How do you shoot a video with no real camera, no budget and only the ghost of an idea? Not easily. We made Tyler Allred’s first music video--for the single “What’s the Move”--using only a Samsung Galaxy 8 and a crew of two people. We got good feedback on the final product, so I thought I’d share something about the process.
First, the idea was to follow Tyler around town doing some stupid stuff, dressed in a neon windbreaker. We were trying to express some of his quirkiness, while capturing the spirit of the irreverent song. We actually spent a decent amount of time brainstorming this concept, and although it might seem a haphazard way to plan a shoot, we developed a strong idea of what we wanted. We didn’t have dedicated shot list, but we knew the aesthetic and tone, and we had some ideas for how to capture it. Finally, we settled on one location. Tyler wrote “What’s the Move” on Venice Beach, at a particularly vulnerable point in his life. The line in the song “Spent all my cash on Cigarettes and tattoos/ And a bunch of shit that I can’t use” is not fabricated. Apparently (I wasn’t there), he was broke at the time, and actually had a poor sense of money management. But he was not taking the situation too seriously. We didn’t take the video seriously either. So, we headed to Venice.
We made our way with only my phone and a cheap Nikon D3500 that I didn’t end of using. I wasn’t worried about the quality of the footage, because I’d come up with the idea that we’d use a VHS filter on my camera phone. It cost about $4. There was a retro vibe to the proceedings, inspired partially by the pink and purple windbreaker. It’s amazing how such a simple thing can direct the whole course of a concept. We got there on a gray day, which again didn’t matter, since the footage was going to be washed out anyway. If I want to express anything in this post it is that a good idea trumps expensive production. You’re just looking for something that works. This isn’t the 90s and your video is likely going to air primarily on the internet in a small format. HD is nice, but we’re not blowing the footage up to television size or bigger. And that’s fine for a generation that’s almost certainly going to be watching on the phone. Remember most site traffic these days comes from mobile, and from a design perspective this should be the first thing to sink in; your design and content need to be mobile friendly. In fact, some designers mock up their mobile concepts before even beginning to think about the desktop version.
I have to say, though, that I had some trepidation going in with only a short, handwritten shot list. Hardly anything on that list made it into the final cut. We worked on instinct, which is the other lesson I hope impart. Music is about feeling and feeling is usually cheap. None of this is to say that there’s something inherently flawed about a high budget. In some cases, with some concepts, it’s a necessity. The point is that technical filmmaking shouldn’t stop you producing a quality product to promote your work.
We did know going in that there was going to be rollerblading. Rollerblading is nice and retro. It’s also absurd, if you really stop to think about it. And I did. I thought about it alot. But that’s a separate issue. Rollerblading is cheap, and there’s no water involved. By the time we got to the edit, I knew that this was going to be the skeleton. You might even call it the centerpiece. And I was going to be editing around it. The danger was that there’d be too much of that particular action, and that the shots would become repetitive. When I got to my computer and fired up Adobe Premiere (I use the suite for almost everything I do) this was in fact the case. But I also knew from experience that good editing can overcome limitations in footage, although it shouldn’t have to. If you’re working with a separate editor, please, please don’t hand her garbage footage. She might smile politely and tell you everything is going to be fine. But in her mind, she murdering you. Anyway, it’s about angles and shot-length and the direction that the action happens--in this case Tyler coming to and from the camera, sweeping from one side, and off the other. For me it was about the rhythm. Shot length was of paramount importance, making sure that there was a mix of long and short takes. In this video, the shots were generally quick maybe one to three seconds. I didn’t edit the piece linearly, portraying each action in its entirety. I moved around, intercutting the action and telling the story of each section in pieces. In this way, the rollerblading did become the skeleton, but with enough variation to ensure it didn’t become dull (I hope).
Other moments we caught spontaneously. One of my favorites is Tyler petting this weird mannequin of a child--a small white mass of peeling paint, which was a little creepy. He wasn’t sure about this at first, but in the end it came out well. The food shots were also spontaneous. They turned out to be the parts where we spent the most money, having Tyler ‘seductively’ tongue a lump of ice cream, or have pizza dropped into his mouth by one of our assistants. A little advice: don’t by food on the Venice Boardwalk. It’s a little pricey.
But again: creative instinct.
Ultimately, there are three measures of a shoot’s success. First, are you happy with it? Second, is the artist happy with it? And third, is his management happy with it? This last point gave me the most concern. “What’s the Move” was our concept, driven by our own brand of creative insanity. But was somebody with a more objective eye going to like it. He did. The whole experience was encouraging. Again, if you have a budget I suggest that you use it. But money shouldn’t stop you creating content. And when your clients find out that you can do a lot with little to know money, they’re going to love you. Trust me on that.