Photographer Zachary Bako recently dove into producing a motion project 3AM on Frenchmen about Ray Wimley, a New Orleans street performer and poetic hip-hop artist. Zachary first saw Ray perform on a trip to New Orleans unrelated to work, but once he witnessed his performance with the Harbinger Project, a jazz band, Zachary knew he wanted to find out more about his story. Using his skills from reportage photography, Zachary produced a documentary-style video (trailer seen below) accompanied by several stills to create this dynamic personal project highlighting Ray’s energy and spirit.
Can you give an overview of the project?
3AM is a music documentary that follows Ray Wimley, a New Orleans street performer, as he explores the heart of his musical practice amongst his city’s nightlife and its bohemian community of local musicians. Ray is a conscious hip-hop artist who is spreading love and unity through his music. The backstory is beautiful. On Dec. 17, 2016, I was drawn into a sonic wave that intrigued me for a two-hour improvised set on a cold Frenchmen Street night. And it left me with questions. Fast-forward four months, boots on the ground: we jump into a musical movement that has overtaken locals and tourists in the streets of the French Quarter. 3AM on Frenchmen introduces the world to Ray Wimley, a poet cut from a new cloth.
What was involved in planning/preproduction?
After initially piquing Ray Wimley’s interest in this project, it took four months to work out our schedules. The interim allowed me to the time to get the equipment I would need to capture motion and sound. The whole production was guerilla-style so I had to pack the bare minimum. Everything was captured with available light. The majority of the film takes place during the first two trips. On the first trip down to New Orleans, we shot for six days. It was then that I learned Ray would be performing at Jazz Fest—his first festival performance—with CoolNasty on the Congo Square stage. I then booked the second trip for the following month for the days leading up to his performance and a few days after.
Did you face any challenges with this project? If so, how did you overcome them?
During filming, exhaustion was a major challenge. The whole project was self-financed with no additional crew. Ray and I were averaging 3-4 hours a sleep a night—in one case, none at all. My initial plan was to shoot everything on a 21mm Zeiss lens, pulling focus by myself, but after the first camera test, I made adjustments to work smarter and not burn out. The first two days were camera test days. I would review footage and take note of what was working and what wasn’t working cinematically and with the sound. On the third day, everything clicked. That formula still stands today.
What was your favorite part of the project?
Witnessing the organic energy that was created from music on a street corner.
What made you decide to try making a motion piece?
After living in Beijing for four years, I had just recently relocated to Los Angeles. This would be my first personal project after arriving back in the States. And it all happened by chance: While visiting New Orleans, I heard something on the street one night that grabbed my attention. Initially, it was instrumentals of The Harbinger Project. Then I got closer and heard Ray’s lyrics. I stood and watched a two-hour improvised set on Frenchmen that changed my life. There was something happening and I had questions. I wanted to investigate what had moved me. All of my focus shifted to this project. It structured my experience and relationship to sound and to the musicians that I would meet. 3AM isn’t just a music documentary; it’s all about love. What better way to showcase Ray’s message about spreading unity and love than through a film were the filmmaker approaches the subject in the same way he himself encountered it.
This journey is just beginning.
Additional Production Sound: Ian Wood & Eric Laws
Art Design: Holly Bjalme-Evans
Assistant Editor: Yuna Lee
Colorist: Ryan K. McNeal
Supervising Sound Editor, Re-Recording Mixer: Marc Mellens
Title design: Kate Adkins