- Audience – When directing a video, who do you regard as your key audience? Do you have a specific age range that you aim for?
- Choreographers – Do you have autonomy over your videos on hiring choreographers and other crew members?
- Choreography – How does a dance routine get incorporated into one of your videos?
- Concepts – Have you ever directed a vid where you didn’t write the treatment / concept?
- Concepts – Writing a concept / winning a job. What’s the process?
- Copyright – Can you copyright treatments, ideas and videos?
- Editing – Do you just shoot a lot of footage and make it come together in post or do you have some sort of outline of how the video is going to be laid down?
- Editing – How does the editing process work on your videos? Do you get final cut?
- Lip-synch – Why do artists lip-synch their videos?
- Lyrics – Do they play an important part in the final music video?
- Marketing – Are they a) a creative medium b) a money making tool or c) advertising?
- Marketing – What’s It like working with artists from different markets; for example your work with Italian artist Eros Ramazotti?
- Marketing – Why do ‘British’ videos sometimes get remade for the American market. E.G. Travis “Turn”?
- Money – Is the budget for a video just the director and production company fee?
- Money – Why don’t you get the rights to and produce some ‘retro’ videos?
- MTV – Why exactly were music videos and MTV created?
- MTV- has it effected styles of music video? Has that in turn effected other forms of film-making? Has MTV style now become the norm?
- Narrative videos – Do you prefer doing videos with story lines or ones that allow you to use novel cinematography and special effects?
- Narrative videos – What do you think of them?
- Out-takes – Can I buy any out-takes, dailies, director’s cuts or behind the scenes footage?
- Photographers. When they’re on set what kind of access do they get? Are they treated as an annoyance or part of the team?
- Scheduling – Do you shoot the band and the concept on the same day?
- Scheduling – How long does a production take?
- Sex – Why is there so much gender stereotyping in music videos with rich successful men leering over their naked, dependant women?
- Sucess – Is there anything you’ve found to be a must for a successful video?
- The Artist – How much say does an artist/band have on the overall outcome of a music video?
Audience – When directing a video, who do you regard as your key audience? Do you have a specific age range that you aim for?
Generally it’s safe to let the demographic of the artist decide. For example if I’m writing for R.E.M. I’m assuming the audience is mostly between 18 and 50. If I’m writing for the Pussycat Dolls I assume the audience is 6 and over. Usually the label are very specific and will explain: “John Mayer’s audience is mostly females between 16 and 35 but try and make something that appeals to guys too.” If you think videos, which are just a form of advertising, aren’t marketed at certain groups like a commercial would be you are living on a cloud and need to catch a down escalator to Mother Earth as soon as humanly possible.
Choreographers – Do you have autonomy over your videos on hiring choreographers and other crew members?
Like most things in life film-making is a pissing contest: there’s always one person in the mix who thinks he’s got bigger equipment, i.e. more power.
On occasion clients have said to me, ” we love everything on your reel, but you have to use the people we choose.” This makes very little sense to me. However I’m mature enough now to bite my tongue and work with whoever God plants in my way but often this exterior pressure to employ someone who is not right for the job is very destructive. On the other hand it can mean you work with someone who injects new vigour into your work that you might otherwise not have encountered. This happens in real-life too. Wellington was upset that he had to fight the Battle of Waterloo with Generals that others had chosen for him. He won!
With regards to dance it is often the case that when a job is awarded the artist has already rehearsed a routine with a choreographer and been on the road with them and I feel it is my job to then incorporate that person into my crew to allow the artist his/her comfort level. However this can be very challenging and on one occasion I was stunned to be informed by the choreographer of choice that they hadn’t rehearsed a scene with the artist as requested because their vision for the video was better. I’m sorry but that’s just Crazy!
On a movie I feel the rules are largely different. We’ll hire the best person for the job and the actors have to deal with those choices.
Choreography – How does a dance routine get incorporated into one of your videos?
Once I’ve established from the label that there will be a dance sequence (and how much dance they’d like in the finished video) I meet the choreographer and discuss my ideas with them. If it’s possible we go to the location together and I show them how much space they have to work with and any interesting features in the location (stairs etc) or dangerous things to avoid. For example on Britney’s “Sometimes” video the dance sequence was filmed on an old wooden pier and I asked that the routine had no sliding on the floor to avoid anyone getting splintered.
