How To Shoot Music Videos

Last month I directed this music video for up and coming Hip Hop artist NautilusMC.  I showed you a promo video for it in a post not too long ago.  So far we've been getting some good feedback and we've gotten over 50,000 views!

I've had many people ask me about my process in shooting this video.  While everyone has their own creative process, I'll share with you how I went about making this video and you could maybe take some tips that make sense to you and build on them.

This was a relatively simple video given that it wasn't too much of a narrative but moreso one of those candid "good vibes" sort of videos.  In any case,  the first thing I do when I get the song is listen to it over and over and over again.  I throw it on repeat, turn off the lights, close my eyes and just feel the music and envision the story that it's telling.  I know it seems pretty common sense to do so, but for the first couple of days, everywhere I go, I do this and when I have an idea on specific visuals based on the music or lyrics, I'll write it down.

Then I bring the song into my editing software, (I like to use the CS6 suite), and create a timeline with the song so I know how long each segment is.  I'll create titles as placeholders for every part of the video and maybe add some notes if I have specific ideas.  This helps me know exactly how long the intro, 1st verse, chorus, bridge, build up, etc. is so that I can plan the flow of the video and thus my shots accordingly.  It'll give you a better sense of what you need during each part of the song.

Once I have an idea of the feeling of the song, I meet with the artist to compare my vision of the video and their vision to come up with a concept that we both could jump on board with.  Ideally, the style I try to shoot for is one that's very narrative.  I want the musician to know that if they get me to do their music video, they'll get a mini movie and that the story of their song will come to life. In fact, if we could shoot the whole video without any singing/rapping-to-the-camera shots, I'd prefer to do that.  In this case, however, the song really didn't lend itself to that heavy of a narrative style and NautilusMC was very specific in that he wanted a laid back, BBQ at the beach video that showed him enjoying life.

Once we came to agreement with our ideas, it was time to location scout.  NautilusMC had already done a lot of research online and had Manhattan Beach Pier high on his list of locations.  All it took was one visit for us to realize that it was the place to shoot.  You could see in the video how beautiful the location is. So with that, we decided on a two-day shoot and locked down a weekend, one day just for Nautilus and the other day with everyone else.

This is where shooting in LA is a lot different from shooting in Hawai'i.  It is a lot more difficult to shoot in public in LA relative to Hawai'i.  Film is king in LA and everyone is so aware of the process and legalities that comes with filmmaking. So majority of the time, if you look like you're shooting something remotely "professional", you're bound to get stopped.  There's no real "rule of thumb" per-se -- like, it's not set in stone that the second you put down a professional grade tripod or whip out a boom (mic) or have some sort of camera rig you'll get stopped -- but the risk definitely is higher in LA since everyone knows what's up.  I DPed a short film in LA last year about a woman who just found out she has breast cancer and we needed a wig shop to shoot a really short scene in -- no longer than a couple hours.  We had no budget and thought that we'd be able to score a freebee because of the content and the fact that the short was based on the true story of the actress (who was playing herself).  The cheapest quote we got from a small mom and pop wig shop was $750 for the two hours.  People know how things work here and so, unlike Hawai'i, you have less of a chance of people letting you shoot at a location because "This is so cool and exciting", and a higher chance of a cop coming up to you and asking for your permit.

So with that, the shoot was intended to be extremely guerilla.   There was absolutely no budget, which is fine since I have all the equipment we'd need anyway.  So I grabbed my gear and on the first day, Nautilus and I went to the beach and I shot all of his scenes myself.  On the second day, we just got everyone together and had fun.  I shot with my Canon T3i and I brought my tripod, SteaDSLR, and primes lenses: 20mm 1.8, 30mm 1.4, 50mm 1.4, 85mm 1.4.  Even if you're going guerilla, I recommend having at least a couple people helping you with the equipment.  I wish I had at least one more person to help me change out lenses, especially with all the sand potentially getting into all my equipment, but other than the time it took to change things it, it was fine.  To minimize the amount of attention that we attracted, we opted not to bring a boombox and Nautilus played the track from his phone which he kept in his pocket.

Traditionally, when you have a video where the artist is rapping/singing towards the camera you'd shoot in 3-4 locations, they'd perform the whole song in each location and cut between your best footage and some broll/narrative.  Since I went into this project with a very narrative approach with little to no performance scenes intended and Nautilus had more of a casual, traditional video in mind we compromised by having him still rap "toward" and around the camera but indirectly in more of a contemplative attitude as if testifying his struggle to "Get By".  This actually worked well and allowed him to move between each location and change scenes more organically as if he's walking around this serene beach, using it as therapy instead of us just abruptly cutting between him rapping in different locations for purely aesthetic reasons.  With that, we decided to start him off on the pier, work his way underneath it, and by the third verse, he's walking away from it to where the video ends with him sitting on the sand watching the sunset.

I always try to shoot more footage than what I need, especially on a project where there's no budget because it's a bit harder having to go back and reshoot things when there's less money/resources.  We had more than enough footage to work with and Nautilus and I had two huge editing sessions; one that went for about 13hrs and the other went to about 16hrs.  Editing as a whole is always an extremely tedious process.  One that, oddly enough, I really enjoy.  But I'd say the part that took us the longest was creating the titles.

We wanted our titles to be more dynamic than your typical overlay or lower-third.  So I had the idea of making the titles look as if they were a part of environment.  Problem was, I've never done that before.  It seemed easy enough at first: motion track the scene, create 3D text, and then map them to the tracking points.  The opening credit, "NautilusMC" was easy. It was just a matter of getting the 3D light to match the light in the scene.  The "Get By" was crazy difficult because I was trying to make it look like the text was sculpted out of the sand.  We got it too look decent but I just had a hard time texturizing it to make it look believable and so we ended up just going for a regular overlay.  The "Directed by" title, to be honest, was created that way because I was too tired to make it a 3D test by that time.  Although, I did want to at least have one more cool little effect in the titles so I just tracked Nautilus' social media information to the trees in the closing clip.

The color correction was pretty easy and straight forward.  I tried to really bring out the colors of the environment (the sun in particular) during all the performance scenes and the BBQ stuff was pretty basic correction.  Whether it's a promo, music video, etc., I ALWAYS color correct everything no matter how small the project seems.  It makes that a huge difference in distinguishing a nice, polished finished product versus a video in which someone just used a good camera but had no idea what they were doing.  This seems to be the a consistent detail overlooked on many of the videos I see coming out of Hawai'i these days.

All in all, I'm pretty satisfied at how the video came out and even more satisfied at the amount of views it has gained in such a short amount of time.  It's a video that's not as narrative as I'd hoped but in this case, it didn't need to be and I'm sure that there will be many more opportunities to go that route with Nautilus in the future.

But until then, I hope you found some helpful tips and if you have any questions about any part of the process, feel free to hit me up!  ALOHA!