Monday, March 26, 2007

Killing the Messenger

No one likes to hear bad news. I certainly don’t. But few people care about bringing me bad news. They just go right ahead and lay out all the stuff I don’t wanna know. Why? Because I am not famous.

When musicians start being called ‘artists’ they start getting used to no one telling them anything they don’t want to hear. Labels don’t want to and the managers certainly don’t want to. Artists become like some delicate Byzantine ruler where the servants lavish them with praise and tell them whatever they think the godhead wants to hear.

On videos, this can be a problem. I have worked on jobs where the artist has had notes like “I want a video where you insert me into a classic TV show, like Laverne & Shirley” – two weeks after Spike's famous Buddy Holly hit MTV. Those notes got passed along from the manager to the comissioner to the director because nobody at the label had the balls to say, “Hey, that idea is on MTV right now, we should do something else for your video.” I guess the artist believes that anything inside their head must be theirs.

The artists being self-centered children is no shocker, but the whole structure built up around them reinforcing that stupidity does seem like a problem. Artists often want videos that are way more expensive that the budget the label is giving them will afford. I have worked on jobs where the director and prod co had to discuss all the details of the concept/treatment with the artists, but they could not, under any circumstances, bring up cost or money – because that might upset the delicate Dauphin.

This situation is especially bad with artists who made videos in the “glory days” and they remember three day shoots with techno-cranes, armies of dancers and Thomas Kloss lighting them. Artists often believe they can get ANY celebrity to cameo in their video – just by the power of their own stardom. I was involved in one job where the female artist wanted a particular NBA player (a sketchy-to-impossible “get” under any circumstances) in their clip and didn’t understand why the guy was unavailable, even as the hoopster’s team was engaged in the playoffs.

When the messenger keeps getting killed (or denied entry) the message obviously stops getting through. The artist becomes more and more separated from reality, and I am not just talking Mariah Carey, either. This isolation in a cocoon of illusory perfection is especially funny when the artist is a rapper who goes on about his street toughness and un-revoke-able ghetto pass – all while demanding a bigger wardrobe budget so he can keep the fur coat wardrobe is supplying for the clip.

This is not always the case. I have heard (unconfirmed rumor alert) that Andre 3000 often acts as his own wardrobe stylist after hearing how much the label (and by extension Andre himself) was paying for a person to choose the clothes he would wear. Apparently, Mister 3K gets cash from the budget and gets the clothes his own self, with just an PA to handle the returns - and doesn't charge the budget any kind of crazy stylist fee. This is a smart move based on how much $$$ the glam people can be.

The real drama in a video production comes when the DIRECTOR starts to be someone who needs protecting from reality. Part of a successful director’s appeal is their charismatic leadership. This is huge element that young directors often overlook. It is about getting the job and executing the job but a big part of those two elements is making the artist/label/manager feel like they are in good hands. That can mean coming across like a rugged street character to make the rappers respond, an artistic fashionista for the divas or a (just slightly) drugged-up rocker who truly “gets” the band’s brand of stylish desperation.

Music video directors are always playing a bit of a role. They certainly need to act calm on the set and smile to the commissioner – even if they know they just ran out of film or the generator is on fire. They need to act like the artist’s best friend when they are suggesting the beauty close-up would go better without the same, ugly shade of overly harsh lipstick the singer always seems to choose.

The problem comes when the director starts to get just as diva-ish as the talent. Not only does that sour relations with the artists – no star wants competition for the spotlight – it starts to keep the messengers away.

I have worked on lots of jobs where the director simply did not get told certain things. Of course, a good production team keeps silly details off the director’s plate (craft services ran out of peanut M&Ms) while having them focus on what is important. But if the director kills the messenger enough times – the team around him/her will stop bearing even the important bad tidings.

On one shoot the director was setting up a specific performance close-up of the artist, a profile look. The director thought this was a bit of genius to have the artist not staring right into the lens – but someone higher up at the label (who was not on set that day) had told the producer very specifically they did not want ANY profile shots since they believed the performer had a too-large schnozz. The producer is stuck now, since if they tell the director at this point, he will pitch a fit and slow things down while also possibly tipping the fragile ego-ed artist off to the label’s lack of faith in their facial structure. So the producer lets the set-up go forward, wasting everyone’s time on footage that is guaranteed to never make the final edit.

Part of the responsibility for this goes on the producer’s shoulders for not having the guts/skill to communicate with the director – but the majority of the blame lands in the lap of the director who responds so furiously to anyone “questioning his vision” that he has left himself messenger-less.

On that note, I am considering turning off all comments for this blog since I cannot take any more people questioning my vision.

(Just kidding, comments are still on. Post a thought about messenger killing on a job, MV or not, you have worked on.)

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Great post as usual. It seems to me that success => a large ego => the eventual fall.

Not really a new story... Way back to the Emperor's Clothes... and yet it happens so very often.
I really have to question your vision here
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