Generally speaking choreographers are very collaborative and are eager to take on board practical ideas relating to their choreography and as I know zip about dancing I leave all the creative and stylistic choices to them – that’s what they’re paid to do anyhow. Next step is for the choreographer to go away and come up with the moves and then start rehearsing them with the dancers. During pre-production I will come down to rehearsal a number of times a) to show my face and let them know I care and b) to make sure that things are moving in the right direction so that we’re all on the same page.
However there are occasions when the choreographer can turn into a loose cannon and come up with routines or ideas that have no place in the final video and will never get used. Frankly this is divisive and unprofessional behaviour and wastes vast amounts of the artists and dancers time. On one ocassion a choreographer had the nerve to tell me to my face on set he’d never read the concept and had discarded my requests from our initial meeting because he’d had his own ideas on how the video should be made – it was then left to me to calm down an understandably furious artist and get the video made with the client and MTV-Making The Video watching over my shoulder!
Sometimes the artist and the choreographer have already rehearsed a routine before I arrive on the scene. In these situations I feel it is my job to incorporate what they’ve already achieved into my work on the video. If there needs to be some tweaking I’m always amazed at how quickly and readily the choreographer and the dancers will execute the changes.
Concepts – Have you ever directed a vid where you didn’t write the treatment / concept?
Yes. Quite often the artist / manager / label gives me an idea and then asks me to embelish it (eg. ‘Welcome To The Jungle’ – Guns N’ Roses, ‘Baby One More Time’ – Britney Spears, ‘Savin’ Me’ – Nickelback, ‘Lips Of An Angel’ – Hinder).
However when the artist gives you an idea that is completely mapped out from beginning to end in minute detail and expects you to follow it to the letter (eg. ‘Heaven’ – Chris Rea) it’s usually a disaster. Under such circumstances I think, if they’re that clear they know what they want, it’s better they direct the job themselves.
Concepts – Writing a concept / winning a job. What’s the process?
It goes something like this:
Step 1: The label sends me a CD or an MP3 of the song along with an idea of how much they want to spend and when and where they want to shoot. Perhaps they even get quite specific and tell you what they’re looking for. i.e. “Something cool, hip and young.” (Of course – it’s all clear now). They nearly always use the “E” word too. It must be EDGY…It mustn’t be EDGY…etc. (Please see note about label people at the end).
Step 2: I spend hours listening to the song, reading the lyrics, playing my guitar, goofing off, looking at books, lying to my rep that I’m nearly finished, playing some more guitar, pretending I have more important things to do, riding my bike etc. until some ludicrous idea comes into my head. I type the idea out in great detail and maybe include some picture references. I hit ‘send’ on the e-mail and I pick up my guitar again.
Step 3: My rep rings me up and tells me the label / artist aren’t crazy about my idea (i.e. they hate it) but they love my reel and would still really like me to do the video so perhaps I’d like to speak to the artist or the A&R person at the label or someone who’s had a pretty good idea of what they wanted all along.
Step 4: I put my guitar down and speak to said artist / A&R person who gives me their idea of what they had in mind and I say OK I’ll make it work.
Step 5: I put the phone down and scream abuse and ask myself why ‘they’ didn’t tell me all this to start with.
Step 6: I stare at my computer wondering how I can make this ridiculous idea work. (It’s only ridiculous because it’s not mine). I play some more guitar and suddenly it all makes sense. I re-write the idea adding my own touches, hit send.
Step 7: The phone rings. It’s my rep again: “They like the idea but want some changes…”
Step 8: I re-work the idea.
Step 9: (Optional) I get the gig.
Step 10: (Optional) Someone else gets the gig! (It happens).
N.B. Sometimes I go straight from Step 2 to Step 9 e.g. Oasis – Wonderwall. Sometimes Step 9 is only half way there – on one occasion I wrote 18 versions of a concept before I got the gig. Nowadays I try not to write more than three ideas – not because I’m lazy – but because the ideas inevitably get worse and more watered-down which means we’re headed for disaster.
N.B. (again). This illustration is just that, an illustration. Sometimes us directors get to speak to the artist / label person about their ideas right from the start and they love the first version that we write – but that wouldn’t be much of an illustration would it? Also be aware that maybe 5, 10 or 50 directors are all going through the same process above at the same time on the same song…and we do all that for free, all of us hoping we get the job.
