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Thunder Down Country: On the Music Video Fast-track

January 11, 2012 | By | Add a Comment

Jay Nolan

“Put more worms on his face,” is not something often heard when making a film. But as far as the shoots of ThunderDownCountry [TDC] go, it is pretty tame. On that shoot, the film crew was covering the lead singer of Memphis May Fire with live worms. He was wearing a suit and lying in a kiddie pool. It was 3:00AM and the crew had just discovered that the 5000 worms they had ordered needed to be individually separated and washed from the dirt they were shipped in. The washing and placing of the worms over the singer’s face would take almost two hours. It was worth it; it looked f***** up.

From left to right: Austin Carlile (lead vocalist for the hardcore band Of Mice and Men), Kevin Cross, Brad Golowin

Brad Golowin and Kevin Cross, the creators of TDC and the force behind the videos they make, have in a short year made a filmmaking dream into reality. Specializing in music videos, primarily with bands signed to RiseRecords, the duo has made some wild films. Music videos for bands such as ScarletOHara, 10 Years, MemphisMayFire, BurnHalo, and MissMayI made by TDC have featured cars exploding, civil war battles, and singers doused in milk and in addition those live worms.

Golowin and Cross have wanted to make films since they were friends in 5th grade. Golowin: “We had a history of making short films together from 5th grade until our freshman year of high school. The first time we hung out again, we watched all of our old films, which were full of either epic war stories or mismatched skits full of homoerotic teen humor. One of our greatest masterpieces was, ‘The Salon Wig Parlor.’ I suspect one day it will be stolen from us and we will be heavily blackmailed. Anyway, after laughing for hours watching those old films we decided we needed to do what we always said we would do and that was make movies. From then until now it’s just been a matter of doing it.”

Cross: “We bought a decent prosumer camera, editing system, and basic light kit.  We just started shooting and editing immediately.  We didn’t know how to even white balance a camera. We always knew what we wanted; we just had to figure out how.”

They began shooting videos for friends who were in bands and signing up to Indie labels. They got connected to Rise Records by shooting videos for two of their larger bands for free. Golowin: “Once we had proven that we had some sort of talent, they gave us their smallest band to shoot a real music video for. We killed it.”

They stepped up their game by collaborating with Cinematographer TJHellmuth. Golowin: “We posted on “REDuser” that we were looking to step up our production value by hiring a DP and filming on a RED for the first time. We received several impersonal copy-and-paste responses with a price mark for a camera package. Eventually we got a response from a real human being who was passionate about film. He was more interested in what we were doing rather than making money off of us. After several long talks and introductions, we had found the right person (Hellmuth). At that point we began shooting everything on RED and as our budgets grew we started to hire a full crew regularly.”

From left to right: Brad Golowin, Cinematographer TJ Hellmuth, Kevin Cross, Key Grip Jared Greene

Golowin and Cross have found an outlet for their creativity. Golowin: “Normally we like to come up with our own ideas and treatments. There have been a few videos where we have done (the) band’s ideas, but in general, we like to come up with our own inspirations. Typically, if people have come to us to do their video they have seen our work and have the confidence to just let us do our thing.”

Their thing includes fiery performances, creative camera angles and lighting, and slight-of-hand editing. On set they will remember shots and set-ups from previous shoots and make sure they don’t replicate anything. They share the duty of directing evenly and naturally. They also share a sense of humor and creativity, and often know what the other is thinking. Creative discussions are usually a few sentences. Their humor and similar thinking keeps things fun and smooth on set.

Sometimes their videos are performance pieces – the band doing their thing on a stage setup. Something that makes the videos unique is the spaces that they film in – dusty warehouses, rotting attics, and (smoke machine assisted) foggy forests. They also do videos with plots, turning the typical music video into a short film. For instance, the cinematography for the Attack! Attack! songSmokahontas” looks like early Coppola. Their latest release for May DayParadesOhWell, OhWell, is an animated film with a Matrix-like Noir-ish plot and style.

The resulting shot

Watching their videos, you would never be able to guess they were limited by budgets. They may not be making as much as they would like to right now ontheir projects, but that is because they pour every cent into making sure they look great and can do what they want. Cross: “If it’s a song or band we are passionate about, we take what we can get at first, don’t fight too much for more, and pretty much use it all. Make the best video you can, and sacrifice other parts of your life for a while.”

This is not a constraint that will hold them back for long. On Youtube they have over 3000 followers and their videos have received over 4 million views. Not bad for a couple of friends who decided to do this a little more than a year ago. They just cut together their first demo reel, and have just started the process of making videos for bigger bands and bigger labels. Cross: “It’s already starting to happen. People recognize our talent and hard work and want us to shoot their video.”

Screenshot from TDC’s first animated music video “Oh Well, Oh Well” by Mayday Parade.

Their future is promising. Chances are, you will soon be seeing their videos for major musicians. Cross’s future goals are simple and clear: “Commercial success, followed by Hollywood.” Their ultimate dream shoot? Golowin: “A 300 million dollar feature set in Feudal Japan, full artistic control, no deadline, and Geishas feeding us Udon noodles while we sit in our directors chairs.”

Alright, that might be reaching a little.

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