Thursday, March 03, 2011


Let’s talk about references in music videos. Yes, again. But I don’t wanna delve into who copied whom or how the new Gaga clip is either aping a variety pack of science fiction films or maybe just the opening credits of Tom Cruise’s Legend. Anyone who actually makes music videos getting worked up about this stuff is either lying to themselves that they haven’t ever included reference images and ideas in a treatment or they’ve never really made a music video.

I am interested in WHY this conversation about references and who is ‘stealing’ ideas seems to be coming up more and more in 2011 than it has in the past. It does seem to get mentioned a lot these days, or am I tripping off my Tigerblood again? Discuss.

Anyway, the recent examples of Rihanna, Kanye and Gaga are what prompted this noodling. Maybe the internet makes video directors - who have always borrowed from others - more open to criticism. The rise of commenting on the 'Net is certainly a small part of this. No one was whinging that Fincher had copied from Fritz Lang back when Express Yourself came out – mostly because there was no place to do said whinging.

A bigger factor in my mind is that record labels are now asking for videos that look like specific references. It seems clear to me that IDJ wanted a LaChapelle day-glo bondage kind of concept for the Rihanna track. Why wouldn’t they? The song practically begs for it with a peppy beat and the tile being ‘S&M.’ Joseph Kahn’s Tweetage about how the label on some un-named job was asking for exact photo reference ‘guidelines’ further convinces me that the powers that be on that Rihanna job are at least as responsible (if not more) as the director for the law-suit threatened state they are in.

Most music video briefs to directors, however, do not come with a pre-made visual direction from the label. What the labels usually want is for the director is to create a concept and provide a sheaf of visual references – photos, Youtube clips, whatever – that will show them what the finished clip will look like. In order to win many jobs, the prospective video director in 2011 has to pull dozens of images that illustrate everything from the locations, the wardrobe, the lighting, the hotness of the hoochies, and so on.

Even with all that, I have still had conversations where the label is looking at a reference picture in a treatment and they’re confused that there is a blonde model in an image when the artist for the job in question is a brunette. “Yeah, well that picture, as you can see with the words across the bottom, is a lighting reference, the video we’re gonna make will have your artist in there, not a blonde Czech model.” I usually have to bite my tongue to not add – "and you’ll be able to hear the song and the image will move" and other snarky, ‘won’t get hired’ kind of things. I usually don’t say that stuff out loud. Usually.

In this bidding environment it is dead obvious to every director that while a reference picture is good, ten reference pictures are better. And a commercial/video clip with the soundtrack replaced by the song they’re writing on is even betterer. Even more than when labels were spending $600k on a video – they now want to see exactly what the finished clip will look like before they sign off. Not on every job but on many - the more a director can say ‘the video will look like THIS’ the more likely it is he will actually have a video to direct.They don't just wants hints or elements, they'd rather see the whole thing before they buy.

My guess is that music video budgets are ever tighter so the risk is higher for the label and they want to ‘know’ what they’re getting before they write a contract. Hollywood does this with many films being ‘inspired’ by other movies, video games, theme park rides and the art-work on breakfast cereal boxes. Somehow, having pages of reference images pulled from magazines and gathered off Flickr makes this whole MV game seem less risky. However, a completely fresh idea that no one has truly ever thought of before is unlikely to have any cool, high-quality images depicting it. Even in Italian Vogue.

This batch of ‘that video director stole from XYZ’ conversations is happening not because the director is lazy, it’s because they won’t win the job without it.

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Thursday, February 17, 2011

Calling the kettle 'Deep Onyx'

So, what has been going on? Any news in the music video world. New Radiohead music, new Britney video ...

Oh yeah – the DefJam/Rihanna/LaChapelle battle over the provenance of the Melina directed video for ‘S&M.

As stated over on VideoStatic, the specifics around what is and what isn’t stealing/copying/whatever is kind of well-trod ground and I don’t want to go over anything frame by frame except my new BluRay of ‘Hobo Porn 17: Dumpsters of Glory.’

We have all seen discussions like this before, like when Filter took a page from Crewdson and Lady Gaga has made a career out of doing the same to performance artist Leigh Bowery. Even LaChapelle himself has been on the other side of the issue with his J-Lo ‘Flashdance’ clip. What is NOT mentioned in this NYT piece is if LaChapelle and the label got permission before or after they started down Adrian Lyne's road. As I recall, the label decided to get (pay for?) studio approval only after the video was completed and once they realized they might be open to a suit just like this one.

One way that Lopez's “I’m Glad” clip is like Rihanna’s “S&M” video is that I doubt either idea originated with the director. I would imagine that the artist or manager or label already had aping LaChapelle in mind before they ever contacted a single director. To back that up, on antville kalstark references a cryptic Joseph Kahn tweet that seems to be (but isn’t necessarily) about this Rihanna video:

Turned down a vid cuz they wanted "visual references." That vid ended up complete steal of a photographer's work. Yikes.

