There is no rule stipulating that high quality music videos have to be shot on an unattainable budget. With the decreasing costs of broadcast gear, and the increasing effectiveness of products in the pro-sumer market, high quality is within reach so long as there’s a solid creative plan in place.
Music videos are one of the most exciting things to shoot. Coming up with visuals for a song is always a fun and creative experience. Music videos are enjoyable mostly because they give you a chance to focus purely on the visuals because the audio is already taken care of. When I graduated high school I didn’t have enough money for film school or any other secondary education but I knew I really wanted to work, in film. So the first thing I did was set out to build a satisfactory demo reel. Over the next year or so, I rounded up all my favorite local bands. Offering them free music videos so I could practice my craft. My first obstacle was working with a low budget. Most of the bands had little to no money so I shot everything for the cost of tapes and pizza.
These days, I still shoot more music videos than anything else. It has become my niche. Although I have better equipment, a larger crew, and an efficient workflow, one thing that hasn’t changed is the fact that my budgets are still pretty low.
Thanks to digital technology and the minimalistic workflow it creates we’ve been able to cut the costs to unsigned Christian bands that don’t have the 30 to 100 thousand dollars usually spent on a music video. A very important technological advancement, that has brought down the cost is the introduction of 24p to the video world. Thank you, George Lucas. Video cameras like the Panasonic DVX 100 and HVX 200 provide that “million dollar” film like look for a reasonable price. These cameras are allowing a whole new generation of independent filmmakers to make the short length and feature films for a fraction of the cost.
Before you hit your nearest dealer for equipment, it’s important to carefully figure out what it is you’re going to be filming. For music videos, we usually divide the shoot in to two sections. One being the band shots and the other a story based counterpart that fits with the song. This formula is by no means the de facto standard. I’ve seen music videos that are all story; they have no need to be cut with the band. However, we’ve used this nonlinear storytelling method on almost all of our videos and find that it works best not only to show the band’s live performance but emphasize the song’s meaning through the story. This is the beginning of our workflow, known as preproduction. It’s where we gather all our ideas and visual concepts and lay them out to show the band and crew what we hope to achieve.
We often shoot on location to avoid having to build sets. This is a major factor in keeping your budget down. You can find many locations by just walking into a place and asking them if they wouldn’t mind having 15 to 20 cast and crew fill up their building for the day. It’s amazing how many people will say yes! Shooting in a venue that already has built in lighting, such as a church stage, might cut costs and give your video the right “live” feel you’re going for.
When it comes to hardware such as lights, cranes and dollies, it’s always cheaper to make what you can’t buy. Renting equipment can be a very cost effective option if your shoot is only a couple of days. In the long run, it is recommended to own the equipment you use most often. Quality lighting is important. When shooting outdoors, a large mirror or any other reflective object can be helpful when creating a second source of fill light. If it’s camera movement you’re after, many regular everyday items double as dollies and cranes. You can use wheelchairs, skateboards, sky jacks, and even use techniques as simple as setting the camera on a cloth and pulling it across a glossy table. In the end it doesn’t matter what equipment you use, as long as you get the right shots. It’s the results that count in the end.
One factor that is most important is finding a workflow that fits your production’s budget, timeline, and technical restrictions. This means visualizing your project from beginning to end. Take into account each step along the way and figure out how much money it will cost, time it will take, and the most efficient way to get the best final product. As in any team or ministry, it’s very important to find the right people to work with. Make sure one person is in charge of the video’s vision and release creative control to them. A set where everyone has conflicting ideas of how something should be made never works. It’s very important to have a heart for submission while working on a music video set. Once the cameras are rolling, there’s lots of work to be done!
Knowing how to produce a music video is one thing, but finding a song and band you believe in is another. Be sure to keep your integrity when getting into this business. It helps to really know the band you’re working with. Some bands claim to serve God in their lyrics and do anything but, when it comes to real life. Also when you decide to produce a music video, you’re investing in the band’s success. You essentially join them in their message. If you get the chance, follow the band on the road, eat with them, spend time with them. It’s the best way to understand what their message is as people as well as musicians.
Once you have a final product, There are a few ways you and the band can distribute it. Don’t be discouraged if your video doesn’t make it on MTV or Much Music. There are a number of Christian and independent music video programs that are hungry for quality content. Also don’t forget that “You Tube” is making more stars than Hollywood these days and there are hundreds of music video web sites dedicated to playing independent content. Other venues include music video film festivals, the band’s website, and their electronic press kits. One constant for getting any finished product to air is you’re going to have to sell it. Make a thousand phone calls and spend your next project’s budget on stamps for sending DVDs and tapes though the mail. One slightly hidden cost that you might forget is that many television stations require that the video be close captioned and transferred to beta tape before they will even look at it. This process will likely have to be contracted out and can cost quite a bit based on the length of the video.
So when making your next music video be sure to carefully plan it out from production to distribution. Remember that above all it’s primarily a marketing tool to promote the band, but with a clever concept and proper production, the visuals can say just as much as the music it’s made for.