Talia Shea Levin's Alabama Shakes Video Proves Why Passion is King
Late last year, the Grammy-winning blues-rock band Alabama Shakes had a contest in which over 100 music videos were submitted to be the official video for their song Gimme All Your Love. This was not one of them.
Unaware of the contest entirely, director Talia Shea Levin co-created this video with lead dancer Alexis Floyd. With a refreshing no-frills simplicity and a compelling dance performance, Levin and Floyd's Gimme All Your Love is proof that sometimes you just have to go out there and create. No Film School spoke with director Talia Shea Levin and also editor Jeffrey Reeser about crafting this piece and their goal to get the band's attention.
"It was all just about making sure that it was intimate, that we could connect with these two people in certain moments."
NFS: Sometimes it can seem daunting to put energy into spec or "unofficial" work. How did you decide on this one?
Talia: I just graduated from Carnegie Mellon in May and moved to LA last July. Alexis Floyd and I knew coming out here that you're supposed to make your own work and that nothing is going to be handed to you. It was something that we loved and felt very personal to us. The first time we saw each other in LA she asked if I wanted to do a dance video; the next morning we met and she played me the song. We loved the song and felt that it had such a natural rhythm for a dance video, but on top of that we both had a really personal connection to it. We both had things happen in our lives recently that connected to what the song was about for us. We felt that was a good way into a collaboration; it was something so personal that we had to deal with and unpack. We couldn't ignore or sidestep it until we had more money or more resources, so we just did it.
NFS: Once you finished it, did you consider there would be a problem releasing it?
Talia: We made it for a very low budget — one night shoot — and it was just something we hoped to show to other bands and to anyone who might want a similar thing. It was just a stepping stone, but then it screened at the Broke LA music festival a few weeks ago and it got a really good response. It's a sticky situation, but it's also a pretty common one: this was a video that we made out of love for the band. We missed the deadline for the Genero.tv contest because we weren't even aware of it. There are so many videos out there that fans brought their own creative energy to. That makes us a little less concerned, but it's still in that tentative state where we don't know. We hope the band sees it and likes it.
"I knew coming out here that you're supposed to make your own work and that nothing is going to be handed to you."
NFS: How long did you prepare for?
Talia: The video had a lot of prep. It was me and Alexis from the beginning creating a story and a dance. We filmed in her apartment in Studio City and we would shape it and make it clearer, sharper and add levels. Once we had a structure laid down we brought in the male dancer, Kris Terry. I was directing as a theater director would, shaping the performance, the beats of it and the staging. We started blocking once we got Kevin Stiller, the cinematographer, who also operated the Steadicam. It was all just about making sure that it was intimate, that we could connect with these two people in certain moments.
We made a super low quality version of it on an iPhone that we could stitch together. Our shot list was named with every little moment: "hands" or "drop" or "up against the wall" — whatever it was it had a section to it. Really, a lot of that came together in editing. We had a lot of sweeping long takes where Kevin would just continue until he got backed into a corner and couldn't go anywhere. Sometimes Jeff would have to scroll through these entire minute long takes to find the one time we had gotten a more dynamic close-up of something.
We also picked the brain of the editor of the piece, Jeffrey Reeser.
"I sighed and said, half-joking, 'I guess you’re not Scorsese, then,' and I moved on. She sat there for about ten seconds, then said, 'Okay, change it back.' A personal victory."
NFS: How did you find the very restrained editing approach to this piece?
Jeffrey: Talia made it clear from the outset that nothing in this video should be unmotivated, so of course, that attitude was consistent with the editing process. I wouldn’t say the approach itself was restrained, but we gave the illusion of restraint by being tactful in the kinds of cuts we made. There are essentially three: 1) on the beat, 2) not concerned with the beat at all, and 3) just a frame or two off the beat. If all three of these types of edits are used carefully and purposefully, you have a varied scheme of cuts and suddenly the piece starts to feel right.
NFS: What is your technique for cutting on/to/from actions in order to keep the viewer's attention locked in?
Jeffrey: The editing process was as follows: stack about six or seven takes on the timeline for the corresponding part of the song. (Most takes we did covered about a minute of the dance.) Then, watch all the takes and mark the great moments inside them. Any given moment of the dance was captured about a dozen different ways. The dancers obviously cannot do everything exactly on the beat and there will be slight temporal variations from take to take. Once it came to cutting from one take to the next, you would naturally get a slight repetition of movement, allowing for the occasional “Jackie Chan effect.” Of course I may fudge the clip a frame or two, but when these moments worked, they worked, so I’d leave them as is. As with any edit, you are always trying to match action, so really, most cuts were simply made out of necessity.
NFS: Advice for editors who are fighting against modern attention spans?
Jeffrey: It’s a blessing in disguise, this attention span business. If there is a reason, even an abstract reason, to hold on a shot for a while, do it. You will make the director look like a badass. There is a moment in the video at about 1:21 where Alexis walks out of frame and we hold on nothing for two seconds (which as we all know, is an eternity). I made the edit and Talia is a functionalist, so she didn’t want to hold on the nothingness of the counter. I sighed and said, half-joking, “I guess you’re not Scorsese, then,” and I moved on. She sat there for about ten seconds, then said, “Okay, change it back.” A personal victory. Moments like this are standard procedure for an editor/director collaboration. I was confident this is what she wanted, she just needed someone to give her permission to do it.
Thanks Talia and Jeffrey!