I imagine Island Def Jam was pushing to get a LaChapelle-ian look. The track is called ‘S&M’ fer criisakes – and that is an area the photographer has explored extensively. Also, LaChapelle uses bright colors and a pop sensibility – things that would certainly lessen the scary vibe that might have been there if the lyrics of the song had simply been acted out in a video. Labels often adjust the message or intensity of a song with the visuals and since LaChapelle made bondage 'fun' in his photos, he’s a perfect reference point for this video.

So why not just hire LaChapelle for this Rihanna job? Directors at the level of LaChapelle don’t ‘need’ a music video job and I can’t imagine he’d want to go back to cover similar ground to those photos – many of which are years and years old. Tarantino doesn’t want to make Pulp Fiction 2 either. Perhaps LaChapelle might have been convinced to direct a video for 'S&M' but it would be something new and the artist’s people wanted the candy-colored sexual danger they had seen before – in their existing reference photos.

This whole thing has not yet made the ‘news’ section on LaChapelle’s website.

Also there is the small matter of money. LaChapelle's budgets are way, way higher than what Melina got to spend. The lawsuit references a 'million dollar fee' for music videos that LaChapelle has received in the past. I imagine that was the overall budget and not the director’s fee and the inflated number in the suit is a mistake or strategic to up the possible settlement amount. Also, the industry has changed a bit.

I am not a lawyer (I occasionally do play one on TV), but lawsuits like this hinge on damages. Real world, monetary damages. The fact that the Rihanna video is quite a bit like LaChapelle’s work and that hurt someone’s feelings is irrelevant to the legal system. Twitter and comments are all about who copied who and why that is so bad, and so on and so forth. However, proving damages (like, say, a million dollar fee that was lost) is the language of judges and lawsuits.

And here it gets to the interesting part, at least to me. Everyone reading this has submitted (or had submitted to them. Hi, label folks!) treatments with other people’s photographs attached. Sometimes they are stock images we haven’t paid for. Maybe they are location photos. Perhaps they were even photos taken by a famous fashion photographer and torn from Italian Vogue. The photos with this very post are culled from the internet. Hell, if the lawyers for Black Dog and IDJ are smart, they’ve already asked to see a gang of LaChapelle’s old treatments to show how common this practice is.

So we all have used reference images, but at the same time we are all SHOCKED that this Rihanna video looks like some fashion photos. Why?

Well, either because of label notes or directorial inertia – the final video looks a TON like the exact photos. The walls are the same pink. The female model is shot from the same profile. It looks like every effort was made to make as exact a copy as possible. In that way, this is ‘worse’ than most of the typical 'X is biting Y' discussions. But that also feels like an over-reaction. How was LaChapelle damaged – he wouldn’t be able to do the job for the budget they had, so maybe he shouldn’t care. At the same time, it would suck to feel ripped off, as LaChapelle must.

So there we are – I have no concrete conclusion about LaChapelle v Fenty et al. But this whole thing DID make me think of this awesome post by Devin Faraci over at Bad Ass Digest.

Faraci writes about that now-infamous Cooks Source thing where the editor copied a blogger’s recipe and then excoriated her for asking to be credited. The internet went NUTS over this theft and the rude reply – at least when they weren’t busy bit-torrenting songs online. Read the whole thing, Faraci makes some good points

Be outraged at what Cooks Source did here, but answer the question: how is this all that different from you stealing a movie online?

That is a very good question.

The internet is a place for Congressmen to troll Craigslist for strange, facebooking and downloading things you are too cheap to pay for. Studies have estimated that more than 50% of all internet bandwidth is absorbed by people illegally downloading songs or movies or porn (that they inexplicably want to save permanently on their hard drive for their significant others to find). That kind of stealing is much more of a real world threat to me (and probably you) than the Cooks Source thing or even this Rihanna-LaChapelle issue. But we creative types seem to get much, much more worked up about this kind of 'what is creativity' thing than people outright stealing the actual product.

I've been on about this topic for a while, but the best thing I've read is Faraci's headline, and it applies to this S&M issue perfectly:

The Internet Finally Finds A Kind of Copyright Infringement It Doesn’t Like

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Thursday, July 22, 2010

The video needs to be amazing

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Monday, July 19, 2010

Is that you, tube? It's me, Judas

Remember me?

Last week, Videostatic tweeted about this article in Newsweek – referencing how music videos are back. Back I say!!

I had missed the article for two reasons. One, I was unaware that Newsweek was still a going concern (I’m also weirded out by the new, TV Guide shape of Rolling Stone, so let’s say I have ‘issues’). Two, I can barely read.

The piece, by Ramin Setoodeh, makes some quality points. It even captured that brief sliver of time when Gaga was still ahead of Der Bieber.

