Making a Music Video with the Mermen

Interesting in making a music video? Here’s my tale. After Rocket Science Games began to crater, we developers in the office in San Francisco all knew that we were about to get a fair amount of unscheduled, unpaid time off. AKA, we were all about to get pinkslipped.

Around this time, I was knee-deep in my musical fascination with a San Francisco Bay Area band named the Mermen. They are an instrumental three-piece (guitar, bass, drums) that can create a thunderous, elemental, hypnotic spell that truly mirrors the majesty of the ocean. They are identified as a surf rock band; they get bundled in with jam bands; but trust me, the Mermen are a singular phenomenon that has me thinking punk rock at one moment and classical music in the next, all in the same tune.

So I did the logical (?) thing: I conscripted my coworker, producer Bart Cheever, founder and executive director of the DFILM and Low Res Film Festivals, in a wild effort to co-produce a video for the Mermen. For free. For fun. I even took a class at the Bay Area Video Coalition from a few experienced music video directors on how to create one.

The next thing, of course, was to talk to the band. They are kind of a cult phenomenon; even though they’ve won Bammies, they don’t have a rabid current following. Rather, they have a loyal stable fan base. For example, they’ve played Burning Man for 10 years straight. They’re that kind of band. But fortunately they were easy to contact, and soon I was in touch with the then-bassist, Allen Whitman, who was happy to give me the official approval to work on the video and connect me with the staff at their then-publisher, Toadophile Records. Although initially I was tempted by “Be My Noir” from Food for Other Fish, I told Allen I was going to shoot for the song “Scalp Salad” from A Glorious Lethal Euphoria.

For several months I wandered around the area, shooting video on my handheld camcorder and puzzling over what imagery would best convey the startling power of that inimitable Mermen sound. I probably spent an obsessive number of hours scribbling notes and logging footage on scrap paper. Despite the loss of my original co-conspirator Bart to job hunting demands, I think it really started to come together thanks to three breakthroughs: 1) I decided to shoot a macabre finale, the key elements being a pile of animal byproduct from a slaughterhouse, which gave the video a powerful and unifying ending, 2) I met a documentary filmmaker/cinematographer at Stanford, Hung-Yut Chen, who agreed to help me shoot my finale, and 3) I got a job as a new media artist at Invision Communications, where suddenly I had after-hours access to a non-linear video editing station capable of digesting my many hours of footage and turning it into something palatable.

The shooting of the finale went well (although the slaughterhouse meat had started to turn in the fridge and wasn’t exactly pleasant to smell) and after many late nights I had a finished video. I drove over to Allen’s place to show him the end product, and I’d have to say he was as happy with it as I was. His first words after watching it: “Are you a vegetarian?” Nope, I’m not, but I am definitely aware of animal cruelty and the cost of human progress.

The guys at Toadophile were very positive too, and promptly put the video on their website alongside all the other Mermen media. Eventually I moved to music-focused Austin, Texas, where a popular public access channel called the Austin Music Network showed primarily local music videos 24×7. I enjoyed watching the network, and eventually sent a copy of the video to them. (They were able to include me under the “local music” umbrella because my roots are in Texas.) I’m proud to say they tell me the video got a lot of airplay, although I never saw it air myself.


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