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June 15, 2009

Making the video: "We Are Baltimore"

ellen cherryHi everyone, ellen cherry here. How are you? 

Oh wait, you probably can't answer right away, but I'm hoping you are well and healthy and happy.

Sam asked me to write a little blog about how I happened to make the recent FOX45 promo spot you might have seen on television.

If you haven't seen it and you'd like some reference as to what the heck I'm talking about, click here and then click on our cheesetastic "As Seen On TV" banner. Pause and wait for it to load up (unless you don't have a Dell from 1998, then you don't have to wait) and enjoy!

So, way back in December 2008, Pete Ferraro, a producer from FOX45 Baltimore called me as I was driving home to Texas for the holidays, with an idea to create a jingle-type song for a station promo. It was based on a phrase he had devised, "We Are Baltimore." (Pete was recommended to me by my good friend in music and in life, Caleb Stine.)

Pete's idea was that the song would reflect something upbeat about the city and be inclusive of all the neighborhoods ...

I am a transplant to my beloved Baltimore; living here for nine years. There are many reasons why I stay, but mainly I love that the city is more a web of neighborhoods, each distinct in its own way. The idea of participating in the project instantly appealed to me.

As soon as I got back in January, Pete said, "We want to film a video spot with the song, as well.  Do you think we can knock this out by February? I've got a crew booked for two days the first week."  Sure, no problem.  I'm a professional songwriter!  How hard can it be?  So I got down to work with my friend and fellow composer, Nick Sjostrom (of Clean Cuts).

First task: Have you ever tried to make a list of words that rhyme with "Baltimore"?!

Let's see here, we've got:


I could go on, but I won't.  We wrote a little tune that I liked and I wrote some lyrics that seemed to get at what Pete was looking for. We sent it off and heard back that he liked the lyrics (yay!) but wanted the song to "rock" more, (the first version was very piano heavy.) I knew he was a
Bruce Springsteen fan, so Nick and I tried to find what could be the meeting point between ellen cherry and Springsteen. We settled on R.E.M.

With the help of fellow composer Wall Matthews (also of Clean Cuts), we cranked out the version currently airing on a FOX channel near you.

ec5.jpgI was stoked.  It was my first attempt at a professional work-for-hire songwriting job and I felt it had turned out to be really a fun, upbeat, stuck-in-your-head kind of song. And the best news was that Pete loved it.

Next came filming the video. I know it's currently 80 degrees as I write this, but think back to the two coldest days in Baltimore this winter, February 4 & 5, 2009. Pete had chosen a great location:  Clipper Mill, but he had unintentionally picked two of the coldest days of winter to spend
8 hours shooting outside.

AND then Pete said, "This is going to air in April, so if you can wear something that doesn't look like it's cold outside, that would be great!" The crew was professional and hilarious, and the time went fast, so I can't complain. I was treated like a rock star, with a professional makeup person (Leah Bassett) and an assistant (Jenny Furbay at FOX) who ushered me inside every time we weren't shooting.

Pete was a great director -- very focused. At one point the first day, he said "The problem is:  we can see your breath when you are singing along to the track." So he devised several solutions:  breathing in while singing (didn't look realistic); not breathing at all while lip syncing to the
track (looked even less realistic); or, (my personal favorite) sucking on ice cubes for a minute before each take in an effort to cool my breath to the same temperature as the outside (didn't work, but it took us five takes to discover this.)

Amazingly, when I see the footage now, they shot it in such a way, that you can't tell it was 13 degrees outside.  I think it looks great.

ec6.jpgThe crew worked for extra days, getting man-on-the-street shout-outs for each neighborhood and time-lapsed shots of our fair city. I saw the final product near the end of March. Right before I was to leave on tour in early April, Pete called to tell me they were launching the campaign. I was
bummed that I wouldn't be here to see its maiden voyage into TV land, but when I got home from tour, two days ago, it was -- I'm not joking -- the very first thing I saw when I turned on the tube. I think that's a good omen.

So now, it's out there in the world and I've gotten a few emails from people who have seen it, which feels really great (thanks to everyone who has written)! I had intended the words of the song to create a feeling of possibility, to be inclusive of the city and to highlight positive things that are happening in Baltimore.

Two years ago, I was seriously considering moving away from Baltimore, back to the South. I was feeling lost and disconnected.  But then something started happening: I went out into the
city. I started making some real connections with other artists in the city and I realized how much I was missing by not truly interacting with the city and its amazingly diverse artists. There's just something about Baltimore: I feel it's got everything I need right now. So I want to stay for a while

And so as the spring changes into my absolute favorite season, summer, I plan on wandering down the streets, singing a tune -- I'll sing to you, if you'll sing to me, Baltimore. Deal?

(Photos by Rich Riggins)

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Posted by Sam Sessa at 6:52 AM | | Comments (7)
Categories: Local music


Too bad your song sounds like it came straight off of an episode of Friends. The people in the :30 spot sound totally rehearsed or like a practical joke (where did you find that Indian dude and the old lady?). The idea of a tribute to Baltimore is nice, but couldn't you have made it part of this decade, not that last one?

better that than a "club thumpin" remix, complete with voice and pitch modulation. imagine the gay fish song off of southpark with baltimore spliced in. it's a little cheesy, but i like it. the crew over at fox 45 are good people.

Well you know, there IS a new Melrose Place coming! So maybe the 90s are seriously back!


Where's that "Too long, didn't read" animated .gif when you need it?

Anyway, saw the video. Kinda forced and phony IMO, but hey at least it's positive.

So now every catchy pop song that doesn't have a club beat sounds like the Friends song? I'd rather take this kind of music and be stuck in the 90s than have to listen to 2009's horrible top-40 crap.

Anyway, congratulations ellen cherry! You absolutely positively 100% need to start playing the song live!!!

Ah, the kiss of death of compliments:

Nice, which is kind of lukewarm appreciation.

A short muted cheerful piece that doesn’t quite make being heartfelt on first pass, but affection for it does grow on repeated listening. A live take would probably added a bit of punch to really put this over.

It’s a contract job to supply a song-recording that would appeal to a broad market demographic, or at least not put anyone off. I suspect the snarky present company aren’t likely to be generous to any song conceived and recorded as a TV commercial. They probably don’t watch much TV anyhow, much less the news.

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About Erik Maza
Erik Maza is a features reporter at the Baltimore Sun. He writes for several sections of the Sun paper and contributes weekly columns on music and nightlife. He also writes and edits the Midnight Sun blog. He often covers entertainment, business, and the business of entertainment. Occasionally, he writes about Four Loko, The Block, the liquor board, and those who practice "simulated sex with a potted palm tree." Before The Sun, he was a reporter at the Miami New Times. He's also written for Miami magazine, the Orlando Sentinel, the Sarasota Herald Tribune and the Gainesville Sun. Got tips? Gripes? Pitches? He's reachable at Click here to keep up with the dumb music he's listening to.

Midnight Sun covers Baltimore music, live entertainment, and nightlife news. On the blog, you'll find, among other things, concert announcements, breaking news, bars closings and openings, up-to-date coverage of crime in nightlife, new music, round-the-clock coverage of Virgin Mobile FreeFest, handy guides on bars staying open past 2 a.m. on New Year's Eve and those that carry Natty Boh on draft. Recurring features include seven-day nightlife guides, Concert News, guest reviews of bars and concerts, Wednesday Corkboard, and photo galleries, as well as reader-submitted photos. Thanks for reading.

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