Last year, John Prine released The Tree of Forgiveness, his first original album in 13 years. It’s standout track, “Summer’s End,” a heartbreaking plea to a loved one to come home, made the album a clear choice for Rolling Stone‘s 50 Best Albums of 2018. The video, released this fall, went even deeper by depicting a heart-wrenching story of a family wrecked by the country’s opioid crisis, which Prine noted at the time “is tearing American families apart.”
In a newly released video about the making of the music video, directors Kerrin Sheldon and Elaine McMillion Sheldon (who made the Academy Award-nominated documentary Heroin(e) about the crisis) reveal that it was Prine’s idea to tell the story of addiction through a child’s eyes. “I think by centering on those family dynamics, we were able to think about the generational impacts that this crisis – that we see so often represented in just statistics – might have in this country,” Elaine says.
They filmed the video in West Virginia, which in 2016 reportedly had the highest-rate of opioid related overdose deaths in the country. And it was a family affair; Elaine got her grandfather to play the one in the video; her mother found the young actress in a Sunday school class. They also filmed in Nashville with Prine, who can be seen in behind-the-scenes footage strumming with his son Jack, goofing off between takes. “That’s alright – we’ll play something for later,” John tells a barking dog in an alley.
“We used what we know making documentaries, which is real people, real scenes, real places, even though technically it was scripted,” said Kerrin.
Adds Elaine, “I think for many John Prine fans, us included, the opioid crisis is in our backyard. John’s recognition of this issue means something to his fans.”
Prine is nominated for three Grammys this year; “Summer’s End” is nominated for Best American Roots song.