The reason music videos have come back from the dead is simple. They are the perfect length—three to five minutes—for abbreviated online attention spans. They are easy to share, tweet, Facebook, and comment on. You can watch them from the comfort of your own home (or cubicle, when you’re procrastinating at work).

One thing I will add is that Setoodeh gives a decent amount of credit for the ‘revival’ of music videos to YouToogle. He also blames the standard villain for knocking MVs off of MTV – the reality show. Now I agree that once MTV realized the profits available with the Osbournes and the Sweet Sixteeners (let alone The Situation) videos were doomed on Viacom owned airwaves. But there was one villain (and I am using that word sarcastically, no one or no network ‘owes’ music videos airtime) left out of the piece – YouTube itself!

Once YouToogle unified all the disparate places people watched videos – the jig was up for MTV. Maybe the younger types don’t remember the earlier days of the web when finding videos online was almost impossible. During this era, the site never really worked if you had a Mac. Hard to believe, but true. Assuming that this current ‘truth’ is not one of those interlocking dreams that I am waiting Juno to wake me up out of. Anyway, I digress …

Youtube came in and simplified the way we watch web videos. Search in one spot and pretty much every clip will available, and it will actually play. No more codecs or Windows Media blah-de-blahs to download. Youtube fixed all that and thus became THE place for videos on the web. Thus, YT (which always makes me think of Y&T – but that is another story for a more summah time) became the dominant place to watch videos and thus –

MTV stopped running them. Once any music video I want is available, ANY time I want it on the Internet – why do I watch a block of clips on MTV? The answer is: I don’t. If you’re a fan of My Chemical Romance, you don’t watch clips for Drake, drumming your fingers on your step-mom’s coffee table – you click on your computing device (hint: it’s disguised as a phone) and watch the desired MCR music video immediately.

When I was younger it made sense to sit through Pointer Sister videos to see the hoochie girls in short skirts get out of the car in that ZZTop video. There was no other way to see scantily clad women, or, for that matter ZZTop videos.

But in 2010, the internet does a great job of chopping our media consumption into smaller and smaller niches. If I want to read internet postings just from fans of MCR – I can do that. I can wall myself off in a narrow alley packed just with ideas I have heard a million times before (Hiya, Fox News). Or I can explore new artists and videos based on suggestions from my friends, or just based on what catches my Ritalin tempered attention span. That is how people see new videos now, and the benefit is that as soon as the song or the video starts to bore me - I can click away to something else. Under no circumstances am I going to sit in front of a television, watch through a whole video of an artist I don’t like, in the hopes that the next clip (that I also didn't choose myself) will just happen to be something I like. That channel has been changed long, long ago.

YouTube may now be ‘saving’ videos (If you consider $40k budgets for established pop acts to be ‘salvation’) – but first YouTube did a hell of a job kicking music videos in the nuts and ending video blocks on the biggest outlet, MTV. So for that, YouToogle, I say, umm, ‘thanks?’

Read the whole Newsweek article - here.

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Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Same As It Ever Was

Does this sound familiar to anyone?

There has been much talk about YouToogle and possible replacements for the titan of web video. No one is happy with the picture quality of Das Tube – other than R Kelly who enjoys the graininess because it allows Kells to claim that ain’t him sexing the underage girls on the home video.

There will someday (and soon) be a new and improved YouTube. Maybe Google will upgrade their new purchase to HD or maybe some other new site will come in and have better tech that pushes out Das Tube. It will happen, but the details don’t matter. Not to me and not to the regular people who have made YouTube the hit it is.

I posted that in December of 2006. That is three years ago (checks math). Yes, three years ago. Nothing has changed except that the R Kelly joke is stale and the name of ‘possible replacement’ music video site has changed.

In 2006 I was commenting on the hype around a site called Zudeo which was going to change the face of music on the interwebs. Zudeo is currently down for maintenance so we can’t be sure if it has accomplished its mission of global domination.

The reason this has re-entered my egg nog and everclear infused brain is because in December 2009 we have a new and improved video savior – Vevo. This new site was started by Universal Music Group and has most of the significant labels on board, other than Warners. Saint Bono has called Vevo “the birth of a new model for our industry,” probably while UMG executives gave him the ‘thumbs up’ from the side of the stage. They even got some of that Ay-Rabb money to help launch the latest game changer.

The problem is that Vevo seems to be the exact same thing as the last UMG ‘solution’ – PluggedIn. If you don’t remember PluggedIn – don’t feel bad, I didn’t either.

Vevo has now launched and they have some exclusive content (for how long?) and the videos do look sharp and the lay-out is nice. Is this enough of a ‘plus’ for web users to stop searching and watching on the YouTube/Google axis? Google searches also turn up clips on daily motion, vimeo, vodpod and others - something that is an Achilles heel for Vevo, since their catalog is relatively limited. In 2010, are users interested in (willing to?) searching more than once?

