Kingston, New York. October 2016
© Phil Gammage / PreFab International Cine
Editors note: This piece originally appeared in the December 2016 edition of the Green Kill Broadsheet. Phil’s music video “Lost in Loserville” premiered at Popdose on November 22, 2016. The video can be viewed at the bottom of this article.
In October 2016 a creative team that I put together performed for and filmed a music video for a song off my album Used Man For Sale. Filmed entirely on location in Kingston, New York, the project came together very quickly and the was crammed into a 20-hour period on the weekend of October 29–30. Altogether there were about ten different video shoot locations, and all but one of them were outdoors. As for all of my videos, it was not done with any municipal permits or permissions from anyone. It was strictly “show up and film.” While this certainly has its perils it also has some great benefits. I am not promoting this method of filmmaking; my purpose here it to give you an idea of what the experience is like to work on location under these conditions.
Gear for this video shoot:
Canon Power Shoot G15 still and video camera.
Modal 2” Bluetooth portable speaker.
Epiphone Riviera electric guitar.
October 4 — My new album Used Man For Sale was released.
Early and mid-October — The song “Lost in Loserville” from the new album started to get attention from radio stations in the United States and Europe. I began to feel it would be advantageous to have a music video for this song to help promote it and the album. But where to film the video and who with?
The summer before the album was released I completed three music videos for songs from the album, trying to anticipate which would be most popular and would benefit the most from having their own music video. As luck would have it, or due to my poor judgement, “Loserville” was not one of them. So I needed to create a new video for the song, and I’d need to do it fast to take advantage of the current interest in the song.
October 26 — A few days prior to my upcoming concert in Kingston, New York on the 29th at the Green Kill Artists Space, I had the idea to film the new video on location there in upstate New York. This would include live footage from our rehearsal the afternoon before the concert that evening. I already had too much scheduled for that weekend in Kingston between playing the concert and family commitments, but the opportunity was too good to pass by if I could balance everything and make it all happen. D.B. Schell, who runs Green Kill, generously agreed to film our rehearsal at his space. I also discussed potential location shots in Kingston with him for additional filming the next morning, Sunday the 30th. His location ideas sounded great and seemed to be just what I wanted for song. If both the Green Kill and town location shoots went well, I should have ended up with enough good footage to edit a great-looking video once I got back home to NYC.
For everything to run smoothly in Kingston, I would need the cooperation and good vibes from my fellow musicians Kevin, Andrew, and Michael, plus the cooperation and creative input of D.B. As I know from past experience, I can get bossy during my video shoots so I needed everyone involved to be on the same page (MY page) for the project to move along quickly with no drama. I also needed some luck with the weather when we filmed outdoors on Sunday morning. The forecast was for a 60% chance of rain.
October 28, 6 p.m. — I arrived in Kingston and checked into the Best Western Motel off Washington Street.
October 29, 3 p.m. — I arrived at the Green Kills space on Green Kill Avenue, where I was greeted by D.B. Shortly afterwards Andrew Wheeler and Michael LaPorte from Albany arrived. Kevin Tooley from NYC joined us just a few minutes later. These three would be performing with me that night.
October 29, 4–6 p.m. —The band rehearsed our songs for the concert. We were sounding good. When we were done rehearsing we had about 20 minutes left to shoot video of us lip-synching and playing to “Lost in Loserville.” I had an mp3 of the song on my phone, and a small Bluetooth speaker to play it through. This is my usual audio source when filming a music video that requires me to lip-synch to the lyrics. We ran through the song 4 or 5 times and D.B. filmed. For the first couple of takes we were uptight, but the last couple of run-throughs were much looser and more animated. Kevin in particular cut loose playing the snare. For Andrew on guitar and Michael playing blues harp it was their first music video shoot ever, but they soon get the hang of it. After we were finished I had a good feeling about it.
October 29, 8–10 p.m. — Our concert went very well. The new Green Kill sound and lighting systems worked perfectly and the audience was supportive. After our performance D.B. and I briefly discussed the next morning’s video shoot. We agree to meet at the space at around 9 a.m. We stopped off for a night cap at Keegan’s Ale House then off to the Best Western and an early night.
October 30, 9 a.m. — After a motel breakfast, I drove south down Washington Street toward Green Kill. Traffic was relatively light, but even then I was amazed at how many people were up and out in Kingston early on a Sunday morning. Thankfully, the weather had held up for us. No rain that morning and it wasn’t too cold either. Perfect. Once I got to the Green Kill space, D.B. and I talked about our upcoming filming strategy over cups of coffee. Time was precious and we needed to take advantage of what little we had.
October 30, 9:30 a.m. — D.B. drove to our first stop, Henry Street, just a few blocks from the space. He told me it is the “most dangerous block” in Kingston, and then assured me as long as we stayed alert we would be fine. We started off with some still photos of me sitting on a row house stoop. These houses looked to be out of the 1930s. Across the street I spotted a beautiful weathered wood garage behind one of the houses. We took a few still photos of me in front of it before the resident of the house began to yell at us out her front door. I couldn’t blame her — she probably thought we were there to steal something. D.B. tactfully calmed her down with some small talk and we gracefully exited and keep moving.
