Pulling the Curtains Back - How the Magic is Made?
12 Steps to ensure a Smoother Music Video Shoot
How to Shoot a Music Video?
Pulling the curtains wide open. The best kept non-secret. If you do enough research on the internet, you can learn anything. This Includes making a Music Video. I personally wanted to take a deep dive into my process in hopes that it helps you. Keep in mind, I never went to film school. I'm a hard knocks graduate of guerilla indie film making. Learning like most kids now days, on the internet, by fire (doing) and by collaborating with other filmmakers.
I am a big believer in being well prepared and at the same time, I love the freedom of experimenting and figuring it out on location. This can be the juxtaposition of any film.
In this particular case we had to be well prepared; "t's" must be crossed, "i's" must be dotted. We had multiple factors dictating this. The biggest being mother nature, which includes limited sunlight and time. Time and sun position is the killer of all out-door indie shoots. It's a gamble but the rewards are huge.
Note: I am writing this as a Producer and Director of Photographer on set. So when I say things like I was tired on set, it's most likely because I was running around with a gimbal.
1. What kind of video do you want to make?
That's the million dollar question that begs the question, is your video even shootable on your budget. We all would like a Bruno Mars or Lady Ga Ga kind of big-budget video with helicopters and pretty girls, but let's get real, real-real. I personally don't have expensive gear or a huge crew, I don't have rigs, sliders or a red camera. But I do have intuition, passion, creativity and motivation. I also love the authenticity of keeping things simple. With a Sony a6500, a couple of lens, a gimbal, a drone and a GoPro Hero 5 as a backup camera (which we ended up not using in the cut). I believed we could pull this off and no one would know it was shot on a small budget.
After sitting with Fabian and Daniela from Ticket To Nowhere, we came to two different videos to draw inspiration from. Keep in mind, we went through tons and tons of videos, not just in their genre but pop and other short films that could possibly look cool.
Note: There is no shame in using other videos as inspiration. Many music videos are inspired by others. As a filmmaker, I ask my clients what videos do you like and dislike. This way I can figure out how to shoot it, what to shoot and what to avoid.
1. Fit for Rivals - Crash
I love how simple and complex this video is. And I absolutely love the movements in this video. We all agreed and wanted to do something similar.
2. Evanescence - Lithium
Daniela really liked this video and wanted to pull emotions out of this video. Colors, Shots, Movements, Everything. This was not in my wheel house. But recognizing little things that we could do with our camera equipment and post production software. We were able to make decisions before hand. For example many shots with Debby (actress) was inspired by this video. You would never guess it, but that's the beauty of movie magic.
We also used many other music videos and TV-shows to draw from.
- Where can we shoot?
- Does it fit the bill (the look)?
- How many cars can we park and where?
- Can the entire Cast, Crew and Band get there easily?
- Do we have electricity?
- Is it close to nearby shops? stores? restaurants? (Crucial when the crew is starving or thirsty or need last minute things)
- Is there a bathroom? Is there Toilet Paper? - Is the toilet girl friendly? meaning there is not a pile of crap on top of the toilet. Bros can piss any where. Well I can.
- Is it cold? Should we bring extra blankets or jackets or hot tea.
- Chance of Rain?
- How fast can you run your equipment into safety? Wouldn't that suck to have all your expensive equipment out and it starts raining.
- Where does the sunrise and sunset?
- Which way will the band face and is there hard shadows on their faces?
As you can tell shooting outside poses a lot of questions. And shooting inside would be much much easier. But shooting inside still does pose other questions like, is there enough light, etc. Address all these variables earlier on.
3. Setting a Date and locking it in
Setting a date and sticking to it. This is the easiest and yet the hardest. Just like going to the Gym, we can make a million excuses not to go. Now pile on a crew, band and many different personalities. It only takes one person to bail on the day, and your entire shoot gets canceled. I have seen this happen before. Canceled. Re-schedule. And re-scheduled again. I only say this because like many of you, we are working on a very limited or no-budget video. It's easy for one person to say, "why would I wake up at 4 am for little or no money?" Get a solid dependable crew together even if that means your parents, girlfriends, boyfriends, wives or husbands. If you can train your dog to fetch water, bring your dog.