When I was poking fun of Zudeo three years ago, the issue I harped on was compatibility. The question back then was would all videos play on all browsers, and what if you had a Mac or a Windows machine? Those nuts and bolts tech issues are largely gone (Thanks, You Tube) but Vevo, with all it’s high-def-iness, still seems like a solution to a problem from half a decade ago. Why does anyone (not employed at Universal) need another music video site?

It seems that the label/artists are going to get a slightly higher ad rate for the videos seen on Vevo versus the same clips watched on YouTube. More ad revenue is great, but how will people find these videos if they don’t pop up in the major search engines? What will make music fans go to Vevo rather than (the very similar) or YouTube?

Maybe I am missing something, but this sure seems the same as it ever was.

The video above was found with three clicks via Google and it plays on dailymotion.

Read the 30frames post from December 2006 right here.

And VideoStatic has a different (and more thoughtful) perspective here.

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Tuesday, November 17, 2009

G versus B

G versus B is not a reference to gerardvsbear – but rather Gaga v. Beyonce.

The biggest bit of recent video battling (sorry Breezy and Rihanna) has been BK from Texas tryna stop the onslaught of Lady Gaga. So far, it isn’t working.

Gaga released her Francis Lawrence directed clip for ‘Bad Romance’ last week and it has been getting all kinds of attention. Troy Patterson on Slate does a good job of dissecting what it all might mean for Gaga. It seems unlikely that any critic (other than I) will lavish that kind of attention on Beyonce’s Hype-directed “Video Phone” – even though it has Gaga as a co-star.

It seems clear to me that B’s video has been rushed to air, in the hopes of not letting Gaga get ‘too far ahead’ in the super-stardom arms race. This approach is silly, since THIS is Gaga’s moment – her videos and music are everywhere. Why step into your opponents best possible punch? But if Beyonce was desperately trying to compete with the top-dog why would …

There be un-finished shots in ‘Video Phone’ of the male dancers wearing the chroma-key blue masks? The blue bags are a technique for replacing the head - like when we see the male dancers sporting camera-craniums with lenses pointed at Beyonce (a cool look). So why, only complete the effect part of the time? Did they run out of money or time? Both?

Why is Beyonce in such a hurry to get this video to market? There was no way this is going to truly compete with the fat budget of ‘Bad Romance’ and the ‘Video Phone’ video suffers by comparison.

I know this new B clip supports the ‘deluxe edition’ of the Sasha Fierce album that came out last year – but it doesn’t really add anything new to the conversation. AND, ‘Video Phone’ tries to get B caught up to Gaga by using a video that has Gaga in it!

Beyonce looks gorgeous in this clip and she should ditch all her other wigs for that ‘Bettie Page’ model. Hype mines the colorful and vignetted pin-up world he worked on Kanye’s ‘Goldigger’ – but now with toy guns! Gaga is definitely a secondary star in ‘Video Phone’ but I still can’t help but think Beyonce is trying just a bit too hard here.

I have written about this before – how the Knowles management team rushed a Beyonce record out that ended up trampling on the promotion for the movie ‘Dreamgirls.’ The impression I get is that Jennifer Hudson got the Oscar push from Paramount after the studio was peeved by Beyonce jamming the airwaves with product in the months before the studio had her in their big holiday release. That post from 2007 is here.

It makes sense that ‘Bad Romance’ is a better clip – the budget was much, much larger than what Beyonce had for ‘Video Phone.’ But what if Beyonce wasn’t dedicated to making a video clip for every last song, remix and outro on all of her special edition re-released CDs? I might suggest that B would get more mileage focusing her video budget on 3 or 4 singles instead of spreading the money over every song in her catalog.

Why not save the even more precious resource that is our attention for Beyonce until they have a fresh, new record with an un-rushed and well thought-out clip? Even if the visual FX for ‘Video Phone’ were completed, this would still be a ‘Beyonce dances against a non descript backdrop’ kind of clip that we have seen before. The video for ‘Diva’ even started with B outside the main set on the industrial street getting her strut on before she heads inside to perform – exactly like ‘Video Phone.’

I understand that all artists must strike while the iron is hot. But Beyonce’s iron does not seem particularly hot right now AND she is faced by a whole burning truckload of irons in Lady G. So why not relax a bit Beyonce?

Watch Beyonce - 'Video Phone' - ugh, the YouTube got pulled so here is the Peres link. Shudder.

Watch Lady Gaga - 'Bad Romance'

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Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Lactose Intolerant

Like an infant burping up his dinner, the internet offers up new content and then it goes away – only to reappear on another site where Mommy comes in and wipes it off again.

The most recent one of the ‘watch this link before it goes away’ clips is the Kanye-Spike Jonze collaboration for ‘We Were Once a Fairytale.’ I gather this is a mini-movie and not technically a music video, but that hardly matters.

