New York Director, Diego Contreras directed and produced the music video 'Leon' for Brooklyn's Kool Head. Diego talks about how he first heard about Kool Head and what it took to produce a music clip of the highest production values with absolutely no budget at all!
“It all started one day when I was sharing some of my music with Jason Nitti, an art director and co-worker at ad agency Anomaly in New York. I’d spent most of my college days writing music and I found out that Jason was a musician as well, so that’s sort of what sparked our friendship. That day Jason sent me a folder with about ten tracks from ‘Kool Head’, a new music project he was working on with his friend and singer Brandon McMichael. I went home that night and listened to all the tracks at once. To be honest with you, I didn't know what to expect, but once I hit play, their music really blew me away. I immediately fell in love with their sound. I couldn’t believe I was one of the first people to listen to it. It was fresh and different; the kind of music that just sticks in your head all day long."
"Jason had seen some of the films I’d been shooting and asked if I’d be interested in doing a music video for them. There were no high expectations for it. They just wanted something fun to put their music against. I immediately said YES and picked the song “Leon”. It was tough to pick from all the great tracks but “Leon” felt like something straight out of the “Drive” soundtrack, which I liked. I started writing a treatment for it, totally disregarding the fact that we had zero dollars to make it happen. Part of the problem of jumping into filmmaking from an advertising background is that you get used to making these beautiful presentation decks for your client’s TV spots. With those, you know from the start that the client has a massive budget so money is never an issue. You always go for something big and epic, just because you can. And I’m kind of guilty of doing that in my treatments. I spent a couple of weeks writing the story and suddenly had a 20+ page treatment filled with performance scenes, expensive cars, multiple locations, and long steadicam shots. I sent it over to Kool Head and they loved it. They wanted to go ahead with it and that’s when I realized I’d gotten myself in trouble; now I had to figure out how to pull it off. "
"We turned to Kickstarter to launch a campaign to get the video funded. That brought in a nice budget of $5K, but we quickly realized it wasn’t enough to make what I envisioned but enough to get us going. The next big step was to find our hero subway dancer. With the help of Sean Corcoran, another friend at Anomaly, we found the amazing 12-year old Jared Beadle-Allen on Youtube. We did some research and found the location of his dance school in the city. We showed up to their class one day and met with the teacher, who played the track for all his kids so they could freestyle to it. We sat there and watched about 15 kids dancing to the song. They were all amazing, but Jared once again really stood out. We immediately decided to get in touch with him and his family and cast him into the project. He had no film experience but I loved his attitude and confidence in front of the camera."
“It was almost poetic in a
way, the way the kid is
dancing all by himself inside
a desolate train station.”
"As far as cameras go, I always wanted to shoot “Leon” on the Arri Alexa for its beautiful colors and rich textures, and on anamorphic lenses. Benjamin Loeb who is one of my favorite young DP’s based in Vancouver had joined the project but after several scheduling conflicts it became very hard to lock a shooting date, so we had to find someone local. I went on Vimeo and found the very talented DP David Kruta. I loved his style and beautiful use of light. After a few phone calls he joined the project and brought in his AC and steadicam operator. At this point the entire $5K budget was going away into the camera rental and the crew, so the producer (Will Mahr) and I pitched in to double the budget and make the video happen."
"After several months of planning the project after hours, we finally had everything in place to start shooting. We scheduled three full days and nights for the shoot, which was very exhausting. Will Mahr and I must have gotten about an hour of sleep each day of the shoot. There were also many challenges, like getting kicked out of a few locations and having to find replacements immediately on Google Street View."
"The underground subway dance scenes were shot on the second day at 1am without a permit. Jared was dead tired so we only had 30 minutes to go down into the station and shoot the entire sequence. We returned a month later with about 15 extras for a reshoot. I always wanted the kid to have a crowd around him as he danced. That explains how he gets all the money he burns later in the video. We setup and as soon as we began shooting a cop showed up and kicked everyone out of the station. We lost the chance to get the crowd into the shot, so we had to go back and use the footage from the first night for the edit. But I actually liked how it turned out. It was almost poetic in a way, the way the kid is dancing all by himself inside a desolate train station. That’s something you rarely see in NYC unless its 4 in the morning."
"I’m very proud of how the video turned out. There was a lot of love and effort put in by the entire team and the guys at Kool Head. I’m happy that we pulled off what we set out to do. It was crazy challenging and ambitious, but it’s proof that you can make something special when the entire team aligns on a vision, regardless of the budget. It was definitely one of the most fun shoots I’ve ever been a part of."