For Zealot frontman Luke Hunter James-Erickson, nothing in life is more important than family. It’s a theme that oozes from every pixel of the new music video that his band, Zealot, is premiering on Tuesday, November 12.
The video is simple but intriguing. An old car sits in a field, nothing but brown prairie grass and open Colorado sky all around as the Zealot song "Take a Look at Virginia," plays. In a long time-lapse shot, James-Erickson sits in a chair and comes and goes as planes race by overhead. The sun moves across the sky and night begins to fall. James-Erickson and a slew of other people move in and out of the shot, as a film — in real time — is projected against the back end of the ancient automobile.
These are not just people and objects; they are James-Erickson’s family and their possessions that help tell the story.
“The car in there, that’s my grandpa’s on my dad’s side,” says James-Erickson. “He’s my stepdad. He’s always been there since I was like three months old. I was lucky that I got two dads, one mom. I got to grow up with a pretty fun family like that.”
Projected onto the car, a 1952 Chevrolet, is footage of James-Erickson’s grandparents, on his mother’s side, driving race cars in the 1950s. It’s old footage he found, chopped up and layered so as to get both his grandparents in the same shot. The whole thing was shot on land his parents own east of Denver.
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“The seat that I’m sitting in is my grandpa’s, on my other dad’s side,” says James-Erickson. “That's his old office chair. And that lamp is my other dad’s favorite reading lamp, that I believe was his mother’s. So there's just a lot of family stuff in there.
In the beginning of the video, children run in and out of frame. Those, too, are his family members.
“That’s my sister and her kids and then my best friend, Cecile, and her husband. Their kid was hanging around, too,” he says. “Just a whole big family affair, and it was all shot for my birthday this year. “
While directing family members, including rambunctious kids, can be a challenge, that was the least of James-Erickson’s problems when creating the video for "Take a Look at Virginia." A closer look at the footage reveals a real logistical quandary: How did he get the racing footage, projected on the car, to appear in real time while the rest of the video is a time lapse?
“One of the things I wanted to do with this was see if I [could] make a video out of a time lapse without affecting it really too much after the fact, without using any further computer-animated things or anything like that,” says James-Erickson. “I wanted it to appear as though it’s moving in real time. It took a long time to kind of figure out the math on everything.”
To achieve that effect, James-Erickson employed some digital magic, slowing the footage dramatically so that it syncs with the time-lapse video in such a way that it appears to be running in real time as the time-lapse shot flies by in a fast-forward blur.
“It took about 100 hours straight through to render,” he says. “After I chopped that video up, I stretched it out to six hours, then left my computer in the coldest room in the house so that it wouldn’t die.”
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The slowed-down video was then projected on the car as the live-action time lapse was filmed. James-Erickson admits he wasn’t sure it would work.
“I’m not a photographer, so I’m completely unfamiliar with that process and what cameras can and can’t do,” he says. “We filmed this over about six hours, from start to finish, to do the time lapse. I knew that I was going to be sitting in a field and leaving at specific times and coming in at other specific times. It was going to be a lot of work, sitting outside, and especially with Colorado, you never know when you’re going to get a good day’s weather. I didn’t want to do this more than once.”
The message of the song, which is from Zealot's recently released album, The Book of Ramifications, is considerably simpler than either the concept of the video or its execution.
“It’s more me trying to convince myself and work on my own vision of idealizing others — not only for romantic purposes, but in general,” says James-Erickson. “ I have so many friends who are very successful, and I have successes as well, but I see the success that’s going on in other people’s lives and, oh, my God, I just want that. I realize I have a lot of things that they’re proud of me for, as well. We’ve all got something. The people with a lot of stuff, you know, sometimes they’re struggling, too. And nobody’s perfect. “