Label people? I know all about label people who commision videos because I used to be one. Why are they being vague? Probably because they are working as much in the dark as I am – if they had more info they’d give it up. By and large they work tremendously hard, really care about what they do, and are desperately underpaid. They also get no respect which is one of the main reasons why I quit.
Copyright – Can you copyright treatments, ideas and videos?
Basically, no. Having said that I put a copyright at the end of every treatment I write but the precedent for exercising that copyright does not seem to exist and, as far as my limited knowledge of the law goes, that would be a great help if you were to go to court over such an issue. A number of years ago Nirvana were planning a video and a director spent some time discussing ideas with Kurt. The director didn’t get the gig but when he saw the video that was subsequently made he felt that some of the ideas used were his. As I recall he attempted to take Nirvana and the label to court. This was an unusual, if not unique, case.
It’s worth noting that any director who ever tried to sue an artist or a label (justly or not) would almost certainly run the risk of blacklisting himself – there are so many directors chasing so few jobs that labels would just choose a guy/gal who’s less litigious. Of course this is not a good thing and we do need to stand up and be counted…but at what cost?
The copyright for a completed video rests with the label / artist (or whoever paid for it). The label usually make me sign a waiver that says I’ve accepted a one time fee and that I’ll never come back asking for more. Recently it appears that videos are now actually a source of revenue for labels and artists, rather than a simple piece of advertising, so there is much discussion that this perspective needs to change.
N.B. I’m not a copyright lawyer – this is just my understanding of the law – so, if you require solid information, please check these details with someone who is.
Editing – Do you just shoot a lot of footage and make it come together in post or do you have some sort of outline of how the video is going to be laid down?
If you read ‘conceptual dick’ (button on your left) I think you’ll realise that I have a plan for most of my videos and stick to it pretty closely. But the plan (or script) is just a guide of what to do if inspiration is in short supply on the set. If you find something is magical and working well on the day then I think you have to learn to fly with it and allow yourself the freedom to divert from the plan.
Editing – How does the editing process work on your videos? Do you get final cut?
I send the footage to my editor with a list of notes, a copy of the treatment and the lyrics. Sometimes I draw a rough ‘map’ on the lyric sheet: “The penguin dance routine goes over this chorus,” etc. Then I leave the editor with the footage for a couple of days and see what he/she does with it. I used to be very controlling and sit at his shoulder every day but learnt that a) this is a waste of my time b) does not let the editor do what he does best and c) the editor might come up with something I hadn’t thought of.
Finally I make my changes, send the cut to the label and and brace myself for the phone call which inevitably comes with their changes. (Sometimes they send the video to the artist at the same time, sometimes they won’t send the video to the artist until they’re happy with the cut).
The ‘changes’ process is very frustrating for me. Sometimes it upsets me because I feel that what they’re asking me to do is wrong. Sometimes I’m upset because I know they’re RIGHT! (Why didn’t I think of that?) But what’s REALLY frustrating is when someone who has not been part of the lengthy pre-production process starts calling the shots (e.g. a girlfriend, a boyfriend, a dancer). I respect anybody’s point of view but often these people on the periphery are seeing the video through their own set of spectacles and are often blind to the big picture – what the label or artist hopes to achieve with this new video.
But through it all you have to remember this – they’ve paid for the footage, they own it, they’re just renting you and they can fire you anytime, get over it, try and minimize the damage, move on.
Lip-synch – Why do artists lip-synch their videos?
Let me first explain how we make videos.
1) The record company gives us a digital copy of the track they wish us to create a video for (usually the same version on the CD you have)
2) A sub-master of that is created with an encrypted time code that usually starts when the music starts. This time-code cannot be shifted around and constantly and exactly tells you where you are in the song whenever the tape is running. This time-code is accurate to 1/24th of a second.
3) On set we roll film (the camera runs at exactly 24 frames per second) and roll the playback at the same time. We place the digital slate (which shows the time-code from the digital sound tape in a series of red numbers) in front of the camera which records the numbers – you’ve probably seen that on Making The Video. In post-production we stop the film when we see the slate and type in the numbers we see onscreen and then the film then synchs up with the sound…at least it should do!
4) Why do we do this? The artist has spent hours and hours in the studio creating a fine recording and doesn’t want to have to create that all over again just for the video so they mime to the track. It’s not a cop out and EVERYBODY DOES IT.
