Friday, September 30, 2005 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Can you see me now? Presidents film video on cellphones

Seattle Times staff reporter

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It started as a joke.

Video director Grant Marshall and Tim McGahan, his director of photography, were complaining to each other about low-budget music videos.

"We shoot in 35 millimeter film," Marshall said. "If the budget's not there, 16 millimeter film."

It went downhill from there. VHS? McGahan retorted, "Next, they'll expect me to shoot on my phone."

Marshall thought, why not?

So he pitched the idea to an Australian band 18 months ago.

"They didn't want to do it," Marshall said by phone from Brisbane. "They didn't get it."

But when Marshall approached the Presidents of the United States of America, he got a different answer.

"I thought, genius! The perfect marriage of low budget and high concept," said lead singer Chris Ballew. "I loved it."

Seattle's own Presidents of the United States of America star in "Some Postman," the first ever music video shot on cellphones.

Led by Marshall, an Australian crew filmed "Some Postman" in one day at Queen Anne's Seattle Grip and Lighting studio. The 10-hour shoot took place in late July.

The video's novel style has already gained a footing Down Under. It's airing on major Australian stations such as ABC, Video Hits and VH1.

"Some Postman" debuts in the United States next month.

Difficult process

The video shows the trio playing their entire song against a white backdrop. A silhouetted woman appears, dancing exuberantly. A light-blue tint haunts many of the low-res images. And almost all of the shots appear to be mosaics, pieces of rectangular footage cobbled together like a puzzle.

Twelve sleek, black Sony Ericsson K750i's captured the enthusiastic expressions of the Presidents as they performed the catchy tune off their "Love Everybody" album.

Since all the phones in the U.S. seemed to be two generations behind those at home, Marshall had to import the cellphones from Australia.

"I was shocked," said Marshall. "I thought America would have the latest and greatest."

But the new technology created a lot of problems, he said.

The resolution on cellphones is equivalent to 1/3000 of the quality of normal video, Marshall said.

"They're basically toys," he said. "Imagine recording your album on an answering machine or doing album art on an Etch A Sketch.

"The mobile phones were so temperamental that they'd just turn off at any point without warning."

And although the manufacturer promised that they'd record 15 frames per second, they only did 10.

To overcome this limitation, the band performed at half time. Editors later sped the footage back up.

This meant the Presidents had to sing the song nearly 30 times, Marshall said.

Fancy illusions

Employing lots of cameras was one of the many tricks the crew used to make the end product look good, he said. "We overlaid the phone footage so we had phones shooting the same angles."

The images were Bluetoothed to an iMac. Then three people worked for two weeks on post-production, Marshall said, adding that most video projects rely on one editor for two to three days.

During post-production, the team tinkered some more. "We defocused parts to give it that soft look, and we ran noise reduction over the clip."

Value of minimalism

Marshall's idea for the video was simple: The Presidents of the United States of America would perform their song as a dozen cellphones shot their act.

But the band wanted one more element.

"The best thing [about the video] is Tanna the dancer," Ballew said. "We never had a pretty girl dancing in the video."

He recalled other bands — like Judas Priest and Duran Duran — who shot videos with "some dancing girl who had nothing to do with the song."

Having seen the video, Ballew still loves it.

"I don't know what our problem was," he said. "We kept trying to make videos with stories.

"I think it's a good video because it has no story and it just shows us having fun, being hams, performing the song," Ballew said. "It's the biggest little video we've ever made."

Judy Chia Hui Hsu: 206-464-3315 or

Copyright © 2005 The Seattle Times Company


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