Going To the Ends Of the Earth For Sci Fi Music Video “Cozey”

Filmmaker and musical artist Mitchell Abraham, the creative force behind the Aerosol Jezus music project, knew he wanted to create a unique and compelling music video for his single “Cozey.” Usually, with limited budgets, concepts end up being simplified and diminished to a simple artist performance, but Abraham was determined to avoid that trap. Instead, he joined up with cinematographer Zach Ostapchenko to create something truly out of this world.

The shoot spanned locations as diverse as the jungle, snow covered mountain tops and vast deserts, none of which were created with VFX techniques. We sat down with Abraham to discuss the concept of the music video, how he achieved such amazing visuals, and the value of finishing in DaVinci Resolve Studio.

Where did you get the idea for this video?

The credit for the story’s origin goes to my younger brother, Robert Abraham, an incredibly skilled writer/filmmaker in his own right. He pitched me the rough idea for the video: a spaceman lured through a jungle by a floating red diamond, hypnotized into removing his suit, and ending with him singing catatonically as he’s spun up in a spiderweb. The concept paired beautifully with the song “Cozey,” which is about seduction and one’s willingness to be seduced.

How did you manage to travel to so many diverse locations for the shoot?

Honestly, with my car, staying in budget motels, and keeping the production to a two person crew: myself and cinematographer Zach Ostapchenko. Zach initially came aboard as the DP but quickly took on multiple roles since we’d set up each shot and then I’d have to get in front of the camera.

Adding more crew members would’ve destroyed the budget because there was a lot of waiting around for the weather to cooperate. It was tough, but it allowed us time to experiment, which was necessary since much of the shoot took place during magic hour.

Planet hopping wasn’t part of the original outline, though. During the first week of the shoot, Zach and I realized we were missing essential character/story beats. Our character needed a flaw, one we could visually convey, that would lead to his seduction and eventual downfall. So, we introduced the idea of obsession. We outlined the story in our grungy motel room, and the result is pretty close to the final video.

Of course, in hindsight, our solution (having the protagonist scour the galaxy compulsively searching for elusive gems on desolate yet distinguishable planets before finding the motherlode in the jungle) was completely insane. Whatever the reason, be it ambition, naivety, or just plain lack of sleep, we decided to tackle virtually every environment that has plagued filmmakers throughout history, all for one music video. Because, you know, how bad could it really be?

What camera did you use for the production?

For this project, I needed a motorcycle, not an 18 wheeler. We found ourselves climbing mountains and trekking miles into the jungle, which required something lightweight and nimble to reach locations that would’ve been out of reach if we were using bulky gear. The Blackmagic Design Pocket 4K has a great sensor, fantastic color science, and outperforms most when it comes to low light performance. It’s such a great price for all that value, and that means you’re not lighting cash on fire renting an expensive system daily. I didn’t just buy a great camera; I bought more days on the schedule.

What matters is what’s in front of the camera. If the camera is big, that means a heavier tripod, heavier gimbal, and so on. With Zach operating mostly solo, the Pocket 4K was the perfect choice. Plus, I can’t stand menu diving, and Blackmagic Design’s operating systems are the best. We needed to move fast, set up as many shots as possible each day, and the ability to switch settings quickly and confidently was crucial.

With so many visual effects, did you do anything in production that helped prepare for post?

We shot everything using Blackmagic RAW, Constant Bitrate 3:1, which might have been overkill, but I wanted as much information as possible to assist with VFX, since most of our shooting was low light. We also rarely had time to shoot color cards, so being able to adjust ISO, temperature, and tint settings in post production was crucial, particularly for matching plates and tweaking shots to stitch things together.

Moreover, the highlight recovery feature is incredible. I’m not sure how it works, but it’s amazing. We used cheap headlamps within the red diamond to light it up, which caused intense hotspots at higher ISO levels, but highlight recovery effortlessly removed them.

Can you talk about any particular scene that was a unique challenge to shoot?

The spiderweb sequence was difficult. It was the only thing we shot in a studio. It was too complicated to do on location, and we needed safety measures to ensure I wouldn’t fall and break my neck. Also, the wrong gimbal was delivered that day, so we had to manually achieve the 180 degree camera rotation by spinning a Steadicam rig while I was lowered.

I did extensive research to make sure Zach and I were safe and prepared for each location. We had gotten through basically unscathed up to that point, so I certainly didn’t want to die on the last big stunt after having endured everything else. When in doubt, spend your money on amazing stunt coordinators, so special thanks to Erik Aude.

Can you discuss your post production process?

Mainly due to the variable lighting from the location shoots, I found myself performing extensive color and VFX work during assembly. I needed to confirm that each selected shot would blend seamlessly with the others in the sequence and to establish whether I could manage any required rotoscoping or VFX work myself, rather than waiting until the end to find out.

I understand many will say that’s putting the cart before the horse, but that’s also what makes DaVinci Resolve unique. You can do everything (editing, VFX and color) under the umbrella of one program. It’s extremely powerful, and I appreciate the fact it doesn’t constantly crash, especially considering I’d done extensive work on virtually every shot in both the Fusion and color pages. This was my first time using Resolve and Fusion, and I was constantly blown away by what I was able to achieve.

Can you talk about a typical color node workflow you used to accomplish your unique looks?

The standard workflow involved primary adjustments followed by a color space transform, secondaries, then film emulation, with plenty of rotoscoping work throughout to create separation and address any issues. I didn’t know anything about color management at the beginning, so my project was unmanaged.

We were constantly changing locations throughout the video, so I needed to establish a dominant color for each “planet” to help differentiate them (dunes orange, snow blue, jungle green, etc.). It was incredibly difficult to make everything cohesive, and some of the features in Resolve were crucial, including magic mask and color warper. It’s always about supporting the story you’re trying to tell.

You learned to use Fusion on this project?

I studied some 3D and compositing in college, but not a lot. It’s definitely important to understand the fundamentals of compositing if you’re going to tackle VFX heavy material. I read a lot of information online before the shoot to make sure I’d have the skills needed to pull off the more intricate shots in the Fusion page. I will say, I have immense respect for people who work in VFX.

In music, I’m not a big modular synth guy, but my basic understanding of combining component modules to create different sounds may have helped me acclimate to the node based structure of Fusion. It can seem intimidating, but after you rewire your brain a bit, you realize how much power is at your disposal on the Fusion page. Of course, YouTube and forums have a lot of great information, and the Fusion community is very helpful. You’d be surprised who’s open to chatting with you.

What are some of the key elements in this project that you feel made it unique?

With the cinematography, we focused on restraint, deliberately holding back specific camera techniques to underscore pivotal story moments. We refrained from using slow motion until the protagonist stumbled upon the red diamond to emphasize his hypnotized state in that moment. We also steered clear of handheld shots (except for one in the snow earlier on) so that the running sequence would feel chaotic and disorienting. Ultimately, we aimed to begin with a very grounded approach to earn the psychedelic shift in the latter half of the video.

It’s essential to mention Zach when discussing this project, as it wouldn’t have been possible without him. He not only has a fantastic eye but a hell of a mind for story. I can’t give him enough credit for trusting me and coming along for this adventure. The entire process was a test of endurance, and he was a trooper.

Screenshot

What’s next for you?

My debut album “Imprint” is being released this year, and I’m currently in preproduction on my first feature, a sci fi heist film, that I’m incredibly excited about. I’m excited to have the confidence to create for a variety of mediums, particularly because of my “Cozey” music video. Blackmagic has given me the ability to achieve almost anything, though maybe next time we’ll travel to a few less exotic locations.

Watch the music video here: