Expert Testimony

A modest investment in producing a video that’s a step up from those you’ve made in your bedroom can pay dividends.

In recent years, the way people access music has changed dramatically. Many now receive it as much through their eyes as their ears. From corporate superstars to indie bands, due to our image obsession, videos now sell records for artists. Well, maybe videos are luring listeners to gigs. You may be asking, “How you can get in on this trend?” If you don’t have a lot of money and know as little about filmmaking as Ed Wood, here are some insights. What follows is a guide to making a short, snappy film to showcase your band and songs.

Preproduction

Preparation is probably the most important part of filmmaking. The more you do during the preproduction phase, the less trouble you’ll have during the shoot. After you pick the song you want to film, develop your story. That takes some thinking. Some video ideas are like a bolt from the blue; They come to you wonderfully whole and intact. Others need to be teased out of the ether. If you’re part of a band, bring the other members in on this process and talk about your concept. I’ve found that collaborating with other creative minds can make an iffy story good and a good story even better.                                               

Martin Scorsese once said that paper is cheaper than film. That’s true, so once you’ve gotten your idea, write it out on paper. This is what is known as a “treatment.” Be detailed. Remember everything you discussed during brainstorming. It also helps to make a storyboard, where you sketch every camera move needed for your shots. Of course, the outline may change on your shooting day, but it’s good to have a cinematic spine to lean on so you won’t be flailing around as you film. This can be made on a single, large sheet of paper. You don’t have to be Rembrandt; stick figures of the person or image are sufficient to represent the shots.

Your band should rehearse exactly what you are planning to shoot. If there’s a storyline, run through it many times until it becomes second nature. For a performance video, get together and mime the singing and playing. I offer two important tips for shooting a performance video. First, shoot to a prerecorded track of the song. This will eliminate the need for an on-set soundman and save money. Your postproduction editor will dub in the voices and instruments later. Second, actually sing along with the recording so that your mouth movements will be spot on. I have found that when lip syncing, many singers fall behind the beat, which creates problems later. Make those words come out of your mouth during filming. It works.

Necessary Personnel

I recommend a crew of three: a director, director of photography (or DP), and a postproduction editor. (See the sidebar on page 29 for a description of their roles and estimated fees.) A director is the person who orchestrates the technical talent and the actors, which in your case means you and your band. The director is comparable to a conductor. He or she establishes tone, tempo, color, story, and mood, and helps the musicians tell the story, no matter how minimal it may be. A good director also knows how to stay out of the way and let you do your thing if the story is proceeding well.

A good DP is essential. He or she will provide the lighting and shoot the footage. The DP can make you look your best, decide whether a shot will work (Is the sun glaring? Is the background interesting enough?), and get all of your ideas into the video. Audition potential DPs by viewing their reel to make sure you like what they’ve shot. When working on a tight budget, you might seek out a DP who is good, yet new to the game. Conversely, you might find a veteran DP who likes what you do and will offer you a good price.

An editor is the third member of the team. Hire an editor rather than just taking your footage to a post-production house after filming. A post-production facility can cost several hundred dollars an hour. Sometimes a DP is talented enough to edit too, but if not, he or she can probably recommend a good editor. The shot list you made for the DP will serve as a guide for your editor.

Lights, Camera, Action

For the day of the shoot, plan to start early. It’s optimum to shoot everything in one day in order to stay on budget. Shoot the difficult scenes first. Expect to blow a few takes in the beginning. Just as with playing, you tend to warm up as the day goes on. Listen to your DP; he or she will usually have practical suggestions on how to shoot the scripted scenes. A good DP understands natural light and good backgrounds for a cool, eye-catching scene.

Plan to break for lunch or a snack. There’s nothing worse than running out of steam because you are hungry. Keep an eye on your time and make sure you get several good shots (front, back, and sideways) of every image, so your editor has lots of different choices in the editing room. Don’t be too indulgent with the camera. When you and your DP think you have enough shots from each angle, move on.

Postproduction

After the shoot, turn your footage over to your editor to cut, color, and sync. Footage is usually delivered on a hard drive with a detailed treatment of your story so that your narrative intentions are clear. The editor will then put together a rough cut and send it to you. Don’t be surprised if you feel uncomfortable when you first see it. Most artists seeing the first cut of their video feel pretty much the same way. Send the rough cut back to your editor with detailed notes of what you hope to fix. Ultimately, the editor will also sync the sound to include the instruments and voices behind the action on the screen. The editor will also do color correction to prevent you and your band mates from having purple faces. (Unless you want them that way.) Add titles and make sure there are no spelling errors.

Launching into the Virtual World

Once your video is done, how do you get folks to see it? A good first step is to upload it in file form to YouTube. There are simple instructions on the site. Once it’s in video format, post it on Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, and any other available sites. If you want to increase the number of views, sites like Fiverr can spread the word about your video for about $100. Then, tell everyone you know to watch and share, share, share.

Part of finding the right director is based on your assessment of his or her reel, but it’s also about trust. Even though you can and should give personal feedback, part of the filmmaking process is about surrendering and accepting the advice of the experts you’ve hired. Let your director guide you as you tell your tale. Your DP will pitch in too. You will find as the hours unfold, that the hard work starts to feel enjoyable. The more your director shoots, the more choices your editor will have for cutting the film in post-production. It’s a little like playing music. Learn your piece, play it as well as you can, and then try to have fun. As Alfred Hitchcock once said, “It’s only a movie.” Be tireless in getting your video out there. Eventually people you don’t know will see it. That can lead to more gigs or possibly a record deal.