- Being A Fan – Do you like directing videos for songs or bands you don’t like?
- Career – I’m a director who’s done lower budget stuff but always lose out to ‘Name’ directors. What to do?
- Career – Is directing videos a good way to start in the movies?
- Concepts – When you are working on a treatment do you already have in mind how the special effects will be executed?
- Concepts – When you send in a concept for a video do you include a storyboard?
- Concepts – Where does your inspiration come from?
- Help – I’m about to direct my first music video. I’m really nervous. Any advice?
- Hollywood – Michael Jackson’s Thriller and Bad were directed by a Hollywood director. Do you approach video making in a different way than a Hollywood director?
- Money – How much do you get for making videos?
- Production – When do you know that you have the shot that you want?
- Work hours – What are the typical hours that you work in a week?
Being A Fan – Do you like directing videos for songs or bands you don’t like?
I actually find it helps if I’m not a huge fan of the artist or their music – being dispassionate allows me a perspective on their performance and my judgments don’t get fudged by my blind idolatry of their artistry or their past glories.
Career – I’m a director who’s done lower budget stuff but always lose out to ‘Name’ directors. What to do?
Strange as it may seem I know how you feel. Even us ‘name’ guys can go through long spells of writing when it seems that everyone else is getting the gigs you’re writing on….and there’s nothing you can do about it. It’s part of the process – it’s out of your hands. Whatever you do DON’T START COMPROMISING your ideas just to get a gig. There’ll be enough of that when you get into casting, shooting and editing. Better to have written a great idea that gets overlooked than a sh*tty one that gets shot…and I should know about that…..ha-ha! Believe it or not I am constantly inspired by something Huey Lewis once said to me: “Be relentless!” Everytime you write a treatment that fails you are simply improving your chances of getting a gig with the next one.
As for your lower-budget-conundrum what you have to understand as a video director is that our work is umbilically tied to the success of the song it is a video for. If you do a low budget video for a song that becomes a hit then your phone will suddenly start ringing off the hook. In just the same way people want to wear Skechers because the cool kid at school wears ’em people want videos by Joe Blow because he did the video for that hot new band breaking on MTV this week. People in high places have as little vision and are just as sheep-like as everyone else. Long story short: try and do vids for songs that are going to be HITS!
Career – Is directing videos a good way to start in the movies?
Probably not. I suggest you miss out the endless concept writing, the tardy artists and the difficult editing and approvals process that the video business has become and go straight into features so you can work on endless script revisions, work with actors who won’t learn their lines and stay in post for six months at a shot.
OK so I’m being cynical for the hell of it. Be ready to work and to show the world how good you can be and remember: video directors want to direct commercials, commercial directors want to direct movies, movie directors want to direct videos. The other man’s grass etc…
Concepts – When you are working on a treatment do you already have in mind how the special effects will be executed?
If I was a bloody genius I would – but I’m not. For example in the Gloria Estefan & NSync video I had a rough idea how the motion control stuff would work but had to fly to Florida to see how I could fit my idea into a less than ideal location. In The Ricky Martin video it took weeks for us to inch towards a look that seemed right for the song.
Concepts – When you send in a concept for a video do you include a storyboard?
No. I write a detailed treatment (see CONCEPTUAL icon) and maybe include some pictures from a magazine which show lighting choices or clothing suggestions. When I get the job I then do a detailed shotlist which I draw myself and takes about ten hours of concentrated work. From what I’m told this is pretty unique.
NB. Commercials are different. The boards are probably the first thing you see.
Concepts – Where does your inspiration come from?
From anywhere and everywhere. Some days it will come from a picture in a magazine on other days from something I see while I’m driving along in the car. Sometimes I stare at the song lyrics until something leaps out at me. Sometimes, if I’m really short on ideas or just desperate I’ll write an idea which has nothing to do with the song but is an idea I’ve always wanted to do. Other times I’ll just say, I’ve always wanted to shoot in this place – perhaps if I write an idea for that place they’ll like it and send me there. Another writing technique is to sit down and type out every thought in your head, relevant or not, until nothing is left and then wait for an idea to fill the vacuum.
Two rules to obey at all costs: 1) Be so committed to your idea that you’re prepared to lose the job because you think it’s that good. 2) Do not try to second guess the client: you cannot see inside their head and they will always surprise you.
You should also remember that the label (my client) is very often quite specific about the kind of video they want – and perhaps even more specific about the kind of video they don’t want – and this inevitably influences any ideas that you may wish to explore. Unless your name is Spike Jones you can take it for granted that when they tell you they want a killer performance video intercut with a girl / boy conceptual piece they are not asking for a zany off-the-wall dance number in front of a movie theatre!