Kanye does some of the most interesting things in popular culture today – whether it is his wide-ranging blog, his ALL CAPS rantings or his awards show appearances. On that note, what do we want Kanye to do at the VMAs? In my mind we need him to act like the Lord of the Egos. Of course that is what ‘Ye is gonna do, that is his role. Did we want the 1989 version of Axl Rose to come to the VMAs and sit quietly in his seat like a good boy? No, we wanted Axl to swig from a bottle and make a messy fool of himself. In that vein, I praise Kanye’s lack of self restraint. Hooray for rock stars!

Kanye also does some of the most interesting videos. This clip with Spike certainly falls into the ‘I’m glad they made this’ category – even if it does go on a bit long. The link is below (or it was at the time of posting) so watch it and mind the spoilers.

‘Fairytale’ is a lengthy set-up with a pay-off that is both surprising and somewhat expected. I was a little bored by the end and the ‘twist’ was not really a shocker. The main problem was the eight minutes of the part leading up to that. In stand-up comedy, the phrase is ‘a long walk to the store’ – the kind of set-up than can render any punch line muted because the audience has ceased to pay close attention.

And the very end, where ‘Ye offers his inner furball a miniature knife, and I kept expecting the little guy to pull another internal tormentor out of his own miniature gut. The point of that (imagined by me) ending would have been, ‘All of us have us have our own demons,’ but the ending Spike and ‘Ye went with instead says, ‘Poor Kanye, it’s not his fault.’

On the other hand, I guess that re-twist I suggested may have been avoided to lessen the already inevitable comparisons to another ‘pulled out of the chest’ clip.

watch: Kanye - We Were Once a Fairytale - dir: Spike Jonze

watch: Gnarls Barkley - Who's Gonna Save My Soul - dir: Chris Milk

In any event, the above is probably better than your beauty/rock climbing video making everyone think of a Marine Corps recruitment commercial.

watch: Alicia Keys - Doesn't Mean Anything

watch: Marine Corps - The Climb

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Monday, September 07, 2009

MAPS - 'Where the Streets Have No Name'

So today is Labor Day and on this second most American of holidays (after ‘Bring your Gun to Work Day’) what better band to focus on for a MAPS than the one that loves America the most - U2. Sorry, chest thumping country artists, your love for America pales in comparison to that of Bono, Adam, Larry and the guy that refuses to admit he is bald.

‘Where the Streets Have No Name’ was shot in 1987 at the corner of Seventh and Main in downtown Los Angeles by director Meiert Avis. Mr. Avis has been shooting videos since the very, very early days and on VideoStatic you can see he is still booking jobs today. I look at the depth on that credit list and I wonder why he doesn’t get as much credit as some other video pioneers. Maybe he should use more camera tricks.

The video for U2 takes place is the very commonly shot downtown section of LA. It is not far from the Tower Theater and at the edge of the seriously skeevy skid row area. Perhaps this location full of homeless folks was a purposeful tie in to the ‘no name’ aspect of the streets. More likely, it was one of the few places that would let a rock band play on the roof for a few hundred bucks.

Check out the map and click onto streetview - the place on the corner is still a liquor store, but the name has changed. Watch the video of 'Where the Streets Have No Name' here.

The beginning of the ‘Streets’ clip has lots of lead in before the song starts – something other videos would try to copy without much success. The live LA radio warning about traffic and the quality of the neighborhood (so maybe not that much has changed in LA) and the threats from the LAPD that the production was going to get shut down was all very effective.

It seems to me, re-watching the video, that the band got more than one run-through of the track, but the finished video makes it seem like po-po was closing the set down AS they were shooting. The video is a classic and it gets referenced all the time for new jobs – even twenty years later.

For more U2-ish fun, check out the feature documentary ‘It Might Get Loud’ starring the Edge, Jack White and Jimmy Page. The music is amazing and it is great to see Mr. Jimmy looking so lively and rocking at 65.

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Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Shifting Targets

A decade ago in music videos, if a label wanted a director for a specific job, and the director knew he was the first choice, that director could come up with a concept that cost more than the label’s desired budget. If they wanted to spend $400k on a budding pop-diva’s first single, the director could add in some helicopter shots or post effects and get the budget up to $550k – and a lot of the times the label would agree, because they wanted THIS director just that much.

Obviously, those days are long gone. The seller’s market has become a buyer’s market and the labels barely care which director they hire – as long as the final budget hits their target number. As a business strategy, this makes a lot of sense for the labels – they aren’t moving units like they used to and cost-certainty is key.

That ‘back in the day’ director was over-amping his treatment because he wanted to shoot some helicopter shots for his feature reel or try a new post-effect AND to drive the budget higher so his ten-percent (and the exec producer’s as well) would be worth more.

But today’s video directors write outlandishly un-doable ideas for a whole other reason. It seems that everyone in 2009 is ‘stuffing his bra’ to cut through the treatment clutter and deliver an idea that might actually get them noticed by the over-worked commissioner.

