So this is a bit of a different blog post. Together with Andrew Dean (grip / gaffer www.hillbillygriptruck.com) I have outlined the tips & tricks we have used in making a music video for New Zealand band Nightchoir.
The Nightchoir video was a simple shoot that was finished in 5 and a half hours. I feel a similar video could be achieved by anyone with a cheap DSLR, 50mm lens and some of the lighting gear outlined below.
Hopefully you can find some of this info useful if you’re looking at producing a music video.
The Pitch or Pitching is the process of putting together a document that demonstrates your idea to the band / artist or their management. This is an important step in the process. This document needs to wow them, or at the least sell them that you’re going to shoot a video that will work for their song. Often I’ll be pitching against 5 or 6 other directors – it’s competitive! My pitch document is generally a 3 – 4 page PDF. I try to keep the text brief, to the point and emotive.
I always try and to make this as visual as possible. Lots of large photos that represent how you want to shoot the video, the colours & the feel. Think of it as a ‘moodboard’ or a ‘Pinterest’ page for your idea. Google images is your best friend for this. I’ll usually spend a couple of hours finding relevant images to convey my idea.
Don’t feel you have to reinvent the wheel with your idea for the video. Usually I’ll add Youtube / Vimeo links from other bands as a reference of style, editing, colour, pacing, etc. It’s one of the easiest ways to sell your idea. I generally don’t include storyboards at this stage of the process. If the band doesn’t like my idea then I haven’t wasted hours of time drawing storyboads that will never get used.
3 PITCHING TIPS
Make it visual
Use lots of large photos that convey style, colour and feel.
Less is more
Keep the text short and simple. Let the collection of images speak for themselves.
Finish with a personal blurb as to why you are the perfect director for this song. Convey your passion.
Download My Pitch (PDF)
Once the band has agreed to my idea I’ll then put together a series of storyboards. These are more for myself than anyone else. I’ll draw all the story elements for the video – so on paper I know I have enough visuals to keep the video moving forward. I don’t storyboard the band performance as I like to figure that out on the location once Andrew has the lighting setup.
The below storyboards are a combination of hand drawn ones and cartoon ones put together in an online application called ‘BitStrips‘.
The easiest, cheapest and fastest way to light a scene is to use natural light. Using a bounce / reflector gives you more control over the light on your subject. I love using the sun as a hair light, placing it back over the shoulder. Having the sun behind the subject means we get no harsh shadows on the face. It’s also easier for the talent to not have to look directly into the sun.
Most of the daylight shots in our video were lit only with a reflector – below are 3 options for reflecting light:
I did some work with renowned photographer Sue Bryce and she’s a big advocate of natural light shooting – and her results are extraordinary. She uses giant (2.4 x 1.2 metre) polystyrene sheets to bounce sunlight onto her subjects.
The problem for us is polystyrene is useless outside in the wind – we actually used 1 on an outdoor shoot once and it came home in parts. But for $20 – $40 a sheet it can’t be beaten for price – most large hardware stores stock them. They are perfect for indoor use.
If you’ve ever used a traditional collapsible reflector (often called “flickies”) then you know how floppy they become in the wind, especially if you use the hard reflection side. A gentle breeze causes the light to ripple and flicker, and a strong wind make them fold into a potato chip shape. After an insanely windy shoot where i was trying to use my whole body to keep the reflector from folding up, I vowed to buy “the best reflector money can buy.”
I don’t know if the california sunbounces are the best, but they are very good (and very expensive). There have been shoots where two of us have to put basically our entire body weight into keeping the 6×4 sunbounce stabilized, but we’ve been able to pull off a stable silver bounce in severe gusts. Despite being fiercely stable, the sunbounce frames are made out of some crazy “space age metal” and are incredibly light. You can easily hold the 6×4′ with one hand ( if there isn’t wind). Before I had the sunbounces, we still made good with what we had, but having the sunbounces has enabled us to keep filling long after we would have given up with anything else.
Natural Light In Action
HALOGEN WORK LIGHTS
When it comes down to it, light is light. If you can get a nice rendering of light where you want it, the viewer will never know what source you used or how much it cost. A popular student/guerilla solution is to use cheap “work lights” from a hardware store. They are crazy hot and gulp the power, but if you work them carefully (bouncing is a great idea as it bounces the light, not the heat) then you can get incredible results. Recently, the price gap between “ghetto” and “indy” has narrowed with Chinese tungsten fresnels. For not much more money, you can look a lot more “legit” on set.
