At first glance, the video for Palehound’s song “If You Met Her” isn’t all that different from its fellow nominees in the Boston Music Awards category for Music Video of the Year. It’s slickly produced, quietly radiant in cool colors and sumptuous textures. But unlike its competitors, the video was conceived, shot and edited entirely by teenagers.
The film was produced as part of a program called Reel to Reel Filmschool at RAW Art Works, a youth arts nonprofit in Lynn. At Reel to Reel, kids learn every aspect of filmmaking, from story conception to final edit. RAW Art Works artistic director Chris Gaines says that by the time they complete the program, participants are capable of producing professional-quality work. “Our kids make what I call ‘holy s--- films,’ ” Gaines says. “We just find that when we raise the bar really high, these kids are more than willing to match it.”
Palehound frontwoman Ellen Kempner wrote “If You Met Her” about a friend who passed away — at 20 years old, a peer. The song is quietly explosive, Kempner’s wistful vocals bolstered by a twangy descending bass line. “Starting to count up to two,” Kempner sings in the pre-chorus, voice rising plaintively. “Another year of missing you.”
Tatiana Marquez, 18, who was part of the team that conceived and shot the video, says that once Kempner explained the story behind “If You Met Her,” their task was clear. “The song was about missing someone,” Marquez says. “You’re still looking for them, even though they’re not there anymore.” After the group settled on the location — an old farmhouse in New Hampshire — the rest came easily. The house, its shadowy rooms pierced by dusty sunbeams, exudes a comfortable melancholy. The camera lingers on empty chairs and un-slept-in beds, symbols of absence and loss.
“I was really worried about making a video for this song, because I didn’t want it to be this overly sad, depressing video,” Kempner says. “The theme of the song is basically just going on after someone that you love is lost. ... They were able to capture that without this heavy feeling — it was more the mundan[ity] of it.”
Kempner first worked with RAW Art Works a couple years ago, when a different group of teens directed the video for her song “Cushioned Caging” off of Palehound's debut album “Dry Food.” The experience, she says, far exceeded her expectations, and the shoot for “If You Met Her” was similarly positive. “It was no different than working with adults,” Kempner says. “It was actually better, because kids are not jaded at all. They were just so excited and working really hard.”
Like all good music videos, “If You Met Her” builds toward a surprise — in this case, the moment when the stillness of grief is shattered. Shot in slow motion, the scene depicts Kempner seated on a couch with her guitar, surrounded by the accoutrements of childhood — stuffed animals, paperback books, an old radio — when the walls begin to shake and furniture topples.
It was the only scene that wasn’t filmed in the farmhouse. “We just rented a UPS truck, and we sort of built a set inside, and went to an empty parking lot. And we just drove around in circles,” Marquez explains. “We wanted to show what it feels like when you do lose someone — how it sort of feels like everything’s falling apart around you.”
Every high school senior in the Reel to Reel program gets to create a music video as their final project. It’s a good deal for bands, too, because RAW Art Works covers all the expenses. The teens don’t get paid, but the program is free and in many cases the experience sets students up for careers in the creative arts.
“I’ve always liked the concept of film, being able to tell a story visually,” Marquez, who plans to study film at MassArt, says. “Being able to see something in your head and then show people exactly what it was you were thinking.”