Notes from On The Willows video and soundtrack

First I'd like to thank the academy.....really though, there are some folks I'd like to thank before you dig into this. Thanks to John Fanelli and the entire crew at YAC (Youth Arts Center), located in Thornwood NY. This is where my daughters learn to sing, dance, act and perform at levels that don't seem possible for their age. Thanks also to Charlie Cornacchio and Steven Dempsey for their advice and inspiration on video production.

So, my daughter Lauren is singing this "On The Willows" song during a recent performance of Godspell, and I’m just blown away. I immediately started thinking about how I could recreate this for her so she could sing it in my studio. It’s in the key of A, and sung by a guy. That's the key she sang it in live at the show. Very simple piano track, one of those old Wurlitzer pianos. I wanted to make it a little fuller sounding, so I added a bass track and some orchestral strings. Then it had this solo section so I used a classical guitar that has been sitting in my studio for years. I added a subtle drum kit as well to just help the track hop along a little more. Just a soft kick drum and a brush snare. There are also a pair of stereo electric guitars that strum once per measure.

Then it was Lauren’s time to sing it. I had no idea how she would do in a studio situation. I knew she was great in a ‘live’ environment, but putting headphones on, and singing on a mic is a much different experience. You feel very much like you’re under a microscope, and some folks just freeze right up. So she comes home from school, and I pull her into my studio, and she’s her usual bubbly self. She’s chatting about her day and seems completely unaffected by this potentially intimidating situation. I’m carefully adjusting the sound and level of the microphone and she starts banging it with her hand and laughing as all the recording level meters are flashing RED!! OVERLOAD!!! I guess when you’ve sung solos in front of thousands of people, in a theater environment where you can hear a pin drop, singing in Daddy’s studio is a piece of cake. We ended up bringing the key down from A to G, so she could really belt out that middle section. She sang the entire track in 2 takes. Then I just used the best of each of her vocal tracks to make a final one. She's just crazy talented and it was so fun working with her on this. I sung the background harmonies and finished it up.

I was in North Carolina in April, filming nature scenes for a client. If you’ve ever been in this situation, you know that the weather NEVER cooperates with you. Ever. So there I am, waiting for the torrential rain to let up, so I can get out there with my camera and film some sunset footage. Then it hit me. I could film the rain footage for Lauren’s song. I had some idea of what the song On The Willows is about. From what I understand, it’s about being forced to give up on the things you love. So I began the shooting in NC, and was trying to capture esoteric images that conveyed sadness. Right up my alley.

The opening clip of the windowsill was taken in NC, looking out to the ocean. My family was all in the same room watching TV, watching me set up all this gear and shooting…. the little window lever?? They thought I really lost my mind. I was loving the way the water was just slowly pouring down the window. The background is very blurry but you can just pick out the ocean crashing in the background.

Raindrops on the black window. I set up my tripod inside our van, took it outside and filmed the window looking out. I was zoomed in so close, that I couldn’t keep the camera still. If I so much as took at breath, it would move. I should have just gotten out of the car. This wasn’t supposed to be the final clip but this ended up looking the best of the ones I shot.

Rain on the road. After trying some shots with the camera on the tripod, I liked it best when I just laid it on the ground. I was really liking the texture and contrast of the road. It looked almost like ice.

The two chairs. Still in NC. This just had that sad look I was going for. 2 chairs that should be filled with a couple in love, laying on cushions in the sun, drinking something with an umbrella in it.

The half of a grille. Again, a device that should be cooking burgers and dogs on a nice hot sunny day. I loved the way the water drop falls off the handle at just the right moment.

Dark clouds. We’re back in NY now. This HUGE storm was coming but it wasn’t raining yet. This was shot in our back yard. The tree on the right has no leaves because it’s dead. My son Bryan used to test his paintball guns on the bark of this tree for some reason, and after a year the bark kind of fell off the bottom and that was it for the tree.

Wheelbarrow. The person who would have been enjoying their yard work, is not. So there sits the wheelbarrow that has given years of loyal assistance. Honestly, I shot it as an experiment to see how dark I could get the camera to shoot before it looked crappy.

The tire swing. I love that shot. This tire has been the most used thing in my backyard for about 10 years now. Again, a fun toy with no kids playing on it. Same with the bike shot that comes up next.

The green swing. This is my neighbor’s swing. Thanks to the Pappalardo’s for letting me film it. I shot multiple takes of this until the swing speed felt just right. Too quick, and it looks like a kid just fell off it! The camera was kind of in the woods, so all the neighbors saw was me running up to the swing, and pushing it ever so lightly, then running away. Thanks for not calling the police.

Green ferns. This shot was right outside my front door. The sun was finally coming out, so I used this shot as a transition to some sun lit shots.

Wide open field. This one is for my wife Lisa. Found this horse farm in Bedford. This shot and the next one represent the longing someone would feel not being able to ride horses anymore. Shots like this are a struggle sometimes because nothing moves, and it’s hard to tell the difference between a live shot and a photo. If you watch close, there’s a bird that flies across the field as soon as the scene starts. Whew. Something moved. Both these shots looked so calm and peaceful, however the environment was anything but. I’m parked in someone’s driveway and I know it won’t be long before someone comes running over and gets real upset that I’m filming their property. There are cars and trucks flying up and down the bumpy dirt road in back of me, and dust and dirt are going everywhere. Oh so peaceful.

Fields of gold. This was actually VERY green. I changed some settings in the camera and made it look gold. I guess I was just sick of green by this point, I just needed another tone. This field is also in Bedford. I was driving by at sunset and had to grab this. Unfortunately it has nothing to do with the piece.

Track and runner. This is the track at Fox Lane. I think this is the only shot of a person in the whole piece. I shot some open track footage but it just looked better with someone on it. The shot still depicts someone outside looking in, longing to do something they used to do.

Blue bleachers. I tried a bunch of shots to convey the sadness of the empty bleechers. No sports, no one watching. Then this angle presented itself along with that empty Gatorade bottle. The sun was setting which gave an eerie blue tone to the benches. No movement, but I love the look of it.

First Base, fence. This one is for my nephew, Scott. He just went through a very emotional experience with baseball. Hope you’re feeling better bro. This was shot at Leonard Park in Mount Kisco. High degree of difficulty in this shot with the focus change from the fence to the base.

Final shot. Blurry trees. I needed an ending shot for the piece. Found this up in Bedford. I was setting up to shoot the sun coming through those trees, and I was still way out of focus. I looked in the camera and saw it was focused on the bugs and pollen floating around and LOVED that. There’s a little spider web that floats up and to the right, and my favorite is this weird little flying thing that goes from right to left at the end of the clip. I didn’t plan this, but right under those trees is Rob Thomas’ house. I could just imagine the conversation with his security guys as they came up to ask me what I was doing. “You actually expect us to believe you were filming bugs and pollen?” “Aren’t you the guy that put a bunch of CDs in Rob’s mailbox??” DOH!

Anyway, hope you enjoyed this.

Gene