Thursday, August 16, 2007

Another Opposite World?

I have posted before about Obtusity and how different the posts are from what I do here. I poke around in the whys and the hows of video making and the 'Tus captures the layered meaning and art of it all.

Another web source I turn to a lot is obviously Videostatic and I have written about that before as well. But Steve over at VS has gone and flipped the script on us.

Check out his philosophical review of the latest Fray video. He digs into the choices made by video directors and comes up with his own, well-reasoned and insightful answers.

[D]ebate whether a band is best served by an artistic, highly conceptual clip or a more basic, performance-driven. The former works very well for bands that derive a portion of their cache by being associated with the avant garde — think Radiohead, Bjork or most indie rock bands — but it also runs the risk of overwhelming an act hasn't yet developed or communicated an identity. For instance, will anyone remember Justice and the song "D.A.N.C.E." as anything more than The T-Shirt video?
Ha. That is great stuff. Read the whole thing (it's actually much shorter than my usual ramblings on such matters). Steve even casts a stone or two at the sacred cows of the MV world - and you know I love that shit.

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Monday, August 13, 2007

Choppin' Necks

There are two new music videos that borrow from a recent ad campaign. This is not unusual since TV commercials rank just behind feature films as the main “inspirations” for music videos. The unusual part is that both these new MVs are biting the very same advertisement …

The HP “Making Computers Personal Again” spots. There are lots of commercials in this campaign – including snowboarder Shaun White, Pharrell and Hova his own self. These are good commercials and there is nothing wrong with borrowing from the ad-world to MVs, but these HP spots happen to be terrible starting points for music videos.

The music videos in question are Talib Kweli “Hot Thang” and Fam-Lay “Beeper” featuring Pharrell. Besides the fact the idea has already been visited before by one of the guest artists, or the fact that neither of these clips is done with the same precision (nor budget) as the originals there is another reason why these are not good concepts for music videos …

They don’t show the damn face of the artist!!!

I repeat, you might wanna show the face of the artist rather than hiding it just out of frame. Talib is a talented guy who has never had the mainstream (i.e. non-backpack) success of Common or Mos Def – so we need to see his damn mug. Fam-Lay is someone that audiences have never, ever heard of – unless you live in Virginia, perhaps. These artists need to be seen so we can identify with them and build their careers.

So this idea isn't working for the B-list, but I originally thought that the HP “seen from the neck down” idea might work for an ultra-famous artist who we instantly recognize by voice and force of personality. Maybe someone like Will Smith or Busta Rhymes or Bono could pull it off. But then it occurred to me - none of those artists would want to be seen as grabbing the shirt-tales of Jay-Z. Anyone famous enough to “work” in a headless, HP-copying music video – is too famous to be in any spot that replicates the success of a more/equally famous artist.

And on top of that, the HP ads are NOT promoting Jay-Z or Shaun White or Mark Cuban – they are promoting the HP laptops. The cool-ness of the hip performers is supposed to rub off onto the staid Hewlett Packard laptops – make them as cool and youthful as the MacBooks.

The fact that older viewers of the HP spots might not (ok, definitely won’t) recognize the torsos of Jigga or Skateboard P is a PLUS! It makes the HP seem cool while still showing off the capabilities of the devices. It doesn’t matter if viewers of the commercials could shout out the name of the stars the second they saw the Adam’s Apple of Sean Carter or the Flying Tomato – they aren’t SELLING the person, they are selling the computer that the person is talking about. However, the fact that viewers cannot ID Talib Kweli or Fam-Lay by their hand motions IS a big negative and should have been obvious before things got rolling.

When these jobs were getting commissioned the mental association for the artists with a big, mainstream advertising campaign must have looked like a good thing. What label doesn’t want to see their artist as a brand name?

The YouToogle clips of the HP spots no doubt made it much easier for the directors to sell these ideas to the labels and management. A headless person (insert artist's name here) creating a stadium out of the air is a great pitch for a music video. Just not a great music video.

