Rear Projection: The "Light Shines Through" It
Updated: Mar 21, 2022
An original music video for the debut single on Landon Lloyd Miller's album, "Light Shines Through"
Being that Landon, in addition to being a talented musician, is a part of the Moviesauce team as a producer, we've known about this album and the songs for a while. Landon let me know that the first single would be "Light Is Growing" and that we needed a bold music video to help kick off the album release campaign. Having directed videos for his various bands over the last decade of our friendship, I naturally took the reigns on this project too.
The song is an upbeat jam filled with imagery of different kinds of light. We could have gone literal and just tried to recreate all the images described in the song, but I wanted to give it a little bit of a sandbox to work within. We narrowed it down to a ship captain "lost at sea" theme, between lighthouses, lightning, and lanterns, I figured we had enough light imagery to work with there.
It was equally important to me to channel the light theme in our process and how we shot it.
The album title "Light Shines Through" immediately brought to mind actual film which is a medium that is projected - light literally shines through it. While we couldn't afford to shoot on film, we tried to channel vintage film aesthetics throughout. This led me to the method of rear-projection which is something I had wanted to experiment with for a while. That's where as opposed to green screen where a backdrop is added in post-production, the backdrop is actually projected live on the set and captured in camera. It's historically had kind of a cheesy look, but on the plus side it gives actors something real to look at and react to.
It's a method that's kind of being reinvented lately with "the volume" LED technology used in shows like The Mandalorian. It's basically a modern evolution of the old rear-projection technique. But we weren't going for realism.
Instead, I sourced a bunch of vintage black and white stock footage of storms and animation with very visible grain and scratches and low frame rates. We would use these as backgrounds and cut-aways. They helped me to form the subtle narrative and give context to the actions we would film with Landon in between.
We were also working on a tight budget (i.e. whatever we were willing to spend out of our own pockets). I figured I could justify investing in a decent HD projector, and we just used a cheap white photography backdrop sheet that I already had. The costume was most of the rest of the budget. The tiny blue tug boat just so happened to be something my wife and I actually own and have been wanting to use in a video for a long time (it's a real operable boat). We had kept it stored at my parent's ranch in the middle of nowhere outside Coleman, TX. They have a big storage hangar that we used as a "soundstage," except it was un-air-conditioned and we were shooting in the middle of summer in Texas. Landon was dressed in a wool sweater and rubber rain garb. Needless to say we had to take lots of breaks between setups to cool down.
Another big inspiration was the film "The Lighthouse" - it matched the era, subject, and aesthetics we were chasing. However, instead of imitating that fully with black and white, we went the other way and kept Landon and the boat in vivid primary colors of yellow, blue, and red. This would help emphasize the artificiality of it, but also give it some fun visual pop. We were, after all making a fun music video, and not a dramatic gothic horror film.
We did keep the performance sections in high contrast black and white to hammer home the vintage film aesthetics that were echoed in the abstract film scratches I sourced for the backdrop on those shots.
The climax of the video and the biggest leap on our end was trying to do a sequence in water with the rear-projection. We had access to a pool at the ranch and figured the principal all worked the same. We just draped the sheet into the pool and tried to get the projector and camera as low as we could. We were limited by the surface area above the water to project on - but you also can't shoot/angle up very much because of the water. So we effectively had half as much backdrop area to work with as when Landon is standing in front of it. But you also get great reflections of the projection on the water's surface.
I used a long lens and shot across the pool to give us some foreground water surface to make up for the limited background height. The other difficulty was keeping the sheet taught and not floating up to the water surface.
We had been using my Aputure lights for their lightning strobe effects. It was important to maintain a safe set rigging projectors and lights all around a pool with an actor inside splashing around. The net effect worked surprisingly well. The only thing we didn't account for was wildlife...a garden snake ended up hopping in the pool at one point, adding stress to the situation.
We shot the whole thing in one day. Post was relatively simple, since all the effects are in-camera. Just had to get the color-grade right, figure out when to splice in the full screen clips to help the story, and pick the best performance shots/moments. We used a light film grain effect on everything to help sell that filmic theme. Watch the final music video below.