The over-the-top concept may jump off the page and get the label folks interested – especially if they are new-ish to the game and don’t know what production actually costs. No matter how wonderful this new and super-expensive idea might be, there is still no more money coming – so the 'too big' ideas simply end up being a waste everyone’s time. Sure, modern technology and ‘one man band’ directors who do their own editing and/or digital effects (and art department AND cinematography) can get a lot done for small bucks – but ‘getting creative’ with the budget only goes so far.

I saw one concept recently that had the whole video shot with the artists and a gorgeous actress (possibly famous! – yeah right) suspended in harnesses above the floor. Not a single scene, or a cutaway was done with this wire harness ‘floating effect’ – but the whole freaking video. Do you know how hard that is? The talent has to get into position with their legs dangling and then try to look cool/sexy/whatever while not letting the strain of mega-wedgies effect their performance. Wire shots are accomplished a few minutes at a time so the talent can be lowered to prevent gangrene of the leg from setting in. Doesn’t matter how much you can record on the latest high tech digital video camera without reloading – most of the footage will be of the artist reaching for their aching crotch or struggling to sway themselves in the desired part of the frame. Plus, this idea took place inside a typical suburban house – which would have low ceilings and no place to rig the wires out of frame above the action. It would take three days (at least) to shoot this idea and I am not even talking about the cost to remove the wires in post – because that was part of the idea as well. Oh, and the budget for this job was UNDER $20k.

That is just an example. I have seen concepts that involved the whole video taking place at night on the slanted roof of an old church (not via green screen). How does the talent stand up there? How many hours does it take to hand-carry all of the heavy lights and equipment up to that unstable and dangerous roof? I have seen concepts with the artist photographed in dozens of different cities, but minus any explanation how or why the artist and the director would take months out of their lives to shoot this multi-state concept for under forty-thousand. No amount of cutting edge technique or film-school endeavor will bend the laws of physics. The Red Camera doesn’t magically create 47 hours of sunlight in a day.

The capper on lots of these impossible to pull off concepts is that the ‘look’ is explained as being like some amazing photograph (Crewdson perhaps?) or a feature film that won awards for the DP. Really?!? So you are going to shoot in some crazed state (hanging from the ceiling, on a roof trying to beat the dawn, rushing to a million locations) and at the same time, generate world class photography?

Certainly the labels must bear some of the weight of this craziness. Commissioners say things like ‘Yeah, this (something actually do-able) idea is fine but it doesn’t seem special.’ That is the kind of ‘creative brief’ that sends directors off into a fantasy-land of un-affordable gags and effects – trying to find something, anything that will catch the eye of those with money to spend. The director wants the job, so they add in more stuff until the treatment feels ‘special’, and everyone’s time is wasted. But it is on the director’s shoulders to come up with a variety of ‘special’ that isn’t just throwing more (imaginary) money at the problem.

I bet the director that submits the second act of Apocalypse Now as his treatment for the $12k job is also the one complaining about the crappy job done by the director that eventually DID get hired when the video finally gets posted on antville. Comparing what someone else did in the world of reality with their own fantasy inside their head, probably has them always coming out on top.

Commissioners and labels like the idea that their measly budget will go as far as possible. And they LOVE the idea that talented and creative people are willing to scrap over the tiny opportunity they have on offer. But, even if the swinging on invisible wires extravaganza grabs the attention of the label, and even if the VP of Brand Marketing loves the idea – it is going to eventually land on the desk of a line producer who is going to enter real numbers into a real spreadsheet and call ‘bullshit’ on the whole process. Or even scarier, maybe the line producer drinks the kool-aid (under duress from the exec producer?) and then the director has to go out and actually turn the overblown concept into a finished video.

Punishment equals answered prayers and all that.

Side note, Mark Cuban wrote something quite fun about the opposite problem – hyping up and overselling a nothing idea with catch phrases and buzzwords. I think every director writing a concept should take this message to heart as well.

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Monday, August 17, 2009

Required Reading

It's hard to believe I have neglected to link to this guy, perhaps I am just jealous that he is a commissioner AND out of the blogging closet. Tim Nash works at Atlantic UK, but I love him because he posts the good shit.

Anyone involved in music video production must read In Your Face. Yes, he jumbles up the capitalization, but my rum-and-silver-polish cocktail is really kicking in now, and there was no way I was gonna get that right.

My favorites are his posts on cliche-ridden treatment writing, spotty lip-synch, and riding the bus on Wilshire.

Delve deep and enjoy.

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Tuesday, April 07, 2009

MAPS - 'Desolation Row'

As part of the very popularMAPS series’ here is part two, the Tower Theater in downtown Los Angeles. The Tower was built in the mid 1920s, a fertile period for the kind of construction that is a boon to music videos hungry for production value.

