With all that went wrong during the shoot, Cal State Long Beach (CSULB) student Leah McKissock found it ironic that the song for the music video she was directing was called “Nothing is Wrong.” Despite all the trials and tribulations, however, the final product has paid off…in a big way.
McKissock, 22, a senior film and electronic arts major, has been awarded the grand prize of $50,000 in the OnVidi.com Student Film Contest for her 2-minute, 22-second music video entry featuring Israeli artist Mika Ben-Yami as the best overall submission in the competition.
“I was very shocked and excited when I was told I won the grand prize in the OnVidi contest,” said McKissock. “Although the week prior I had been getting some e-mails from the contest staff informing me that I was among the finalists, it never seemed possible that I could win the grand prize and $50,000, especially with a music video.”
But that’s exactly what happened, and McKissock said Vidi Entertainment representatives recorded live footage of her in a Skype video when they informed her she had won, footage she believes will be posted online somewhere. She doesn’t remember exactly how she reacted, but she does remember feeling that the moment was overwhelmingly surreal.
“My reaction would probably be funny to watch now because I could not stop smiling, although at this point I’m just glad they didn’t get me on videotape doing the ‘happy dance’ in my living room with my roommate, which of course I did right after we hung up the chat,” McKissock recalled. “But overall, this was a very rare prize for a student film contest, and I feel very fortunate to have won it just before my status as a student ran out. Occasionally good things happen to me, but not this good.”
The OnVidi.com Student Film Contest asked students to submit an original, three-minute or less film, video or digital production that fell into one of five categories—comedy, action, drama/romance, music video or documentary. First-place winners from each category would be awarded $10,000, and one entry would be selected as the best overall submission, winning a grand prize of $50,000.
Jeanne Rawlings, one of the Emmy-award winning judges reviewing the entries, noted of McKissock’s video: “Simply loved it. Doing it in one shot was a difficult idea, but Leah pulled it off… There are great sets and surprises throughout. The BEST of the onvidi.com contest submissions.”
McKissock said the video she conceptualized was always supposed to be one shot—a music video shot in one long take with no edits—primarily because the song is unusually short. She also noted that the words “every morning” are sung repeatedly throughout the chorus, and this made her imagine the artist, Mika Ben-Yami, getting out of bed at the start of her day—the opening scene of the video.
“After that I became obsessed with a visual idea of her waking up in a bed in the middle of a beach, probably because I love when in surrealism a person or object is completely displaced,” McKissock pointed out. “Later on the setting ended up becoming the desert—for an abundance of logistical reasons—but the desert was a picturesque setting for a surrealistic video. From there, the rest of the concepts sort of just evolved, and I was able to coordinate and choreograph all my ideas precisely to the music.”
The actual production of the video, however, presented some real challenges. First, McKissock said, Ben-Yami insisted the video be done in the time frame of one month, which she added is the shortest amount of time in which she has ever made a video. This gave the team little time to prepare.
The shoot was scheduled for May 29 in the Mojave Desert, but unfortunately, there ended up being 50-mile-per-hour winds that day, making it impossible to shoot. From there, the crew was forced to move the production over to the next day, which was supposed to be 20 degrees warmer and have very little chance of winds. That, however, created other problems, including having to pay cast and crew to come back to the site for an unexpected extra day, and McKissock and the producer having to take a cut in their own pay to cover the costs of going over budget.
Most of the crew was able to come back, but McKissock lost her Steadicam operator, a crucial crew member since the entire video was supposed to be one single shot on a Steadicam. She found a replacement Steadicam operator, but in the end, he wasn’t up to the task, so they ended up letting him go. Finally, as the production was running out of daylight, the cinematographer stepped in and shot the entire video handheld.
“The sun was going down and we still hadn’t gotten the shot. Of course, that is the crazy thing about making a one shot video—you either have a video or you don’t. It’s an all or nothing situation,” McKissock explained. “After a couple takes we got the shot, and immediately after that there wasn’t enough sunlight to do another take. So basically we ended up with only one usable take from the entire production, and, after some insane editing work, that one take was what became the video that won the $50,000 grand prize.”
Obviously, McKissock had no idea she was going to face the challenges she did in directing this video, but she believes her greatest moments of turmoil always end up being the most valuable for her development. This situation, she said, was certainly no exception.
“It could not be more ironic that the song was called ‘Nothing is Wrong’ because literally everything went wrong on that set,” McKissock stated. “Yet, to me this is what makes the video so personal and all the more meaningful for it to have won this award in the OnVidi contest.”
McKissock will share a portion of the prize money with Daniel Woltosz, a CSULB film alumni who produced the “Nothing is Wrong” music video for her. She said without him and his efforts, there never would have been a video at all.
She is also excited about the opportunities the prize money gives her as a filmmaker. Already, she is in the process of writing a short film that she plans to go into production with in February, and with the extra funding, she will be able to shoot it on actual film instead of going digital, something she has always wanted to do but simply couldn’t afford.
In the meantime, family, friends and classmates can check out her award-winning music video on the Vidi Entertainment website under the “Grand Prize” heading. All submissions will be showcased when onvidi.com launches in early 2012.