The story of how and why we made our music video for Because the Origami by 8in8 (in far too many words)
In the past few months I have been actively on the look out for opportunities for “spare time” projects in order to experiment with both creative and technical ideas. I determined that such projects would have to have the possibility of
- attracting a large audience (more than just our friends and family)
- being compact enough that they would take a few days to make
- using this incredibly talented young actress – who happens to be my daughter
- using a new piece of kit or experiment with a new technique.
We have been mulling over a few possibilities, but one night I saw a post by Neil Gaiman (one of our favourite authors) on Facebook (I hadn’t logged on in days) and it intrigued me.
Our 8in8 Album, available to listen or for download. We’ve put this one up under creative commons, too, mostly to see whether people will make videos. Nighty Night, by 8 In 8 music.amandapalmer.net
I clicked through to the link and started listening. I skipped the first one after 10 secs – it wasn’t for me – and then the second track started and had me mesmerised. I didn’t listen to any of the four remaining tracks until a week or more later.
Because the Origami is a ode to a child from its parents. I listened to it five times in a row and each time a different set of images appeared in my mind. For a song that has so many very specific descriptions in it – there are actually a very wide range of interpretations.
I did a little digging and discovered that Neil has over 1.5m followers on Twitter, and his wife Amanda, and Ben Folds, who co-wrote the song with Neil and performed it, have a whole bunch too – if I could make something they liked, then a couple of Tweets could probably bring us 20,000 plus views in a couple of days – and why not – it would be promoting their music.
In the past few weeks, Technicolor have released a new picture profile specifically for video on Canon SLRs – I really needed to test this in anger before using it for a client project.
The four criteria were fulfilled – as even though I saw the song as actually being about the parents, the visuals could easily focus (maybe exclusively) on the child.
Well, there is actually a fifth criterion – but once my wife had heard the track, and had tears streaming down her face by the end of it, that one was sorted too.
We were certain that we wanted to portray all of the specific physical things mentioned in the lyrics, as accurately as possible but try really hard to leave the rest as open to interpretation as the song itself is. The only stumbling block was the use of “Tommy” in the lyrics – so we decided to explicitly state that the girl was called Tomasina (unfortunately the best female version of Tommy we could find – and one that has lead to a couple of funny comments online about a transgender subtext).
There are a lot of specifics mentioned, so we went about buying, borrowing or making them. The list was pretty lengthy – TOMASINA letters, pony, riding helmet, children’s guitar, children’s drums, drum sticks, blueberries, fish tank and 2 goldfish, dancing shoes, new oven gloves & children’s apron, retro radio. At the same time, we wanted to show that this child had a lot of material possessions, so we cleared out our bedroom and redressed it with Holly’s furniture etc so as to give it as much space as possible – even so if still doesn’t look that big on camera. Somehow she has since talked us into leaving it that way for a couple of months!
The two days shooting were ace – it’s so much fun being creative as a family – especially as Holly is a natural who gives for every take. We have such a close understanding that directing her is easy. I truly believe that her being home educated helps her to be such great actor, as she can be herself and has not been forced into a mould from an early age. She is not an extrovert – unlike most child actors she’s not always trying to perform – but give her something genuine to think about and express and she just gets it.
We also sprinkled in a few references to Neil Gaiman – his children’s books in particular. At various points Wolves in the Walls and Blueberry Girl have been Holly’s distinct favourite book, so much in fact that we have also given many, many copies of both as presents over the years.
The highlight of the shoot was Harry the pony – Holly enjoyed that (maybe she’ll end up with all of Tommy’s hobbies after all). The lowlight was digging a hole in a ridiculously hard corner of a farmer’s field in the half hour before we would have lost the light.
I edited the video, and after a couple of viewings to the family followed by a couple of tweaks, it was ready to upload for others to see.
As I was uploading on the Saturday evening, I discovered that Amanda had blogged that afternoon about the videos that had already been made, and I had a sinking feeling that we had missed the boat. Whilst reading that post, I also became aware of that the challenge for videos had been one of matching the dynamics of the recording of the album itself (the six songs were written and recorded in a single night), and that the original call had been for them to be completed in a week (two had passed by this time) – and then got paranoid that maybe our pretty professional approach would be snubbed.
After the video was converted by vimeo, I tweeted its existence to Neil, Amanda and Ben. I hoped I had used the correct syntax as I’m very new and pretty scared of Twitter. Amazingly less than an hour later, Neil tweeted:
I love this #8in8 video for Because the Origami. Love love love. http://bit.ly/jo7rln (via @BenJJacobson) @BenFolds @amandapalmer
I spent the next few hours refreshing the stats on the crazy views that flooded in, and reading / replying to the post Neil made on Facebook:
An astonishingly beautiful BECAUSE THE ORIGAMI video that almost had me sniffling at the end.
I was surprised at how many comments there were about “spoiled child” etc etc, as to us the song was clearly all from the parent’s point of view. I am tempted to explain what the song means to me, but it’s best left open to personal interpretation (although I will say that the white dress was carefully chosen). By now I have possibly listened to this song more than anyone else on the planet, and on further listening, it touches upon so many universal elements – parenting, childhood, education, freedom, individuality, independence – remarkable for a song written in such a short time.
5k views in the first 5 hours.
And that was not all. A few hours later Neil posted this wonderful blog post. We also had a major slice of luck in that next next day happened to be Mother’s Day in the US and elsewhere (in the UK it was a couple of months ago) – and it really seemed to strike a chord with those thinking about their estranged children and/or parents, quite possibly leading to more social media sharing as well.
20k views in a day and a bit.
The next day Amanda dedicated a blog post to this video and song
new blog, “because the origami” – about a particularly amazing #8in8 video made by @BenJJacobson – read it at http://bit.ly/OrigamiBlog
…in which she intriguingly revealed that she and Neil even have different interpretations of the song themselves.
It then got added to the 8in8 website and featured as the video of the week.
30k views in 6 days
I am a huge Science Fiction fan, so seeing our film on the TOR website, was both awesome and a little weird (seeing as it has no SFF elements).
31k views in 7 days
Thanks to Neil, Amanda, Ben and Damian for an amazing song. Thanks to our friends for lending us the props we needed (we were very careful when we were “burying” them). Thanks for showing me the power of Twitter. And especially many thanks to all the people who have taken the time to watch it and comment on it.
32k and counting
We’ve got the bug now – who else wants a music video?
42k and counting.
It has also been shown in New York at an outdoor festival