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Creating the Dragon Music Video

Surface of the Sun Dragon album cover.
Dragon album cover.

After I believed Dragon became a song idea worth completing, I started considering a music video. I didn’t want to make a video that showed me pretending to play and sing, though. To be honest, I think those tend to be a little boring unless there is a good narrative that it cuts between, or the budget was so massive that the visuals are ridiculously stunning. I prefer videos that have an interesting story to accompany the song.

At the time I’d never really been on camera, despite wanting to try acting ever since I was a child. The only thing I’d done in front of a camera was a small extra role in a comedic earthquake awareness campaign commercial (Shakeout BC) for YouTube. I got to smile and nod, then duck under a desk and tell a lady to hide as two individuals representing earthquakes and aftershocks made a mess of the place. It was a fun day, with free food. So, I used the idea of a Dragon music video as motivation to not only take my music somewhere new, but to also create a situation to push and test myself in front of a camera.

In the fall of 2019 I attended two acting classes as an observer, knowing I’d eventually commit to trying my hand at acting long before Dragon was an idea. Then, by early March of 2020, most of Dragon had been written and I’d committed to the idea of a video (no director or concept yet, or any clue if I could even afford it). So, to help prepare for the music video I signed up for a weekend acting foundations class (required before other classes can be taken) at the school I audited months prior.

I had an amazing time that weekend. I met some wonderful people and finally tried something I’d been thinking about for years! It felt great to finally prioritize it. I learned so much, spending a lot of the time working through a short seen from the show, Ozark. I’d never yelled so much in my life! I left that weekend feeling amazing; full of energy and ready to take more classes. Unfortunately, a few days later the COVID-19 situation further escalated here in British Columbia. Our isolation started. Many businesses had to close, including the acting school. I started working from home (this part was awesome!). As tough as that time was I didn’t let it slow things down, and I didn’t let the cancelled acting training deter me. I had confidence that when the time came to make the video I’d do alright.

Playing in the mud. The moment right before the first chorus.

A couple months later I got introduced to Rob (RZCINEMA) and his team through a mutual acquaintance. I watched some of Rob’s previous work and was very impressed, so I sent him a demo mix of the song and we scheduled a call to discuss a video. Before that call Rob and I never shared any ideas. But as soon as we started talking it turned out we thought almost the exact same thing! We both had this idea of me getting beat up and dirty, fighting my way through nature in some way, following or being guided by someone/something. That was a pretty good sign I’d found the right person. The idea continued to evolve over the coming weeks as the narrative came together. The train station was added. The location was found. The role of the Dragon as a guide became more focused.

Getting ready to film in the "train" station.

There were many things to juggle during the next couple months beyond organization the video shoot. I was still trying to complete writing and recording the two songs. I had new artwork and logos being created. I was sorting out the push to radio, which had to start the same day the songs became available online, which all needed to be synced to the video release. There were studio bookings, mastering engineer scheduling, drum production with Chris, the video shoot, etc. Since there was so much to do, and so many things were up in the air and further complicated by the pandemic, I decided to keep the timeline stretched out longer than I normally would have, pushing the release date into August. While this was much later than I'd hoped, it did by chance cause the filming day to be on my birthday (Aug 4)!

Rob chose Aug 4th for a variety of reasons. There were many things he had to juggle, and created a very tight schedule influenced by things we had no control over. Since we filmed outside we relied entirely on the sun for lighting, and Rob’s schedule maximized the sun’s position throughout the entire day. He also scheduled around tides so that it was out at the right time for the mud scene, but then back in far enough to finish the video at the end of the day while we still had enough sunlight. We also used a public area, and needed minimal pedestrian traffic, which a weekday helped with. It was very impressive how he found the perfect day that balanced all those obstacles.

Getting ready to film the stairs scene.

Filming started at 5:30am on August 4th, 2020, which required me to wake up at 3:30am, way earlier than any birthday boy or musician should ever have to. Despite not sleeping more than a couple hours I woke up energized. I spent some time fighting with my hair (it was just entering that shitty phase of growing it out where it’s hard to do anything with), got dressed, made a coffee for the hour-long drive, and went to the stairs location in Vancouver. Since I’d get very dirty during the video and it was all shot in one day, everything had to be filmed sequentially. This meant the stairs had to be the first thing filmed, and Rob also wanted to take advantage of the sunrise, which turned out beautifully.

I arrived on set for my first ever makeup session. We placed a small fold-out chair under some trees at the top of the stairs. I sat there as the makeup artist struggled to make me look respectable. Rob and his team cleaned up garbage from the stairs and confirmed camera locations as we waited for the sun to rise. It was a relatively simple scene to film, but we only had a short window were the sun was in the right spot.

Iona beach, where most of the filming occurred.

After the stairs sequence was complete we relocated to the beach where the rest of the video would take place. We arrived around 7:30am and began the long walk to the location that would become the train station. Milton donned his white outfit and received makeup to appear a little pale. Here we filmed the scene right after I climb the stairs then turn to realize I’d been transported to some other place, then walk to the station to find Milton as The Dragon, waiting to accept my train ticket. Once completed I went back to makeup to get a few nicks and cuts applied to my face.

I hit the mud at about 9:30am. The first fall was a one-shot deal. After that I’d be a mess so there was no chance for a second take. So, I gave it my all. More than Rob and the others expected, because I splashed them and the camera with mud.

Singing the chorus.

More public began to arrive around the time I got muddy, and the mud was located right at the park entrance. So, naturally it captured some attention. Those who hadn’t noticed the film crew were very confused when they saw me walking around casually like I was having a good time. There were three ladies who approached me at different times to see if I was alright. Obviously, I took this opportunity to be a shithead and played up my condition a little bit before letting them know I was filming and was okay. However, one lady refused to believe me regardless of what I said. Granted, I did look like someone the mafia tried to leave for dead in a marsh.

