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3 tips for shooting a music video

November 7, 2013


A few years ago, a friend of mine asked if I’d make a video for his band’s new song. At the time I was frustrated with video reportage as the overall look is so hard to control– you don’t stage anything, but rather capture life as it happens. This was my chance to make a “beautiful” video. Mise en scene! Enough time to adjust the white balance! I took on the assignment. Here are a few tips to keep in mind the next time you are shooting a music video.


1. Make sure you are working with an artist who shares your aesthetic.
My dreams of a hipster-tinged, quirky aesthetic were derailed by a group of teenage boys on a strict media diet of unironically-kitchy low-budget Balkan music TV channels. I wanted to add offbeat scenes of urban life– an elderly accordion player, a skateboarder, graffiti, a plastic bag a la American Beauty! However, the band insisted on only the most touristy, pretty-pretty parts of town (far from the truly gritty neighborhood where they actually live), while simultaneously projecting a gangsta vibe. They also wanted their faces to be in every single shot. “Hey guys, what adding some interesting shots from the city? Or creating a video story with a character?” I had so many ideas. “No, we want all the shots to be of us.”


2. Location, location, location.
You might consider not choosing to locate your shoot at a tourist attraction in the height of the tourist season. Or in one of the sunniest cities in Europe during the sunniest time of the year. Just a thought. We got up at dawn so that the shots wouldn’t be totally washed out and to avoid the tourists. Shooting a teenage boy hiphop band at dawn over multiple days in the middle of summer? After the third day they told me, “This is too much work!” Make sure to factor location and timing into your work plan.


3. Work around your technical limitations.
We were low tech; they lip synched to the song while we played it on their cell phones. One of the tripod legs was broken and had to be duct-taped, but the tape kept melting in the heat and sliding off. Sometimes one of the technical limitations is the talent. In that case you need a wingman! Setting up for one shot of the river, with the sunlight reflecting on the water, the singer objected. “My stomach will look fat if you set the camera like that!” Luckily one of the other band members came to my rescue; “No, it’s a great shot, you’ll see! Your stomach looks totally fine! I promise!” Finally, a friend of a friend kindly agreed to toss on a filter in post-processing to even out the washed-out tones of my filming.

Okay, this post is a bit silly. The main thing is that everything boils down to people. The people you futilely try to brainstorm with, suffer early shoots and blinding sun with, the people who endearingly carry the broken tripod leg around for you, even as they drive you crazy. Sometimes even when a music video shoot itself doesn’t achieve what you wanted it to, it can still be a great memory. That’s my bonus tip. (See also: What I learned from TV Production)

4 Comments leave one →
  1. Julie permalink
    November 7, 2013 1:57 pm

    This is such an amusing post! #1 in particular made me laugh…

    As for “unironically-kitchy low-budget ” music videos, this reminds me of when Erica and I took overnight buses to travel throughout Thailand, and the backs of the seats all had screens… playing UKLB Thai videos ALL NIGHT LONG. Music blaring! You were not able to shut it off or turn down the volume! It was ridiculous! Even more ridiculous– the videos with the singers and their faces in every shot! that’s what makes it a good video, obviously 😉 Some media phD needs to do a dissertation on how the style of music videos reflects various cultures or something 😉

  2. November 7, 2013 7:02 pm

    Haha. A teenage boy band? You should have known you wouldn’t be able to do it the way you’d like. 😉

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