Behind The Scenes: Surface Of The Sun - Vanguard (Official Video)

Before releasing the Dragon EP—of which Vanguard is the second track on—I sought out a team to produce my first music video. The video was for Dragon, which released alongside the album. Filming that video was the first time I’d ever been in front of a camera, we did it on my birthday, and it was an incredible experience. I worked with a team led by Rob Zawistowski of RZCinema. He created such a beautiful video, and was such a pleasure to work with I knew I had to make the next one with him as well. So, shortly after Dragon was released conversations started surrounding Vanguard, and about six months later pre-production began.

For Dragon, Rob and I had a few conversations discussing concepts, and batting ideas back and forth. I had some thoughts in mind before we spoke, and we worked together to incorporate some of those into that video. But for Vanguard, having now worked with him, I basically gave him full creative freedom to create the video. After our brief time working together on Dragon, I’d developed total trust and confidence in his abilities and believed I’d get the best video possible by giving him the freedom to do what he does best. I do not regret that decision; the video is amazing! He and a partner he collaborated with, Mitch Ray, created every idea in the video. My main request, like with Dragon, was I wanted the video to be more of a narrative, or a short film, than a typical music video with mock performances. To me, a music video with a story is far more interesting than watching a band pretending to perform a song.

Preproduction on Vanguard began during the winter months. It was shortly after the New Year, if I remember correctly. COVID was still very much a thing and would prove to be a concern and obstacle throughout the production. There were times I wasn’t sure if things would move forward because of the restrictions and how they kept changing. Regardless, we continued as though we’d be allowed to film once ready.

Once Rob and Mitch settled on a concept they pitched it to me over a phone call (again, COVID prevented a lot of in-person interaction). Mitch ran me through the idea, and since Vanguard lyrically follows Dragon (which follows Oblivion from the Panacea EP), he explained how my character would embody that change, linking the two videos. The only real feedback and change I remember making at that time were to keep the video in color, not black and white. Other than that it’s originally as they pitched it.

After we settled on the concept they went location scouting. One thing I love about preproduction with Rob is the concept storyboard he provides. He created a simple video of still images, either location scouting photos or rough sketches, placed along with the song so that a rough overview of the video can be visualized. You get to see clearly laid out the locations and approximate scene change points during the song. They’d found a spot in the forest covered in deep snow, a gothic restaurant and bar (that provided locations for five scenes), a warehouse, and a location to set up a green screen behind a vehicle. This process made envisioning the entire video very clearly.

Compared to Dragon, quite a bit more planning went into Vanguard before filming began. Everything had to fit into a 3-day window. The restaurant had to be rented for a day. We had to film the snow scene when the weather was good and public traffic would be at a minimum. We had to find a black Tesla Model 3 to rent. We needed extras for scenes. We needed catering for the large crew. We needed a lot of rental equipment and transportation. And everything was filmed very out of sequence, which meant having a very detailed and well-planned film schedule to ensure nothing got missed. It was quite the production to squeeze into such a short time frame.

The snow scenes were filmed first and didn’t quite go as planned. First, in the two weeks since scouting, most of the snow melted, leaving the location icy with hard-pack instead of knee-deep powder. Also, the actor who played the captive was unable to make it last minute, so I ended up playing both the captive and myself. It proved interesting because some scenes required both characters on camera at the same time. That meant Rob and Mitch had to adjust on the fly to ensure they could edit the footage later and have me on screen as both characters. So, after my scenes were complete I donned the other actor’s wardrobe (which didn’t fit that well), placed a burlap sac over my head, and got dragged through the snow by Mitch, who played the antagonist. Aside from the bruising in my armpits, it was pretty fun! We also filmed a lot from a drone, which provided amazing footage.

The largest part of the production was the scenes in the restaurant. We had a crew of nine, two cameras filming at times, and six of my friends from acting class lent their time as extras. We filmed out front, in the restaurant and bar area, in the back where the stage was, and in two different hallways. Like the day in the snow, some things didn’t go to plan, but Rob was quick to adjust. The smoke machines failed, and there was overcast which ruined shots relying on natural light. But he and his team adjusted quickly and everything turned out great in the end.

The first scene we filmed at the restaurant was when I first approach it. This was done early in the morning before it was opened. Now, I didn’t realize it wouldn’t be opened then, so I assumed I’d have a place to change into my wardrobe, and arrived in my casual wear. I was wrong. So, just like with the Dragon video, I once again found myself changing in public. This has actually turned into an unintended trend for me because it’s occurred with indie short films as well. Apparently, it’s my thing now. I’m just glad that the cop who drove by this time didn’t stop to investigate further. Maybe a naked person on the streets of Vancouver is a normal thing?

One of the craziest scenes to film in the restaurant was where I’m rescuing the captive and we fight through a mob of black figures that grope at us, trying to pull us down. This scene was exhausting! Multiple times I had to basically drag the other actor through the mob. I told them not to let up, and they didn’t. So, they really did try to stop me. After about six takes I was done. I could barely catch my breath!

The Tesla footage, except when I pull up to the warehouse, was filmed against a green screen in a garage, which allowed Rob to create a Sin City like vibe with the cityscape in the background. It’s such a cool-looking scene and creates a neat contrast to other parts of the video. We transformed that garage several times that day to also film me transitioning through the prison doorway, the captive in prison, and me rescuing the captive.

We finished that weekend exhausted, but thrilled with what we achieved and celebrated over a large meal. To date, it’s one of the most well-managed and ambitious film sets I’ve been on, and I’m really proud of the video.

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