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Student Blog: R.J. Solomon

a cinematographer looking through an eye piece of a camera

Third year student R.J Solomon details the making of a music video, and the quick thinking solution he and his crew members came up with when an actor didn’t show up.


In the summer of 2022,

after nearly a year of preparation, I shot my music video Death of a Hero. Simple in conception, I set out to tell a coming-of-age story about a young boy who comes to the realization that the father he grew up idolizing is a very flawed mortal. It was my most ambitious project to date — I decided to write, direct, shoot, and edit the film myself. Why, you might ask? That’s a good question. Maybe it’s a control thing. Maybe I hate myself. Regardless, it would turn out to be the most difficult, yet rewarding project I’ve made thus far.

a child actor standing in a dark room, a cinematographer holding a camera in front of the child actor

I set out a few storytelling goals for myself

that I innately knew needed to happen for the film to be effective. First, it needed a clear point of view. From the get-go, I felt it was vitally important that there was no question in our mind whose story it was and that I wanted the audience to see things from the boy’s eyes. I achieved this primarily by having the boy in a sort of narrator position. He’s the singer, looking directly into the camera, telling us about his dad. Secondly, since this is a music video with no dialogue, I used a visual metaphor to give us a picture of how the dad is seen by his son. I needed to make him feel like a superhero… so I did just that. Throughout the film, the dad is seen wearing a worn-down, Superman-esque costume.

Lastly, I wanted to make sure that the relationship between father and son felt authentic. All too often we see recreations of dramatic situations that feel like they were written by aliens. Personally, having a pretty harmonious relationship with my father, I knew that I needed to do my research. I decided that destroying my relationship with my dad just to see what that really felt like was probably out of the question, so instead, I began to meet with my aunt, a child and family psychologist, to try to understand what goes on in a young kid’s mind when they see their parental figure behaving in less than parental ways, including addiction. This really opened my eyes and I found out that while children often don’t know the context or depth of what’s happening, they are often painfully aware that something is wrong. I knew I needed to encapsulate that pain in a visual way.

A child actor siting on a chair with a guitar eating chocolate snack

When it was finally time to shoot,

I had everything prepared. Giselle Hernandez, my wonderful producer, helped gather a hefty crew of around fifteen people. Maura Garnett, our amazing casting director, found the perfect actors for father and son and we were ready. We had planned on a two-day shoot, Saturday and Sunday. It was now Friday. Call sheets were being sent out to all the cast and crew, the perfect candies were bought for Carter, our young lead and our actor playing the dad stopped by for a last-minute costume fitting. Everything was going according to plan. After a night’s sleep comparable only to what I imagine sleeping in an army barrack is like leading up to battle, I was ready.

Cut to the next morning: 7 am, bright and early, the crew begins filtering in. One car after another pulls into the driveway, as I unsuccessfully attempt to look approachable on three hours of sleep. It’s now 8 o’clock. Nine-year-old Carter arrives, aviators on, lollipop in mouth, escorted in by his assistant aka mother. The first shot was set to be up by 9 and all we were waiting on now was the dad. And so we waited…and we waited. It was now 10:30, several hours after his call time.

Giselle frantically tried to reach him on the phone to no avail. 11:00 — nothing. Now I’m panicking. Giselle, Abigail Marshall, our AD, and I retreat to a bush away from the horde and talk options, hoping to make sure the crew doesn’t think something is wrong. Maura, our casting director, calmed me down over the phone, as she frantically scoured Actor’s Access for a last-minute replacement. 12:00! —no luck. With my budget being whatever I had in my savings, reshooting was not an option.

6 film crew members at a patio setting up a light and looking at a monitor. Two crew members walking from the patio into the house in the back

I was screwed…or so I thought.

It was then, out of the corner of my eye, I noticed something: a man with a Salvador Dali-like mustache smoking on a lawn chair. It was Max, our AD Abi’s boyfriend, whose house we were shooting at. Max is a fine arts major, who had already done us a massive favor by letting us shoot at his place, but we had no other options. I consulted with Abi and Gigi, and we decided that this was our best option. Abi walked up to him and pulled him aside, explaining the situation. A million strategies on how to convince him were racing through my head. Abi finished explaining. Max looked deep in thought. I walked up.

“Hey, Max…so really weird question. Hypothetically, how would you feel about-” “Sure, I’ll do it!” He cut in. “What?… I mean it’s a two-day shoot, probably twelve hours each, are you-“ “Yeah that’s fine,” he responded nonchalantly. “We can pay you-“ “No need.”. I didn’t know what to say. I looked at Abi, then at Gigi, who shrugged, then back at Max, who was preoccupied relighting. And with that, we had our dad. The fact that the costume was slightly ill-fitting just seemed to add to the magic. And it turned out, he was unbelievably great!

an actor wearing a full body blue suit being adjusted by an assistant

To this day, I have no idea what happened to the original actor.

No one was able to get in contact with him, even days after the shoot —he could be dead for all I know. That’s the curious thing about film – even when you have everything planned to a T, something inevitably goes wrong and manages to change the rules of the game. It’s like that saying, “Man plans, God laughs.” Well, I’d hardly call myself a man, but someone was definitely laughing.

The music video went on to win several awards at film festivals across the country, from best music video to best director and I was thrilled. It even got into NFFTY 2023, which had been a lifelong dream of mine. Gigi and I flew to Seattle for the festival, and ended up walking away with a Jury Prize for best music video! Making “Death of a Hero” completely changed my outlook on filmmaking, because it showed me no matter the circumstance, there’s always a way to make it work…and also from now on, always cast a backup.

three filmmakers taking a photo in front of a back drop on a red carpet in at film festival

Filed Under: Student Blog