Obviously if we are shooting a sequence which has no music in it we have no need to synch-up the footage.
The above process works exactly the same for recording live sound only in this instance the time code is generated by the sound recording device rather than the playback tape.
Lyrics – Do they play an important part in the final music video?
Obviously you shouldn’t ignore the lyrics of a song – the music (and the lyrics) are what the video is supposed to promote so ideally there should be some sort of link. For the Staind video “For You” the opening lines of the song are “To my mother, to my father, it’s your son or it’s your daughter.” The lyrics were so strong that I used this opening line as my inspiration for the video: an angry teen sitting in the back of Mum and Dad’s car yelling at his parents. It took me literally about 50 minutes to get the idea, write the treatment and fax it out. Easy. Other song lyrics are less inspiring or you might even wish to steer the audience AWAY from the lyrics e.g. “HIT me baby one more time!” I think we can agree that those lyrics are best ignored.
Interestingly some artists want you to make a video for them which slavishly echoes the lyrical content of the song (See “Too Bad” by Nickelback) and, conversely, some artists HATE it when the video’s images reflect the lyrics! It’s tough to know which way to go sometimes.
Marketing – Are they a) a creative medium b) a money making tool or c) advertising?
Quick answer: a) and c).
Long answer: All types of film-making have the potential to be areas for creative endeavor. However on a good day Videos give you the chance to be extremely creative and you don’t have to be buttoned down by the rules of story-telling etc. In today’s world chances are there’s someone looking over your shoulder (you’re spending their money) but by and large you’ll have less interference making videos than in commercials or features.
Videos never have made money for anyone except for the people who work on the crew. The labels spend thousands making them and then give them to MTV / VH1 / Much Music etc as free programming hoping their artists will get seen and we’ll like them and then dash to the store to buy their CDs. Any money made when the videos are sold as packages in the shops further on down the line probably doesn’t even come close to covering a fraction of the cost of the production. I would go so far as to say no video has ever paid for itself EVER.
N.B. With the recent news that videos are available as downloads for your iPod etc. this is situation likely to change. Watch this space.
Yes videos are advertising for the single / CD / artist. That’s their raison d’etre.
Marketing – How much do you think a music video helps to sell a song and an artist?
In return I shall ask you a question, and forgive me if it you sense a soupcon of conceit. How successful do you think the launch of Britney’s career would have been without the video for Baby One More Time?
Marketing – What’s It like working with artists from different markets; for example your work with Italian There becomes a point where you can over-think this stuff. Eros is huge in Italy (they tell me he owns 17 Ferraris) and is also significantly successful in many Spanish speaking countries. Italy is such a different market than the USA or UK where I do most of my work so it’s difficult and perhaps foolish to shoot something tailor made for them, after all your Britneys, Enriques etc. all sell records there with videos made here so why should Eros be approached differently? Also chances are the reason why they came to you in the first place is because they liked your reel – so just do what you do best and bear in mind that with someone like Eros, whose songs are SO Italian, your work is bound to feel different whatever you do.
The only other thing is that I speak no Italian and Eros speaks no English. Ciao!
Marketing – Why do ‘British’ videos sometimes get remade for the American market. E.G. Travis “Turn”?
OK firstly let’s establish an important point – if a video is being remade for the US it doesn’t mean that the ‘British’ one is bad.
The US and the UK are quite different markets and people perceive things differently here in the States. At the time that I shot their video Travis were huge in Britain (‘The Man Who’ was the biggest selling album of 1999 in the UK) and people knew who they were and, though their videos were very creative, they had very little performance in them – “Driftwood” is a particularly good example.
When it was time to release “Turn” as a single in the US Travis were still largely unknown here and it was felt that they needed to have a video which really showed them performing. As a result I was asked to shoot a second video for “Turn” which was specifically performance based.
Just remember – videos are commercials for bands / artists. Consider this: a car commercial that works in Italy with its narrow winding city streets isn’t necessarily appropriate for a country like Australia with wide open spaces and vast distances.
Money – Is the budget for a video just the director and production company fee?
