In Ric Ocasek’s death I immediately think about how he changed my life. Sure, like most I enjoyed his music. I definitely was influenced by his videos which were beyond cool. For me though it goes a bit more personal since I got to make his first music video in 25 years and it pretty much changed my entire life.
I was working at a production house in NYC called The Lab as an editor trying my hardest to become a director. One of the other editors there was a good friend of mine, a laid back, talented nice guy named Eron, who happened to be Ric’s son. Eron and I spent most of our waking hours in a little black room cutting millions of flickering frames together, which, if you’ve ever edited with someone, will either bond you for life or make you consider becoming a sheep farmer in the Faroe Islands. Fortunately it was the former for us so when Eron swiveled around on his Aeron chair and said “hey, would you be interested in directing a music video with me for The Cars?” I was all in immediately, albeit, scared a bit shitless.
Now, it’s not that I hadn’t created anything before, to the contrary. I was like a film machine, pumping out scrappy music videos, documentaries and short films with the frequency of an Alex Jones stutter. Directing a music video for The Cars, and the first music video in 25 years, was to me a huge deal. I mean, they won the best music video for the very first MTV music award ever. They basically invented the genre, and here I was going to reintroduce them to some die hard, extremely critical fans, 25 years later. I knew one thing, this, more than anything, was going to have to be perfect.
Before I knew it Ric and the band were in a room with me and Eron sitting at a big round table sipping water. Ric was like a cartoon, a mythical being, almost like he stepped off a spaceship; impossibly tall and lanky, and somehow the black of his hair and black of his jacket were blacker than any other black I’ve ever not seen before. He was quiet, even, and spoke directly, unlike most famous musicians I would later find out, but I could definitely see his son in him and therefore immediately liked him.
“There’s a few things,” he said, looking at me through black, brilliant plastic lenses, “No girls. We don’t want any girls in the video. We’re too old for that sort of thing.”
Ok, no girls. I mean, music and girls usually go together in videos like heroin and fentanyl but I could see what he was getting at. This was their first video in 25 years, no one has seen the band since 1988 with their single “You are the Girl”. That girl was long gone, so ok, no girls. Copy.
“And,” Ric leaned his head back, “we don’t want to be seen in the video.”
So, a video without girls, and no band. Interesting setup.
I realised how I got in this room in the first place. Becoming a director, or even an editor, is not the easiest thing in the world, as there is a ton of competition. I separated myself by winning a lot of “timed contests” early in my career. These are film contests where they give you a genre, a line of dialogue and usually a prop or something similar that you have to use in a film, then, you have a certain amount of time to write, shoot, and edit your masterpiece. It could be two weeks, 48 hours, a day or even 10 hours to make the film, and I was addicted to them. I had entered 13 of them and won 12 up to this point, so I realized that this was right up my alley. Game on.
How it went down
It was time to get creative with out 2k dollar budget we got from the record label. I had just recently dont a little doc on this amazing street artist named Joe Iurato. Joe, fortunately was a big fan of the band and would help out for the honor of it. The concept was that we were going to see Joe get ready to put up a stencil in the city. Spray paint, paint respirator, cardboard cutouts, etc. Then we were going to graffiti the image of the band around the city in light. Since we were editors at heart, we were going to do this in post, so we didn’t get arrested. We had recently worked on a Lincoln campaign with The Lab shot by the mastermind creatives Johnson + Wolverton where we projected images over a moving car from a powerful 4k projector mounted to another car. The effect was sick, and we had access to the projector, so we were going to do the same with the band and the city. Literally project them playing over different walls and building and record them live.
We shot each band member on green screen then took it into After Effects to turn them into living graffiti. This took days, and lots of experimenting to get a catalog of images and styles that we liked, which also worked on various surfaces around the city. The next step was to location scout, since we didn’t have enough money or people to rent a generator, and needed to be quite mobile, we had to find locations with an available outlet to power the microwave sized projector. Fortunately for us, NYC is riddled with live outlets, mostly left over from film shoots that tap into the city grid. If you’ve ever worked on a set in the city, you know you can usually look under the metal flap at the base of any street lamp and find a patched in outlet left long ago by some electric for the next poor guy that had to do an overnight shoot. Thanks fellas.
So one fateful night Eron and myself grabbed the massive projector, a laptop, and a few hundred feet of extension cord and hit the city to throw the electric image of this classic American Rock band on Gotham’s walls. For the finale we got Joe Irato to put up the iconic cover on a clandestine wall in the city.
It was a long night to say the least, but we evaded police, stayed under budget, and hopefully had the goods recorded on our borrowed Canon 5D M1 Now it was time to do what we did best, and get to editing.
It took us about a week straight, cutting away in between jobs, and late at night at The Lab. We were on fire. For me at least this was the most important thing I had ever been given the opportunity to do, and felt like it could have the potential to lead to even bigger jobs, and get me where I was so determined to go. We finalized the project, presented it to the label, and waited.
“Great job fellas.” is what we got back. It was all I could ever ask for.
The Final Video
So, there I was, Bobby Serrini from little ol’ Long Island had directed a music video for one of the most iconic bands in American music, the first one in 25 years, and had done it with 2k dollars, a “borrowed” projector, and a best friend.
If you saw the video like many did you probably watched and passed on by. It wasn’t anything revolutionary or close to being game changing like “You might think” was to me, but to be fair that video had a girl, in a tub, and the band, in full cool.
Our video for me was definitely one of my most favorite projects I’ve ever worked on, and will always continue to inspire me, much like Ric’s music has throughout my life. The challenge of working on this video, and the honor to collaborate with such historic artists has been pushing me forward ever since, and I look back now realizing it was a turning point in my career that really set me off. It’s with great sadness that I have to see him go, but I will always remember the light he gave as bright and electric.
By Ric. Love ya. Miss ya.
About the Author: Roberto Serrini is a director based in NYC and LA. He works across multiple mediums, and focuses on pop culture, travel, and fashion. He is represented by Superlounge, and loves what he does and is extremely thankful for the opportunities he has had. His work can be seen at www.robertoserrini.com