It was raining in Boiling Springs, South Carolina when Gunner Willis jumped onto the video chat. He was using his phone – his computer had been editing raw video footage for two days. The pixelated image from his self-facing camera had an oddly jarring effect after watching he and his team’s stunning music films. “Film” is the only way they can be described, as what moved across the screen with Niecy Blues’ “Ways” was both baffling and awe-inspiring. The quality of the video-production in tandem with the best track to come out of South Carolina in 2017 leaves one feeling simultaneously fulfilled and gaping.
Enter dUMB, a new cinematography collective that is revolutionizing the South Carolina arts scene. Delivering creative and experimental film experiences at holy-shit-that’s-good quality, dUMB is putting national level resources into the hands of South Carolinians.
Gunner Willis, their 24-year-old Creative Director, is a professional director, editor, actor, and crew worker. He is responsible for directing “Ways,” though he laughs through my compliments and credits a lot of the quality to the kick-ass team.
Consisting of a Director of Operations, Senior Designer, Art Director, and Director of Marketing and Management, this team is truly full of professionals. And that’s just the static members – any video they create has between 12 and 20 people working behind the scenes, covering cameras, lighting, art, sound, makeup, hair, and whatever else the project needs.
A group of “full on film nerds,” dUMB’s goal is to eventually create feature films. So that explains the quality, but what about the mind-blowing content? Gunner explains a bit of his approach as using Montage Theory, a style of cinema that focuses heavily on editing to make each shot and frame convey meaning outside of what you see directly on the screen.
It puts an intentionality to his work that some people might not be able to pinpoint, but notice when it’s missing.
When shooting “Ways,” Gunner couldn’t contain himself to the prescribed Video Village on set, but instead spent most of his time behind the camera operator, monitoring the process closely. Overseeing everyone but the producer, he is in charge of every creative aspect of the project. He makes the shot list, blocks the actors, and tells them what to do. He holds the vision, and is responsible for fitting it into the camera’s lens – or inferring it into the mind of the unknowing viewer.
When the shoot is over, Gunner takes it upon himself to dump and edit the shots, something he has a hard time entrusting to anyone else. By the time he sends it off for coloring and sound design and receives the finished project, it has been three months since the film’s conception.
While music videos are far from dUMB’s only service, Gunner hopes to work with more musicians in the near future. But don’t think you can take any old idea and bring it to the team – dUMB specializes in creating the concept and pitching it to the client, not the other way around.
Willis encourages musicians to realize that the most important thing in the video is not the band or artist looking cool – it’s the emotion the film presents alongside the music. While that doesn’t prevent Niecy Blues from looking like a damned queen, it’s an important distinction that allows the dUMB minds to create truly magnificent work.
So, what do you do if you want to work with the dUMB team? Firstly, make sure you’re saving up. The quality of these films is only possible with large production teams and months of planning and execution, things that don’t come for free. Gunner recommends you have budget of at least five thousand to realistically get a project going. So musicians: make sure you’re getting paid at shows, then squirrel away that money so you can work with the best production team in the state.