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The Journey Down “The Long and Winding Road”

 My previous Impakter article ‘The Birth of Music Video TV’ tells how The Now Explosion TV show was created and how I landed my dream job of making music video-films for the show. 

’The Long and Winding Road’ by The Beatles was my first assignment.  And almost my last.  I had exactly one day to turn it into a music video-film.

That’s right.  Twenty-four hours.

This was my audition piece.  I wouldn’t be paid for it and the show was under no obligation to hire me if they didn’t like what I came up with.  I was provided raw stock and processing.  Everything else was up to me. No problem.  I was a bull pawing the ground ready to charge.

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This is a blow-by-blow account of those 24 hours.

You might say I couldn’t I miss with a Beatles song, right?  Wrong.  In 1970 The Beatles were the biggest phenomenon in pop music.  It would be easy for my film to get lost in their shadow.

I had to do something special, something that complimented the lyrics yet stood on its own as a narrative, something that would still be compelling even without hearing the music.

Otherwise my career would be over before it got started.

I hurried home and loaded up my 45.  Not a pistol, a record player.  There was only two ways to listen to pop music in 1970: radio or 45 RPM records.

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I played the song over and over trying to find the heart that The Now Explosion’s young audience could identify with.  To me, it was about the loss of the first true love of your life, and the devastating heartbreak when that person rejects you.

I had two things going for me.  I knew the perfect location: a winding country road not far away, and I knew who I wanted to be in the film: Alva Sanders.

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I had worked with Alva on a short experimental film a few months earlier.  She was lanky with long black hair, pretty, and had a graceful way of moving.  When I called Alva, I didn’t ask her if she wanted to be in the film; I told her she was going to be in it and that I’d pick her up at 4:30 the following morning.  She was quiet for a moment then simply said, “Okay.”

We arrived at a field of wildflowers near the country road location a half-hour before sunup on Friday morning, twelve hours before my deadline.  It was late March, chilly and a little misty.  Alva was wearing a thin shirt and bell-bottoms, and was shivering.

The first shot was a dreamy long lens angle of her running out of the rising sun toward the camera in slow motion.  I positioned her and the camera directly in line with the sun.  I asked her to tie her shirt up leaving her belly bare, a popular look of the time.  Good thing 16mm is not high resolution enough to show goosebumps.

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When the sun was above the horizon, I cued Alva and she started running, her long hair flying out beautifully.  We got it in one take. We continued working through the shots depending on sun position.  The scenes of the road itself we shot last because I needed the sun higher.

Alva didn’t just strike a pose and look pretty.  We had talked on the drive that morning about what I was trying to accomplish.  She listened quietly, asked a few questions.  When I started rolling film, especially for the close ups, she was clearly channeling something inside and it comes across in the footage.

By 10:30 we were finished and drove back to her house.  Her mother made lunch for us then we shot the scenes of her at the window.  I had no artificial lights so had to rely on the natural light coming through the window.  Fine with me.  I wanted her to be almost in silhouette.

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I was worried whether Alva could shed real tears for the camera and was ready to use artificial ones if needed.  No problem.  When I started rolling film, tears streamed down her cheek, but she didn’t over-emote, just stared out the window, the pain and sadness in her eyes appearing honest and real.

I grabbed a few more shots in downtown Atlanta, took the film to the lab, and an hour later was pulling into Ch. 36 on Briarcliff Road, the Now Explosion studios.  My deadline was three hours away.  The producer showed me to a closet-sized editing room and within minutes, film was flying.

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As stated before, when the show’s creator Bob Whitney saw my finished film, his response was hardly enthusiastic.  I also explained why.

I was devastated.  I’d had my shot at my dream and blew it.  I went home very morose and consoled myself that it would be run at least once or twice over the weekend.  Come Monday I’d start looking for another job.

The show was broadcast “live” at the time with audience members calling in their requests – just like Top-40 radio.  The DJs chucked and jived with them while a technician cued the videotape.

An hour or so into the broadcast I heard DJ Skinny Bobby Harper say, “And here’s a new one by the Beatles, The Long and Winding Road.”  There it was on TV.  My film.  I just stood there and watched with mouth open.

Then something remarkable happened.  The Long and Winding Road started running over and over again.  It became the most requested film ever shown on The Now Explosion.  The producer called the following day, told me I had the job and to report to work Monday morning.

That was 44 years ago.  I still get emails today from people telling me how much the film touched them and how it has lingered in their memories for decades.

Blows my mind.

Not bad for a day’s work.

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Editors note: Unfortunately Vimeo is not collaborting much with us so please do check later for the video. It will up soon.
 
UPDATE: Here is the link to the video (bottom of the page): LINK 
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