Conduits: “Misery Train” Music Video Shoot | Encounters

story by S.R. Aichinger | photos by Joshua Foo

Jenna Morrison of Conduits wanted to make a beautiful video about death.

It was to be a video for her band’s song “Misery Train.” So on Saturday, Oct. 20, 2012, Sara Bertuldo fell down over and over. The next day, Bertuldo was draped in a bolt of sheer, white fabric. She was lying supine on a white wooden door. And she was dead.

“Where we were shooting, Sara had to fall downhill,” co-director Joshua Foo remembers, “so every time she went down, she went THUD.”

They shot the film on Jesse Hassler’s family’s horse ranch just across the Missouri River, south of Council Bluffs, where the hills roll gently, the horizon is fringed in pines and the sky is a big and unbroken.

“I had her do it a million times, and each time I said, ‘Perfect. One more time,’” Foo laughs. “People are always asking, ‘If it’s perfect, why do it again?’”

That says something about Foo as an artist, not settling for what seems at first to be perfection, and allowing for the little variations in takes to spark new ideas. “Josh is extremely perceptive,” Morrison says, “and blisteringly creative.”

Morrison and Foo had been talking for awhile about collaborating on a video. Morrison had a basic concept, so when the two began meeting over coffee at Caffeine Dreams, the idea grew and developed quickly. Foo was interested in doing a shoot involving horses, so when Hassler offered to help with the shoot as director of photography, they had their horse connection.

Morrison’s concept for the video was influenced by Paul Thomas Anderson’s 2007 film, There Will Be Blood, “but without all the trappings of an old, Christian church town.”

“Death is indiscriminate,” Morrison continues. “Age, race and (sexual) orientation do not separate you from it. We wanted to create something that everyone can relate to but leave a lot open for a viewer’s own interpretation.”

Hassler and Morrison review footage

October 21 was an unseasonably warm day for late October, reaching 81 degrees during the shoot, but the look for the video was autumnal, so the cast were asked to wear layers, oversized sweaters, jeans and boots. Convenient for me, who tends to wear flannel shirts, corduroy pants and a stocking cap regardless of the weather.

“No one got paid. Everyone just donated their time,” Foo reflects, “which is something I love about Omaha.” Nicholas Wasserberger of the Church of Tomorrow worked closely with Morrison on costumes, and, she points out, “wore his hat really well.”

Wasserberger and hat

“Sara Bertuldo was incredibly patient,” Morrison remembers of her repeated falls on the hill, and “Dereck Higgins was just made for his part.”

What I remember most clearly from that day was the instant sense of community at the shoot, a sense that everyone was working toward a common goal: to help create a music video that is more than entertainment and promotion. I barely knew Morrison before the shoot and was invited to participate in the video shoot when we met at Caffeine Dreams during one of her meetings with Foo. I had only known Foo and Wasserberger for a few months and only casually. 

But on that day at the Hassler family horse ranch, everyone involved fell into a familiar and comfortable sort of relationship. We sat on the hillside between takes, joking and telling stories. We became, if only for those few hours, friends. In fact, Foo was aware of this feeling during editing; he made sure everyone who showed up to the shoot was in the video. 

“It was,” Foo says, “a way for me to say, ‘Thank you.’” He wanted not only to direct and edit a great video, but also celebrate the power of music to bring people together. It was for this same reason that Morrison and Foo decided to include credits at the end of the video. It was important for them to recognize everyone’s contributions to the music video, and the gesture is particularly meaningful to me because Conduits broke up shortly after the video shoot. And because the band broke up, the video could have been shelved indefinitely, but it wasn’t. Foo and Hassler continued to work on it in the midst of their other projects.

The “Misery Train” video premiered more than seven months after the shoot and Sara Bertuldo lay on a white, wooden door and we carried her across the field to the bonfire so we could dance. The video is no longer a publicity tool; instead, it is an artifact of time — different times, I suspect, for different people. For example, it is for me an artifact of one of those electric and glimmering moments when art demonstrates its strange ability to connect people with just a sound or image.

As another example, the video is special to Joshua Foo because it was a moment of uncomplicated diversity in his life. “I thought of it as an alternate universe,” he says of the concept, “where there isn’t really religion, but there’s spirituality.” And in this alternate universe, all these different people have come together, not in spite of their difference, but because of them. Tolerance isn’t something this other universe needs to strive for, and acceptance has already happened. In this alternate universe, people can be people.



S.R. Aichinger is a Hear Nebraska intern. Reach him at