In June, filmmaker Marcus Haney set out to make a music video for his friend's band, Bear's Den. The video would revolve around Haney's brother, Turner, and his friends at their college, Seattle Pacific University.
The film crew would follow the twentysomethings as they want about their everyday lives at the end of the semester, riding dirtbikes, drinking beers, building bonfires, and giving each other tattoos.
"I wanted to freeze the last remnants of youth still left in my brother — to record him in this tender, fleeting age of early college years," Haney told NPR.
The group of friends at the conservative college often had a conservative background of their own, and Haney wanted to capture them as they were "trying to figure things out for themselves."
"I was really drawn to them, so I cast them in the video," he told Vice. "They're not pre-canned, pre-fabricated hipsters — they're real people."
But during the four days of filming, tragedy struck the university when a gunman walked onto the campus and shot four people. At first, no one knew who had been hurt, or if anyone had been killed. The group decided to let Haney keep filming.
"In one sense I felt that recording all this very real stuff was somehow important and of worth. ... At the same time, though, it felt exploitative to be making a music video based on the events. And these weren't strangers — it was my brother and his friends. It was a gnarly balance to try and find," he said.
It turned out that one of Turner's friends and dorm-mates, Paul Lee, had been the lone person killed by the gunman.
Haney said he was glad he could be present to support his brother, who, with many of his friends, found solace in the band's song.
"In his dorm room, he played the song 'Elysium' over and over. A few of the other kids played it a lot too, and sent it around. While in the midst of a dormitory full of very broken and lost students, I couldn't stop listening to the song either – it took on a whole new weight and meaning."
The group decided to finish the project as a tribute to Paul, and their pain, heartbreak, and confusion comes through in the haunting, poignant scenes that illustrate their coping.
All of the reactions in the video, from hugging to plate-smashing, fist-fighting and crying, are what the students were actually going through.
"The end result is a video that depicts real friends, real teenagers, experiencing something far too real," Haney said.
Rachel Zarrell is a news editor for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York.
Contact Rachel Zarrell at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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