Downtown LA has a couple streets and corners that can convincingly play the role of a big city on the East Coast – one of the reasons that lots of videos get shot in a handful of blocks. The recent economic downturn might be bad for the recent condo-splosion and loftapalooza going on in the formerly deserted-after-dark downtown core of the city – but maybe empty buildings will make it easier to get a permit. Nearby the Tower are some other spots that get even more ‘work’ – but we’ll get to them later.

I picked out a couple videos that have been shot at the Tower, but I am sure that many, many others have used the moody, yet ornate interior to great effect. Feel free to post any other links you can think of in the comments below.

The recent My Chemical Romance clip off the Watchmen soundtrack was shot inside and outside the Tower. The decrepit but grand interior does a good job of complimenting the MCR performance, and the neighborhood definitely adds to the 'Desolation Row' vibe. My impression is that they are giving Mr. Zimmerman the flavor of the punk group Generation X – Billy Idol’s original band. Gerard even breaks out the Madonna-esque faux-Brit accent. Outside the theater the kids get all aggro.

You can see even more of the Tower’s look with some Watchmen EPK, behind the scenes footage.

Chris Brown’s “With You” uses the streets around the Tower (one would assume) as well as the vertical marquee as the backdrop for the main performance. As the camera circles over and around Breezy you can’t see the handcuffs, but you can see the Tower in the background and the director’s name added onto the outside of the theater.

Poke around on the Tower Google Street View and I bet you can see all kinds of music video hot spots near Broadway and 8th.

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Thursday, April 02, 2009

I Don't Wanna Grow Up ...

I know, two posts in a week. It's like the old days.

Idolator linked to this post on Tripwire about a super-indie band called Team Robespierre and their recent, failed, efforts to get one of their videos played. The video has a very, um, “home made” quality to it – but apparently MTV was allegedly going to air the clip on Subterranean. The post is a blow-by-blow of how the band got the run around and felt abused by ‘the system.’

Here is a quote from the Tripwire article:
So a year after the record came out, over six months after the video debuted on Pitchfork, three months after it’s initially scheduled MTV2 air date and lots of wasted money we were given a “maybe” in early 2009. That was until we got the news that the person we had been dealing with was laid off in December. Now, not only was the status of the video up in the air, but we had no one to talk to about it.
Most of the commenters on Tripwire and Idolator have ripped the writer, who is not in the band but somehow helping them get their video not played. This does come across as some pretty spoiled baby stuff and it made me think of lots of articles I have been reading about employers, back when the economy had ‘employers,’ needing to adapt to deal with the self-absorbed attitude of recent college graduates.

This is from the Daily Mail:
Others expect to be pandered to and lack initiative, according to the report, based on responses from 217 graduate employers including investment banks, law and accountancy firms. In one case, a new recruit to a transport company was overheard on the phone to his mother saying: "I have got to go to London tomorrow and they haven't even told me how to get there."

Certainly the band misunderstood many, many things about the video airing process. All videos on television must be close captioned. Mean ole MTV didn’t make them do that – the FCC did.

The MTV programmer that liked the video enough to push it forward was replaced and the new person was not enthusiastic. Oh well, sometimes you drop your ice cream cone on the sidewalk and Allah/Jesus/Iovine doesn’t magically grant you new one.

Yes, there were silly standards and practices edits that seem hypocritical coming from he network that airs Tila Tequila. But you know what kids? Your Mommy and Daddy say you shouldn’t drink – but they (gasp) do it themselves. I could go on and on about how these kids don’t get it (too late, I know).

Obviously, Team Robespierre has already gotten more attention off this ‘scandal’ than they would have if their video had actually aired on MTV. So good for them, despite their ‘poor little hipster’ whines.

The larger issue, in my eyes, is this intersection of the amateur and the professional. Getting your band’s video up on Youtube is easy – you just post it and it is there. Granted, even YouToogle has Standards & Practices and rights issues. Once the video is there, who says it will rack up any more views than grandma’s birthday party.

As long as artists want the benefits of the professional end of the music industry – they are going to have to play by the pro’s rules. And with AMTV suddenly showing (shocker!) music videos on MTV – there might be more opportunity there.

The recent crumbling of the music label empire has made going amateur the rule – in recording music and in making music videos as well. We could argue about whether or not Team Robespierre would ever get signed to a ‘real’ label, and I am sure that the band might reply with, ‘We don’t want your smelly label, old man!’ But when the young punks want their precious video on the old man’s MTV, a label might come in handy.

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Monday, March 30, 2009

Maps - 'Southern California'

This is, I freely admit, an odd idea for a post and I imagine doing more of these, but who knows how that will really turn out.

In 1995 Spike shot a video for the band Wax – the one where the guy runs in super slow motion to catch the bus. You know, the video where the public transportation enthusiast just happens to be on fire. It made a stink with MTV at the time because of the fire and the possibility that MTV’s viewership might be inspired to set themselves alight. This seems like a silly worry on the part of the people in charge – no one watching MTV is that colossally dumb. The Gs to Gents guys are all on MTV, not watching.

