AKA I’m Wearing All The Hats
Over the years I’ve shot my fair share of music videos. Ranging from my work with Senorwooly and on the other end of spectrum my work with Endiskize. Despite having shot numerous music videos I’ve never directed one. To be fair though, up until recently (and the time of writing this — 05/04/2021), I really have only directed 3 things in last decade.
After my short, “The Alexis Project”, I decided the next thing I directed that there was no point in not officially fully directing/dping whatever I did next. I figured if it was all my gear, my story boards, my lighting plans, my shot lists, my script etc… it just made sense to do both to get what I exactly wanted instead of co dping it and being disappointed in some aspects where, for whatever reason and for better or worse, I just didn’t get what I had in mind/wanted.
I also I knew for my next project I wanted to rely heavily on RGB and lighting effects. I had fallen in love RGB on the “The Alexis Project” and wanted to explore that look. Fortunately for me it just so happened to work out that I found a band (Kurt Michaels) that was game for it. After a little back and forth we settled on a shooting date (05/02/2021). I went to fully planning things out.
Before we get started please watch the Music Video here. Not only is it a great song but a lot of what I will be talking about won’t make sense unless you’ve seen it.
Preface — It’s going seem like I am ragging on my own work and pointing out all its flaws. While I am doing both of those to an extent please don’t take it to mean I’m not proud of it nor incredibly proud of the work everyone involved did, I am, but this is a retrospective, it’s meant to go over what I did wrong, what I could have done better or differently, and what went right. It’s meant to serve as a reflection on my work and something myself and others can look at when producing their next project.
Let’s get to it!
Back in college I took a class called “Music Video Production”. The first and most important thing the professor told us was (I’m paraphrasing of course) was:
If you ever find yourself in the position to produce a music video you have two important tasks — the first being that the band shows up on time and the second being that they understand how much work it really is.
That piece of advice has always stuck with me. In the past, so many of the music videos I’ve shot have had either band members or the entire band show up really late or where just not prepared for how much work it actually is.
I took great care to stress how much work a music video really is, that the band really needed to show up on time, and wrote a very detailed shot list/callsheet.
I’m well aware a call sheet/shot list generally isn’t the same document. For this case though, it served two purposes. It let the band know where to be and when, what would be expected of them on camera wise, and it showed everyone timing wise when they could expect to be on camera.
If you look closely you’ll also notice I put lighting notes on the shot list. This was because I was wearing a lot of hats and wanted to make sure I got exactly what I wanted/planned and didn’t forget in the moment of.
Now spreadsheets aside (everyones favorite!) lets talk about directing! More importantly directing a music video vs directing a film (short or other wise). Directors mainly do two important things -
1: They monitor and craft/shape their actors/talent performance. On a film it can be a bit more of a dialogue, trying to set your actors headspace for a scene, explain the backstory, change how a line is said, and make sure everything works the way you want it to. Generally on a film you want your actors to do less to the point of doing almost nothing. Go to big and you risk people overacting, something the audience will absolutly notice.
A music video is the exact opposite, you want big, over the top actions. As a director in this regard I’m not sure what exactly I did other than yell “Bigger!”. It’s not to say that was the wrong approach, it absolutely was, especially for a performance music video but it’s really a strange departure from directing actors. It felt backward and counter intuitive to an extent.
I will say that the band really delivered. Everyone time I yelled “bigger” they really did step it up. They really came through and it shows in the final product.
2: They set the looking/feeling/tone of the piece. If I had a separate director of photography (DP) and did not have the technical chops I do I don’t think I could make it as a music video director. Music videos are so visual, maybe more so than a film it’s self and I’m really not sure how you can make it/make compelling music videos without at least some idea of lenses, cameras, and lighting.
If I had a DP and couldn’t do it myself (or didn’t want to) I probably would have told that person that I wanted an 80’s RGB crazy lighting effect video and that would be that. It would be their job to figure out the rest. Realistically though this is about where me as a director on this ends and me as a DP on this takes over.
The DP side of me knew how to pull this off — Anamorphic Lenses, Classic Soft Filters, RGB color washes (largely from LED panels), and RGB gobos. If anyone cares here is the camera/lenses/filters/lights/grip gear I used
2x Black Magic Pocket Cinema Camera 4ks shooting 3:1 BRAW
1x Sirui Anamorphic 50mm f1.8
1x Sirui Anamorphic 35mm f1.8
1x Classic Soft 1
1x Classic Soft 2
2x CAME-TV P-75R Boltzen Perseus RGBDT 75W Slim LED Light
1x CAME-TV P-150R Boltzen Perseus RGBDT 150W Slim LED Light
1x Godox SZ150R Zoom RGB LED Video Light
1x Godox s30
1x Godox Projection Attachement
1x Aputure spotlight mount
A lot of flags/cutters/c-stands.
Realistically though the classic soft 2 was probably too heavy but I didn’t have a second classic soft 1 or anything lighter and I didn’t feel like renting. Camera wise we shot two cameras. On the day I really thought most of the video would be from the 50mm (with the classic soft 1) but when it came down to the edit, the 50mm was somewhat a more pleasing shot (the gobo fills the frame) but you didn’t see enough of the performance PLUS most of the band was wearing sunglasses.
