If you or a friend of yours has a nice camera, you may be thinking about self-producing your music video. Ok, cool. You can do it. Maybe the first one won’t be good enough for MTV, but who cares? We have YouTube.
Did you read my last blog entry about pre-production? If you haven’t, go back and read it. You need to plan well in order to produce a high-quality, low-budget music video. If you have read it, and you are ready to go into production, then you know what shots you need, you have all of your locations and you have permission to shoot there, you have a way of playing your song on location loud enough to feel it, you have a camera and a tripod and you have your wigs and moustaches. You’re ready to shoot.
Here’s some big picture advice to keep in mind: microphones capture sound and cameras capture light. When you mic up a band, you want each mic to hear the instrument it is meant to hear with minimal bleed from the other instruments. The same concept applies to shooting with a camera – you want your main subject to stand out from everything else in the frame. It doesn’t work well to place your subject on a background that is significantly lighter than the subject and you don’t want your subject wearing clothes that are significantly lighter than their skin. Try colour correcting a shot where an artist with dark brown skin is wearing a bright white shirt and you will see what I mean. It’s nearly impossible to make the artist’s face pop without the white shirt blowing out and losing all of it’s detail. A cool trick used in feature films is to have a lot of blue in the background. Blue sits opposite of red on the colour wheel, so if you push a bit of red/orange into the skin tone of your foreground subject, it helps them really stand out against the blue background. It’s also a good idea to simply drench your main subject with light and let background elements simply sink into the…yeah, background. So our first rule of production is: control your light and all elements in the frame in order to focus the viewers attention where you want it.
For the ultra low budget video, I recommend shooting outside. There is no better light than the sun, especially if you shoot when it is low in the sky (morning or evening) and you’re getting oodles of magical golden light and not-unattractive shadows. If you are shooting inside and you can’t afford to rent studio lights, use every lamp in the house and all of the lamps from your friends houses. If you have nice lamps that look good together, they can actually be in the shot. Otherwise use them off-camera as ambient light. Watch a Woody Allen movie, he uses lamps for lighting all the time.
When you light your scene be careful not to introduce undesirable shadows. A bunch of shadows moving around can be distracting. Getting your lights up high will help minimize the problem as the shadows will drop low. Also look out for reflections in mirrors and windows. You don’t want to get to the edit and discover that the camera-man is reflected, plain as day, in a big window behind the artist. Look at your frame. Compose it. Light it. Look at colour. Look at light and dark areas. Do they need more or less light?
One of the most difficult aspects of production is shooting with your edit in mind. Think about what will be happening in the shot before the one you are now shooting. Will the end of that shot match the beginning of the current shot? Will the end of the current shot match the beginning of the next shot? Are the colours similar from shot to shot? Do consecutive shots make narrative sense? Is there motion that you can carry through from one shot to the next? If you match your shots well, the edits in the final video will be invisible. By that I mean that the shots will flow together so seamlessly that the viewer will not be conscious of the edits. More on this when I discuss post production.
I will leave you with one final thought: you have no idea how long 4 minutes can be until you edit your first music video. There are hundreds of edits in the average music video and you need loads of footage, loads of different shots to choose from in order to cut together an always fresh and exciting music video. So shoot the action from different angles, shoot cut-aways, shoot behind-the-scenes antics, shoot, shoot, shoot. Make sure you have plenty of storage and battery power and keep that camera rolling!
Please feel free to write me with questions and comments. I’m covering a lot of ground in a little space, so get in touch and I will do my best to fill in the details. Also feel free to send me examples of your work. I will be happy to offer advice and may be able to help promote you.
Be creative. Have fun.