A video for Pearl Jam bassist Jeff Ament's new solo album premiered on Rolling Stone's website on Thursday. He made it in about four days last week with two University of Montana professors.
Ament, a part-time Missoula resident, reached out to Greg Twigg in the School of Media Arts about the project. Twigg's wheelhouse is motion graphics, so he brought in cinematographer Mark Shogren, the school's director.
"It was definitely a guerrilla-style shoot," Twigg said.
In the video for the song, "Safe in the Car," Ament is seen behind the wheel of his truck. As he steers and sings along, the windows are filled with apocalyptic scenes: lightning, volcanoes, collapsing glaciers and flooding.
Ament's voice and fuzz-tone bass lines are backed by an all-star crew: his Pearl Jam comrades Matt Cameron (drums) and Mike McCready (guitar) and the vocalist Angel Olsen. Fitting with the fiery landscapes, the album is called "Heaven / Hell."
In an email blast from Pearl Jam announcing the album, due on May 10, Ament described the concept:
“I was sort of seeing Cormac McCarthy['s] 'The Road,'” he wrote. “You're driving to the coast and you're trying to get away from the nuclear winter and you have your dogs in the car and you're just trying to escape this horrible apocalypse that just happened.
"And so with the video, we tried to keep it as simple as we could. Greg (Twigg) and Mark (Shogren) were super fast and easy to work with. They asked me what I wanted it to look like and the first thing that came to mind was 'Grindhouse,''' a Quentin Tarantino movie. "I always loved the super high-contrast, dark look of that. It's the world coming to an end and trying to have a sense of humor about it.”
Since Ament had a specific vision, it was up to Twigg and Shogren to figure out how to enact it.
Typically, when you see a star behind the wheel in a driving scene, their vehicle is actually being towed on a trailer, Shogren said.
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Since that wasn't an option, they devised a simpler plan. They mounted a small drone with a high-quality camera on the dashboard and another camera on the hood. Twigg cut out green-screen material to fit in the windows of Ament's truck. Shogren crouched on the floor of the passenger side shooting b-roll or hopped in the back. They jury-rigged some lighting through power converters.
Then Ament drove — slowly — while lip-syncing to a version of the song that he'd slowed to half-speed.
Shogren said Ament wanted "this jittery feeling" in the visuals that could be achieved this way.
"We shot it at normal speed but then had it at double the video rate in post-production to make sure that synced up to the lip performance," he said.
The two UM professors grew up with MTV and music videos as a main source of discovering music,
"When you add music and images together, it's a very potent combination. I've always just loved the kind of creative possibilities that are built into that," Shogren said.
With their backgrounds and the quick turnaround time, it has the feel of an old-school clip rather than a contemporary, highly produced one.
"Man, if I was 8 years old and someone said, 'Hey, some day you're going to make a music video for someone of some serious stature, I would have been like 'what?'" Twigg said.
It's not the first time a local has made a video for the Pearl Jam squad. Missoula animator Andy Smetanka provided visual effects for the band's "Mind Your Manners" video in 2013.
Earlier this week, Ament also announced that Pearl Jam will donate some proceeds from its Aug. 13 show in Missoula to Montana causes. Ament grew up in Big Sandy and the band has supported election campaigns for Democratic U.S. Sen. Jon Tester in the past. He told the Associated Press that beneficiaries of the "Rock2Vote" project are Forward Montana, Montana Native Vote, Montana Conservation Voters and Planned Parenthood Advocates of Montana.
Twigg was part of a team of motion designers, including a number of Media Arts alumni, that worked on effects for the Yosemite climbing documentary "Valley Uprising." After the Discovery Channel picked it up, it won a 2016 News and Documentary Emmy Award for motion graphics.