behind the music video: Be Afraid, "Nothing Like Romance"

behind the music video: Be Afraid, "Nothing Like Romance"

I love music videos. Gotta be one of my favorite genres (of video). I have made a couple music videos myself! The first one I ever made was for my friend Grace's band Shybaby, for their song "When You Were Here." The conceit for that video was "the band tries to apply makeup without a mirror." Then I worked on a few more for them in various capacities: "Mumblin", "Pizza," "Kiki doesn't like it when you leave me at the party"...I also made a video shot entirely on a 2007 point-and-shoot camera for the band Cathedral Bells during peak pandemic times. I especially love the DIY aspect of making an indie music vid, because you can make everything up as you go.

A while ago, I got a DM from music video director Erik Coates. I'm big into trying to make iPhone and modern digital camera footage look like DV and VHS footage — a little glitch will scratch le itch — and Erik asked about how to get that kind of effect for a music video he was directing for his friend's band, Be Afraid.

A few months after that, Erik sent over the finished music video for "Nothing Like Romance." They'd ended up departing from the VHS approach, but the final product blew me away with its complexity: there were multiple locations, many setups, costume changes, body doubles, green screen / VFX, car stunts, and a full narrative involving the band and their possibly nefarious doppelgängers that managed to show the band's personality and exist as a perfect delivery vector for the song.

I needed to know how they pulled off such an endeavor. So I interviewed Erik and Be Afraid's singer/guitarist Nicholas Wang-Tretiak over Zoom about everything that went into the "Nothing Like Romance" video. I think it's a great chat and a very useful primer for DIY videos, for anyone who might be interested in making their own. It has never been easier or cheaper to make cool video stuff — all you need is a good idea to get started.

all behind-the-scenes photos by Graeme Mcdonald 

Okay, so we've got the band leader here. We have the music video director here. How do you both know each other?

Erik Coates (video director): We met probably ten years ago when we were both at the campus radio station at UBC in Vancouver. An earlier version of Be Afraid existed at the time, and I had a band, and then our drummer left and Nick became our drummer. That's when we became closer friends.

Nicholas Wang-Tretiak (Be Afraid): Yeah, I was a horrible drummer. Sweaty and incompetent.

Erik: It fit with the rest of the sound.

Nick: That's true.

I just interviewed someone who basically loved his college radio experience so much that he's now started an Internet radio station. It's a powerful experience to be young and get thrown into that specific culture. What was your college radio programming like?

Erik: I had a show called A Face for Radio, and I wanted to be like Marc Maron. It was a really horrible show. I was constantly late. The common refrain was that I'd just complain about the bus.

Nick: I worked in the music department as a volunteer, and I would go through stacks of CDs and listen to 20 seconds of each CD and do a write-up describing the entirety of the record based on those 20 seconds. I was very critical. I would just look at the cover and go, Okay, I think I know what's going on here.

Erik: He had good write-ups though.

Nick: I don't recall!

Okay, so we're here to talk about the "Nothing Like Romance" video, which I've now watched many times. It's amazing. I feel like it is deceptively more complicated than the average DIY rock band video. Who had the idea for this to start with?

Erik: Nick and I would often go to diners and drink decaf coffee and talk about all sorts of things. He knew that I wanted to make movies and things of that nature. We had discussed the idea of doing a music video for a while, and then when the new album was coming out, we had some basic ideas for it.

Nick: Lindsay (Stewart) came up with this idea of everybody jogging to go play basketball in a video. I was like, I don't want to jog in a video. That would be horrible. Let's just sit and drive and it'll be way better.

Erik: You walked backwards!

Nick: I did, yeah. Also, there's a video from this Canadian band called By Divine Right, from the year 2000. Looking back, I kind of copied that video. The arc is exactly the same. It's one of those things where you see it later and you realize, oh, that was in my subconscious.

Erik: I remember seeing some interview with Karen O, about the "Maps" video, where she said how Spike Jonze was great because whatever they wanted, he made happen. And so I wanted to be Spike Jonze. That was the goal. I was just like, Whatever you guys want, we'll make it happen. And then everyone started pitching ideas, and it came around pretty collaboratively.

The plot of the video has these kind of dual characters of the band members — would it be accurate to describe them as alter egos?

Nick: Yeah, everyone came up with their own and it makes sense why each person made their choice.

I know there's sort of a renaissance-y, cottagecore kind of character...

Nick: Yeah. That's a costume Alie (Lynch) had from going to a Ren Faire. Graeme (Mcdonald), our drummer who wore the bear helmet, he bought that from a movie set. He spent $200 on this bear hat because he thought it was really cool. Lindsay thinks Guy Fieri is really all lines up.

How long did this take to shoot? Because this is like multiple locations, car stunts, green screen...

Erik: It was a lot. We had originally planned to do it in one weekend, so we did two really long days on a weekend, got all of the outside shots and the live show shots and the green screen, but we didn't get any of the shots of the band in the car. So then the band rallied again and we met up for four or five hours the next week and did the car shots. We had a pretty loose script. And then with the corner store sequence, we showed up on the day and asked if we could film in there. The drag race, we were originally going to do elsewhere...there was a lot of improvising and hoping we could get as much coverage as possible to be able to put something coherent together at the end.

What was the hardest thing about making the video?

Nick: I think the shooting on location. I have a certain degree of social anxiety — the idea that we were going to ask this corner store, like, Hey, can we just like film inside this store while there are people walking around? And then to go on the street, and I've got this backwards suit on, and I'm jumping on tables next to little kids playing on seesaws and there's families watching me. I was amazed that everyone else was just cool with it! To me it was stressful, but I think it was totally fine for some people.

