Song Writing

Ramaa Mosley

by Carl Wiser

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At the end of the Creed video for "What's This Life For," the rain comes down and the band celebrates with the small crowd that has joined them in the desert. If feels exultant - the perfect visual metaphor to match the theme of the song: coming out of the fog of depression. Scott Stapp's Jesus pose feels right on this one.

That video, and the next one from Creed, "Higher," come courtesy of Ramaa Mosley, a gifted filmmaker with a talent for finding the prana in her subjects and presenting it to the viewer with depth and beauty. Her other videos include Five for Fighting's one-take wonder "Superman (It's Not Easy)," and Tonic's noir ramble "If You Could Only See." In 2013, Ramaa released her first feature film, The Brass Teapot, starring Juno Temple and Alexis Bledel. Later that year, she directed a segment (narrated by Anne Hathaway) of the film Girl Rising about young girl growing up in Afghanistan under horrific conditions.
Carl Wiser (Songfacts): Please tell us about the Creed video for "What's This Life For" - where you shot it and how you came up with the concept.

Mosley: We shot down south of LA in the desert near Joshua tree. I had this tremendous fascination with weather and trying to capture this on film. Weather is very mysterious and powerful and I wanted to make a video that set men against the forces of nature.

I wanted the video for Creed to feel that the music and the band had performed so passionately that a storm approached.

Songfacts: How did you make it rain at the end of the video?

Mosley: Rain machines. All the weather was created with special effects, not VFX. We had a team of people making rain with rain machines, wind with giant fans and snow out of soap flakes.

Songfacts: What was it like making the "Higher" video, and how did you come up with that idea?

Mosley: Making the "Higher" video was a creative struggle. The band had only a short time before they had to go on tour in Japan and their schedule dictated that we had to shoot in Orlando, Florida. I wanted to be in Los Angeles where I had my team but it wasn't possible. So I flew out to location with my team and we started putting together this massive video. We had over 300 extras but really needed three times that amount.

I came up with the idea after listening to the song with the record label. They brought me into the room and played it for me. The first idea I had was this epic performance that later we question ever happened. I only pitched that idea.

Songfacts: How did you get the rotating freeze effect in that video?

Mosley: In some shots we used multiple cameras set up around the band that were then joined together. In other shots we simply had people freeze and hold really still as the camera rotated around them and then in post we added objects hovering.

Songfacts: What was it like working with the band?

Mosley: The first video the band was relatively new and they were really very enthusiastic, kind and humble. They hadn't yet experienced fame. It was interesting coming back for the second video because they had become famous and they felt different. They seemed to have a certain weight on them or pressure. It might have been the schedule or other issues but the buoyancy and enthusiasm had faded. Maybe that's just the way it is with bands when they make it big but I felt protective of them and worried they were overworking themselves.

Songfacts: How did you pull off the Five for Fighting video for "Superman (It's Not Easy)," and what was the biggest challenge in that one?

Mosley: That video was all one take shot on motion control. At the time that video was made it was the only way to technically achieve the one-take shot with the background changing.

I had this vision for the video and mapped it out but the vision was bigger than we all had anticipated. It needed more time to be realized.

The biggest challenge is that we originally thought we could get the project down in two days but it took four to shoot so we were massively over budget. The record label, my producer and production company all came together to make it possible in the end but it was nerve-wracking.

I worked with a really strong moco [motion control] operator in Toronto. We shot 18-hour days. Everything felt kind of dreamlike because we hadn't slept in weeks.

When I watch that video I'm embarrassed by how rudimentary the VFX look but at the same time I found it extremely touching because that was John's wife and child at the end and his wife was pregnant with their second baby.

Songfacts: How did that come about?

Mosley: When I wrote the idea for the video I knew that John was married and his next baby was on the way. I knew that while on the road he really missed his family, so I came up with the idea of the video ending with him reunited with them. It just felt like "Superman" was a metaphor for John going out into the world to accomplish big things but always carrying his family in his heart.

Songfacts: What's the storyline of the Tonic video for "If You Could Only See," and how does it relate to the song?

Mosley: I was very inspired by New Wave French cinema. Breathless and Contempt are two of my favorite films. I've also spent a lot of time watching Czech film and I started envisioning this combination of a love story mixed with this kind of communist oppression. I locked myself in my house and listened to the song hundreds of times and the story just kept building.

Songfacts: How much did these videos cost to make?

Mosley: They ranged from $250,000-$850,000.

Songfacts: There is a very human element to these videos - a certain sensitivity. Was that your doing?

Mosley: I hope so. If the video fails it's my doing. If the video succeeds it's my doing. That's the good and bad of being a director. You are responsible for all.

You are only as good as your team but if the work isn't good, no one is going to come forward and say, "That was my fault." If the video is great, then everyone talks about working on it.

I always try to find and bring out the humanity in people. I'm looking to make a connection between the viewer and the subject. When I use VFX it's to create humanity, not to create tricks. It's about getting closer and creating emotion.

Songfacts: What did you learn in making music videos that went into your feature film, The Brass Teapot?

Mosley: I learned how important it is to get coverage: wide, medium and close-up shots from multiple angles so that I have enough material in the edit room to really tell the story.

I started directing when I was 16 years old and I learned early on what it felt like not to get enough shots. So by the time I was 18 I was the Queen of Coverage. I really utilized this on The Brass Teapot and on my second feature Tatterdemalion. It's important to get strong performance but I know that I only need one or two takes, then I move on to the next shot. This way the actors don't get totally exhausted and give their best.

Songfacts: Why did you stop working on music videos?

Mosley: I never purposely stopped. I started directing and shooting commercials and my career became so busy. It's strange; music videos have become this world of 20-30 directors, so you can write your heart out and really create an idea but you're up against a horde of people. With commercials there are rules - there only can be 3-4 directors so it's a fair playing ground.

I love music videos and I miss them. Music is my life and it inspires my work immensely. I dream up music videos when I'm asleep and I have a notebook filled with my ideas.

Songfacts: Please tell us about Girl Rising and what you're working on now.

Mosley: I directed the Afghan segment of Girl Rising. This was a powerful film that followed the real lives of nine girls struggling to get an education. We traveled overseas to shoot the film and worked with people who had never been in front of the camera before. We filmed in a very remote village that was breathtaking. I was so touched by the story of Meena who was married off when she was 12 years old. This experience really inspired me to try and help girls around the world to get an education.

Currently I am in post production on my second feature film Tatterdemalion, starring Leven Rambin, Taylor John Smith and Jim Parrack.

Songfacts: What is the common theme that runs through your work?

Mosley: I think the common theme is realism mixed with magic. I like to find the remarkable in even the most mundane moments. I strive to capture the extraordinary in humanity.

November 23, 2015.
Further reading:
Our interviews with:
Scott Stapp
Mark Tremonti
John Ondrasik

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