"I need a rooftop. In Manhattan. Tonight. With a garden hose."

I just finished editing my first music video this week. I shot this in New York last fall thanks to the help of friends, twitter, and Kmart. Read a little story about it after the jump.

I had a few extra days in New York last fall and I spent those days shooting as much personal work as I could. I was in the area to shoot a wedding with Marc. Assistant and intern extraordinaire Brian Hall was along for the ride as well. I reached out to as many people I knew with connections in NYC to find musicians to shoot. It turned out that Snowden frontman, Jordan, was in the city at the same time. Snowden is one of my favorite bands in the world and I’m blessed that they are from Atlanta and I’ve been able to work with them a few times.

Jordan and I decided we would meet up Sunday night and shoot some new promos for him. He sent me a few of his new songs for me to listen to before our shoot. I heard this song Lemon Peel and loved it right away. Saturday night I’m riding the train and I decided we should shoot a music video instead of portraits. I sent Jordan a text and he was down for whatever. Sunday morning I put out a message on Twitter that read something like,

“I need a rooftop. In Manhattan. Tonight. With a garden hose.”

Ten minutes later I get a message from Neil at Nomadic by Design. He had access to a rooftop on the upper west side and it most definitely had a water hose we could use. The only caveat was we couldn’t make a lot of noise because we would be standing over his friend’s apartment and their two year old would be asleep. So no screaming, jumping, playing loud music. Ok. No worries. I thank Neil for helping me out and we plan to meet at his place later that evening.

Now then, I had flashes for portrait work but I sure didn’t have any video lights with me. The 5d MkII does pretty well in low light but not in no light. I knew that I wanted to build off of the water references in the song and I knew that water looks best if it can be back-lit. I also had to do this on a budget of “not much”. Like, less than $50. I went to the Kmart at Penn Station and bought six flashlights. I would have bought some more but that was all they had and I still had another band to shoot AND take 10 portraits of 10 strangers so I didn’t have a lot of time hitting up the entire city looking for more flashlights. On a tech note, these are those focused LED beam lights and they were making odd patterns of light on the roof behind Jordan. I needed to diffuse them to get rid of the pattern so I used the white plastic Kmart bag they came in to do that. I ripped the bag up and put pieces of the plastic over the front of the flashlights and that got rid of the patterns. Ghetto Video Dot Com!

Marc and Brian came along for the evening. Marc was on the flashlight lighting Jordan. Brian was on the water hose. Everything and everybody was soaked by the end of the sixth take. The wind was really unpredictable and we just had to deal with it. Jordan’s MacBook playing the song was wet, the 5d was dripping wet, and Brian turned out to be just as soaked holding the hose as Jordan did getting hit by it. All in all… it was a great night.

So why did it take me so long to edit? Because the idea I had for the edit sucked and I couldn’t re-envision the project. I had it set in my head that it was going to be one way but that way turned out like crap and I couldn’t “see” anything different. That happens to me a lot. I get an idea for a shot. I see it in my head. I pick up the camera. I take a photo. The photo sucks. It is nowhere close to what I see in my head. In photography I have learned to let those things go until another day. I couldn’t let this one go until one evening this week. I’ve been editing images for a new portfolio and this Snowden video was bugging the hell out of me. Jordan froze his ass off for this video and I still haven’t pulled anything out of it. I divorced myself from my first plan and just started fresh and new without a plan and I knocked it out in one night. Seriously. One night. Done. WTH? It’s like doing taxes. No, no it’s not.

So yes… my first music video. I’m happy with it. I’ll hate it soon enough but for now I’m really glad I dropped my first idea for the edit and went in a different direction with it. Am I going to sell my self as a music video director? Nope. Do I want to do more of these? Absolutely. Yes. Just spoke with a past client last night about another one of these. Hip to the hippity hop!

Cheers, Zack

PS – I won the last GOYA shoot out! I really thought it was going to be Robin (photographer E). I’ll do another post later.


  • catalina said on May 14, 2010

    i totally dig the plastic bags over the flashlights and the crazy patterns – nice job!
    Juan and I just bought our first 5D Mark II last week and are excited to experiment with video. w00t w00t!