When it comes to price and the quality of light, it is hard to beat a tungsten fixture. They are inexpensive compared to other sources and unlike pretty much every other lighting technology, they produce every hue of visible light without gaps. Tungsten lights are heavy around 3200k, which is quite orange/warm and you’ll lose up to half the light output when gelling to match daylight. They require care to not overload circuits and can also be extremely hot and cause sweating and visible discomfort to the people you are filming. If you can work around this, they cannot be beat for the money.
For long throws and hard light, I love HMIs. They don’t put any heat on the talent and the light they produce is daylight colored, so they match with ambient and spilling sunlight without any gelling. As another bonus, they use 1/5th the power of a tungsten fixture. This means I can run 5x the lights on a generator and for indoor shoots I rarely have to worry about overloading a power socket. The downside is price, but I feel that is well compensated with the heat, color and power efficiency. On an indy budget, the Cool Lights CDM 150w are an incredible value. I use the heck out of mine.
Our Lighting Diagram
As we had been shooting with the sunset as a backlight, it made sense to create a similar feeling for the night shoot. I placed the ￼575w HMI fresnel as far to the back right as I could go without it being in our wide shot. As the light was physically much closer to the piano, I aimed it more towards the drummer so that all the band members would get a similar amount of rim. A 150w HMI close on the front left acted as key and a second 150w 12 or so meters from the front of the band on the right filled in some of the face shadows without making it too flat. The backlight and key I kept fairly low to match the low angle of the setting sun, with the fill coming from much higher to give a more flattering modeling on the faces.
To power the lights and amp, I used a Honda EU2000i
, 2k “inverter” generator. These are sound suppressed and about the size and weight of a sewing machine. You can easily have a conversation while one is running at your feet. When we were setting up, someone stuck the generator behind the guitar amp and as it couldn’t be seen, we just left it there for the shoot. A normal 2k gennie would have been too big and too loud to do that (but with a long enough extension cord could still have worked).
SEVEN JIB COMPACT XL
Logan called to put my seven jib (I LOVE my 7, it’s SO fast to setup) on the back of a truck, which is a safety concern and generally a bad idea for vibrations. I bolted a short Matthews bazooka through the truck bed and kept a hand on the base to try to dampen jiggles (and let me know if the rig started to fail). We used an image stabilized lens, which helped quite a bit, but couldn’t catch all the vibrations. On set, I was unhappy with the remaining jiggle, but some warp stabilization really knocked it back and left a rather stunning shot. The road was a dead end with no traffic and everyone was safety briefed and alert. Even still, you should use extreme caution if you attempt something like this.
MATTHEWS MASTER MOUNT
I try to anticipate the director, so when we rigged up the jib, I threw my Matthews Master Mount car rig into the back of the truck. The suction cup mount requires a stable surface to mount to, but the wee car had really flimsy and loose panels. The Master Mount comes with multiple suction cups to triangulate with, but my experience is that they don’t work well with DSLRs (whose lens mount and shoe are notoriously “floppy”). As time was precious, we popped a head onto the mount, vacuumed the mount to the car and sent it down the road to test. I was, as I expected, unhappy with the vibrations, but Logan felt he could stabilize it, so maybe 5 minutes from unpacking the mount, we had the two shots he wanted.
The steadicam is a dark art. People assume you can pick one up and get professional results, but it not only requires you control the motion of your body in unusual ways, but you have to learn how to gently “guide” the camera, which is a bit counterintuitive. People train for years to be dedicated operators (which i’m not). For short shots, I usually use a handheld Steadicam “Merlin” with nice results (and sore arms). 4 weeks before this video, I bought a cheap chinese “Wieldy” stabilizer and lost 30lbs practicing with it. (I was pretty fat to start). On the day there were terrible gusts of wind (the bane of steadicams) and Logan ended up preferring the look from his longer lens, so after all that we didn’t use any “Wieldy” shots.
The Grip Gear In Action
Having a loud playback setup on set is crucial for a good performance from the band or artist. Having the music loud helps them get more into their performance and they become less self-conscious about playing along in front of the camera and crew. I often just use one of the band members guitar amps. You’ll need a guitar cable with a converter down to a 3.5mm mini jack for an mp3 player.
Any MP3 player will work in this setup. Using your phone is not always convenient - especially if you’ve got people ringing. But for this video I used my shitty old iPhone plugged into a guitar amp. For the piano performance I was even able to use the phones built in speakers – as the sun was going down and the amp wasn’t setup yet. Luckily the piano is fake and makes no noise. See the clip below.
