I’m going to shamelessly promote a sign-language music video starring Mark Nakhla ’13 that I shot two weeks ago. It’s for Kanye and Jay-Z’s “No Church In The Wild,” off their excellent album Watch The Throne, and by the time you’re reading this, it should be on YouTube.

A few months ago, Noah Korman ’14 and I did a video for Nakhla’s American Sign Language interpretation of Drake’s “Headlines.” Greg Faxon ’14, a mutual friend, introduced us after living with Mark in Sign House and seeing his previous sign interpretation videos for songs like Gym Class Heroes’ “Stereo Hearts” and Katy Perry’s “Firework.” Mark is an amazing talent, the cream of the crop of the visual art form of sign language interpretation on campus. However, like (from what I can tell) every other ASL video on YouTube, his were shot in one take with a static camera. Korman said to me, “We should do a real music video for this”—so we did. We got a lot of positive feedback, so we decided to do another.
Still operating pretty informally and with no budget, we tried to up the ante when we could. Faxon brought his own suave energy to Kanye’s verse, and we added Sam Choi ’12 into the mix for an ASL-inspired dance interlude that shows off how much variety and potential ASL art has. Mark’s brother Mike Nakhla ’13, an accomplished photographer, lent us his super-expensive camera. Korman and I, both film majors used to shooting on cheap “handicams,” geeked out over getting to “switch lenses” and “change ISO.” Rather than stick to one location like we did with the first video we shot, we tried to branch out. We shot in the Memorial Chapel, over by Miller’s Pond, and on top of Judd. Looking back, literally filming in a church and in the wild was an embarrassing idea, but I hope we made it look cool enough that people won’t care.
The bombed-out house in the video is real. We were driving by it to shoot at Miller’s Pond, and it caught my attention. We didn’t just find bombed-out parts: the whole thing was completely demolished. It wasn’t even a killshack—there was no room to get that sort of dirty work done. There wasn’t one square inch that wasn’t caved in or exploded. A bathtub lay twenty feet away, filled with wood and dirty water. It was like ground zero—either a particularly savage victim of Hurricane Irene or a meth lab. While we were in the middle of filming, the property owner (who lived in a nicer house a few yards away) came out to yell at us. We were scared of getting eaten, but he turned out to be chill and left us alone.
We did some shots inside of the bell tower, and hands down the coolest moment of the shoot was when, after waiting twenty minutes in the cold for PSafe to come unlock the building for us, Fearless Leader Michael Roth happened to stroll by and (after scrupulously making sure we were authorized to be there) opened it instead. Guess I know who to call now.
All in all, rap is one of the most important new art forms of the last century, and we think that in Sign Language we have found an awesome way to push it forward. I’ve enjoyed every minute of this collaboration, and hope that it lasts for a long time.