropriate outlet to premiere it. There were countless delays again, as there always are with such projects, but such problems were built into the timeline.

Ultimately, we were finally, finally able to complete the video and were fortunate that the response to the band’s first media ask, to Bust Magazine, was a yes. Bust premiered the video as planned on Erev Pesach 2019. Response so far has been quite heartening.

Sometimes the things that are most worth doing will take you far longer than you ever anticipated, but late is a far better release date than never!

Relevant Links:

The Shondes’ “True North” Video Is A Mashup Of Tradition And Activism – Bust

The Shondes’ New Passover-Themed “True North” Video – Oy Oy Oy Gevalt

The Jewish History of Punk  – Moment Magazine

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