Sunday, 28 February 2010

A music video! November 2009

Pablo, a friend from work, is the drummer for a local South East London band, The Explorer's Collective. Pablo saw my barbecue invite and a while later I got a call from the band, asking me if I wanted to direct a music video for them. My first instinct was to say "no way" because of my lack of experience and the pressure of making something for other people rather than myself, at a period when I really wanted to find my way slowly but surely and not be rushed, but getting stuck in is the best way to get experience, so nervously, I agreed. I told the band to keep their hopes at an all time low, because I may own a camcorder but that is the limit of my suitability to direct a music video.

The song is Bangers And Mash, and it's a cheerful number about a serial killer cannibal. The great thing about the song is that the video script writes itself, as the lyrics are very story based. With some videos it is very lazy and uninspired to take things too literally, but with a song like this, it seemed foolish to deviate from the story set out in the lyrics, and the ideas for a video that the band brought to me were also around this area, so I began to storyboard my plan.

I found it was helpful to print out the lyrics and work from them. A script is the natural starting point for anyone making a film, so the lyrics and the story of the song became our script. The video would be shot entirely at the house of the bassist/singer, Mark, who would play a dual role along with Frazer, singer/guitarist, as the murderous couple who lived in the house. They would also play themselves, along with Neil and Pablo, guitarist and drummer, who would also play themselves. The band would visit the house, which has been set up to look like a recording studio to lure in unsuspecting musicians, so that the inhabitants may kill them and eat them.

The video would be a two parter, with the band finding an ad for this "recording studio", arriving, and playing the song in the house. The second part would be the story that fits the lyrics, with the band being picked off and killed by the couple after arriving at the house. The two parts would come together to form the whole video. We wanted to keep it light though, and hopefully fun. If murder can be fun. Of course it can!!

I went "on location" to Mark's house and we checked out the various rooms and the garden and decided what we could use. We knocked up a quick storyboard and I took some test footage so I could take it home and see how it looked. I spent the next few days expanding the storyboard and buying props, such as wigs, machetes, severed limbs, the usual stuff. The challenge with storyboarding was that I needed to have all the "acting" sections to fit the lyrics which meant the band footage would mostly be relegated to instrumental sections. This was easy enough to work in to the storyboarding.

We set a date to come and shoot all the live footage, in which the band would play the song in the garden. We took several takes of them performing the whole song to a backing track so I would have plenty of footage to choose from. We were lucky, not only did it not rain, but, for late October, it was a warm and sunny day. I played around with various settings on the camera (stabbing in the dark really) to make the colours seem really bright and to enhance the beautiful sunshine.

After we got the live footage down, we did a test run with the camera and just acted out the rest of the video around the house, following the storyboard to see if I could make a rough rehearsal edit of the video, for two reasons. One, I needed to see IF I could actually edit this stuff together, and two, I could see if it worked as a music video. After we got all the footage, after a whole day of filming, we went downstairs and watched the unedited footage back on a TV in Mark's basement and drank a few beers and ordered pizza. The footage was hilarious, we were clearly clueless and confused, no-one could act, and I had no idea how to get people to act. But it was okay, because the video is meant to be silly, so the lack of any talent didn't hurt it at all, which was a great relief.

I edited the footage together into a video using iMovie over the weekend and sent it to the guys. The timing of some of the performance parts wasn't perfect but this was just a dry run and by this point I knew I could do it. I did another pass on my storyboarding to make it more interesting and I realised that the lighting inside the house really needed to be enhanced. I also noticed that there was more story footage than I could fit into the song comfortably, so I edited the storyboards again.

My method for syncing the music with the performance was clumsy... the band would be miming to the song playing on a stereo when I was filming. The drums drowned it out a little but certain noises, like S noises, or guitar slides, became anchors I could use to sync the footage to the song. I'd get it close and then start removing or adding frames of video until it looked right on playback. The fine tuning took a while, so I saved the effort for when I would be doing the final edit.

All in all I'm really glad we did the rehearsal run and filmed it. It made the final video so much better. Yes, that's right, it could have been EVEN WORSE. Bet you didn't think that was possible.

We went back to Mark's place next week and shot the indoors scenes, the story footage. We dressed Mark and Frazer up as their characters (the murderous couple) and I had pre-arranged the shooting order so that they wouldn't have to be getting changed every five minutes. Frazer's terrible fake moustache wouldn't stay on for more than a few second at a time, and Mark's wig was incredibly hot (not sexy hot) and his horn rimmed spectacles were too small. I think they were made for children's fancy dress. He must have suffered quite a bit for his art!!! Or my art?? No, you can't call it art.

We used a bright halogen lamp that we used to light the indoor scenes too. Where possible I tried to make the lighting quite nightmarish, which was a great change from the washed out grey our rehearsal footage was in. Look, I know this is all boring as hell, but someone somewhere in the universe might get some use out of all this detail when making their own-  far superior - video.

We shot out of sequence to maximise the use of our time and although I tried to be super organised I kept leaving my paperwork lying around in other rooms. I was constantly running around trying to stay on top of everything and make sure we didn't miss anything out. Mark also has a baby, so we had to film without waking little Oliver too. In one scene Oliver could be seen peering out of a first floor window into the garden while the band are playing!

One thing which could have been a problem was the completely different levels of sunlight on the two separate days. But because all the bright sunny band footage would not be edited with any continuity with the rest of the footage, it wasn't an issue. The day went on for much longer than planned and our final scenes, the end of the video, were shot in darkness. This worked in our favour because the passing of time actually, by accident, fits the time frame of the video. A sunny beginning and a dark end. Because the story of the video is consecutive, it makes sense to go from daytime to night-time. We also drafted in Mark's wife and her sister, Jana and Lucy, to help us as extras in the final scene. They were really excited about helping and they really went to town on their outfits!! Top marks!! You'll notice Lucy, as a policewoman, has a baby monitor as her walkie talkie. Work with what you've got!

Anyway, here is the video, my first serious project, although of course the video is far from serious. It's not perfect, but it was fun to make, and I'm kinda proud of it. I think we spent £20 on props, and that was our only real cost. Thanks to the band for allowing me to direct their video!

It's homemade, it's goofy, but it was a hell of a lot of fun and I learned a lot!!!

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