You’ve gotta have Faith
Story and Photos by Casey Lessard
It was a leap of faith, but a former Hollywood actor, a New York musician and a London (Ontario) camerawoman converged on an Ipperwash trailer park this summer in hopes of creating a music video that will also showcase the park to the nation and the world. Stephen Shellenberger, whose art is regularly shown at group shows at Bliss Studio in Port Franks, left Hollywood several years ago and directs the video for “Faith” by Joseph Arthur, a folk-rock musician based in Brooklyn. They teamed up with a friend of Shellenberger who owns London’s video production studio CIVA Communications, and who provided the team with Sylvana Liebregts, who shot and edited the video. It should hit MuchMusic this month if accepted by the music network, and there’s word it will air in the United States and France.
“I’ve done some music videos in the past,” Liebregts said, “so I was thrilled when I was asked to do it. I’m crazy about music, so to be able to do this and combine my passion for filmmaking with music is incredible. Joseph’s a really nice guy and talented so it was an easy job to take.”
Arthur has enjoyed moderate success in the U.S., with one of his songs featured on an EP as a tribute to the victims of Hurricane Katrina. The song was recorded and remixed six times on the EP by such artists as Peter Gabriel (who signed Arthur to his Real World label), Chris Martin of Coldplay, Justin Timberlake, and by Arthur himself in a duet with Michael Stipe of REM.
“I kept telling Stephen about Joseph,” said Arthur’s manager Peter Wark, whose office is down the street from Shellenberger’s Montreal home, “and he came out to see him play solo at the Montreal Jazz Festival. We gave him the record and Joseph said we should do a video. Stephen started calling me and he brought a lot of energy to the process. He had the idea from day one to do it at this trailer park.”
“It’s amazing,” Arthur, born 36 years ago in Akron, Ohio, said of the area. “It’s a beautiful lake and I like this trailer park because I like the characters and the people here. It was Stephen’s idea to come here. It’s a song about faith, and I just trusted his instinct and I feel like it’s something interesting we’re making here.”
Shellenberger lives part-time at the Huron Shores Trailer Park. He recruited some locals, including his neighbours and Miss Kettle Point, to perform in the video, which was filmed over several days at the park and at Ipperwash beach.
“I’ve never shot a rock video before,” Shellenberger said, “and I love Joseph’s song and I though if we’re going to do it, let’s do it at my trailer park.”
Shellenberger turned to art while acting in Hollywood, with roles in 30 films including A River Runs Through It with Brad Pitt, directed by Robert Redford.
“I was always painting along the way,” he said, “and then I went through a rocky breakup and my kids were taken to France and I started painting more and more. If you’re an artist, you will do whatever is necessary to create. Arthur hyper-focuses and puts out three albums a year. It’s a compulsion to do it.”
Arthur’s album Temporary People will be his first full-length album for 2008, following four EP-length albums released in March, April, June and July.
“When you’re really productive, you flood the market with your psyche,” Arthur said. “The Internet is a digital manifestation of humanity’s subconscious and it’s limitless. You can do as much or as little as you want. You could put out a record every five years or blog like crazy every day.”
Arthur is a busy man, not only touring and producing music, but also running a New York art gallery, which is shutting down this month because of problems with the landlord (according to stereogum.com). He sets off for a tour of France and North America October 6.
“Joseph does well, but he’s still struggling to get to the next place. I think everyone is,” his manager Wark said. “Success for artists is getting to the point where you can do your art and you don’t have to work a day job. Then you aim for the sky and hope you play for thousands and thousands of fans every night.”
Canadian fans should get at least one glimpse of Arthur when his video hits the air on MuchMusic; he recorded an interview that is expected to air when the video makes its Canadian debut. The album hits stores September 30.
“Our aim is to do something more with this and see if we can expand on the idea of what a music video can be and is,” Arthur said. “Through all these avenues of distribution, we’re no longer limited as artists to formulate our products into a fixed idea of what is commercially viable.”
“Having the video air on national television is probably the coolest thing to happen in my career to date,” camerawoman and editor Sylvana Liebregts said, “and it motivates me to make it really cool and really good.
“The theme of the video is faith, and it’s a spiritual, personal song to him. I like a handheld feel; it’s more intimate and you can get into the action. A steady, tripod look is nice, but it’s sort of dry and more standard; there’s not much too it. In post-production we’re going to give it quite a distinct look. I want to make it look really cool, so I’ll spend a lot of time on it.”
For first-time music video director Shellenberger, who has directed some shorts, it’s a brand new experience.
“I’m flying by the seat of my pants,” he said. “I don’t watch a lot of videos, but I know what I would like to see. You have to trust yourself and believe it’s all going to be perfect. I’ve worked on films where you have so many cooks that the flavour is cooked out of it. You have too many people overseeing everything. The beauty of this is I do what I feel and that’s how it’s happened.”