Directing music videos requires the skillful mixing of three rare traits: a good sense of style and creativity, strong leadership, and an extensive knowledge of technology.
Though it may seem like few could fit this bill, we'll show you some helpful tips that can help anyone make sure their talent and crew give them the performances they need.
On the day of the shoot, the director is both the engine that keeps the production running smoothly while being the anchor that keeps it from running away. This is why it's so important to learn how to manage your crew members on the shoot, how to draw out the kinds of performances from your artist that can connect with your audience, and how to stay creative throughout the music video shoot. With these skills you'll be able to make sure that your shoot day runs smoothly.
Directors ultimately have the responsibility to make sure the crew stays within budget, meets their time constraints, and maintains focus. It's a tough job that gets tougher the larger the crew becomes. However, there are some techniques that can make your job easier. For instance, you can save time and money on a shoot by making a shot list for each day in your shoot. This keeps your production efficient by allowing shots that are similar or in the same location to be captured at the same time. It also eliminates some of the setup and tear down time for a scene which can add up to some significant time savings. Another way to stay on time is to make sure each person on your set has a schedule for what they're expected to do throughout the day and that they get briefed before your talent arrives. This way, even if you're in the middle of shooting one scene, you can have someone else in your crew begin setting up for another one. As important as the director is to a set, the producer or client is often the most important since they're the ones paying for the project to be done. As such, it's a good idea to have an additional monitor set up for the client to view the footage that is being shot. Often, a camera operator will place one monitor on or near the camcorder and loop a display cable through to another monitor attached to a stand. While they're viewing the shot, you'll want to make sure you explain what you're doing so that the producer can feel appreciated.
Besides managing crews, one of the most difficult tasks a director will have is to draw emotional performances from talent. The truth is, there aren't a lot of good actors out there. As such, you'll have to use employ various techniques and skills. One of the best techniques to start with is to rehearse and hang out with the band members before the crew arrives. Doing so will help them feel comfortable acting around you, and, as a bonus, rehearsing with the artists will also help them get prepared. During this rehearsal, you might also want to teach the artist some performance techniques when playing their instrument or acting their part. For instance, if they'll be in a wide scene, you'll need their movement to be large and exaggerated, whereas a close up will require very subtle changes. On the shoot day itself, the most important thing you can do to help artist's get into character is to have comfortable environment and to keep a fast and upbeat pace on set. To make their environment comfortable, you may have to pare down the amount of crew on set to the bare essentials. This way the artist doesn't feel like their performance is being evaluated by an entire crowd of people. It's also helpful to keep the temperature cool, have food nearby that the artist likes, and to take frequent breaks in order for the artist to regain their energy and enthusiasm. If you have an artist that is camera shy, you may be able to film the rehearsals and moments between takes in order to get a natural performance. In addition, if it's possible to move the camera and gear further from the artist, they may begin to forget it's there which will result in better performances.
When you get right down to it, a music video is a lot like a commercial in which the director tries to make the band's music and image seem appealing to a large audience. However, there is one big difference - music videos are much longer than any commercial. That means you'll have sufficient time and leeway to get creative. However, creativity rarely happens unless you're willing to experiment with your technique. For instance, you may decide to try your hand at stop motion animation like in Vampire Weekend's video for their song A-punk, or go so far as to create a Rube Goldberg device like in OK GO's -This Too Shall Pass.- These techniques can be risky and take time, but it can pay off big in the end. You can also experiment with the type of equipment you use. In REM's video, -Losing My Religion-, the director uses selective lighting to reveal important elements in the scene and as a transition from one scene to the next. In addition, the director breaks the mold by not lighting the artists and the background in a flattering way. Instead, they lit it in a theatrical fashion as if the band members were on a stage performing a play. This helped give additional impact to the lyrics. If you're a bit apprehensive about experimenting with equipment and techniques on a paid gig, it may help to volunteer to film a smaller, local band's music video. By doing so, you can test the new techniques you want to use. If it works well, you'll have yet another skill you can use to make your next video look great.
Directing music videos can often be chaotic and challenging. However, by using the techniques we've shown you, you can make sure the time you spent was more than worth it at the end of the day.