A couple weeks back I mentioned I was directing a music video.
Well, here it is. My directorial debut:
Latimore Platz and I spoke about doing a video several months ago, maybe in August, but at the time we struggled to come up with a concept. I didn’t want to do any videos where it was reliant on special effects or was just a bunch of shots of dudes standing around rapping, and we both agreed that some sort of storyline would be necessary. He came up with the “Trip to Hittsville USA” concept (since Smokey part Two is a Motown record) , and I took it from there, fleshing out the concept more and the shot list.
We agreed that it would be more authentic to actually make the trip to Hittsville than to try to fake it, so the video was shot in Columbus and Detroit.
We had no idea until we got there but the Motown Museum has a strict no-camera no video policy, so I had to sneak the footage I got when the tour guides’ back was turned. I wasn’t sure how any of the shots I snuck came out until after we left. All things considered they came out really well.
We shot the video in two parts: day one we shot the Hittsville roadtrip, and day two we shot the intro piece and performance pieces. Day three, I worked on the edit. Then I took about a week polishing up the look of the video.
Lesson #1 – Fresh snow and light don’t mix
Over the past 6 months I’ve read a few books on lighting, and while a couple of them did make mention of the effects of snow on shooting, I don’t think anything could really prepare me for what it was actually like. We chose the day we shot about two weeks in advance, as Columbus had yet to receive any snow, but low and behold it snowed two nights previous to the shoot as well as the night before. This made all the outside shots a challenge, as snow (especially new snow) reflects light very intensely making everything look overexposed. In addition, when you’re shooting snow from a distance the outside can look almost completely white, also not good for shooting. It took some serious technical adjustments, and i definitely messed up a couple shots by overcompensating on the exposure, but overall I feel pretty good about not completely fucking up any shots. The biggest problem I had wasn’t that the light itself was impossible to shoot, but that what was in my viewfinder wasn’t as accurate as I would’ve liked so I second guessed a couple things. Truth be told, if i would’ve trusted my instinct I would’ve actually been ok.
Lesson #2 – Keep the edit separate from everything else
In the past–a pretty short past since I’m relatively new to this process–I would start editing and work on color enhancement and transitions at the same time. Trying to make it look as slick as possible while working out the continuity of the cuts. I’m not sure where I learned this from, but it’s a horrible idea. The edit should be just that, the edit. Otherwise you end up spending hours trying to color correct a scene that you don’t even know works yet. I’ve been guilty of this in the past, but this time around I decided not to do it, and edit first. Once the edit was done I would work on the look of the video. As a result, I was able to come up with a solid cut of the video within 24 hours of us wrapping up the shoot. That’s the fastest I’ve ever been able to edit anything, so as far as I’m concerned that’s the way I’m going to approach things from here on out–edit first, polish up the look later.
#3 – The shotlist guides the edit & is the most important piece
I’ve been a part of a few different videos. Sometimes the concepts are well developed and we had a shotlist (or storyboard), other times we’ve just developed the concept as we went along with no shotlist. There have been times where it went really well, and times when it went badly. But as far as I can see having a shotlist is the most important part of any video shoot for two reasons. First, it helps you define the scope of your shoot. You know exactly how much time you need. Second, it guides the edit. If you have a shotlist you pretty much know exactly how your video’s going to look before you even shoot. If you don’t have a shotlist then you’re just guessing and your edit is going to be a long process, that’s guaranteed. It may be a long process with a great result, or it may not be. You never know. However, the only way you know exactly what’s going to happen is to write up a shot list. Of course this depends on the individual. Some people are talented enough to come up with a great edit without a shotlist, but most people cannot. For me, once I had the shotlist I knew exactly what the video was going to look like and my edit few by. Here’s an example of one section of my shotlist:
00:00-00:30 – video opens with charles. His phone is sitting on countertop and starts ringing. Camera zooms in as he gets ready to pick it up and “latimore platz” is on the caller ID. He picks up and we go to split screen for conversation that sets up video concept/treatment:
“you ready to do this?” – latimore
“you serious?” – ec
“yeah man, I’m serious. We gotta take it there” – latimore
“Hitsville?” – EC
“Yup. Hitsville USA” – Latimore
“I’m ready.” – EC
“Cool, I’ll pick you up in 15 minutes”
“Peace” – EC
LP in kitchen:
__close shot of hand and holding cell phone dial (0.5 wide lens)
__close shot of hand dialing “EC Vol”
__medium shot of LP calling EC (0.5 lens)
__wide shot of livingroom/kitchen
__tight shot of phone (and keys) on table, then phone ringing
__close shot of hand picking up phone on table
__medium shot of hand picking up phone
__over the shoulder shot of hand raising phone and revealing “latimore platz” __medium shot of EC on phone for first line
__close shot of chair framed right before he sits in it
__medium shot of EC sitting down in chair talking
__medium shot of EC raising phone to ear
__ close shot of EC picking up phone pulling to ear
__shot of EC pulling phone from his ear
__medium shot of car keys
__close shot of keys, EC picking keys up
__shot of EC grabbing jacket
__walking out door, closing it behind him (use black door close as transition to next scene)
__close shot of EC for split screen conversation
__close shot of LP for split-screen conversation
The thing you might notice is that not everything in the shotlist made it in the actual video. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. Its kind of fresh to see how certain shots or transitions you thought would work in your head actually don’t work at all when you actually take the shot and
Lesson #4 – Have fun
Since there were only 3 people involved in shooting this video, we were able to keep a pretty relaxed vibe throughout. Most of the time it didn’t even feel like we were shooting a music video. I shared the shotlist with everybody ahead of time so we all knew the expectations and structure, so maybe that helped. Either way, it was a good time and a Saturday well spent.
I’m not sure if this wrap up helps anybody, but I figured I would write it up because 6 months ago, video production was something that was always in the back of my mind, but not something I ever thought I would have the time to learn, and I certainly didn’t think I would ever do a music video. At any rate, my first one is done and I look forward to doing more.
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