Friday, October 20, 2006

Co-directors


Co-directing. There is nothing a director likes less than hearing that the artist (or the manager, or the choreographer, or the post-house) wants co-directing credit. The director can fight this, but that is rarely smart. If the director wants to get paid, he usually has to buckle under and smile as the artist puts his/her name on the video alongside the actual director.

Who cares? Well, mostly the director cares – but not many other folks will even notice. Many videos are seen almost exclusively on-line and most internet outlets do not display the director credit at all (it seems). If the artist is a white guy with a guitar – your video will be on Fuse and they don’t list the director on screen either. The director credit is something very few people even realize exists, but it is one of the last bastions of the director’s dignity.

Hype has to share credit with Busta. Dave Meyers has to share with Missy. Even Floria has to share with Christina. Such is the way of the world. Even if the artist does little more than pick out clothes and show up to “help cast” the sexy dancers – they believe they ARE co-directing, because artists are children.

But, it runs much deeper than that. Almost all jobs (at least in the large label/budget world that I am familiar with) require thousands of creative compromises to integrate what someone from the label wants. I’m not talking, “We have to lose the helicopter shot for budgetary reasons” – I mean the label people saying, “What about if …” That is where things get scary.

I am not a big “auteur theory” guy in general, but working in music videos makes it crystal clear how much the input of others effects the finished video. Not because the director needs creative help, but because the label wants the things they want, or simply because some VP wants to justify their job by getting their fingerprints all over the edit.

I have seen the label take a super-simple concept and add in driving footage and a complex club scene and then complain why the budget went up.

I have seen a “brand manager” step in to place their young, female relative in a prominent role, only to complain that the relative was dressed too sexily. Duh. This also happened another time with the label exec putting their dog in the video, where the dog made zero sense. At least the dog being under-dressed was not an issue.

One job had a group of singers where the “issue” all throughout the development of the concept was – “make them look like three equal members.” That was the mantra – no lead singer, but three equals. We re-worked the storyboard and treatment many times to be sure the screen time would be split three ways. Then, on the set, one of the very top people at the label steps in and places one of the girls front and center. The guy is literally blocking the shots to be sure that there is way more of the one girl in all the close-ups. Mr. Big was clearly very, uh, familiar with the young and attractive girl he was pushing to the fore-front. This annoyed the director, but not nearly as much as it annoyed the other two girls in the group. I would assume that is why we spent so much time making the girls feel like equals ahead of time, because the other lower-level label types knew what would happen on the set.

One of the biggest places where the label and manager types step in is in the editorial process. They will go in and frame-fuck the edit, watching over the director and editor’s shoulder and suggesting change after change and then threaten to not pay because the completed video missed their TRL deadline.

One of the biggest “victims” of the frame-fucking (other than the ego of the editor/director) is the concept or narrative of the video. Countless times, we have worked with artists on a trippy conceptual setting or even an A-to-B-to-C narrative in pre-pro and on the day of the shoot – only to have much of it cut out in the edit in favor of more (and more) close-ups of the singer. I understand wanting to see the singer, but labels/artists often insist on a big, complicated story before the edit – but then when it comes time to put it on TV – they sacrifice the narrative footage they shot (and paid to shoot) for more "product" shots of the artist’s face. If you see a narrative video and it makes no sense – it may not be the director’s fault – his “co-directors” may have cut out all the scenes that made things make sense.

How does this work on the $10k-50k videos? Does the label “co-direct” on the smaller jobs as well? Any thoughts?

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Comments:
Not being inside the industry, I wonder: Which labels/label personnel are the most respectable? Not just from a director's p-o-v, but also from a label standpoint? Perhaps more appropriately, what do they do that makes them stand out, and how can we (sans naïveté) encourage that behavior?

Indeed, I wonder about the cross-section between indie and major labels.
 
Well, what I've experienced in the lower end of that range (10-20K) I feel can speak for the entire range. I shoot (dp) , so mind you, I don't know all of the inner workings but I have a couple of baby directors that fill me in. Under 10K, most labels and commisioners are fairly hands off. They usually seem to want something presentable and these 2 directors are the artsy type (hopefully michel in training) and we usually produce a good video, so everyone is happy. I feel like when we start approaching the 20K budget, there is lot of label influence on the edit and post end. I can only imagine it gets worse as the budgets increase.
 
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