Behind the Scenes: Zenith
When I was first approached about shooting Zenith, the first thing that came to mind was the definition of the word itself, “the time at which something is most powerful or successful”, or the apex. I got on a call with Denzel to share some of my thoughts, and he told me that the song is actually about the Zenith TV sets.
This totally caught me off guard, but in a good way.
I sat down to think about how the TV has come to affect our society in general. In today's world nearly everything is being captured and digested through a screen. People will be sitting a room with 4 friends and everyone seems lifeless, staring at their electronic devices, not communicating with each other. Most of the information we take in is coming from 3rd party channels-- often without validation from any sources.
The biggest problem in my opinion is that we are so locked into our technology we forget to build and grow with the people that surround us. Instead, we make assumptions based on arbitrary information from a screen.
I wanted to create an environment where I could metaphorically play with the idea of being trapped by “Big Brother” controlling our actions and ultimately skewing our perception of what is real and what isn't. Technology is creating a dissonance among our people making it difficult to progress together.
We built an asylum scenario to help exhibit the power of technology holding us down, and more importantly, how that power can be overcome by working and communicating directly with those closest to us.
The visuals encapture one big analogy showcasing both Denzel and Joey as the enlightened individuals who are above the influence of “Big Brother”, and are doing their part to bring their peers back to the light. Watch as Denzel and Joey revive the new generation.
“Catch me on the zenith, fuck a TV screen, bitch, let it die Look at your reflection, and ask "Who am I?"”
Denzel Curry and his team came to JMP in late August 2016 with an opportunity to shoot a video for his track Zenith featuring Joey Bada$$. The video was commissioned by Alpha Industries and Urban Outfitters as part of the UO Music Video Series.
We had less than two weeks to prep for a one day window where Denzel and Joey would be available together in Connecticut, given their busy tour schedules. With only a few hours of overlap time in their day, we decided shooting in studio would be the best approach. After discussions with Denzel, JMP came up with the concept described above.
With no time for a studio pre-light/set building day, we had to have all of our pre-production plans dialed so we could set up this unique environment the morning of the shoot. We knew it was going to be a tight squeeze on setup time. We did as much as possible the day before the shoot. Our crew sourced and styled all props between Boston and NYC.
Our initial challenge at hand with the set was to create a two sided wall to separate the two black and white 12’x12’ “rooms.” Normal studio wall flats are one sided with supporting jacks on the other side. We pre-framed the center wall in sections the day before and loaded them into a cargo van with the rest of the props.
With an early rise on the day of the shoot, we showed up at Oneten Studio, and kicked into high gear to assemble our full set before the talent arrived at noon. We adjoined the sections of the center wall and supported it by hanging it from the studio grid. From there, we set up a traditional studio flat on the leftmost wall of the black room. We rushed to adjoin all of the wall panels and paint, using massive fans to express dry everything.
For lighting, we used 2K tungsten Space Lights overhead in each room, motivated by a hanging practical bulb shown in many frames. We gripped four 650w fresnels to the grid above the back corners of each room, stopped down with one scrim and softened with small Chimeras. We used large beadboard for front light depending on the shot at hand.
Since the light level was relatively low, we chose to use an FS7 for its higher base ISO. While shooting, we swapped the camera between a Matthews doorway dolly on a 30' track and handheld in each room. For the exterior outro 'escape' scene, we had the camera on a gimbal for subtle movement.
Studio Camera: FS7
Exterior Camera: RED Scarlet Dragon
Lenses: Zeiss Contax
Directed by: JMP
DP: Joey Szela
AC: Andrew Percival
Art Dept: Chris Gilmore
Grip: Antonio Esposito
PA: Ben Weigher
Edit: Joey Szela