“Run and gun” is how most describe the low-budget, guerrilla filmmaking of music videos, even those by musicians signed to a major label like Def Jam. For some it’s even a point of pride, like Grammy-nominated rapper Logic who ended his “Super Mario World” video with a clip of his co-star – a performer dressed in a Super Mario costume – deceiving Carolina Salguero about wanting to shoot “a summer-school project” aboard her 90-year-old oil tanker, the Mary A. Whalen, which she operates as a nonprofit organization.
Salguero told IndieWire that moment wasn’t staged; it documented the first moment she met the rapper Logic (stage name for Sir Robert Bryson Hall II) and his bare-bones crew, who presented themselves as students from Glen Cove High School. She entered a verbal agreement, later confirmed in an email exchange with videographer Justin Fleischer, that gave permission to the high school project to shoot aboard her ship if they supplied an explanation of the project, sent her copy of the finished project, and properly credited the ship and those who appeared in the video.
“I looked at Logic; he’s so scrawny, I mistook for him as high school student,” said Salguero. “I thought the videographer was his dad, graying hair at the temples, and his friend was dressed in the [beat-up] Super Mario costume – I was busy and trusted I was helping high school students.”
Salguero has had many local students and commercial film and video productions aboard the historic ship. She maintained and preserved the last-of-her-kind oil tanker as a museum until Hurricane Sandy ravaged the Red Hook coastline where the ship is docked. Salguero risked her life staying on the antique ship throughout the hurricane to prevent the enormous vessel from washing ashore, which would inevitably cause massive damage to the landmark and to nearby coastal properties. While she managed to save the ship, it suffered massive damage and losses including personal belongings, and key museum assets like historical documentation, engines, machinery, and artifacts.
In creating a financial plan to continue to restore the historical ship and make her nonprofit, PortSide New York, “more resilient and stronger,” Salguero rededicated the organization to finding more and better ways to serve the community and deliver on the mission of connecting New Yorkers with their coastline. For example, the day Logic shot his music video on the boat, real students from Williamsburg High School for Architecture and Design were taking part in a summer preservation internship on the tanker. Later, the local bridge painting union ran a training session while they helped restore the damaged ship. For its post-Sandy work, PortSide received a Champions of Change award from the White House and honors from the New York State Senate.
“PortSide NewYork helps the universe that Logic’s video team pretended to be,” said Salguero. “We serve a very diverse constituency — programs for adults, unions and lots educational programs for children, many of whom are immigrants — with a strong focus on equity issues.” The day Logic showed up was an ordinary busy day on ship, with young people coming and going. “I had just had one batch of high schoolers leave and here comes another – except it was Logic. You have to understand, it’s not unusual for youth arts programs to come aboard to take photos. We really believe in a sense of trust and community, something that was key to this whole area rebuilding after Sandy.”
A former documentary filmmaker and photo journalist, Salguero’s plan to save the Mary A. Whalen also involved moving to a new dock that would make it possible to rent out the ship for commercial, film, and TV location shoots. As New York City film production continues to explode, Red Hook’s unique coastal backdrop with the old-school ports, enormous brick warehouses, East River, and Manhattan Skyline has made it an increasingly popular location. For example, Martin Scorsese’s “The Irishman” was spotted shooting in the area last week.
IndieWire spoke with a New York DGA union location manager, who confirms having scouted the Mary A. Whalen and that the ship has been listed as available location for Film and Television production since 2015. The location manager estimated a location fee going rate of $10,000 a day, or $5,000 a half-day.
“A drive-by skeleton crew situation with no prep — which is what this sounds like — I would’ve offered them a thousand, maybe two, but ultimately the location owner sets the price and that’s always where I start,” said the location manager, who asked not be named. “Nonprofits, like churches especially, are finding New York’s location crunch a good way to make extra money and we all feel good about making that work when we can, but you have to be upfront about what you are doing. So, they got caught lying and Def Jam isn’t paying? Wow, that is a bad look which won’t go unnoticed in the New York production world.”
Salguero said she uses a sliding scale for location fees, based on the size of the production, and has been open to working with the budget constraints of independent films and artists. In the case of Logic, if she’d known that the same month he was on her ship he’d become a number-one Billboard chart-topping artist, the concept of using the video and his popularity to shine a light on her nonprofit while she continues to raise funds to save the ship would have certainly been an option.(She hopes FEMA will refund her 90 percent of the $320,000 she suffered in hurricane damages; in the meantimes, she’s had to take out a loan.)
She discovered that the video shoot wasn’t a Glen Cove high school project when a neighbor’s son ran up to her excitedly saying, “I didn’t know you hung out with Logic!?” Salguero, who had never heard of Logic, watched the video – which shows her, the ship’s staff and members of the District Council 9 trainees dancing. When she first viewed the video it had 4 million views on YouTube; now, it is over 10 million.
When Salguero confronted Fleischer about the deception, the director/photographer put her in touch with Harrison Remler, one of Logic’s managers at Team Visionary. Salguero wrote Remler, requesting a $5,000 donation be made to the nonprofit as compensation for the location and explained the funds would be put to use for programming for disadvantaged youth. In December 2016, Remler wrote: “UMG Def Jam, Logic’s label handles all budgets for his video shoot and we can revisit a cost in the new year. Their offices are closed until early January. We are confident we can get some funds your way.” Over a month later he told her that they were “working on” getting her funds from Def Jam. Eleven months later, Remler still hadn’t found a way to compensate the nonprofit and started to ghost Salguero.
IndieWire reached out to Remler and Logic to comment on this story; they did not reply. The office of Mac Clark, Logic’s music agent at CAA, deferred questions to Team Visionary, but indicated due to preparation for this weekend’s Grammys — where Logic will be performing and is nominated for Song of the Year and Best Music Video — they would likely be too busy to reply.
Last month, Salguero was so frustrated by Remler’s silence – not to mention pissed off by Logic’s tweet about surprising his wife Jessica with a $123,000 Mercedes for Christmas – that she took to Twitter to publicly shame (and tag) Logic, Justin Fleischer, and Team Visionary. The tweet was retweeted over 300 times, by journalists, community organizers and the close knit coastal Red Hook community. The filmmakers and Logic’s team didn’t take the bait.
Salguero told IndieWire she is surprised how angry she continues to be about what was ultimately just a short music video shoot. Part of it, she said, is embarrassment: At the time of video, she was sick and overweight, caused by a flare- up of an illness she contracted from the time she spent at Ground Zero following the 9/11 terrorist attacks. She states she would never have agreed to appear in a famous rapper’s music video, and cringes at the thought of millions of people watching her dance. Through a lawyer, she even made the case to YouTube that it needed to remove the video based on the fact she, her staff, and trainees never signed clearances for their likenesses to be used in a Def Jam music video. YouTube denied the request.
“I really just want to put this behind me,” said Salguero. “The way our Red Hook community got through Sandy was remaining positive and for whatever reason I just can’t shake — and I should, I know — how violated I continue to feel by this.”
To learn more about the work of PortSide New York and the Mary A. Whalen, click here. The 60th Annual Grammys will air 7:30pm on Sunday, January 28.
UPDATE: Comedian and Twitter/Instagram personality George DeNoto – who played Super Mario in the video – took to Twitter today to respond to this story. DeNoto, 20, was a fan of Logic before becoming friends with him, appeared on the “Bobby Tarantino” album. His statement is below: