Sunday, October 22, 2006

The Ceiling

Music videos are fun, but I don’t know of anyone who got into video directing just to direct videos. Like the lame but attractive “comics” that crowd open mic night at the Comedy Store on Sunset because they see Seinfeld Dollar$ in their future, video directors usually want to also make money, direct features and get laid.

That is the way the world works, college basketball is a stepping-stone to the NBA and low-budget music video are the path to “bigger” successes.

Wannabe feature directors borrow money from Grandma and max out their credit cards to shoot indie movies and weird shorts that play at strange film festivals. They are not doing this because they wanna win at Slamdance, they are doing it because the want to be Scorsese or Coppola. Without the possible future “reward” of a big contract from Warners or Paramount – would anyone spend a whole year making an indie movie only to spend another year trying to get it distributed?

That leads me to …

Music video budgets are down, way down. Especially if a director is white, likes rock music and dismissively spits out the words “Rap videos” like he is saying “Kiddie porn” – he may never see a budget over $150k in his life. Nothing wrong with directing rock clips – but it is just a very crowded field without the prospect bigger-budgeted paydays to ease the way.

Directing micro-budgeted indie music videos is a lot of work with very little financial reward. That's okay if there is a pay-off waiting farther down the line. If a young director does indie and cheap well, there used to be the juicy carrot of a big budget Aerosmith or Chilipepper video way out on the end of the stick. Today, not only is the stick longer, there are more people fighting over it and I doubt there is even a carrot out there when we finally make it.

If a young video director does well, he hopes to catch the eye of a film studio. Fincher did it and so did Bay, but when labels are spending under $200k on artists with major track records – how can a director get noticed by Hollywood?

I wonder if there is not a ceiling developing. The budgets are small and it is hard to make a decent living on 10% of $80,000 when you may only get a handful of those jobs in a year. In the past, directors might be willing to play in the minor leagues if there was a shot at the big-time. The problem is, the "big-time" now has the Chilipeppers shooting their clips on HD and spending $120k. Is there still a big time?

Without the financial pay-off of graduating to the music video big leagues as a reward – who will want to direct the small stuff? For now, it seems like everyone does. Today, the fight over tiny budgeted gigs is still fierce. There are still many willing to do the audition job, but I believe that word is getting out. Visual minded people can make more of a living as web-designers or post-production types than they can as a music video director (the top ten guys in the industry excepted and you are not one of them, since you have time to read this).

Without the NBA – are high-school kids desperate to play college basketball? Without sit-com dollars, are actor types eager to slog through embarassing stand-up open mic nights? Without the Yankees and Dodgers handing out million dollar contracts, do baseball playes head to the minor leagues to ride the Bull Durham bus between Tuscaloosa and Sweetwater? Without “Big Pimpin” or “November Rain” level paydays, how long will there be directors willing to act like they don’t see the ceiling above their heads?

October 24 Addendum: This post is NOT about a creative ceiling. I have gotten some feedback along the lines of "People out there are doing great work." Of course they are. The thoughts above are about the financial/career ceiling that seems to be hovering above the music video industry - seen but unspoken about like a drunken uncle passed out by the TV at Thanksgiving. I think that the lack of a sustainable career will eventually drive talented people into other avenues of expression where they can pay their bills and feed their children - or cause them to never consider music video directing as an option in the first place. Like most things, being good at music video directing takes commitment and I wonder how many folks can/will stay commited to the be-ceilinged reality of the industry once they tire of having three room-mates, a car with no A/C and eating Top Ramen four times per week.

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(Sorry for the deletion, I meant to say..)

Insightful. Thanks for that.
True True True, but just you wait and see, already we've seen an incredible flow of music videos that are actually creative and amazing. Thus we all win. I mean the ones who deserve it. I mean the audience wins because they see better videos, the artist who make them win, because a thats what makes them happy after all the suffering they did to get out of bed and make something. The only people who loose are the ones expecting to become rich and famous. most yes, but the ones i care about, no.
semi unrelated I love this video for the swedish unknown act Ed Greene (love the song too btw!) amazing to me what they could do with no budget
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