Dave Cusick on March 12, 2012 at 12:05 PM, last updated March 22, 2012 at 02:06 PM
Some songs are their own tiny universe. The Alialujah Choir’s “A House, A Home” is one of them.
Adam Shearer and Adam Selzer were commissioned four years ago by Kate Sokoloff to write the song for the (D)early Departed compilation, an album of songs by Portland artists, all about people buried in the Lone Fir Cemetery. Shearer, having worked in the mental health field, chose to write about Dr. J.C. Hawthorne’s patients. Hawthorne was one of the first doctors to give mental patients dignity and comfort, and even paid for their burials in Lone Fir.
Filmmaker Mark Smith accompanied Shearer’s other band Weinland on tour last year as part of his long-term goal of completing a documentary on the band, and Shearer played Smith the mastered recordings of the Alialujah Choir’s debut album. “A House, A Home” quickly became it’s own single-song playlist on Smith’s iPhone, on repeat.
The song tells the story of imagined characters, an adolescent boy and girl, both in treatment at Hawthorne’s hospital. They are both going through this intense experience together, but since they are never allowed to be alone together, and the boy can never express his feelings for the girl, and his feelings for her become larger than life. One day, when he sees her exiting Hawthorne’s office from her therapy session, he assumes that it’s a rendezvous of a different nature, and takes his own life.
Smith brought the idea of the video to director Daniel Fickle, who used the song as a starting point for the video’s narrative.
Edited by Daniel Fickle, assisted by Joe Forsythe. Production design: Mark Smith. Animation by Josh Brokenbaugh, Jordan Hull. Illustrations by Jordan Hull.
Set designed and constructed by Mark Smith, Elisa Smith, Greg Rudinski, Gavin Cummings, Mitchell Cummings, Robert Joki, Rich Reber. Hair and make up by Julie Senders, Torill Morr. Still photography by Tarina Westlund, Reijean Heringlake, Mark Smith, Terry Thompson. Production assistants: Austin Hobart, Joe Kirkland. Digital imaging technician: Joe Forsythe. Accounting by Tonia Mock. Associate producer: Adam Shearer. Executive producer: Mark Smith. Paintings provided by The Sovereign Collection.
Smith felt that the best way to help the boy who had committed suicide reconcile his past was to start where the song ends: A few years after the boy’s death, the girl also died of natural causes, and was buried next to him. It was Fickle’s idea to continue the story underground. By keeping the obvious graveyard imagery out of the story, it helped create a lighter mood and leave room for playfulness, which was a counterbalance to the somber tone of the song and lyrics.
Once the decision was made to go subterranean, Smith, who Fickle describes as “a workhorse” who “likes to go big with everything he does” gathered a crew and built some very ambitious sets. The two main rooms, both surreal interpretations of two different styles of casket, had fully removable walls and ceiling, and could be rotated to accommodate any shooting angle. The tunnels of fir branches and earth were built in a large garage.
When it came time to shoot, Fickle carefully storyboarded most of the action, with the exception of the scene where the boy and girl first hang out in her room. For that, he gave the actors loose direction and gathered four hours’ footage of chemistry between the two.
In addition to being a standalone music video, “A House, A Home” will also serve as one of many “nodes” in Smith’s documentary on Weinland, due out...in a few years. In the shorter term, opbmusic will feature a live session with the Alialujah Choir the week of March 20, recorded at Selzer’s Type Foundry Studio.
Director Daniel Fickle works on a variety of commercial projects (his clients include GQ, Banana Republic and Wieden+Kennedy) and also some narrative shorts.
Another of his music videos (included in our 2011 Portland favorites list) is for Holcombe Waller’s “Hardliners”. For it, he worked with New York choreographer Miguel Guiterrez for a week before shooting, to cast and rehearse dancers. Finally, over a day and a half of filming, the two fine-tuned the choreography and blocking and came up with a 15th take where everything came together.
The video starts and ends in Holcombe’s bedroom, a very personal space, but in the middle section he’s shown support by an audience filled with friends and supporters whose love he is fully able to receive, and express gratefulness.
Portland cellist and composer Gideon Freudmann wrote the song “Denmark” while making peace with his wife’s death due to brain cancer. When asked to give Portland Cello Project’s recording of it a video treatment (also beloved by us here), Fickle came up with a the story of a freshwater crustacean, forced to escape a black ooze by designing and building a rocket out of the Willamette River. The crustacean’s efforts to escape are a comment on the very real desire to escape the situation when a loved one is terminally ill.
Fickle directed most of the shoot in his own backyard, on the other side of a $50 aquarium he found on Craigslist, filled with a mix of water, coffee, tea and Alka-Seltzer, which a production assistant constantly stirred to get just the right rays of sun to filter through.
In the long-term, Daniel Fickle has some feature-length screenplays he’s working on. He is also a composer. Music is his “first love”, and he initially got into film by writing music for a couple different documentaries, then moving into other roles. He plans to direct more short films this year, one of which will be a musical--”not the ‘la-dee-da’ type”--but based on music he’s written. He’d also like to release an album in the next year.
Another project in the near future is a film adaptation of Dave Eggers’ short story “After I was Thrown in the River and Before I Drowned”. The story is written from the perspective of a dog, who will be brought to life by the puppeteers who worked on the “Denmark” video, combined with some animation and green-screen work.
But it's clear that whatever he does, it won't stay underground.