4. Understanding & having a Dependable Director - This could be easily the #1 tip
The entire band has to know and agree that they will have to play the same song many many many times. In our case, it was close to 15-20 times each. The establishing shot, entire band, singles, 2-shots, 3 shots, close ups, super close ups, b-roll and so fort. This of course depends on the video itself. If you are shooting no band, then you don't have to worry about this. But if you do band shots, having everyone on the same page will ensure no complaints on the day. And as a DP or Director, it will ensure a more relaxed environment and room for experimentation.
Speaking of Director. Having a person that has the final say and vision. It's easy to have too many chefs in the kitchen. Everyone has ideas and everyone wants to be heard, but at the end of the day, the Director has the FINAL say. Period. You can waste half the day when one person says to shot it like this and from here and another person says but I want to shoot it from here. Having a Director that dictates the decision will save you a lot of headache and time.
5. Shot List
I'm attaching our shot list. This is not an official by the book kind of shot list. I'm sure a pro would laugh at this, but it worked for us and that's all that matters. We also had storyboards for the Debby (actress) story. Being well-prepared will ensure a speedy shoot and no shots are missed.
Shooting in different formats allow for different kinds of transitions and edits in post. 4k allows zooms and movements. High frame rate allows slow-motion and action shots (drummer footage).
In all shoots you get the wide/establishing shot. Period. If everything fails, your wide shot will save the day.
We did shoot a lot with a GoPro in 4k attached to the Sony Camera. For a different angle and the most important reason, for safety. However, we did not use a single shot from the GoPro, but knowing we had that in post was ensuring. We could cut to that angle if we didn't have another usable angle. This kind of thinking/shooting is Independent filmmaking 101 at its core.
Having a detailed shot list, establishes where you are in the day. For example the song for this video is 6 minutes and 30 seconds. Breaking down each shot and time, we are able to figure out where we should be in the day with which shot. We are also able to schedule the shots depending on the sun position. And scheduling singles after multiple band takes, gives each member a break. Another benefit of the shot list is If you are running out of time, you have the ability to prioritize what are the most important takes to get before your daylight runs out.
Unless you have a photographic memory and never forget anything, having a shot list is very important and you or the Assistant Director can check off tasks and keep track of time. On our shoot, we got everything shot and had extra time to experiment with different drone shots. Even with our sound disaster (see #6), we kept on schedule. Ohhh that brings me to, leave room for disasters/hiccups in the shoot. You don't have to live and die by the shot list but give wiggle room on your shot list. Knowing that if something goes wrong, you still have time to shoot everything. Having a shot list with exact times with no wiggle/disaster time will guarantee that you could possibly run out of time for your last takes.
Here are some of the notes/acronyms for our shot list, however I won't dive into them all. I'll keep some of the movie magic to myself. Note; I created custom buttons on my Sony Camera to switch from 4k to 1080 in seconds.
S1 = 4k 24f/s
S2 = 1080 120f/s
1x/2x/3x = Amount of shots or times we shoot that angle. This is for time keeping.
? = On set we determine if the shot looks cool or with who. If it doesn't look good, we don't shoot it and move on. Some shots just can't be determined in pre-production until you are on set.
Having a transmitter and receiver for sound "Song" to the band and your camera in sync. This is the biggest takeaways from our shoot. I stumbled across an App that could transmit the same song to everyone's phone at the same time in sync. We tested it multiple times and it worked perfectly. Like a horror movie, on-set it failed us and failed us big! One phone would transmit the song 1-2 seconds late and everything would be thrown off. Desperation created innovation and a lot of extension cords. Fabian ran to his studio and grabbed their concert transmitters\receivers and Pasci used all his extension cords in his van *LUCK is a understatement for this coincidence*. I lost count on the amount of cables we used but it felt like it went for miles. We strung cables from Daniela's house to the shooting location, which was FAR. Once we had electricity and the sound was in sync, we were on fire! Shot after shot after shot with zero hiccups. Connecting a receiver to you camera's audio input is another big recommendation from me. This way in post you can easily sync up all the footage. No more eye balling or moving clips frame by frame. You just hit sync in Premiere Pro and it does the rest. Lastly, in order to have dependable sound, I highly recommend having electricity. Generator, extension cord, potatoes, solar panels, what ever it takes. You can hook up equipment, have lights, charge phones and batteries. Speaking of batteries.