  • Philip Tieu said on May 14, 2010

    That was brilliant, I loved the lighting of course but the music was just as beautiful. I hope to see more of these moving pictures from you soon Zack!

  • Danny North said on May 14, 2010

    Hey Zack,

    Nice video, it’s amazing what people can do with no budget but a whole load of imagination.

    I’m quite similar to yourself, based in the UK I shoot mostly for music mags, and last year decided to direct a music video… now I’m in the middle of my 4th!

    Check out my first video, some what of a Zombie epic…


  • Will said on May 14, 2010

    SO AWESOME! Thank you so much for a wonderful Friday Post!

  • greg said on May 14, 2010

    At first I was like “meh”, and then I read the write up. I’m impressed. Nice work Mr. Arias, can’t say I’m a fan of the music though.

  • r*dean said on May 14, 2010

    love the song. and love your work on the video :-)

  • Macy said on May 14, 2010

    The mysterious tweet solved! Your ability to bootstrap and just get things done is so inspirational. The edit is great – the story behind it is a great lesson for everyone thinking they need more gear.

  • zack said on May 14, 2010

    Greg – Sorry you don’t like brilliant music. 😉


  • Doug Hall said on May 14, 2010

    So dude….let me get this straight. You shot this video using your 5DM2?!?!?

    Once again my friend (and I use friend loosely as I am the groupy and you the mega star who doesnt know I exist) your methods and approach on things inspire me to be a better photographer.

    Thankyou. 😎

    Now get back to work so you can inspire me some more !!

  • r*dean said on May 14, 2010

    okay, just finished reading the whole post. THIS is what you call creativity!

  • Lou said on May 14, 2010

    Very awesome work, Zack. It’s so indie it makes me sick. 😀

  • Neil said on May 14, 2010

    Amazing Zack! When I saw it camera that night, I knew it was going to look great. But the edit is spot on. And all that from only 6 takes.

    I’d love to know what you initially had in mind for the edit that you eventually abandoned. Either way, I’d say you made an excellent choice.


  • anastasiia said on May 14, 2010

    love it…and i remember it:) hehe was an awesome night

  • Paul Pratt said on May 14, 2010

    I really like this. Nicely done plus I enjoyed the music. I just use the video on my 5D2 to film my son and dog, I feel I’m a bit of a slacker now. Thanks for that.

  • Marc Climie said on May 14, 2010

    I’ll never be able to listen to this song without feeling wet. Wait. That didn’t come out right.

  • yazan said on May 14, 2010

    Was the original plan him getting wetter throughout the song

  • dtbsz said on May 15, 2010

    Look at all this ass kissing. :))

    I felt a little dizzy after viewing it… (he’s “dancin'” pretty strange if you ask me but that’s not your fault)

    Nice first music video Mr. :)

  • Katrin said on May 15, 2010

    nice one! must have taken ages to put together.

    the only thing that bugs me is the pattern of the floor tiles – it looks as if he had a stick up his a** (thought it was some sort of lightstand first).

    and i’d love to hear what the original plan was :-)

  • Rajkumar said on May 15, 2010

    Hey zack!
    Wonderful as always and totally dig the backlight effect! I guess you are getting addicted to the exposed backlight effect nowadays!

    But it’s still cool!
    The video was real good and suckcessful!!

    The B&W effect with the water was … Well without the colors to distract had a great texture to the music and feel!

    Good luck and keep going!

  • Ben said on May 15, 2010

    Hi Zack!
    Some great visuals there but the video feels too static for me. I don’t dig the a-cut-per-beat/accent thing if you do it too often (it can feel forced at some point). I feel that there should be at least one more location (or part of the building). The singer should have walked around somewhere in addition to the roof shot. Well…that’s what I’ve been thinking.

  • Christopher said on May 15, 2010

    So all day this song is in my head. I would love to buy it. But can’t find it!

  • David Burke said on May 15, 2010

    First off, killer track. I love it. Where can I get it?

    Secondly, do you suck at anything? LOL This is fantastic bro! Seriously your first music video and you edited it in one night. Wow.

