WILMINGTON — “Music videos are so creatively freeing,” Honey Head Films’ Kristy Ray wrote to Port City Daily Tuesday.
Her production company — founded with Erika Edwards — is launching its second Wilmington Underground Film Festival on Wednesday evening at Satellite Bar and Lounge. The festival’s format: music videos.
Having premiered last spring at the start of lockdown, the Wilmington Underground Film Festival is a project Ray said she and her team had dreamed about hosting. They wanted to show off the depth of creative talent apparent throughout Wilmington, specifically focusing on “emerging filmmakers living and working outside the box,” Ray explained.
Sixty-five filmmakers had works showcased across four genres — avante garde, narrative, documentary and music video. Each film clocked in 12 minutes or less.
“It was entirely virtual, word-of-mouth and a very successful, interactive community event,” Ray said. “We had three interns at the time who helped with programming, promotion, and editing different film blocks together seamlessly.”
An audience of more than 200 people gained access to a secret website to stream the films. Ray said Honey Head edited in jump-cut commentary to engage viewers, and there was a live chat scroll for the audience to interact.
“It was a really beautiful thing to witness our community coming together in such an uncertain time to encourage each other, experience thought-provoking work and create engaging conversation about local film,” Ray said.
Now, coming out of the pandemic, Honey Head decided to curate a second event to showcase 30 more works that spawned from lockdown. Specifically, Ray said, they knew longer projects had been curtailed by Covid.
“[W]ith the limitations we all faced as filmmakers during the pandemic, there was bound to be a shortage of genres,” she said.
Yet, music videos seemingly didn’t cease, according to Ray: “It’s something we were able to continue producing pretty much non-stop during the past year, and had seen similar momentum in and around the indie community. We wanted to pause and make space to celebrate all that we accomplished and overcame collectively.”
UNCW film student Chelsea Lea will debut a video for local band Dead Cool’s “The Last Time.” It’s the second single from Johnny and Angela Yeagher’s latest darkwave post-punk outfit. The husband-and-wife duo have played in punk bands for the greater part of two decades, most recently Zodiac Panther. They decided to test-run a new sound after having to temporarily shutter their hair salon during Covid.
“We had been wanting to do something like this for quite a while, and the pandemic gave us the chance to actually do it,” Angela said. “It has brought our passion for music back, and we are being more creative and writing songs in a different way.”
More electronic-oriented, with synthesizers, guitar and bass, Dead Cool released three singles so far, with a fourth coming in July. Though they have yet to perform live, the music video for “The Last Time” will be their official introduction to local audiences at Wilmington Underground Film Festival.
“My vision for this film was to show the power of transforming identity with adornment and masks,” Lea said.
Lea utilized lights and camera equipment from UNCW, where she is studying to get her MFA in film studies. She said curating footage for the video took a week; she worked with different women in a private studio space and experimented with light and color to layer imagery. Her goal: “to showcase the unique beauty of these women,” Lea said.
“Dead Cool inspired me to make a piece featuring gothic beauty and the way that subcultures are perceived in mainstream culture,” Lea explained. “There is a power to being unique in our society.”
It’s the first time the film major has directed, handled photography and edited a music video. “It took about a month and some change to get the final edit complete,” she said. “It was a labor-intensive process — however worth the work put in.”
Marking a return to the Wilmington Underground Film Festival will be local musician Kevin Earl McClary, who has been filming his own music videos over the last year. During last spring’s event, he screened “Sports Radio/Lime Juice” and “Everyone is Here.”
This year McClary is premiering “Bicycle” as part of a 15-minute music-video project featuring his full EP, “Flip the Coin,” released in April. McClary filmed each song on “Flip the Coin” to stand apart individually — despite the fact all can be streamed continuously.
“Bicycle” revolves around his favorite pastime in Wilmington, he said: “The very first lyric is ‘my bicycle is my best friend.’”
