Wednesday, December 07, 2005

How are music videos made? - part 1

When a record label wants to make a video for a particular artist, they reach out to directors that they think might be right for the project.

Music video directors are usually signed to a production company that helps out with organization, booking locations, hiring crew and paying for all that until the record label gets around to paying for their video. Production companies can be small with a single owner/operator director working out of his Los Feliz kitchen or a massive international operation with a huge stable of directors like HSI.

The directors also have a rep (short for “representative”) – who acts sort of like the agent for the director, soliciting work and all that. Sometimes the director’s reps are a part of the production company where the director is signed, other times the rep is a freelance person who could represent several directors at a variety of production companies. Many times the reps don’t wait for the label to reach out, but use their contacts in the industry to sniff out what projects might be coming up that they can get their directors to “write” on.

If the label wants the director to write on a project (or when the rep convinces the label that their director is the perfect man for the job) the director gets a CD of the track, and a general idea of how much the label wants to spend on the project. The director may also get a copy of the lyrics and the input of the label, the artist, the manager – or whomever else is important enough to offer an opinion. The input can vary from "We want a party video with lots of color" to pages and pages of notes with the artist specifying which brand of designer clothes she is wearing as she delivers which lyric. The director then has a deadline, sometimes two weeks or maybe even two hours, from the label when they expect to hear the director’s pitch.

This pitch is what the director “writes” – and could include a single paragraph or nine pages of single spaced text that looks like the psychotic writings of Spacey’s serial killer in Se7en. Directors also often include photos from magazines or movies that illustrate the look or style they are going for. This is the creative process and the idea can change many times before the record label ever sees it, and then change even more once they get involved. This can be a lot of work, especially sinmce the label pays the director nothing, if they don't hire him/her to direct the job. Directors and production companies eagerly jump through these hoops in the hopes of getting work (and the money they hope will eventually come), like an actress auditioning - but usually no casting couch.

The label comissioner (the record company person who organizes the process of director/label interaction) will look through the collection of concepts and pick out a few to pass up the ladder to the decision-making executives above him/her in the label hierarchy. Sometimes the manager of the artist or the artist themselves is involved – other times not. The label often has the director(s) they like for the job re-write portions of their respective concepts before coming to a final conclusion. The label signs a contract with the production company and production begins. Locations get scouted, DPs get hired and model/dancers get auditioned and so on.

This is a VERY simplified version of events and I will go into the (hopefully more interesting) specifics later – like the budgets, the artist demands, the bribery and the way billion dollar corporate conglomerates make crazy-ass million dollar decisions at the last possible minute.

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