On a street off Henry we unloaded our gear and begin to shoot our first video footage. I was standing, playing guitar, and lip-synching to the song while on the sidewalk in front of a white painted brick building. Shortly after we got started, several of the area residents shouted things at us from their apartment windows above. We were intruders in their world and they wanted us to know it. Once again, I was amazed at how many people were out on a Sunday morning in Kingston. I had anticipated the town being deserted at that hour, which was the reason I scheduled the video shoot that early. After about ten minutes, it was clearly time to leave so we packed up our gear quickly (too quickly I later realized) and drove off in D.B.’s car toward our next location. I wasn’t sure we got much usable video at that location: things were too tense to for us to relax and get into it. This happens everywhere when you are using the “guerrilla filming” technique, not just in Kingston. Your success is always largely determined by your immediate environment, specifically the attitude of the people that share your filming space at that specific moment toward you. It’s a hit-or-miss kind of thing, and often the best strategy is to pack it up and keep moving on. So that’s what we did.
October 30, 10 a.m. — D.B. drove us to a condemned building a few minutes away. It was a stand-alone and boarded-up house on a small lot trashed with rusted metal and broken glass. Busted up machinery left to decay in the elements. Right behind it was a glorious railroad track in a cleared wooded area. This location was exactly what I wanted for the song. To get started filming, I sat on the porch with my guitar and looked for my cell phone to play the mp3 through my little speaker. Neither of them were there with me. It’s then that I realized that in our haste to leave the previous location I had left both my cell phone and Bluetooth speaker on the sidewalk! This was NOT good.
We jumped in D.B.’s car and sped back. We were both cursing and I did my best to try to process that my cell phone was likely gone forever. There were too many people out on that street for it not to get noticed and “picked up.” We were already being watched by several locals while we were filming there. After what felt like forever but was less than a couple of minutes, we got there and I saw my small Bluetooth speaker where I left it on the sidewalk. But my cell phone had disappeared…
After retrieving my Bluetooth speaker I stood on the sidewalk too stunned to really think of what to do next when behind me I heard the voice of a teenage boy asking “is this yours?” He was holding my cell phone and offering it to me. A huge wave of relief swept over me. He handed me the phone, smiled, and mumbled something. I gave the boy a few dollars. He had not asked me for any money but I sensed he expected a reward, which I gratefully gave him with no hesitation. I thanked him. Lord, did I thank him. What a stroke of luck that he had shown up with my phone at the exact minute that we drove up. I realized I had dodged a bullet on this one and I figuratively kicked myself for not being more careful.
Back at the boarded-up house, D.B. and I regrouped and began to film me sitting on the porch singing the entire song a couple of times from different angles. This is my normal method for filming the lip-synching portions of a song — numerous angles and locations. I’ve learned you can never have enough of these when you start to edit. Then we made the short walk to the railroad track behind the house and filmed some more video and a few still photos for my album promo use. These were my two favorite locations that morning. They were exactly what I’d wanted for this video and we got some great imagery at both. The run-down house porch and the quintessential American railroad track. It helps that unlike our previous locations, they were both deserted that Sunday morning and there were no locals around to nose around in our business. It was poetry in black and white.
October 30, 10:30 a.m. — We briefly visited a couple more locations and then drove near the Hudson River. We passed an archaic railroad bridge and I shot some great video from the car as we drove by. Filming up from the car window I caught the sun shining through the metal of the bridge and I knew it was special. I ended up using it as the opening of the video. We also got some very cool footage of me standing on the road in front of the bridge but there were cars whizzing by me so only a little of that was usable. It felt dangerous standing on the open road with the cars and I didn’t want any modern looking cars in the video. Actually in this video, I didn’t want anything that looked modern.
October 30, 11 a.m. — Our time was up and I needed to get going. I was already tired from running around the entire morning but I still had to drive home as I was performing again that night. The day had just begun…
–October 31–November 4 — Video and/or film editing is an intense process and one can totally lose themselves in it. That’s what happened to me for several days after arriving home and starting to work on the video. I was delighted to find that we filmed some great stuff and I had more than enough to use. The finished video has a great vibe and I’m very pleased with our work. It’s kind of rural, sort of city, kind of a run-down, early 20th-century feel. I feel fortunate to have been able to film some of that imagery and incorporate it into a music video for a song I wrote.
It’s interesting the twists and turns a song will take for those of us who write them. “Lost in Loserville” began with me banging out a chord progression on acoustic guitar and it took me on a late fall morning to a lonesome railroad track near the Hudson River with orange leaves on the hillsides. There was no plan, no blueprint for any of it. It was all one step at a time.
Thanks to D.B., Kevin, Andrew, and Michael for their contributions. Thanks to Gary Mayer whose artwork is featured in the video. A nod to the town of Kingston with a special thanks to the boy who returned my cell phone. The Green Kill artist space is new and it’s just starting to get established in the Kingston creative community. I hope they come to fully appreciate what an asset it is.