Even the creation of the song is somewhat meta; McClary admitted writing it in his head while pedaling across town. “I just think bikes are the greatest vehicle on earth, and the best way to explore a city,” he said.
When he found an old family camcorder from the ‘90s, he had the idea to do a full visual album. McClary also wanted his work to be simple; he hoped to evoke a vibe more than a narrative, the latter of which he said can be harder to pull off in music videos.
“You’re usually only getting a few minutes to tell a story without real dialogue,” McClary explained. “I love music videos that aren’t overly complicated. The visuals should add to the music because the music is the main event.”
McClary captured footage of himself riding — a daily habit he partakes in to decompress from work. He said he looked for unexpected imagery.
“Things as simple as a cool shadow on the ground, or a motorcycle zooming by a bike trail sign that says ‘No Motor Vehicles,’” McClary detailed. “Maybe I’m just amused by simple stuff, but I feel like you see the world differently on a bicycle. When you’re in a car, it can feel like you’re watching the world go by on a green screen. On a bike, things are funnier, more interesting, feel more real. I tried to capture that feeling in this video.”
McClary said he thought a lot about how music videos have shifted over 40 years, from the early days of MTV, especially since media and entertainment is consumed much differently. In 2021 he said directors should consider an audience’s short attention span.
“I wanted to make something that was easy to watch,” he explained. “You can turn it on and just let it roll. You can tune in and tune out but still feel the vibe.”
Ray said Honey Head also kept that in mind while curating their first in-person Wilmington Underground Film Festival. “[It’s a] program that people can socialize around,” she explained, with the videos edited into a fluid piece, blending imagery and audio cohesively.
Honey Head worked on three music videos throughout the pandemic. “Faint Glow,” from former Wilmington band Stray Local, features an “urban montage offering respite to the lonely creatives,” according to Ray.
It was filmed early during shutdown after all of Honey Head’s projects dried up or were postponed. Stray Local’s Hannah Lomas said the video centers on five individual stories and visions that Ray devised within mere hours after agreeing to the project.
“I was blown away,” Lomas said. “With Covid in the mix as well, Honey Head shot each vignette separately, and with impeccable editing, wove together a beautiful story of separation and togetherness, softness and strength.”
Honey Head also worked with Heads Up Penny on a song called “Mud Puddle Pine.” Ray said the team met the band at a wedding before traveling to Clayton, N.C., to film at an historic hotdog joint.
“We shot this narrative-sketch-comedy music video in one blitz of a day,” Ray said.
Yet, she recalled the making of Louis.The Rapper’s “Sinestro” as the most ambitious project the production team took on this past January. A crew of 35 people paired up with director J. Noel Sullivan, who presented a five-page script as a “concept track” for the rapper’s latest album, “Saturday Night Cartoons.”
“We collectively worked our butts off over the next three months to cast, crew, scout, schedule and gather all the resources necessary to pull off a project of this capacity — each with a desire to level up the caliber of work coming out of the indie underground scene,” Ray explained.
Wednesday will be the premiere of “Sinestro,” and the other two Honey Head-produced videos also will be screened.
The Wilmington Underground Film Festival will feature varied genres of music — hip-hop, punk, reggae, post-rock to folk — and film styles, including stop-motion, 16 millimeter, 6,000 pixels, and “always with a healthy dose of VHS,” Ray said. She said the festival works to be inclusive to all artists.
“It’s been really neat to program this event and see the different ways folks went about achieving their vision in light of so many [Covid] restrictions,” Ray continued. “[The] indie underground film scene is alive and well here in Wilmington, and this tribe of creatives deserves a platform of free expression and no boundaries — a collective of support that champions community over competition.”
Wilmington Underground Film Festival will present “The End in Sight Music Video Night” free, Wednesday, June 2, at Satellite Bar and Lounge; doors are at 7 p.m. and the screenings begin at 8:15 p.m.
Ray said the festival likely will emerge again by the end of summer for a spoken-word/experimental event: “This speak-easy style screening and gathering has WUFF written all over it.”
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