A close up of someones face in a performance music video where you don’t see most of the instrument/movement and can’t see their eyes just doesn’t work. I’m pretty sure I didn’t use a single clip of that shot in the final video.
That meant most of the released video was shot on the 35mm and the classic soft 2. Looking at the footage now I really wonder if the being “forced” to use the classic soft 2 for most of it was a blessing in disguise. Most of the band is older and the stronger the filter the softer and better skin looks. I could also just be rationalizing my — lets say — “mistake”. However rationalizing aiside I will say I really do big the way the classic soft 2 looks with Siruis (at f2.8). The next project I shoot on these lenses I may reach for that filter over others.
What I wish I had done was figure out a way to have a static wide shot with pushing a dolly back and forth during each take or just get a second shot of something different. Maybe a side shot? A close up of a performance or even just have someone hand hold it and try to do something interesting.
A dolly shot would have saved us a take (not a big deal at the end of the day but being efficient is important) and given us the same coverage we got although not a different performance.
Lastly — from a camera and a lighting stand point I also wish I had sent the RGB washes/color effects to be faster. The video is cut pretty fast and you hardly ever get to see the colors change in the shot (when you do its really cool though!). I should have changed the settings for the RGB washes to be 3–4 times faster than they were.
Now in terms of “major” mistakes from the camera side there are two. One that is fairly noticeable and one that I covered up/fixed in the edit.
Lets start with the obvious mess up. In most of the silhouette shots you see the gobo shaking against the background. The reason happened was because I swapped gobos between each take the c-stand holding the fixture would shake a bit before settling down, and I (at the start anyway) didn’t wait long for it to settle down to roll camera. It doesn’t look bad per se — it’s just not what I wanted and it bothers me. But other than reshooting that footage I I couldn’t easily fix it and was stuck with it.
The second “major” mistake” is the background. In some of the wide takes the background isn’t smooth and it’s wrinkles are very visable. You don’t really see or notice this in the final cut because I either zoomed it or fixed the issue with after effects/photoshop. This occurred because of a fan hitting the background and the fact I wasn’t really planning on using the 35mm so I didn’t put much effort into perfecting that shot.
A real cyc would have solved this problem but those are pretty expensive to rent and this project was low budget/just something I wanted to do. Next time I attempt this look though I will be looking into renting a real cyc.
That being said I did get exactly what I planned for/wanted cinematography wise. I got the silhouettes I wanted, the color washes I wanted, the infinite white space I wanted, and the crazy gobo on the lead singer effect I wanted. I’m very very happy that I stuck to the plan/my original vision in that regard.
For the most part too the video followed my original vision. In fact after my disappointment in part of “The Alexis Project” I was hell bent on sticking to my plan. For the most part I did. The only “major” change I made to my plan, if even that, was cut the static wide band shots and instead only shoot the dolly shots.
I only made that decision because —
1: Music videos have to move. A static wide shot of the band where there wasn’t much move for the artists to move around is a boring shot.
2: While we were not behind time wise (we were actually ahead!) I couldn’t get the shot/framing/look I wanted in the wide and figured I would never use the static wide/enough of it in the final video to be worth the 30–40 minutes we would spend on it.
3: Keeping the engery up. By the time we shot the wide shot we had shot all the solo performance takes of the entire band save Kurt. I figured they only had so much energy and could only perform to that level for so many takes. Each band member was already at least 3 takes in and adding 2–3 more static takes just felt like overkill.
So with all that in mind I cut the 2 static wide shots I had planned for (one silhouetted and one with an RGB wash) and just shot the dolly.
I didn’t add any additional shots/coverage.
I do wish I had added/changed one of those shots though. Instead of the gobo takes on Kurt I actually wish I had shot these “clean” or shot 1–2 more “clean” takes of the performance with different colored lights/background gobos. I will say I only came to this conclusion after editing the video. I wasn’t 100% planning to focus on Kurt as much as I did and a few extra takes of him would have helped/given me a bit more options.
The lesson there is if your shooting a performance music video thats heavily focused on a singer song writer you should over shoot your coverage on that person.
Was following my original plan (almost to the letter) a mistake? Do I wish I had a bit more — lets say courage — to deviate from the plan? I don’t personally think so. Being willing to deviate from what I had originally planned/thought of in a vacuum may have resulted in a couple additional cooler shots/takes but it also could have left me severally disappointed in the footage. I figured I was better off to get something I knew I would be happy with wanted/than take a risk on something I may have be even happier with but risk getting something I hated.
I personally tend to not risks when I’m directing and plan everything down to the minute (as you saw in my shot list). I figure if I’m going to be spending the time and the money on it I better make sure I’m going to be happy with the final result.
And overall I’m very happy with the final result. And the band is too.
If I were to do it again heres what I would change:
1: Fix the swinging gobo.
2: Find a more interesting/usable angle for the second camera. As it stands I should about 500gb of footage that just doesn’t work.
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