Since the launch of our motion picture scanning and color grading initiative, the Film Photography Project has received hundreds of orders for 8mm, Super 8, 16mm movie film and developing / scan service orders from aspiring and established cinematographers. We are, frankly, awed by the creative talent that exists in this passionate community, and privileged to catch a glimpse of the fascinating family history & snapshots of past eras honored in these home movies and documentaries. While it’s not possible to showcase every remarkable film that comes our way, we’ll endeavor to share insights and tips into the process of those samples we think may most inspire our audience. A warm thanks to Greta Ruth for sharing her inspiration and process behind her Super 8 “Music Video” Heaven After.
Hi, Greta –
Thanks for taking the time to speak with the FPP about your newest music video “Heaven After”, shot on Super 8 film! Before we dig deep into the technical aspects of the project, we’d love to learn a bit more about you and your craft.
When did you discover your talent for music, and how long have you been performing in public?
I wrote lyrics before I knew how to play music, so in a way I have been writing songs for as long as I can remember. Lyrics and poetry were really what attracted me to music initially. When I was 13, I started playing guitar, and that was also when I started to form bands with my friends and to perform outside of school, at coffee shops and all-ages venues.
At first, I was too terrified to sing in front of another human being, let alone in front of an audience, even though I was writing songs and lyrics constantly. Eventually a few collaborators at my high school, Perpich Center for Arts Education, insisted that I sing the songs I wrote for our ensemble to perform. I’m so grateful that they did, and that I had so many opportunities to try out my voice with that supportive and receptive audience. I’m not sure it was always pretty!
My journey with my voice has been a long, yet passionate one, and one of the most therapeutic experiences I’ve had, as I gained confidence in other areas of my life while getting to know my voice. This has also led me to become a Vocal Empowerment Coach, to inspire others to experience similar growth vocally.
Do you compose your own material, or prefer to cover existing songs?
I write and perform my own songs. To me, music is a healing practice, and this healing happens for me when I’m writing something new. When I’m writing a new song, I’m letting my subconscious work through whatever I am experiencing at the time. I often learn a lot in the process, and even afterwards, about myself and about situations in my life. Sometimes I’ve seen things unfold in my life that I wrote months or even years before in my lyrics. I try to keep this process sacred. My role is to birth the songs, rather than to write them—to be their mother, rather than their author. I end up liking the songs way more if I can keep my ego out of the equation.
I used to think of my songs as poems, but now I’ve come to think of them as prayers, too, because of this internal, sacred nature.
How many instruments do you play?
At the moment I only really play guitar, and sing, though as a child I played a little bit of piano and clarinet.
What genres of music most speak to you, and how would you describe your style?
I describe myself as an experimental folk singer/songwriter — folk, because I’m working within the folk medium of acoustic guitar and voice, and experimental because I have a curious ear and like to experiment with dissonance, stillness, and form. I love the concept of “folk music” because it feels approachable and honest, and I can trust it to circle back to core human themes. It also has a timelessness about it.
As far as listening goes, beyond folk, I like a little bit of everything. I was fortunate enough to be exposed to a lot of world music in high school and college, including African drumming, Javanese and Balinese, Persian, Balkan, and North Indian Classical music, all of which continue to inspire me. I think what I love most about so many of these is that they don’t separate the spiritual from the music, which is important to me in my own music as well.
I also love jazz, French Impressionism, Holy Minimalism, and other classical music. But really, I am open to everything, and I love hearing new things.
Jim Melcher and Greta Ruth Melcher – Behind the Scenes – photo credit: Elena Stanton
‘Heaven After’ is an incredibly accomplished and professional showcase for your talents, and one where the format – a sepia tinted overscan (showing sprockets) of Super 8 film format – perfectly complements the material, rural setting and costuming. Is this the first music video you’ve produced (for yourself or others)?
Thank you! This is my fourth music video, and third in Super 8 format. I think I am drawn to Super 8 because in general I am a very nostalgic and sentimental person, and I also tend to prefer analog formats. I still use a paper planner, for example! For “Heaven After,” Super 8 seemed like the perfect choice because the original visual inspiration was a photo of my grandmother (pictured below) that was taken around 1941 in her hometown of Beschka, Yugoslavia (now Serbia), before she came to the US as a war refugee. In the photo she is standing in a field with power lines in the background, posing with her acoustic guitar and holding a small, delicate bouquet in one hand. I have always been captivated by this photo, and Super 8 allowed me to recreate that scene in a way that felt intimate and tied to the past at the same time. I wanted it to feel like an antique, an heirloom, something candid, sweet, and precious. This is also why I added the sepia tint — to match the aged look of that photo.