Help – I’m about to direct my first music video. I’m really nervous. Any advice?
If you’re nervous that’s good. I’ve directed nearly 300 vids now and I still can’t sleep the night before a shoot. I think you need to walk on the set with a combination of absolute terror and unbreakable optimism. The terror will keep you alert and open, ready to tackle any problem that will arise. The optimism will make you seem confident and in charge and the crew will be impressed by your decision making abilities and feel relaxed about working for you. A film crew is like a junk-yard dog: treat them with disdain and they will chew your balls off and laugh at you, treat them with love and respect and they will obediently follow you every step of the way and try and keep all interlopers off your back.
Remember that to succeed you must be prepared to fail brilliantly. Be totally committed to your idea and if you have to change your mind in public (e.g. you’ve chosen the wrong lens) do so with honesty and grace. Don’t blame someone else if you have made a wrong choice – you will earn respect if you openly admit a failure in public – we all make mistakes.
Being a director is a lot like being a general and any good general will tell you he secretly agonises over every decision but then leads from the front, acts with commitment and carries his ideas through till they’re completed all the while keeping his eyes open for a change in plans should events warrant it.
Good luck. you’ll need it!
(By the way I’ve never been in the army so I know nothing about being a general).
Hollywood – Michael Jackson’s Thriller and Bad were directed by a Hollywood director. Do you approach video making in a different way than a Hollywood director?
Of course the only way you’re really going to know is by interviewing John Landis and then interviewing me and making your own conclusions. However I think it’s true to say that every director approaches their work differently and it’s these differences which make the world go round. Mike Leigh (Secrets & Lies) spends months in rehearsal. Conversely I heard an interview with Todd Solondz (Storytelling, Welcome to the Dollhouse) this week in which he said, “I can’t afford to rehearse my actors and anyway if I did I’d be frightened that they’d discover how little I knew about directing!” This doesn’t mean that Mike Leigh is a better director, though obviously he’s more prepared, it’s just a different way of working.
However I think perception can be a factor. If John Landis (or another ‘Hollywood’ director) makes a video then the label expects and probably requires them to tell a story. When people like myself get to make a video the story is very often removed because the label just wants to see more of their artist – they could care less about my story.
Also I think that videos, which are largely expressive pieces, require a different discipline than movies, which are largely narrative, and whoever you are you need to remember that when you approach the job in hand.
Videos work better with more texture while conversely too much texture in a movie can be annoying. Black Hawk Down and Three Kings are good examples of movies where the texture of the film is taken about as far as it can go before it starts effecting the story-telling.
Money – How much do you get for making videos?
Music video directors get a percentage of the budget. How much is that? I’m not telling – but the good news is I’m well paid. The bad news is us video guys don’t get residuals.
Is it fair that we get well paid? As most directors are freelance there is no guarantee that we will earn any money at all – indeed it is possible that a whole year could go by without a director making a penny! However some directors (like Spielberg) earn milllions. If you are a member of the DGA (Directors Guild Of America) you must be paid a minimum of $150,000 to work on a movie which will take about a year to complete. But before you start thinking about putting the Bentley dealership on speed-dial remember that, just like everyone else in Hollywood, most directors also have to pay as much as 30% of their earnings to managers, lawyers and agents…and then there’s the IRS – so that 150G’s gets whittled away very, very quickly…and what’s left may have to last you for two years.
Production – When do you know that you have the shot that you want?
Sometimes you don’t know that you’ve got the shot that you want – you just have to move on because of time. If it’s a simple shot like someone climbing out of a car I’ll do it three or four times so that I have it a couple of different ways: faster, slower etc. If it’s a shot like the kids in white running onto the pier in Britney’s “Sometimes” video I’ll do it maybe ten or twelve times until I have just the right combo of crane move, running dancers and gorgeous sunset. If it’s a beauty close-up I’ll shoot three takes of the whole song and move on in full knowledge that some bits will be good and others useless. If there’s a really important line that the artist flubs I’ll go back and do a pick up of that section and then move on.
Unlike Kubrick who was notorious for shooting 150 takes on something I think that performances get worse after a while, not better. They lose their freshness and the artist gets a glazed-over expression. If it’s a technical thing then I’m prepared to keep on going. If it’s an emotional thing then I think you are into a law of diminishing returns after about five takes.
Work hours – What are the typical hours that you work in a week?
If you’re worrying about working hours I can already tell you’re in the wrong job, and anyway – no such thing as a typical week. Some weeks I may do nothing (except worry a lot), others I may put in well over a hundred hours. Suffice to say it was less stressful working when I worked in that German Metal Works Factory!