Behind the Scenes: Alicia Keys
Alicia Keys is one of the most prolific singer, songwriters of our generation. From her breakout single, Fallin’, to this month’s release of Here, Alicia’s soulful, iconic sound has become recognized as art on the most renowned level. With 15 Grammy Awards, a catalog of beautiful music, and perhaps most importantly, a lifetime of altruistic community work to her name, we were beyond excited at the chance to create this piece.
From the start, we knew we wanted to keep our conversation with Alicia as casual as possible. Discussions surrounding growing up as part of a mixed family, attending NYC’s public school system, finding her voice, and allowing her creative process to morph over the years would make it easy for us to allow Alicia’s personality to take center stage.
We wanted our discussion with Alicia to dictate the course of visuals throughout this piece, and indeed it did. She was able to verbally paint a vivid picture of her New York City, and with that in mind, we set out to visually match her words.
In mid-June, 2016 our team was blessed with the opportunity to create an interview-driven, documentary-style piece with the incomparable Alicia Keys.
We started our two-day shoot with a full day at Jungle City Studios- home of Alicia's longtime engineer and studio coordinator, Ann Mincieli. The main focus of day 1 was a sit-down interview with Alicia in Jungle City's main recording studio. From there we were able to transition to video portraits on Jungle City's rooftop, in the control room, and finally at street-level. These portraits allowed us to quickly build visual context with Alicia given her short five hours of available time.
The second day of this shoot was established as the day our crew would capture the New York City b-roll that would bring this video together. This meant we had to regroup immediately after the first day's interview and develop a filming plan that would allow us to visually convey the answers to Alicia's interview questions.
Our crew split into two teams, each with specific targets in mind. We had one team travel from Bed Stuy, Brooklyn to Harlem via public transportation, while another traveled by car. This allowed us to take an authentic-yet-strategic approach to painting the pictures Alicia had described the previous afternoon.
For our interview with Alicia, we complemented the natural daylight coming from the room’s large windows with an Arri M18 HMI through 8x8’ half grid diffusion. We wanted to create the largest and softest-feeling source possible with the limited space in the room. We liked the shape of the key light, so we ended up choosing not using a backlight. Post-interview, we also used the M18 for fill in the studio control room and on the rooftop.
For our time on the street with Alicia, we used only natural light coming from the last 10 minutes of a beautiful sunset. We maximized our time by rolling two cameras for the coverage footage; one on a gimbal and the other handheld.
When filming on the second day, we stayed minimal in order to stay mobile and capture the most authentic moments possible, à la street photography. For portraits, we cut the strong daylight with a handheld overhead scrim and used a soft beadboard bounce as a key.
Cameras: RED Epic Dragon Carbon Fiber, RED Scarlet Dragon
Lenses: Zeiss Contax
Director: James Pereira (JMP)
1st AC: Andrew Percival
Sound Recordist: Nick Chirumbolo
Producer: Ben Weigher
Executive Producer: Anoushka Seigler (FACT)