The recording has a nostalgic format, too — my boyfriend, Zach Waldon, also a musician, helped me record “Heaven After” on a 4-track tape machine. The pairing of Super 8 with the warm tape sound really tied the vision together.
What about producing your own video appealed to you?
Well, partly I didn’t have a choice. At the moment, I don’t have many financial resources to pour into my work, but I do have a lot of passion and I love to create. However, as I worked, I discovered how limitations can actually aid in the creative process, and this became an absolute blessing. The limitations of Super 8 helped me hone in on the theme and meaning, rather than getting lost in endless possibilities. For the video for my song “Sweet Pace,” another Super 8 video, we used just one roll of film, so we had 3 minutes of film to get the shots for a 1 minute 48 second song. For “Heaven After,” we used two rolls of film, so we had 6 minutes of shooting for a 3-minute song. This really helped us focus on what we were doing and inspired us to make intentional choices.
I also love getting inside the visual world of a song and bringing it to life for others through setting, costuming, and editing. For “Sweet Pace,” I created a dwelling in the woods with flower garlands, teacups, and doilies and made a floral garment to wear so that I could feel like an elf or fairy during the filming. Before anything else, I spend some time sitting down and listening to the song and letting visuals, whether for the song as a whole, or for specific moments, come to me. This kind of exploration adds a lot of meaning for me personally, and I think it can be a great path into the meaning of the song for others as well.
And, please elaborate on the message you wanted to convey with these choices, and who you brought on board to assist with achieving your goals.
Another blessing of limited resources is being able to turn to loved ones for help with projects. Producing music videos has fostered an exciting partnership between my dad and me. My dad is a film photographer and had been making home Super 8 videos for a few years before we started making my music videos together. Having someone who knows the technology and is willing to listen to my ideas and contribute their own voice is really all I could ask for in a collaborator. We’ve gotten into a great groove now and I think “Heaven After” is our best collaboration to date.
Once the concept was in place, did you opt to storyboard your shots, improvise on location or a bit of both?
For the music video for “Sweet Pace,” I had an almost second-by-second plan for the shots and narrative. For “Heaven After,” my concept was less narrative and more about a feeling of time and place, while still knowing a few general shots that we wanted to capture. The shot where I’m standing with the guitar leaning against me, for example, was important since it’s the one that most exactly replicates the old photo of my grandmother. Other things like walking down the path came to me and my dad while on location. It was really fun to see how perfectly some of the spontaneous shots could end up reflecting the music and lyrics and actually deepen the meaning of the piece.
What was the most challenging part of the experience? What was the most rewarding?
The day that we filmed it was actually in the low 20s outside, here in Minnesota. Between each shot we had to rush back into the car so I could warm up, especially my hands for the guitar shots. My mom was there, throwing my coat over my shoulders after we got each take and insisting that I put gloves on. I think that was probably the most challenging part, staying positive while going numb and also keeping the creativity flowing under those circumstances. I was so relieved when we got the footage back and I didn’t look like I was freezing to death because we had run out of warm days for the year!
The most rewarding part was seeing how everything came together and getting to work with people that I love. And also knowing that in a way I made something for my entire family to cherish, outside of any other reason to make the video. My grandmother lives in Milwaukee, so my aunt and uncle are going to show her the video soon and film her reaction. I can’t wait to see that.
Do you see yourself producing most or all your videos in the future?
I think I will always want to be one of the producers, because my work is very intentional and I like to be involved in most aspects of it, to know that the message is still there at every level and that the video, or whatever else it may be, is serving that original intention. In addition to the Super 8 videos with my dad, I have also made a music video with my close friend and photographer, Elena Stanton. Elena does really cool work with in-camera effects, and we’ve done a lot of different collaborations together, including the video for my song “A World Perhaps” – I’m excited to keep collaborating!
What’s next on your goal list?
I have a lot of things in the works! The very next thing will be another single called “Night Gets Cold,” and I’d like to do a video for this one, too. It’s sort of the sister-song to “Heaven After.” After that I have plans for a full-length album of songs that I’ve written since 2012, so stay tuned for that! In addition, I’m looking forward to playing more shows across the country and as always, writing more music.
Thank you, Greta! If like us, you would like to keep up with Greta Ruth’s projects, you can find her on Instagram @greta_ruth , follow Greta Ruth YouTube Channel or spend time on her website, gretaruth.com
About Paige Kay Davis – Paige is the Director of film restoration at Film Media and a regular contributor to The Film Photography Project