Rockaway 'Joe' Helps Famous Rocker Find Everyday People
If you've watched a football game on TV lately you've probably seen the Chevrolet truck commercials featuring John Mellencamp's new single "Our Country." While Mellencamp's new record isn't due out until early next year, the video for the song recently debuted on VH1 and is filled with characters and scenes that will be familiar to people around the country, perhaps especially here in Rockaway.
As Mellencamp strums an acoustic guitar and sings about people coming to understand one other and ending poverty and bigotry, black and white video portraits of everyday Americans flash on the screen. There's a young man dressed in the en vogue hip hop style - a sideways trucker hat, fitted polo shirt, relaxed-fit jeans and white sneakers - standing in front of an American Flag. A teenager dressed in his crisp white football uniform, with his black hair slicked back, holds his helmet in his right hand and sports a cold stare. In another portrait, a man sits on a suitcase like he's leaving for college and in another, a man holds his young daughter on his knee. The shots that might seem familiar to people here are those of a surfer wearing a "shorty" wetsuit while standing in front of a long board, a boy flying a kite along the shoreline, or the footage of a wedding party rejoicing on the beach after the ceremony.
No, the scenes weren't secretly filmed in Rockaway (it was produced in Savannah, Georgia and filmed on Tybee Island), but one of the two men who scouted talent for the video has deep local roots that, he says, helped him find the people that illustrate Mellencamp's song. Brian McManus, a former Belle Harbor resident who got his education in character-spotting from the many characters in Rockaway, is currently working as a production assistant with 98 Productions, a film and video production company that worked on Mellencamp's video.
For the project, McManus and Trevor Jenkins, the head of 98 Productions who holds a master's from the Savannah College of Art and Design, combed through neighborhoods throughout Savannah looking for what McManus described as "genuine people" for the music video. The men, armed with McManus' digital camera, approached people wherever they found them: on their front porches, at the store, walking on the street, at church.
"More than 300 headshots were taken to arrive at the final 27 characters selected to represent a cross-section of rural America," 98 Productions said in a written release.
For years, McManus worked as a bartender in Rockaway. Years ago, when he was in college, he tended bar at Fitzgerald's, which has faded into Rockaway's past. He also worked just a few years ago at Jameson's Pub, which is owned by his nephews. The experience, he said, taught him how to read people and quickly size-up characters. "You can see the people that are real," he said, reminiscing about Rockaway's many vibrant visitors and residents. "That was an education in being able to do this."
In the end, McManus said he and Jenkins "provided the paint" for renowned Scottish portrait photographer Albert Watson who "was the artist with the brush." The video took four days to shoot and cost somewhere between $100,000 and $200,000, he said. One of the highlights was watching Mellencamp interact with the kids during the shoot. "He's a salt-of-the-earth guy," McManus said, "When the kids went on set with him he was having a great time. You could see it."
McManus, whose other business ventures and interests have brought him around the country and the globe, said he was seeking a little rest and relaxation this year on Tybee Island, a barrier island off Savannah, when a nephew introduced him to Jenkins. He is already assisting Jenkins on new projects and says he's hoping to have more of a stake in the company in the future. "It's an enormous field right now," McManus said. "It's a huge business."
For more on 98 Productions, go to 98productions.com. To see Mellencamp's video, check out VH1 or go to JohnMellencamp.com