Erik: The green screen would have been the hardest part. But we had Nick's friend Yves McCrae, who does visual effects, basically take the lead and co-direct on that. I think the hardest part was the car race scene. We did it on this road that goes to the port. My dad worked on the video as well. He's a carpenter for the city, and he brought a bunch of these City of Vancouver pylons. We had to block off half the street, but we didn't have any permits to do it. There were all these trucks coming up and we had to ask the truck drivers to go around us. A security guard came up and we lied and said that we had permits. He was okay with it as long as we didn't have drones. The crew were all kind of freaking out about getting this shot, because we wanted to make [the cars] look fast, but we didn't want to drive fast. We basically had one shot to do it — my dad was in one of the cars and then the band was in the other one. We hit record and hoped for the best.

Nick: It was stressful. The sun was setting, the cops were doing circles, checking us out. They were like, What are these people in weird costumes standing around in a completely empty parking lot next to the port doing? Your dad having the City of Vancouver sash on...

That's amazing. I'm sure the cops were just deciding how much trouble you would be worth to do something that would involve, like, paperwork.

Erik: Yeah, thankfully that all somehow came together. That whole day was flying by the seat of our pants. We got no permission to do anything. People were incredibly gracious and chill with us.

Had you made music videos before this?

Erik: Well, I made one that never was released, because the song was never finished...

God, that's brutal.

Erik: I know. I'm pestering my friend about it: Just record the vocals, it's a good song. I did a short film when I was in school — in law school, not film school. And that's about it. This is the first big production.

Well it's very impressive. For Erik: how was the edit? For Nick: how did it feel to watch a cut of it back for the first time?

Erik: Actually, it's interesting. Me and Kacper, the director of photography, we were holed up in his little apartment, spending several hours a day just going through everything. The first cut was very different than the final version. There were a lot faster cuts. In my head, I was like, Oh, this is great. This is perfect. Everything made sense — because there's so much story going on that we're trying to tell. Then I sent it to Nick to get his feedback on it, and Nick gave some very kindly worded and very helpful constructive criticism, which my first reaction to it was, Fuck you, man, come on!

[Nick laughing]

I stewed and I was angry for a little bit. And then I got some friends who had no involvement in this video whatsoever and they watched it, and they said pretty much all of the things that Nick said. So I thought okay, he's probably right. So I started making the changes, and it improved dramatically. Actually working with Nick over the editing process was what I think really made it work, because before then, I think I was a little too close to it.

Nick: It was hard. You could see Erik's beard getting bigger and the bags under his eyes getting blacker. And everyone put in so much work, so it's hard to take that and then chop it up, you know? It wasn't hard for me because I was just sitting, waiting for it to be sent to me. The only hard thing was knowing that that toiling away is going on, and also being asked to criticize that at the same time.

Erik: That was one of the biggest learning experiences for me. Well, I mean, it was all a learning experience. But finding ways with friends — people you care about, with something everyone's so invested in — to be able to deliver hard truths and accept them and work together to achieve the goal that we all have.

Having done video stuff myself, it's always the scariest to send the first cut out. You have no idea what someone's picture of a video is in their head, and then you have to find out, and sometimes it's like: Oh, interesting. Not the picture that I thought! Having now made this video, do you have any advice for other people making DIY music videos?

Erik: For me, I would say the Karen O / Spike Jonze advice is good. Commit to the idea and try to make it happen to the best of your ability, obviously, given the restrictions that you have. And don't be afraid. We did a lot of stuff that I don't think any of us thought we could do, and we just kind of went for it without thinking too much. Last, YouTube tutorials and Reddit questions, those are fundamental. The video probably should have a special thanks to, like, three different YouTube channels.

Nick: I learned from everyone else who did all the work, to just do it. If I was making it, I would have gotten scared out of our ideas, like let's just do the easy way, the less stressful way. Everyone had no fear and really tried to do the route that was going to work the best, which is amazing to me. It was really admirable. The only way to be happy with it, I guess, is if you really gave it your all.

Erik: For DIY stuff, you're doing it because you care about it, because it's something that matters to you. We were all in a stressful situation where we didn't know what we were doing. But everyone did their part to keep the morale up and stay excited and make it a fun time. Because it could have very easily evolved into not being a fun time. We all enjoyed ourselves, and I think that was because everyone came in on the same page that this was something that we all liked and cared about and wanted to make happen.

Yeah, I feel like you do have to commit to being positive. It takes people being like, "Let's make it fun," to actually make it fun. It's not necessarily inherently fun to make a music video, even though music videos are fun.

Erik: Yeah. Making something fun isn't always fun.

That's the pull quote for this. I don't really use use pull quotes on the blog, but that would be a good one. What's next for Be Afraid?

Nick: We're playing some shows in December. And we're releasing a Christmas song.


Nick: We might make a video for that too. Yeah, we wrote a Christmas song, which has always been a dream of mine. We recorded in one day.

What is it called?

Nick: It's going to be called "Never Gay at Christmas Time." I don't know if I should explain the title....

I'll blog it when it comes out, I promise.

Listen to Be Afraid's album The End Looks Like Prosperity, on Kingfisher Bluez Records. Here is Be Afraid's Linktree.

The End Looks Like Prosperity, by BE AFRAID
7 track album

Be Afraid are:
Nicholas Wang-Tretiak (vox + guitar)
Lindsay Stewart (vox + synth)
Max Glykherr (guitar)
Alie Lynch (bass)
Graeme Mcdonald (drums)