    Awesome. Keep em coming.

    David Burke

  • amunk said on May 16, 2010

    this video seemed like it was shot by a photographer. Stationary camera, one light setup…

    the video was 3 minutes long and you can’t have an audience watch the guy do the same thing for 3 minutes straight.

    That might work for a photo, but for a video I just don’t think it works.

  • Stefanos L. said on May 16, 2010

    In the spirit of YOU wanting everything perfect, i have to admit that i am in the same page as Ben (comment #20)
    A music clip is way to long to see the same thing over and over. It should have at least one more angle or something to it.
    And the “a-cut-per-beat/accent thing” as Ben says at the start of the song is a bit out of sync, i think.

    As for the good things of this video? A lot. It’s you and it’s minimal. Of course we can make great things with little.

    And combine all that you had to do and work with, respect.
    It is why i read your blog.

    Keep it up.

  • Danielle said on May 16, 2010

    ZACK!!! I love this! SO MUCH! I wanna do it now.

  • Danielle said on May 16, 2010

    Btw… I like the simplicity of it… and the awkwardness and vulnerability. It takes a lot to balls to just be simple, alone and dancing sometimes.

  • Kurt Stenberg said on May 16, 2010

    Hey Zack!

    Cool work with the video. Keep up the great work man,


  • Les Doerfler said on May 16, 2010

    It needs more fire. HeHe… Fire is cool. FireFireFireFireFireFire!!!!!!!

  • Megan Case said on May 16, 2010

    My garden hose is getting ideas…….

  • moonie said on May 17, 2010

    its awesome man. really good, especially for a first effort. persistence is where its all at. stoked to hear that the flop of your first idea didn’t defeat you. that’s where most of us give up.
    there are some really cool transitions in there, i especially liked the second half, after about the 2:40 mark you took it up a notch.
    nicole and i are just starting to get into video and incorporate it into our business. so much to learn its retarded. but we’ll get there.
    keep em comin. cant wait to see what you do next

  • saajid said on May 17, 2010

    love it ….. but after 3 mins …. my mind wanders.

  • Joost said on May 18, 2010

    Liked the song, liked the first part of the video, but it couldn’t keep my attention all the way through.

    The video is very well done, but too much of the same to keep me hooked.

    Just meant as constructive critique, in no way a claim that I’d do it better.

    Thanks for sharing&Keep up the nice blogwork :).

    When will we see the next episode of your critique?

  • Rob Ahern said on May 18, 2010

    i love this song so much, i tried searching for this on itunes, doesnt seem to be out yet. I really wanna let the radio stations know about this. soooooo good. gonna be massive song!

  • zack said on May 18, 2010

    Rob – You can download their new EP at http://www.snowden.info


  • Rob Ahern said on May 18, 2010

    ps: i just bought all his music off itunes…

  • Tim said on May 19, 2010

    Cool idea – especially with limited resources, but there were way too many camera/angle cuts for my liking. It also felt pretty static like Comment #20 said. It’s a good start though!

  • ArenaCreative said on May 21, 2010


    This just goes to show everyone you can whip out a sick a$$, unique music video without deep pockets. I read this post a few days ago and suddenly this came to me…

    With Hollywood and everything getting so high tech, sometimes less is more and it becomes more insightful and has way more impact than something with a million dollar budget. Look at Matt & Kim, their Daylight video is low budget too, and it’s still awesome. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nZt1i1ruK34

    Their video is just the two of them in an apartment jamming out on some old instruments, in the closet, the bathtub… it’s just creative and slightly funny. It just works. BTW for anyone in New England like myself – they’re playing New Haven, CT at Toad’s place I heard soon – I might even check it out.

  • eurila said on May 27, 2010

    :( SO SAD! I missed your visit.

  • Jason V said on July 13, 2010

    The more I watch this, the more I like it. the ‘lower’ light really allows balance with the skyline.

  • Bogdan said on December 9, 2010

    Cool! Loved it! Even the repetitions are cool…

  • Ade said on December 18, 2010

    the images and video are awesome, i can’t stand the song

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