Friday, March 30, 2007

Cold Lamping with Flavor

Directorial Style

Developing a distinct style as a music video director can be tough to pull off in the marketplace – with the realities of satisfying the desires of labels, managers, artists and product placers making a director’s reel jump around like Everlast.

Do directors WANT to develop a distinct style to call their own? Should they? I don’t think there is one answer to that.

Directors with a specific, easily recognizable style often get more props from the aueterist camp. Guys like Spike and Gondry have obvious things that connect their clips together. Does that visual cohesive-ness make them better directors than someone with a more eclectic filmography? I don’t think so.

Chris Cunningham has done some really cool videos, but I would rather not spend more than a few minutes at a time in the unrelentingly depressive world of techno-doom that Cunningham creates. Maybe Cunningham only likes the kind of song that calls for visual misanthropy, but I get creeped out and need to open the window after just a few minutes. Maybe that is the point – but does that make him a “good” director? BTW – In my eyes, Cunningham is a very good director, but on my own personal scorecard I take points OFF for the same-ness of their tone, rather than considering the Infini-Dread vibe a plus.

In my opinion, music videos are a craft that serve a lot of masters and the same-ness or unity of a director’s output has little to do with how they should be judged.

Hip-Hop videos have lots of the same things in them – cars, girls, shiny things – but then again so do the songs the clips are promoting. Many folks see nothing of value in urban videos because of this. Okay, but how is the output of Cunningham (or Gondry) exempted from the “same=bad” judgment?

When Dave Meyers was rulling the MV world a few years back, people were hiring him as much to get his name stamped at the front of the clip (and his entertaining presence on the “making of” show) as to get his skills behind the camera. But Meyers always delivered something really distinct. Meyers had a certain color transfer look and he was always great at getting fun, comfortable confident performances out of the artists (something recently noted here). This allowed Meyers to shoot videos for Jay-Z, NSync, Pink, Celine Dion and Aerosmith – the kind of varied client list most directors can only dream of. Meyers was also able to photograph a lot of the “same” stuff over and over again – people getting out of cars in slow motion and girls dancing in formation with a style that kept it feeling fresh, even if I had just seen another Meyers video with the same elements two minutes earlier on MTV. Kids, MTV is a TV channel that used to show music videos – oh, never mind.

Meyers was always interested in getting the job (or at least he must have been since he got 92% of the jobs from '99 to '01). If the label wanted dancing and car shots (which they usually do), Meyers delivered dancing and car shots, but with his own, unique spin – just like a true professional. His videos sold records and they all were completely watchable. Could Meyers have put his foot down and said “No more dancing”? Sure. Then, the labels would have passed the work on to Kahn or X. Instead, Meyers injected a lot of his own personal style into the framework of a major label video.

Chris Milk is a young director, who seems to be going in a different direction. I really admire Milk’s output and his stuff has a certain twisted classicism – but other than that his videos seem pretty varied. And rare.

Milk has managed to craft a career where he seems to not do the kind of clips that everyone else is. That certainly cuts down on the number of jobs Milk is up for, since I doubt Rihanna and Chris Brown want burning crosses or weed-whacking Jon-Benets in their clips. I’m sure Milk is fine with that, but it does shorten his filmography.

The best way to create a singular voice is for a director to simply take less jobs. Ignore the label briefs that call for the kind of close-ups or flattering camera angles you don’t want to shoot. I would imagine that guys like Paul Fedor and Milk simply write the treatment they want to shoot – if and only if they are feeling the song. On the flip-side, some directors are busy working with commissioner to write (and re-write) the kind of concept that will book them the job, something that is sure to enhance their chances of employment, but also make the finished product something that is sure to be judged as far less “visionary.”

Maybe THAT is the real determinant of music video director style. Not the framing, or lens selection or art-direction choices, but rather how many jobs he/she takes. How many songs a director wants to write on and how eagerly he/she crafts the concept to meet the brief from the label might be the real reflection of a director’s personal style. In a collaborative medium like music videos, style is where-ever you can grab it.

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Interesting points, I suppose this is why Milk gets more online love than say Marc Webb, who seems to be whoring himself across the musical spectrum. The idea of all hip-hop vids being derivative is often discussed, but as you use Milk as an example, the 3 vids for Kanye West that I've seen feel very un-'hip-hop'. Is this because West knowingly chooses pitches that are different to the norm to get more air play or is he influenced by the native tongues groups that preceeded him?
I really question your taste here. That's all.
I believe the nonword you're looking for is "auteurist" - funny, since The Auteurs are among the artists on the Chris Carpenter page you linked.

Or maybe you meant to say "auterrorist"? Interesting...
all fair points, but to a certain extent i think guys like Chris Milk or Patrick Daughters have been lucky to have started their careers working with big/respected artists in the first place. When you start at the top, you are put in the position to be a little more choosy with who you work with, and can pitch those ideas crazy ideas that are different from the pack, because you already have everybody's attention. If you don't know Karen O or aren't best buddies with Dave Meyers, there is a lot more whoring that you have to go through in order to do direct videos as a career. Milk can afford to be up for less jobs and protect his 'artistic integrity' because most job's he's going to be considered for, have big budgets and he directs commercials as well. Meanwhile, if you are just a lowly working director, you have to whore it out with everybody else just to pay your rent (unless of course you are independently wealthy). unfortunately, I think its hard for directors to be as choosy these days because budgets are so low. Not to take away from Chris and Patrick because they are both really talented, i just think that they started from a privileged position. Say what you will bout Marc Webb, but he slugged it out from the bottom.
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I suppose it depends on your view style.

If you have experience in directing, you'll have certain points they have to live up too.

However, as current day music videos are judged by... well the consumer who isn't nearly as educated style can probably be defined as such:

Do they know your name?

Also, since we all know who Marc Webb is, one would argue he has style, even if not all of us like it.
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