In the fall of 2013 an amazing opportunity fell right into our laps. It was something I had always wanted to do and it was the perfect definition of luck – when opportunity meets preparedness.
I get asked about this a lot and people are always amazed when I tell them the story. So at this major moment – the video just passed 9 MILLION views – I thought I would share the ‘behind the scenes’ view with you guys publicly for the first time. This is the story of how we created the Hezekiah Walker music video ‘Every Praise’.
On Friday, September 6th, 2013, our team had a meeting in Atlanta with a new client. Out of nowhere, right in the middle of our meeting, she got a text from Hezekiah Walker who sits on her organization’s board of directors. He was looking to produce a music video for his smash hit ‘Every Praise’ and was putting out feelers to find a production company. She asked us if that was something we would be interested in. I immediately said ‘yes’, but inside I figured this was one of those things that sounds really cool but is never going to happen.
There were just too many reasons that it wouldn’t happen. He was in New York, we were in Birmingham. We had never met and even our mutual friend barely knew us. We had never produced a music video. I could go on. But lo and behold, she told him about us, he got off the phone and looked at our reel, and 5 minutes later he was calling me. If I thought it was a long shot before he and I talked, now I knew it wasn’t going to happen. The budget was not huge. The record company, publisher and management agency all had to sign off. Oh, and did I mention, it had to be done, totally finished, in two weeks? Yeah, right. I told him we would love to tackle it but I figured I would never hear from him again.
A week later – Friday, September 13th, 2013 – we had a green light and a signed contract. And only 8 days left to get it done. I’m talking, concept, writing, pitching, approval – then hiring crew, logistics, locations and filming – it was insanity. But I figured God made the world in 6 days, so a music video – piece of cake.
Right out of the gate we caught a break. Hez (he lets me call him Hez) added a tour stop in New Orleans which would bring him within driving distance of Birmingham, but we would have to move the shoot back a whole week. His people called and asked if we could do that, all the while apologizing for the imposition of changing the schedule. Doubling our prep time (from 7 days to 14 days) was of course a huge inconvenience, but being the flexible, reasonable people we are, we told them that somehow we would find a way to forgive them and make it work. Thank you baby Jesus.
Even though 14 days was still cray-cray, compared to 7 it felt like an eternity. Our creative team quickly came up with three concepts all of which Hez’ people shot down for various reasons. Two days lost and back to square one. But then Scott Ross, one of our producer/writers came up with the flash mob concept. Everyone thought it was a great idea. Now all we had to do was pull off this huge production in 8 days.
Our production team rose to the occasion, each person taking on a segment of production so we could all be working simultaneously. Scott Ross took care of crew and locations. Tammy Clement took care of legal and hospitality. Marcus Mullet headed up the camera crew. Marcus Clement oversaw all of the data storage and organization. And I handled working with the artist and executive producing.
I have to admit, the first few days things were not looking good. Our favorite cinematographer and his grip were already booked. The choreographer we had in mind was going out of town for a convention. Our go-to locations guy was already booked. We couldn’t get anyone from the city to get back to us about using the location we wanted which required shutting down traffic, police support, permits, etc…
We pressed ahead in blind faith and then one by one, slowly but surely, things started to fall into place. We found an amazing choreographer named Veronica Givhan who single-handedly created the routines, recruited the over 100 men, women and children to be part of the flash mob, and rehearsed them daily leading up to the shoot. We were then able to pull together about 7 freelance camera guys, get the city on board including the cops, find a locations manager who killed it for us, and about a thousand other small but significant details in a mad dash leading up to the day of shooting. And I have to give a special thanks to The Worship Center Christian Church and Pastor Van Moody for their endless support. It. Was. Nuts.
We were literally down to the wire pulling everything together and it was pretty nerve racking. Our crew was pulled together from several places and had never worked all together before. The dancers had only been able to rehearse in small groups around town and had never all been together in one spot. And because of the tour schedule, Hez had to drive most of the night to get to the shoot on time, then had only about 3 hours on set before he had to head right back out to the next city. Oh, and there was the threat of rain. No pressure.
Finally the day of the shoot had arrived – Saturday, September 28, 2013. We ended up going through the entire song about 8 times. The first 4 times we focused on shooting from the inside out. About half of the cameras were working the spontaneous crowds and the other half were moving around inside the set, getting closeups of the artist, singers, and dancers. Then the last 4 times we concentrated on shooting from the outside in with all cameras generally pointing at the mob from the outer perimeter. We did it this way to try to minimize getting any cameras in the shots. This also allowed the dancers to use the first 4 times as rehearsals. Since any given shot only showed closeups you wouldn’t be able to tell if the group as a whole was really together or not. Then by the final takes they were warmed up and really in sync. We brought in an AV company to set up a PA big enough for me to be able to direct everyone and to provide playback.
The Birmingham city police officers were awesome and the crowds were incredible. Even the people stuck in traffic waiting for us to go through the song were great. They pretty much all got out of their cars and enjoyed the show. Everyone on the crew stepped up and knocked it out of the park and the dancers killed it. It was a great success. And then we ate Mexican and went to bed for about a week. Well, we would have, except we only had about 5 days to get it edited. You gotta love deadlines.
Once the video hit YouTube it took off pretty fast. We were fortunate because the song was incredibly popular not only in the states, but internationally, and it ended up spending the better part of a year at the top of the charts. And the social media/viral thing just exploded. It seemed like EVERYONE on Facebook and Twitter were sharing the video for weeks on end. Then the whole thing happened with that little boy in Atlanta being kidnapped and almost immediately released because he kept singing ‘Every Praise’ over and over again until the kidnapper couldn’t take it any more. The media went crazy over that story and the song and the video came roaring back up the charts all over again. Even now, almost 18 months later, the video has still been getting 50-100,000 hits every month which is insane.
It’s been a great experience and one we’ll definitely never forget. Hez has been talking to us about possibly working on videos for his next album and we would be honored to work with him and his team again.
The big takeaway from this experience was the value of relationships. The relationships our team had within the local church community and the local film community were vital to the success of the project. Without that we could have never pulled this off within the budget and time constraints we were facing. We’re so grateful to everyone who helped make this project a huge success.