Call Me


Behind the scenes on  the set of the new  St. Paul & the Broken Bones music video.

Written by Lindsey Lowe            

Photography by Liesa Cole    

                               

Makeup by Lindsay Garrett Makeup       

Hair by Shelby McDonald & Jonathan Fowler      

Wardrobe by Everybody’s Buying Vintage  &  Harrison Limited

 

Jen West knew one thing she wanted to do in 2014: Film a music video. This past New Year’s Eve, West turned to James Martin, her partner at Four X Productions, and told him this was the year. And she knew what band she wanted to film; she’d heard St. Paul & the Broken Bones live and thought their sound was unparalleled. That night, she dashed off an email to their manager, sharing her idea. In the coming weeks, people from all different sects of Birmingham’s creative community came together to give the idea feet, and then arms, and then a cute little button nose. And on March 16–17, those people watched their idea moving and shaking and singing behind the cameras. “This was really just creative people supporting creative people,” West said.

I was lucky—West invited B-Metro behind the cameras to watch the whole thing go down, and if there’s one thing I learned, it’s that it takes more to make these kinds of things go down than one might think.  Long before I (or even the band) arrived on the set on March 16, people had been dreaming and working to assemble the moving parts of the vision. It had begun with West and Martin—West wanted to make a music video (the song was “Call Me”), and Martin thought it was a great endeavor. He’s the one who came up with the concept of a 1950s-reminiscent 50/50 setup, with the dancer on one side and the band on the other. West says her goal for the whole thing was to illustrate the story behind the song. “We wanted to tell a narrative,” she explained.

After presenting the vision to the St. Paul & the Broken Bones team, she got the word to move forward, and she began assembling a Birmingham team. She called Andrea Richardson and shared Martin’s idea, and Richardson got to work designing and gathering the set elements to make it a reality. Tyler Jones, the cofounder of 1504 Pictures, had coffee with West and told her he would love to help in any way he could; she named him director of photography. And when she needed a dancer, she asked Janelle Issis, who was a contestant on season nine of So You Think You Can Dance. Issis spent weeks choreographing a routine to “Call Me.”

The set (which was located at the Mazer building in Avondale) had taken hours and hours to design and construct; in fact, when I arrived, some details were still in the works, like the chandelier. Richardson had gathered pieces from a variety of locations and many were donated by Birmingham stores like SoHo Retro. Lighting—an integral factor in projects like these, West explained—had also been donated from a number of sources, including the University of Alabama at Birmingham film department, and had to be tweaked until it was perfect. “I think the thing I was most happy with besides the set was the lighting,” West says. “Things from [the 1950s] were lit in a specific way. There’s a saturation feeling to that color.”

When I arrived on set, there were numerous other people milling around, each contributing his or her own stamp on the project. Jones put it this way: “It’s a real tribute to Birmingham. Things like this are always a collaborative effort, and it says a lot about Birmingham’s creative people.” And indeed, everyone continued to insist that more than create a music video, the point was to support the band and support each other. “For us, it was just the ability to work with some people as creative as the band is and with all of the creative people behind the scenes, from hair and makeup to hanging a light from the rafters to making sure everything is centered on the camera,” Martin said.

On March 17, it got even more fun—the band arrived, and everyone got to work carrying out the vision. It was the first music video for St. Paul & the Broken Bones, and many of the band members admitted they didn’t know what to expect. And there were probably elements of it that couldn’t have been foreseen—because of a snap in the weather, the warehouse was chilling cold, and in between takes, everyone flocked to the industrial heater in the corner. But much of the filming happened just as one might expect: Lead vocalist Paul Janeway and the Broken Bones (Browan Lollar, Andrew Lee, Allen Branstetter, Jesse Phillips, Al Gamble, and Ben Griner), along with Issis, went through the choreographed routine once, then twice, and then three times. And then they did it a fourth, fifth, and sixth time (and so on). In between takes, they were reminded they were in Birmingham with refreshments and beer from Good People Brewing Co.

I hung out by the heater most of the day, which was strategic—almost everyone wound up there by day’s end. They all shared a little bit about what it was like to see a dream come true, because everyone there was experiencing that in one way or another. “This whole thing is brand-new to me,” Branstetter admitted. Lollar, too, said that it was unlike anything they had done before. “It’s an interesting experience,” he said. “It’s exhausting, but when you’ve got it, you’ve got it.”

When Janeway sat down to chat, I asked him what it was like to be filming a music video. His story isn’t a simple one—before this, there were times when he made money doing yard work, and times when he wasn’t making much money at all—but he summed it up beautifully: “We’re just seven guys trying to make a living,” he said, shrugging. I motioned at the music video set and gestured at the guy who had just come up to ask Janeway for his autograph. “It seems to me that you’ve made it,” I said. He grinned, a tad sheepishly, at me. “When you’re in it, it’s hard to decide where you are,” he said. “We try to seize any opportunity we get. I love making music with friends. I love playing shows and having moments where you feel like everyone’s in some sort of weird stage of happiness. And I try to appreciate the journey more than the destination.”

And, of course, West and Martin’s dream came true, too. After everyone else left, West and I sat down by the heater, and I asked her how it felt to see everyone come together to carry out the vision, especially since everyone had a lot of fun doing it. “Today went better than I ever could have expected,” she said, glancing around as the set was dismantled, the warehouse still reverberating with the sounds of “Call Me.” “It was everything I imagined it to be and more.”

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