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Window of Opportunity

Gearie Bowman Looks At The Big Picture, While His Music Videos Play in Web Browsers


By Al Shipley | Posted 11/5/2008

"I like things to shine, I like things to pop with color," music video director Gearie Bowman says. "That's what we need here in Baltimore, we need to look shiny and new. We've been lookin' dirty and grungy long enough." Indeed, with the cinéma vérité visuals of The Wire--often capturing Baltimore at its most post-industrial gray--fixed in the national public's mind as the most prominent visual depiction of the city in recent memory, a little glitz and flash is a refreshing change. And though the videos Bowman has directed in the past year feature the same modest budgets and relatively unknown MCs as countless grainy, grimy, local hip-hop clips, it's his eye-popping aesthetic and impressive production values that have quickly separated him from the pack.

Bowman's video for 100 Grandman's song "Take It to the Top" best demonstrates his flair and finesse behind a camera: It opens with an impressive crane shot moving fluidly from the front door of a housing project up to a second-story window, and features slow, luxurious dolly shots of the rapper strolling through a rim shop between glistening rows of merchandise. As far as iconography goes, it's nothing new for the art of the rap video, which has been glorifying ghettos across America--usually in New York or the Deep South--with such visual clichés for two decades. But 100 Grandman, still a fairly obscure name even in Baltimore, looks like a hood superstar through Bowman's lens, and it's easy to see why others are lining up to get the same treatment.

Bowman, a 29-year-old with closely cropped hair and a goatee who directs under the nickname "The Grench," has deep roots in both film and music, and in the late '90s rapped with a group called the Kraze. But while he directed a video for the group and toyed with Super 8 cameras as a hobby for years, he never ventured into directing professionally until last year, when the opportunity arose to make a clip for Heavy Gold's "Drug Dealer." That dramatic, impressive early effort led to a video for Tim Trees, which led to more work. "That had a small budget, a very small budget," Bowman says. But soon, "it started climbin', slowly, slowly, slowly, up to the 100 Grandman video."

For several years, Bowman worked in the swimming-pool business, first as a low-level design drafter, then gradually learning enough about the business to start his own company. As he notes with pride, "I haven't worked for anybody since about 2000." And it was with the same entrepreneurial spirit that he bought his own filming equipment, founded a new company, Sleepin Giant Media, and started collaborating with other local production crews on his video projects and their own.

Most recently, Bowman shot a video for "Too Much for Me" by Smash, which has already spent the last few months in rotation on 92Q, and, in a rare feat for a Baltimore artist, received airplay from Washington radio stations as well. "I was excited about that video, because it's a single that's really, it's doing well," Bowman says. "You feel a little better about a song that's already moving." Pushing a laptop across the table, he plays a rough cut of a recently completed video for the rapper D.O.G. that may be his most extravagant shoot to date, full of Inner Harbor scenery and a view from the window of a rented helicopter.

Bowman's best-known work to date came together recently, under tragic circumstances with fortuitous timing. At the time of beloved local DJ and radio personality Khia "K-Swift" Edgerton's accidental death in July, Bowman had already been hired by local rapper Bossman to shoot a video for a song that happened to feature affectionate mentions of K-Swift, who had broken the rapper's first radio hit. After Bossman wrote a new verse dedicated to the fallen DJ, Bowman filmed moving footage of K-Swift's funeral procession that became the centerpiece of his video for the song "I Wonder." The tribute racked up thousands of views on YouTube, and made its way to prominent hip-hop blogs like; Bowman beams, "I really stand behind that video."

Unfortunately, at the moment, YouTube is about the only place Bowman's work can be seen, as he picked an interesting time to jump into the world of hip-hop videos. BET recently canceled its only remaining video show dedicated solely to hip-hop, Rap City, two years after canceling another that had long been a showcase for more obscure regional fare, BET Uncut, and it's been years since MTV had a hip-hop video program. Meanwhile, urban radio makes and breaks hits whether or not they have videos, and with sales down, even major-label artists are facing smaller promotional budgets, often hiring cheaper directors like Rik Cordero to produce videos that go straight to the internet, bypassing television completely.

Though he hasn't yet worked his way up to offering his services to major artists, Bowman was recently tapped by an established director, Dale "Rage" Resteghini, to work as director of photography on a video by the volatile former superstar DMX. Bowman expresses pride of the footage he shot, and disappointment with the final product that came out of the editing room, noting diplomatically that, "When you're working a DP position, whatever that director wants from you, you've gotta bring to him."

Though Bowman seems content taking whatever video jobs come his way now, he speaks admiringly of Chris Robinson, a Maryland native who shot videos for local artists in the early 1990s and worked his way up to lensing multiplatinum stars, and eventually directing feature films. And Bowman is already gearing up for his own debut film, Shakeoff, a dramatic feature set against the backdrop of the Baltimore club-music scene that he likens to "a modern day Beat Street." He hopes to begin shooting in early 2009. Comparing his film with the popular Step Up franchise, movies about dancing set in Baltimore that bear no resemblance to Baltimore's actual existing dance culture, Bowman hopes to capture the kinetic energy of the local clubs without merely plugging those visuals into the same corny narrative that seems universal to all dance movies. "I want the dancing to be powerful," Bowman says, then laughing, "But I don't want a Disney movie, where there's this grand finale and everybody's got white suits on."

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