How I looked when people asked if I was okay.
How I looked when people asked if I was okay.

After completing the mud sequence, we had lunch. Despite it being a really hot and sunny day, I was freezing. The wet mud was layered thick on all my clothes. It was matted in my hair and had filled my shoes. And I couldn’t take anything off due to continuity requirements while filming the rest of the video. There was a slight breeze coming off the ocean that left me shivering the whole time. I couldn’t risk sitting because it would show up on my clothes. I couldn’t touch any food to eat so I had someone shovel things into my mouth and open my water bottles. I felt like royalty. Shivering-cold royalty.

After lunch we filmed the short sequence in the field when I stumble upon The Dragon again, then the shots of me running through the flats when the tide was way out. Rob connected the camera to the coolest steady-cam (a RONIN) unit I’d ever scene. It was like a back-pack with an arm that reached out over his head. The camera and the housing he placed it in hung from that arm. It took a while to balance it properly, but it was worth the wait. The footage is so amazing and smooth. While filming he was at a full-on sprint right behind me, but you can’t notice any shaking or similar movement.

After the flats we moved to the gravel pit and filmed the levitation scene with a green screen, and some shots of me walking by discarded equipment.

Last scene in the video.

The final scene filmed was me entering the water after the tide started coming back in. By that time, I’d been wet and covered in mud for about 9-10 hours. And once I entered the water the mud and dirt would wash away, so we couldn’t reshoot it. We also had a heck of a time filming me floating in the water with the movement of the tide and all the waves lapping up against the shore. We tried multiple tricks to try and keep me stationary and appear floating while supported from beneath.

With the last scene complete, Rob and I took a swim to wash off as much mud as we could (he’d gotten pretty dirty while chasing me), then us and the rest of the crew hauled the equipment back to the vehicles while soaking wet. So, by that time, having rehydrated my clothing, I’d been muddy and wet for well over 10 hours. My fingers were so wrinkly and weak. And because there was so much mud caked into my shoes and the laces I couldn’t get them off. So, I had to cut my laces to remove them. And holy shit were my feet wrinkly! It was gross! All that time in wet shoes is something I do not recommend. I have no idea how I didn’t get blisters or tear my skin in some way! I then stripped all my clothes (in a busy public parking lot by the way) to discover probably the most amazing thing that happened that day. Somehow—which I am still impressed by—I had no sand or mud in my underwear! Nothing! I literally rolled around in knee-deep mud for an hour, sliding on my belly, twisting and turning. Weird, but for sure made a big difference in my comfort level that day.

A couple days after the shoot I noticed a discomfort in my left ear. At first, I thought maybe it was some hardened earwax, but by the end of the day it was obviously an infection, and I needed to see a doctor (being a musician, anything wrong with my ears is highly concerning). The next day a doctor confirmed it was an outer-ear infection (my first ever) and prescribed me antibiotic drops. I completed the treatment as instructed, and felt better, but then the pain returned in a couple days. I went back to another doctor and received more drops. I again completed the treatment as instructed, but again felt discomfort a few days later. Another doctor checked out my ear, saw nothing, and told me to wait a couple days. I did and knew the infection returned, again. So, yet again, I went to a doctor and received a third prescription. I asked if I was at any risk putting the drops in my ears for so long (it was almost two months by that time) and was told no. Well, it turned out that was incorrect.

I learned the hard way that the antibiotics in the drops can leave a residue. And by the hard way, I mean I noticed this because the hearing in my left ear became compromised (Again. Musician! Ear problem! Engage panic mode!) At first, I noticed the phantom centre (this is the term used to describe the location you hear, say, vocals, in a song. You hear it in-between two speakers, or in the middle of your head while using headphones, when in fact it is not produced at either of those locations. It’s a psychoacoustic effect.) shift while listening to music with headphones. My phantom center shifted a little to the right, indicating my left ear wasn’t picking up sound as well as the other. I also noticed a change in frequency response, meaning the left became slightly muffled due to less high-frequency transmission. In all likelihood many people might not have noticed these changes, but I’m so in tune with how my ears are, and after two months of issues, I was constantly paying attention to how they felt.

The other thing that happened was constant pressure issues within my ear. Normally, the Eustachian tube facilitates the balancing of pressure. We change elevations then suddenly our ear pops and we feel better again as the pressure within it equalizes to the pressure outside. For weeks I felt like I had pressure in my ear that I could not equalize. It was like my ear had been jammed full of cotton. It kept me up at night and just genuinely uncomfortable most of the time.

After seeing my ENT Specialist, I learned that the residue left from such prolonged medication usage caused what he described as a scab over my ear drum. Basically, it was a hardened layer of residue that covered the eardrum preventing it from vibrating naturally, or flexing as required for equalizing pressure. Fortunately, it was nothing that would risk long term damage. Unfortunately, it was a bitch to get rid of. I had to soak my ear drum multiple times a day with olive oil to help soften the scab, then return to him multiple times to remove it with compressed air (yes, it was as uncomfortable as it sounds).

For those wondering, yes, my ear is fine now! But it was about four months of frustrating pain and discomfort. So, why did I go down the path of this odd medical story of my ear you might ask? Well, every time I saw a doctor they always asked if I knew how it started. And I did. While filming the last scene of the music video I got blasted by a wave up against the left side of my head, and my ear filled with water. I thought nothing of it at the time, of course. I’d got water in my ears before many times. So, no big deal, right? Wrong! If you watch the music video, right at the very end before the credits you can see the wave that hit me. That motherfucker caused so much trouble! However, in the immortal words of Deadpool: “Stupid! Worth it!”

Thanks for reading.


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