I started wondering where that video had been shot and, at the end of the clip, a glimpse of the sign for TOI, a hipster Thai restaurant on Sunset Blvd gave me the answer. Not far from the mullet-topia known as the Guitar Center and surrounded by shops selling drums, amplifiers and the like – this section of Sunset gives a very rock and roll vibe.

Check out the map and click onto streetview - the place on the corner is still a guitar shop, but the name has changed. Watch the video of 'Southern California' here.

In ‘Southern California,’ the station wagon starts on Gardner, north of Sunset with the camera pointed west. The bus that Mister Burny Pants is pursuing is on Sunset itself. That’s it, pretty simple and not much of a story to it – but I find this kind of stuff fascinating.

There is one bit of story. Famous director (Maltese Falcon) and actor (Chinatown) John Huston seems to have run over a pedestrian at this intersection back in the 20s/30s.
According to a documentary film about Huston's life, he struck and killed a female pedestrian with his car at the corner of Gardner and Sunset in Los Angeles when he was in his late 20s. He was exonerated of wrongdoing at the follow-up inquest. - wiki

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Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Ulterior Motives

Lots of videos get made with some kind of ulterior motive in mind.
None of those are shocking or unexpected. I am sure there are other examples I am not thinking of right now. But this led me to think about another, more serious category of ulterior motives – affecting the legal system.

The one getting press right now is T.I. and his “I’m sorry I tried to buy machine guns world tour.” As part of Mr. Harris’ reduced sentencing he is required to speak with kids. The King of the South has an MTV show revealing how much he has changed. ‘Road to Redemption’ is kind of like ‘Scared Straight’ but less scary and more self-serving.

There was the 2001 Jigga/Kells duet on “Guilty Until Prove Innocent” where the chorus calls of ‘Not Guilty’ seem to be general references to R Kelly’s many legal troubles rather than a specific plea for leniency. Kells has a thing for the US legal system, but TI seems to be the first artist to use his music video, "Dead and Gone," as an actual part of his sentence/rehabilitation. Is Timberlake a character witness? “The old me is dead and gone – I SWEAR your honor!

The music career as mea culpa seems to have worked, TI is to be sentenced this month (March 2009) and he is supposed to get a year and a day of time. It is likely that TI (like all prisoners) serves much less time than that. It is still a long stretch inside for a guy used to fame and fortune, but better than the 5+ years he was facing. Do Chris Robinson and Timberlake get part of the defense team’s retainer?

I wonder if Chris Brown is watching? Now that CB is having his Kids Choice nomination pulled, and with the legal system leaving Kells alone to follow HIM, how long until Chris Brown releases a song/video about how sorry he is? Perhaps that is the duet they are allegedly recording.

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Friday, February 20, 2009


If you read this blog, I am sure you have heard about the new music video site 99dollarmusicvideos. I realize I am a bit late to the game since the site has been getting talked up on Videostatic, Idolator and the Ville (where 99$V has drawn less commentary than the ‘controversy’ about Kanye and data-moshing).

The idea behind 99$V is a clever one and will surely draw attention to a few interesting directors and recording artists. This kind of site is not the ‘cause’ of anything bad, but it does indicate where the music video industry is right now – and that is no place very good. This is essentially a video contest, and (as I have written before) those do attract some attention but usually don’t make the best videos.

My first thought was that the glossy intro graphics package on the site (you can see it at the head of a ‘making of’ video) cost way more than the video that followed. Heh, irony.

Any video created within the constraints of the website’s rules – one day shoot, one day edit, spend only $99 AND make a video of how the shoot went down to prove the budget was followed) – is destined to have limitations. That is fine in theory, but for a director, putting an artificially limited video out there for all to see might be problematic – even if doing it in a day for less than a hundred bucks IS an accomplishment. Kind of like going on a job interview after strictly allowing yourself just 15 minutes to shave, shower AND type up a resume – that rumpled and harried person is you, but maybe not the best way to get hired in the future.

The triangle. Good, fast or cheap – you can pick two but not three. Guess which one is gonna get left out of the $99 videos shot in 24 hours?

The formula on the site works great – if you want to see the drama of 'the struggle' like a reality TV show. Watching the designer-contestants on 'Project Runway' rush to make a cocktail dress out of recycled plastics and $17 worth of buttons in less than four hours is much, much more interesting than seeing the resultant garment. Or wearing the half-junk dress, for that matter.

The goal of the 99$V site is to get viewers for Verizon ads – which is a fine and noble goal. The best way to do that is to show us the drama of a harried director grinding to get the video done in the allotted time for the tiny budget. If the resulting music video helps the band's (or the director's) career very much is secondary.

The ‘behind the scenes’ videos are more intriguing (at least to my drunken eye) than the actual music videos. More than anything, maybe that shows us where music videos are at these days.

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