No. Not only does the budget include all fees and all expenses down to every bottle of soda and every piece of designer clothing consumed it usually includes hotels and flight expenses for the band / artist as well. It’s not unusual for these flights, hotels and special requests to eat more than a quarter of the budget before you’ve even thought about what your idea might be. I was once asked to write on a video in which the brief specified the rate for the make-up artist, the level of hotel room that make-up artist required, the colour of car they needed to be transported in and a list of planes that person would not fly in! Needless to say their ticket was first class. And people say I’m difficult when I want to make my own tea on set…
Money – Why don’t you get the rights to and produce some ‘retro’ videos?
It’s already been done before. Back in the mid eighties there was a show called Deja View produced by Joel Gallen who later moved on to produce lots of great shows for MTV. I even directed one of the videos for the show in March ’86: The Temptations “I Can’t Get Next To You” (see df. 150 in dickfilms file).
However the show was short lived for a number of reasons.
1) Videos (even cheap ones) are very expensive to make. Generally speaking $ for frame the most expensive form of film-making is commercials, followed by videos, then films, then TV. An hour of cheap TV can be made for what it would cost to shoot your average 3 minute video! That’s why reality programming is so popular nowadays. Consequently an hour of new vids for old songs is just prohibitively costly.
2) Who’s going to pay for it? By and large the artist and label no longer have a record to promote so they would show no interest in forking out the cash. Some of the tracks you suggested feature acts that are broken up or possibly even have members who’ve died. Remember videos are made for one reason only – to promote sales of records that are in release, that’s the only way their massive cost can be justified. MTV et al do not pay 1 cent to anyone broadcast a video that I’m aware of.
3) Who’s going to play the video? Certainly not MTV. VH-1 might but they have very small budgets for their shows which brings us back to part 1.
MTV – Why exactly were music videos and MTV created?
Music videos have been around a lot longer than you think. If you saw Ken Burns Jazz series on HBO for instance you would have seen many filmed performances of the jazz greats doing their thing. These are simply early music videos – though now we view them as wonderful archival moments of great artists that are dead or unable to perform anymore. By the 1950’s and 1960’s film companies, realising the great potential in rock n’ roll and pop music, started making movies based partly or completely around the popular stars of the day, e.g. Elvis and the Beatles. These films were fairly cheap to make and made shed-loads of money for the studios. If you look at the opening sequence of the Beatles A Hard Days Night you’ll see what is simply a wonderful music video shot in black and white.
In the 1960’s the BBC (British TV station) would sometimes take artists to the beach or to a roof-top to shoot them performing their latest hit simply to make their weekly show Top Of The Pops more interesting than just having a bunch of bands miming in the studio. By the 70’s artists had started making clips (or ‘Pop Promos’) for individual songs as promotional tools themselves – the best example being the video for Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody which was totally groundbreaking in its day and was instrumental in making the song a massive hit in the UK. By the time Bohemian Rhapsody had been at number one for 12 weeks everyone was cashing in on the fad.
Up to this point bands had been able to promote their latest release in three basic ways: radio-play, TV appearances and touring. The latter two meant shipping the band around the world and this was becoming extremely costly. With record markets opening up all over the world and simultaneous trans-global releases becoming the norm it was virtually impossible for a band to appear onstage or on TV in the same week in New York, London, Sydney and Hamburg which the simultaneous record releases required so pop promos started filling the gap: it’s cheaper to send a video tape to Australia than five musicians and a road manager. By the late 70’s these pop promos were mostly shot on video tape and consequently came to be called music videos. In Britain, where the pop music charts moved much faster than in the US, videos became an essential promotional tool and every band had to have one so that when MTV started in 1981 many more British acts had videos than American ones. Consequently Duran Duran, The Thompson Twins, Culture Club and many other British bands with stacks of videos in the vault, suddenly had huge success in the States and filled the charts while the US acts and labels busily tried to catch up.
Why did MTV start? The early 80’s were the hay-day of the cable boom, everyone in the US was starting to get a cable box fitted to their TV and there were many new channels appearing and someone saw a way to make cash out of all those music vids. Even better the record labels gave MTV the vids to use for FREE (and still do) so the channel had to pay nothing for its programming – all it needed was three VJ’s, one camera, a small studio and some editing equipment and voila: a TV channel was born. The rest is history.
MTV- has it effected styles of music video? Has that in turn effected other forms of film-making? Has MTV style now become the norm?
Yikes. 2 answers: a) how should I know? b) how long have you got?