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Monday, August 06, 2007

The Cone of Silence 2: Eclectic Boogaloo

This is the second in a series of anonymous email interviews with music video industry insiders. This time we are lucky to get input from a young, but very accomplished director who definitely plays the game by their own rules.

When you first got into music videos, was directing videos the goal or did you see it as a stepping stone to commercials/features?
Music videos were the only real goal originally, although now feature films have become more the priority.

How important are these (or other) factors in gauging your interest in a project: “Will let me do whatever I want” – Absolutely necessary. If the band already has a concept they want to do, I’m generally not interested. I write exactly what I’m going to do in the treatment though, so the problem is hopefully avoided before we even start.
“They have money to make something cool” – It’s more about whether I can think of something cool we can do for the money. Sometimes you can’t.
“I respect the artist” – Can’t really do the video otherwise.
“The song will be a hit and help my career” – Always helps, but I have to personally like the song.

Is your process of coming up with ideas for a track usually a bolt of inspiration or a pitched battle with the muses?
Could be either, but most often the latter.

At what point, if ever, do the realities of production (one day shoot versus two, short turn-around so limited post, etc.) enter into the process of coming up with an idea?
You always need to keep track of your resources to a point. You try to write within your means, sometimes you exceed them. If people fall in love with the treatment though, much of the time they’ll find the extra money, or time, to make it happen. Almost always you aim high, shoot low (at least lower than you’d prefer).

Do you feel competitive with other directors?
Not really. If someone beats me out for a video, and I like their video better in the end, I’m always happy for them. If the band’s resulting video is a piece of shit, that really pisses me off (with a small helping of smug satisfaction on the side because they got what they deserved).

Any artist/band you really wish you could work with?
Lita Ford or Samantha Fox.

What do you think about the current state of the MV world?
Music videos have gone from being a promotional tool to sellable content. MV directors, who not only direct these short films, but conceive and write them as well, at a minimum need to be credited for their work when it airs on TV and the internet (that means FUSE, MTV Europe, iTunes, AOL, and record label posted vids on YouTube particularly). But a fairer scenario is they should be included in the emerging revenue streams their content is generating. Writer/directors put far too much work into these films, and get paid far too little, to be neither credited nor included in the monetary profits of their own artwork.

Talk about your favorite part of the process. Concepting? Editing? Effects? The shoot?
Very beginning when you have the idea, and the very end when it comes together are the best. After you have the original ideal and the job starts, everything moving forward is just a slow gradual death of your untainted idealistic vision. It’s death by a thousand paper cuts. You can’t get the DP you want, the location doesn’t exist, you can’t afford the art direction, you have to cut down your shot list cause you’re shooting on the shortest day of the year, etc.
The end is the best because you start seeing the mangled pieces of your now flawed vision assembled into the resulting Frankenstein. Many times in the end the monster is not as bad as you figured he would be. Sometimes you can even be friends.

Do you try to work on a regular basis so you stay "hot" in the minds of commissioners?

What "audience" do you have in mind when you are being creative - the artist, the fans, yourself?
Depends on the artist. I usually consider those angles but mostly I just try to write what the song sounds like it should look like.

How do you feel about product placement and how it affects the MV making process?
I don’t do it. If they want to make a krunk energy drink commercial, they can pay me my commercial rate.

Labels obviously have lots of input and control over the video process - what is your strategy for dealing with that?
Much of the time comments on a cut from the artist or label actually end up making the video better, so I’m always willing to look at anything in post. If they are wrong, you fight as hard as you can to get them to see it your way. If they insist, and it compromises the integrity of the video to such a point that it’s a wash, you take your name off it.

Ever had a gun pointed at you (music video related only)?
No, not on a music video.

How important is it that the commissioner/artist be sexually attracted to the director?
It can be a blessing or a curse, usually both.

I think we all want to be friends with our Frankensteins (and our Lita Fords), no?

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