Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Big Eyes

Driving down the coastal highway in Baja, south of Tijuana, I noticed two things – one, a preponderance of places to buy enormous ceramics that would crowd my vehicle for the rest of the trip and two, unfinished construction. I am not talking about a house that is almost done or a store that is party way complete. All along the main highway past Ensenada and Rosarita there are massive concrete and rebar first floors and foundations that look abandoned. Many of these construction sites look to have been deserted for years and years, their incomplete arches and cement columns hinting at the soaring vision that went into the planning stage but not the financing of the project. These are not single family homes, someone clearly spent big bucks on what they have so far – but then ran out of steam.

This applies to music videos how? Like this. There are quite a few clips out there where the director (and others involved) clearly had dreams bigger than their budget. I see too many videos where something starts and is never completed. That could be a conceptual thing – like a “one take” video where they abandon the “one-take-ness” part way through as they realized how boring it is – or a budgetary thing where the director wishes he could have lots of cool FX but ends up with a few mediocre comp shots.

Dreaming is cool. Take a big sheet of paper and sketch out all those dreams. Brainstorm and draw some shit up. Some of it will be good, some not so much – it doesn’t matter during the dreaming stage. But once you start expecting other people to pay attention (or money) – you better have something coherent and attention worthy.

Dreaming is fun, watching someone else dream is less so. Watching a video with art-direction that cost $37 but is supposed to be a "castle" or something else it obviously isn't is the least fun of all. Whose fault is it that the $37 set didn't "read" on camera? Not the art department's.

The web (on places like antville) are filled with odd-ball videos with tons of effects that just look like crap. Lots of commenters applaud the effort and balls of directors that try to do things they clearly cannot actually do. Maybe I am just too linear to “get it” but why put something in your video you just can’t do. As Yoda said, “Try not. Do... or do not. There is no try.”

A guy trying to play the piano and failing is not “a guy almost playing piano” it is “a lot of annoying noise.” A director trying some camera angle, lighting technique or post effect that he doesn’t have the budget or skill to accomplish is not noble, he is simply boring to watch.

Trying new things is great and the only way to grow as any kind of artist. But music videos are also a craft and the client (label, artist) are gonna expect more than half the first floor of a palace – they are gonna expect the dream you sold them on with the treatment. Clients won't grade on a curve or give a mark for "effort."

The audience deserves more than half-baked, quarter-planned effort and if we expect them to watch, we better deliver it to them. They don’t give a shit if the 22 seconds of rendering that did get completed will “look good on your reel” if the rest of the video has rebar sticking out the top and smells of damp concrete.

UPDATE: A couple of commenters have said things that makes me think that I didn’t really get my point across. So, I’m going to try again.

I am NOT saying that directors need to play it safe or they should limit themselves creatively. I AM saying directors need to actually accomplish what they set out to do.

Metaphor alert. It is like those automobile design contests where they get design students to dream up new car ideas and the fresh, young designers come back with wild concept drawing of six-wheeled cars that go under water or burn old coffee grounds for fuel. As drawing and ideas, those concepts are all great. But a finished music video for a real band with a real career is the NEXT stage of that car-design competition – where the student has to actually build the car. If the car doesn’t drive or it bursts into flames or it only starts half the time, then it is a piss poor car – no matter how cool or new the design ideas are. No one who has to drive the non-moving six-wheeled coffee ground car as part of their actual life is going to say – “Sure, I am stuck here in my driveway, but this is a genius idea and I am so happy I have an outside the box kind of vehicle.

Music videos are not about ideas – they are about music videos. Drawing an un-build-able blueprint doesn’t make you an artist, it makes you a fraud. The finished product is what matters.

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Yes, please encourage music video directors to play it safe. That's what we need more of right now.
I get what you're saying for the most part, and I agree that there's a lot of crap out there, but wouldn't you rather see a lot crap that's at least attempting something more. I'm into guys/girls doing whatever they want. Occasionally you'll find a gem or two out there. If young directors out there were to just paly it safe music videos would not only be crappy, they'd be boring. I say try whatever you want to.
Obviously, I'm also an aspiring music video director so my opinion might be biased.
i couldn't agree more with 30f. sadly, most music videos can't stand the 3 min. timetest, i.e. i find myself skipping most of it...

too sad.
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