7. Have A LOT of batteries.
I have 8 batteries for my Sony. We were burning through them like hot cakes. One because it was cold and second we were shooting in 4k and in high frame rate. If we didn't have electricity, we would have been royally screwed. I brought the car adapter chargers but those take forever and you have to leave your car on. Having electricity, I was able to rotate out dead batteries with charged batteries. Look really really close in the music video and in some drone shots you can see the extension cords and chargers. *Spoilers*
8. AD - Assistant Director
Having someone on standby as a helping hand is always a good idea. That person might be over-worked or bored out of their minds. They are there to keep you (Director/DP/Producer) on schedule and to keep the band and crew happy. They can also be there as a hair and make-up person and continuity assistant. Making sure the band stands in the same spots, hair is in the right place, people don't look sweaty, shirts not wet, etc. After shooting for 4 hours, you can bet that person will look differently than he did in the morning. So having someone keeping an eye out for those things is huge. I recommend taking a picture of each person before your first take. Your AD can go back to the picture from time to time during the day. This way in post, you can streamline all the cuts easier. How much would that suck to have a great clip and one person is covered in sweat and dirt. Trust me in post it will drive you crazy, or you will have to just accept it and say it was a artistic choice "Wink, Wink." I was lucky enough to have two AD's on set, my wife and Marc, a strong tall man that could get different angles with my gimbal when I was tired. There is only so much times I can run around holding a heavy gimbal. He was also there as a food, drink, jacket, etc runner.
9. Food, Water & Coffee
A no brainier but many times forgotten. Make sure you bring ENOUGH food, snacks and water for everyone. It's better to have more than not enough.
Make sure to give yourself breaks between takes. Both for the band and yourself. Playing the song a million times can get tiring. During breaks, new ideas can pop up or a clearer vision on what to shoot next. It also gives you time to reset. Bottom line, take a break. Even for me, I don't like taking breaks unless we are ahead of schedule. I was forced by the band to take a lunch break. After eating something, I told them, "Thank you, I guess I needed that." Hard work doesn't necessarily mean great work.
11. Have FUN!
The process does not need to be stressful. Remember why you all are doing this. The stress should have been done before hand in Pre-Production.
12. Pau Hana Beers
Nothing taste better than a cold beer after a long day. Nothing. We call them Pau Hana Beers from where I'm from. Pau Hana = finish/end of day. If you don't drink, no worries, find another activity like vegan humus. But if you do drink, break out a beer after you call the last cut. It's a beautiful bonding moment with your cast and crew on an incredibly day of shooting. Trust me when I say that beer tasted soooo good after we finished shooting the Ticket to Nowhere video. Waking up at 3:30 am, 32 takes, sound disaster, cable running, rain\storm scare and a lot of laughs.
Bonus: Back-Up Clothes
If you are dealing with an actor/actress that requires getting wet, dirty or have a physical activity like running (sweaty), it's a good idea to have multiple versions of that dress/jeans/clothes. For example our shots with Debby at the lake. We had an extra dress on standby in case we needed to re-shoot the same shot or from a different angle. Lucky for us, we nailed it on the first take. Just kidding, it was freezing cold, so we decided to use what we had. Be compassionate with your cast and crew, don't let them freeze in the middle of the lake just for your artistic amusement.
I encourage you all in a band or as a solo singer to be open to the idea of making a music video. People are now recording music videos with their phones. You don't have to have the most expensive equipment any more. Passion mixed with ambition is the perfect amount of stew to make this happen for yourself or your band. If this blog helped you, let me know and send me your music video, I would love to see them. If you wish to make a music video but would like help or assistance, especially if you are in Switzerland. Feel free to reach out to me at logemolPR@gmail.com.
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Would you also be interested in my post-production process? Let me know. If enough people request for it, I will blog or maybe even vlog about that process. :)
Ticket to Nowhere - Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea
Aloha & Mahalo for reading,
Logemol "Look at that"