Music videos. We all watch them, we all love them, but do many people actually know what goes into making one? Sure, you can strap a GoPro to a headstock, get a wide shot, and bobs your uncle - but that’s merely capturing one aspect of the end product. So let’s delve into what makes a good music video.
I have been in the film industry for a number of years, pumping out numerous products of varying types and lengths. I think you can appreciate the broad difference between theatrical short films, documentary feature films, corporate videos, informercials and music videos, each with their own style and nuance. Much like music, film is an art and capturing the atmosphere is just as important as what is happening in front of the lens.
How do you create atmosphere? I find it’s best to get to know the band that you are going to film. Obviously, you don’t have to go and stalk them, or live with them for an expended period of time, but get to know their music, their ethos, and how they perform. Go to one of their live shows, or band practises before you step into filming, it will give you a good insight into how you are going to retell the act through the camera. If they are a scarecrow band who stand or sit perfectly still during their performance, then you are going to have to add more technical camera moves (pans, dollies etc) to liven it up. If they jump around, run from once side of the stage to the other or do a Russian Spetsnaz backflipping hatchet attack, you’re going to need to decide of a robust plan to capture it all.
The band will always have a plan for what they want, but for fuck sake, curb their enthusiasm. If you have a budget of $500, don’t expect to be putting helicopters, explosions or any form of CGI in the video. But by all means listen to what the band has to say, because good chance is they can give you good insight into the emotion they want to convey through the video. From there, come up with a shot list.
Listen to the song. Listen to the song to the point that you know every part by heart, and can anticipate the middle eighth, breakdown or solo to avoid missing anything important. You can incorporate this into rehearsals too. This is camera rehearsals, not more band rehearsals. Likely if a band wants a music video, they know how to play the song off by heart, go figure.
When you do actually get through all that boring shit and get into filming, you’ll need to break your filming up. I like to start with the rhythm section first, because they are generally the easiest to film. for example, I start with the drummer, then the bassist, rhythm guitarist, lead guitar, back up vocals and lastly lead vocals. I always shoot every instrument three times, from different angles. For instance, a lead guitarist will have a long shot (full body), medium shot (waist up), and a close up of his guitar work. After filming all the individuals three times through, I will then generally take two full run-throughs of the entire band, and I’ll do it twice, just in case. There is nothing worse than getting to the cutting room, and having a crucial shot fuck up, and having nothing to cover it with. The reason I film in this order is to get out performance nerves. If you move straight into filming a singer, or even a full band shot first, they will suffer from camera shyness, no matter how many times they have performed in front of audiences. By the time you get to the shot of the entire band, they will be loosened up and feeding off each others energy, which leads to a much more enjoyable video to watch.
Throughout the filming, always, always, fucking always have the band play to the recording of the song file you are going to use for the video (unless of course you are filming a live gig, which is an entirely different kettle of fish). This is self explanatory, I hope. Once you start the edit, lay the song track down first, then start layering in the same order you filmed in. After you sync them all to the master audio file, then go through each clip individually and cut the shit. Cut out every part of that shot that looks terrible, and move onto the next one. Once they are all cut, you’ll need to massage all the shots you’ve kept to fit the song. At the very end, add in any other shots you may have taken as B Roll to the video; if you’ve shot a symbolic narrative to go over the top. This can look nice, but if done poorly, can look cheesy as fuck and take away from the video itself. The edit is the most time consuming part of the process, and could take up to 12-15 hours of solid work, and also means listening to that fucking song 100,000,000 times. Which is doable if its a good song, but if the song is rubbish, prepare to get aids.
Sounds like a lot of work, right?
In the market of music videos, you get what you pay for. You pay $100, you’re going to get a $100 production, which might be fine now, but might end up cringeworthy come your next big birthday party when your mate Jonny puts it on the big screen and screams out “Remember this shit?”; you’ll be wanting someone to put you in the bin.