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Entertainment & the Arts | November 28, 2012

Strange and merry moments

Entertainment & the Arts

Craig brothers of We Are Films take us behind the scenes of Sufjan Stevens' I'll Be Home for Christmas music video

Thanksgiving is over, which means we have permission to turn up the Christmas music. Sufjan Stevens has released his traditional Christmas EP just in time for all those eager to get the Indie sleigh bells ringing.

Recognized by hushed tone, mild but complex instrumental melodies and intriguing lyrics, Sufjan Stevens has been popular in the Indie music scene since the late 90's. "Chicago" from his album Illinois, released in 2005, reached number one on Billboard's Heatseekers Songs list. His label, Asthmatic Kitty, which Stevens co-founded with his stepfather, is responsible for Indie artists including Welcome Wagon and My Brightest Diamond among others. Stevens, a Christian, has also drawn attention for expressing intent to keep his music and faith separate.

His Christmas album, Silver and Gold, features some well-known carols ("Silent Night") alongside original pieces, like "Carol of St. Benjamin the Bearded One." In his music video for "I'll Be Home for Christmas," Stevens adds a unique perspective to a traditional ballad. In the video, his voice croons for 3:44 while the video camera pans through a family home in slow motion, stopping in each room to observe some type of odd family-life scenario. The video shows how going home for the holidays can include both strange and merry moments.

Aaron and Alex Craig produced Stevens' video. They run We Are Films from their Brooklyn-based studio. Aaron, 25, graduated from The King's College in New York City while Alex, 23, studied filmmaking at Michigan's Compass College of Cinematic Art. The two brothers grew up with cameras in hand. Their love of filmmaking has taken them on numerous adventures, among them visiting Iceland, hunting down Ireland's oldest fisherman, and interviewing Anberlin. A few years ago, their hobby accidentally became a full-time business.

How did We Are Films get started?

Aaron: We were always making videos as kids. As we got older and honed our skills, we thought some of the videos we had made were cool, so we put them online. We ended up making a website with contact information and after that, we started getting calls from people who thought we were a real production company. So we started a business and it grew quickly from there.

How did you end up working with Sufjan Stevens?

Aaron: Stevens has been one of our favorite artists for almost a decade, and we've worked with Asthmatic Kitty on some videos, including My Brightest Diamond and Welcome Wagon. So when we heard he was releasing a new Christmas album, we asked if they needed anything done, and they came to us with an idea for a music video. He wanted it to have lots of ironic things but also to be happy and joyful, and in the style of Stanley Kubrick, who directed The Shining.

I read that Stevens' music video is really just one continuous shoot lasting 42 seconds. Was it difficult to pull that off?

Aaron: Actually, the hardest part was organizing everyone's schedule. The whole cast and crew was 40 people, and we planned the shoot for the same weekend as Hurricane Sandy. We postponed it by a week...just in time for the snow storm (laughing). Alex had to wait two hours to get gas in the car, but the storm also caused a helium shortage for the balloons [in the video], so we had to figure out how to get helium. Then a day before the shoot, Alex got mugged. The robbers took his wallet, keys, phone…everything.

Alex: Yeah. I was able to call a cop and chase them down. They caught him and we got everything back. It would have been bad--the keys were for the car we had rented with all of our gear in it. The cops had actually been trying to catch these guys for a long time and now everyone's in jail.

What was your creative process like?

Alex: In our office, we have a giant window made up of sixty small 1 foot by 1 foot windows. We got a bunch of markers and wrote down things that look cool in slow motion on those windows, things that could work well in the video, and then brainstormed how we could bring those together.

Aaron: And lots of coffee (laughing).

So how do the two of you divide the workload?

Alex: It's pretty organic, we both co-direct. I usually focus on the lighting and cinematography and Aaron focuses on producing.

How would you describe your creative philosophy?

Aaron: We want to be known as a company always producing new content, something that's never been seen before. We want it to feel like it's actually people who are a part of this, not just a machine working.

What inspires you?

Aaron: A lot of our ideas come from our childhood: either living in the dreamworld of a child or reliving memories.

How do you approach filmmaking as Christians?

Alex: I don't think as Christians we should stay away from secular sets, we shouldn't be scared of it. If every Christian was to separate themselves from secular things, then there would be nobody [reaching] out.

How do you stay competitive with so much going on in the art world?

Alex: There are lots of people who have lost inspiration. They don't care about film, they just want to make money. We like to work with people who are passionate about the art.

Aaron: When we take the train from Brooklyn to Manhattan, you can see the cityscape, look at the offices, the production companies. I get freaked out. Why are people coming to us? Our tactic is to make the best thing you can possibly make. If you don't put your all into what you're doing, there will be someone who can do it better.