OK MTV effects music videos simply by choosing what videos they will and will not play. I remember a spell back in the 80’s when the word came down that MTV did NOT want videos with girls in them any more…about three months later word came down bring the girls back! Quite simply if you’re about to cough up the price of a luxury house to make a video and you get wind of something that MTV doesn’t like you’re not going to shoot that are you? (Unless you’re Madonna and want the press). Yes MTV has effected film and TV and commercials undoubtedly. MTV can only be the norm if it stays the same – but new ideas are there on display every week so it’s up to everyone else to try and keep up – and I can tell you that’s exhausting!
Narrative videos – Do you prefer doing videos with story lines or ones that allow you to use novel cinematography and special effects?
Both. Story videos are great because you get to make a little film but all too often when everybody sees the rough cut they want to pull the story out and just put more close-ups of the artist in – and who’s to say they’re wrong, that’s what we’re selling.
‘Cool stuff’ videos are great too because all you have to worry about is getting loads of cool stuff and everything will cut with everything, but I always feel that’s a bit of a cop out.
So, I try to do both at once so that there’s some form of linear idea going on but there’s enough ‘cool stuff’ to cover me when everybody gets their changes in the edit.
Narrative videos – What do you think of them?
If the story works – great! The big trick is trying to get the story to work with the lyrics of the song. The problem I often find is that your story is moving from A – Z (hopefully) as the song plays out but you have to keep returning to the chorus which might only relate to F – L in your tale! Another problem is that when you shoot a movie you have dialogue and sound effects to help you tell the story as well as music and not having this this can sometimes be a hindrance in a vid.
But most of all the trick is to make sure the artist doesn’t get lost in the narrative – after all we’re making a commercial for an artist and a song here. It’s so easy to come up with a great story and then find that getting the band into the video is a stretch or that the translation of the lyrical content of the song is not going to make the artist look good. The easy solution is to place the band in a completely different environment and shoot the story and the band separately. The “Too Bad” video I did for Nickelback is a good example of this. Incidentally the band were also very brave and wanted more story and less band – most unusual.
Of course there are plenty of videos which have no story and simply feature lots of cool, sexy images of the artist. In many ways this is a much easier way to work – you just keep shooting till you run out of time or film. But at the end of the day I prefer making videos with some kind of story. Although it’s more challenging getting that story completed when it works it’s very satisfying and worth all the extra effort.
Out-takes – Can I buy any out-takes, dailies, director’s cuts or behind the scenes footage?
Sorry, can’t do that – it’s not mine to give away or sell – and I don’t have it anyway. Whenever I get to shoot any footage that footage instantly becomes the property of the record company who’s paying for the video. (In the case of a movie the footage belongs to the film company). Technically speaking this ownership can go as far as still photographs, drawings, sketches and notes I have made during the course of production. (It’s a joke really – do they really need that scrap of paper where I wrote down what topping I wanted on my Pizza during telecine?)
When a video (or film) is completed the record company takes all the footage and locks it away in some big vault in a mountain somewhere. This means that most labels and film companies have an enormous mine of material stashed away and, by the way, most of it is crap which is why it never got used in the first place. However in the case of films DVD has recently created a situation whereby a new release is felt to be disappointing if it doesn’t have missing scenes, a blooper reel, and all the behind the scenes stuff where the actors lie and tell you how much they love working with the director and the director lies and tells you how much of an inspiration it was to work with the writer. Perhaps you’ll get lucky and the labels will start spending cash doing the same on music releases…but don’t hold your breath.
Photographers. When they’re on set what kind of access do they get? Are they treated as an annoyance or part of the team?
Firstly the access the photographers get is purely at the discretion of the label and the artist. Very often a label will hire one photographer to work the set and then the label will distribute the resulting pics as they see fit. Early on in an artists career they may let a bunch of photographers come to the set to help publicize the artist’s career, by the time someone is established they will be much more selective. From my own perspective the best kind of stills photographer is the kind who you never notice – in other words he gets his job done and lets me get mine done. As I used to be a publicist for two years I understand the job they have to do and am happy to let them get on with it.