One of hardest things to get right in the playback department is to get the drummer to be able to hear the song over the sound of his cymbals. It’s becoming more common today for drummers to have a good set of ‘in ear monitors’ or professional ear buds. A simple cable splitter can be used to send a feed to the guitar amp and the drummers ear buds. Another solution is to reverse your wireless lapel receivers (if you have them) and send the audio wirelessly to the drummer.
The Band Performance
Canon 5D mk3
I shot on the mk3 for this video – but I’d be happy shooting on any of the Canon, Nikon, Lumix or Sony DSLR’s or mirrorless cameras with HD video.
The advantage the mk3 has over cheaper cameras is the low light capabilities and full frame look. I was able to shoot right up until the sun disappeared without any extra light.
Nikon 50mm f1.4
I usually shoot on the Canon EF 50mm f1.8 but I dropped it a few days before the shoot. Luckily I was able to borrow a Nikon f1.4 which has a beautiful shllow depth of field and I shot most of the footage wide open to take advantage of that.
It does however take a bit to get used to the reverse rotation of the focus ring. About 85% of the video was shot on this lens.
Variable ND Filter
In order to shoot at a low f-stop and keep your shutter speed between 50 – 100 then you will need an ND filter of some kind.
It’s essentialy a pair of sunglasses for your camera.
Canon 24-105mm f4
The 24-105mm f4 is not the fastest lens but for the wide angle shots I usually like to shoot with the iris shut down to f8 or higher. This lens was used for the wide shot of the band performance during daylight.
Canon 70-200mm f2.8
This is not a cheap lens but it really does deliver suburp images and has a really good zoom range. The image stabilization means that you can use it handheld as we did in this shoot. Andrew shot a lot of B camera with this lens – he was able to sit back and not get in the way of the A camera – but still get some nice tight shots.
Canon 85mm f1.8
The 85mm is one of my favorite lenses. I only used for a couple of shots in this video as I was enjoying the look of the Nikon so much but it’s definitely a nice lens to have in the kit.
CinePlus Picture Style
In order to get the most out of your Canon DSLR image I feel it’s best to install a picture profile onto the camera. The right Picture Profile will increase your dynamic range and help you obtain desired looks in post. The profile that I went for is called ‘CinePlus Lightform’ and costs $19. It’s designed so that the image off the camera is useable without any need for grading. And I do have to say it works. The master video files look great and if I was in a hurry they could easily be good enough for the final video. The strongest part of the CinePlus picture profile is that it seems to maintain skin tones.
› Find out more and purchase
› Learn how to install a picture profile here
Adobe Premiere Pro
I was a Final Cut Pro user – but the new Final Cut X required I upgraded my Mac. So instead I switched to Adobe Creative Cloud and bought a cheap PC with plenty of RAM and a good graphics card ($700). Subscribing to the cloud for $40 AUD a month means I have access to all the Adobe suite including: After Effects, Encore, Audition, Photoshop, Lightroom & Premiere to name a few. I feel it’s good value for money and the integration between all of them makes the process a lot faster. As for editing a music video – I’d happily cut on any editing software. The one thing I do use a lot in Premiere and After Effects is the camera stabilization. It’s generally a 1 click plugin and was great in this video for taking all the jitter out of the jib arm shots.
› Adobe Creative Cloud homepage
Magic Bullet Looks
If you haven’t seen or heard of it then you need to check out Magic Bullet Looks. It’s a great tool to add finishing touches to your shots. I’m not often a fan of the pre-made looks that come with Magic Bullet as I feel they are quite heavy on DSLR footage – crush the blacks, too much saturation, etc. I like to use individual tools to tweak my shots. My favorite is the ’tilt-shift’ effect which can make a flat shot really pop. In this video however, I used a stock look called ‘Bleach By-Pass Warm’ to give a hot dessert look. At $399 USD it’s definitely not a cheap option – so for those on a budget a lot of the looks can be achieved with colour corrections and effects inside your editing program.
› Purchase or try a demo here
a LITTLE SISTER FILMS production | Production Manager BELINDA PFLAUM | Production Assistants NICK JACKSON & LISA CUSHING | Behind the Scenes Footage BEN SPINK | Accounts KATIE O’BRIEN | Makeup CLARA WELLS | Grip / Gaffer ANDREW DEAN | Director / DOP / Editor LOGAN McMILLAN