On the other hand there are horror stories. When we shot Britney’s “Sometimes” video there were so many photographers on set they were fighting over the chance to get at Britney and one particular individual kept wandering into my shots while taking pix of Britney AND simultaneously talking on his cell phone! This is the kind of guy who’s not interested in good pictures, he’s interested in anything he can sell and I have no respect for these kind of people. In England we call them ‘smudgers’ you call them paparazzi. When I shot the Band Aid video “Do They Know It’s Christmas” there were 70 people from the press trying to get at the guys while they were singing and we were shooting. Eventually I had to go outside and steal a plank from a building site and use it to push them back! Nightmare.
Scheduling – Do you shoot the band and the concept on the same day?
If you’ve got more than one day to shoot the answer is probably no – the band want to get away fast and are usually quite happy to leave you to it. Recently however budgets have tumbled and so one day shoots are happening all over again so we’re all having to try and do everything on one day – difficult – which, if the weather gets in the way, can cause tremendous headaches – see Diary 2002.
Scheduling – How long does a production take?
An excellent how-long-is-a-piece-of-string question! If you’re lucky you’ll get three or four weeks. We spent a whole week just building and lighting the set for Britney’s “Oops I Did It Again” video which is pretty luxurious. At the other end of the spectrum it took me four days to plan, shoot and edit the Band Aid video “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” and it was first broadcast 2 days later.
Sex – Why is there so much gender stereotyping in music videos with rich successful men leering over their naked, dependant women?
I’m often asked why ideas in music videos are always on the same themes. So, when I give my music video class at UCLA every year, I ask the members of the class to pick their favourite song. On average 95% of the songs chosen are by male artists and 90% of those songs are about love, sex and/or girls. i.e. they involve male topics and male attitudes. And does it come as a surprise to you to know that most guys are always thinking about sex?
When the videos for these songs are made it is not uncommon for the artists to request that the video is filled with, and I quote, “hot chicks.” Of course if the video is made for a female artist the chances are she’ll ask for “hunky guys.”
I think it’s a truth that when we are younger we tend to objectify the people that we’re attracted to and in film we explode that to heightened levels. The result is that every available guy we cast seems to have a six-pack chest and every available girl we shoot has a bod like a centrefold. These are not good role models I grant you but I have tried casting people who are more normal and everyday and people hate it! Unless the video idea calls for nerds and dweebs everybody, and I mean everybody from band through management to the label to the viewers, want beautiful people – babes and hunks – and I suppose that’s because this is what we aspire to be.
At the risk of pointing fingers I think the male/female roles reach their lowest levels in some videos we’ve all seen where the girls are in tiny bikinis and the guys are fully dressed and sitting in a Rolls Royce. But I think we all need to remember that this is basically a fantasy that we are being asked to buy into. But then I’ve seen a few young guys driving past in their very expensive cars and the girls sitting beside them are certainly attractive – it’s funny how that works isn’t it? Remember the joke: Why do rock stars marry models? Because they can!
Am I guilty of putting ridiculously figured women in the videos I’ve directed? Yes. I wince when I look back at those Great White and GNR vids I did back in the 80’s but no-one really cares to listen if I voice my adult compassionate views on objectifying now. It’s simple: sex sells.
Sucess – Is there anything you’ve found to be a must for a successful video?
Yes – you need a great song!
If the video is brilliant and no-one likes the song or the artist the video won’t get played. One of my favourite videos was for a band called 2 Die 4 but MTV didn’t like the music and the video never got air-time. Video-making is an unusual art in that one’s success is umbilically tied to the public’s appreciation of elements over which we, as directors and producers, have no control – people’s opinion of the music. Many really, really bad videos get played if the song is a hit. Back in the 80’s I remember “Walk Like An Egyptian” by the Bangles. Massive song, heinous video, bags of MTV time.
Therefore my simple rule of thumb is: to ensure you make a hit video pick a hit song first.
The Artist – How much say does an artist/band have on the overall outcome of a music video?
Every situation is different but, like most things in this world, who has a say is directly proportional to the power they wield and their need to wield that power. An artist at the beginning of her career might have no say whatsoever – the label might pick the concept for her and just tell her where and when to show up. I’ve had bands fly thousands of miles to work with me and met them on set only to find they have no clue what’s going to take place in the video – not always a healthy situation when they’re probably paying for at least half of it and don’t want to be dressed up as pink fairies. Conversely an artist who’s sold millions of records might make the video on their own and refuse to let the label on the set or in the cutting room – something that happened to me a number of times when I worked at Phonogram in London with some very powerful (and stroppy) artists. Hopefully you find a middle ground.